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WHAT IS

FREEDOM?

- F R E E D O M -

LOVE

FREEDOM

 

 

 

 

Four quotes from 'informationclearinghouse':

"Our modern society is engaged in polishing and decorating the cage in which man is kept imprisoned." - -- Swami Nirmalananda - Source: Enlightened Anarchism


"A free man is he who does not fear to go to the end of his thought." -- Leon Blum - (1872-1950)

"For those who stubbornly seek freedom, there can be no more urgent task than to come to understand the mechanisms and practices of indoctrination. These are easy to perceive in the totalitarian societies, much less so in the system of 'brainwashing under freedom' to which we are subjected and in which all too often we serve as unwilling instruments." Noam Chomsky

"Although this science will be diligently studied, it will be rightly confined to the governing class and the populace will not be allowed to know how its convictions were generated...education should aim at destroying free will, so that, after pupils have left school, they will be incapable...of thinking or acting otherwise than their schoolmaster would have wished." - Bertrand Russell

And one in Zeitgeist from Goethe (1749-1832): "None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free."

 

 
 

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ON FREEDOM

The original 'timeless' section of this item remains intact in the section below. Omitted were a couple of aspects of freedom that I think prevail in people's minds these days:

The FIRST of these is entirely positive. It is the ever increasing freedom of expression: witness the stuffy hypocrisy of former times (ie, the 50s and even the 'fabulous' 60s) exemplified when leading critic Ken Tynan was banned from broadcast media for saying 'fuck' in a live show. And when superb works such as those of Henry Miller were censored. Who did the conceited censoring megalomaniacs think they were who blocked us public from these things? Did they imagine themselves as some kind of Gods who knew better than anyone else what the populous should be allowed to read, hear or see? Luckily those arrogant despots are now either dead or swamped by a more mature and forward-looking public intellect so that this kind of freedom is expanding like never before, and with the enormous help of the internet nothing can stop it. Good...

The SECOND and even more crucial aspect of freedom is not so forthcoming - in fact, the reverse. In these mad capitalistic days of the 21st century the drive for people to work is becoming ever more fierce and powerful. The Establishment is increasingly inventive in its securing of every possible hand to the capitalist tiller (though not, note, the hand of the middle and elite classes who rake-in the continual bonanza so have no need to work).

When I was a teen we were swept away in a great wave of optimism as we studied our electronics and science, our 'computer-aided-design' and 'control-systems': our hope, our expectation, our dream, was for a not-too-distant time when all this amazing technology would finally begin to pay tangible dividends, a time when not only the production of goods, but virtually everything else would be automated. A time when the concept of work would become history so that far more - if not ALL - of our time could be spent in leisure: enjoying the real fruits of life, a life that human-beings were (in my mind) destined to lead - in the contented pursuit of whatever one's passions happened to be. The hours of work necessary would at first be drastically reduced from the present 40-hour/week drudge, of rising at 07.00 or 08.00, commuting and polluting, and then grafting all day long for five tedious days every week... week-in, week-out... year-in, year-out...and retirement at 40... to a 10.00 - 16.00, 3-day week - reducing gradually to nothing... No, we were going to set ourselves free with all this technology so that everyone would have the opportunity to spend their life as the wiser members of the middle-classes have been doing for centuries: at various sports, academic pursuits, travel.... creative, fulfilling lives for all!

But "NO!" - bellows the power-driven Corporate Establishment, stomping down its implacable heel, "You riff-raff can't be allowed to ENJOY life, NO WAY! We must create debt so you HAVE to work, then we must create work.... otherwise we won't have anyone to exploit and wield our fist over, a working-class we can crush and enslave."

continued - yellow box - below >>>

 

 
 

 

This column was written in 2009 when Barak Obama was elected as US president - hence the following contemporary political angle on FREEDOM.

From John Pilger: (copied onto this siteAugust 09): Come On Down For Your Freedom Medals (22.1.09) AND The Bollocks Of Politics (6.2.09

 

ORIGINAL PREAMBLE - (February 2009)

It's my guess that those who eavesdrop here are hoping for a mocking chuckle at what all too often turns out to be my babbling ineptitude. But what better than to spend one's time churning-out seditious and controversial essays? What better than trying to shift people's thoughts onto issues they might otherwise not give a (c)rap for?

In a moment, I'll dive into the topic I originally intended for this page - ie, a non-political sideglance at 'FREEDOM'. But before I do, it's appropriate to acknowledge a couple of poignant details: first, the great wave of universal optimism that’s gripping the world on account of the end of the Bush regime - which pretended to advance freedom while drastically curtailing it. I'm unconvinced that the euphoria is justified (I wrote this back in February and am reviewing in August, but see Pilger's full 32-min 4th July 2009 speech); hopefully, of course, it is justified - I suppose the various activities and ambitions of the Bush regime couldn't have been much worse, and beside it almost any alternative might look promising. But second: if one glances at Pilger's chilling analysis following merely the Obama inauguration, then euphoria will be the last emotion you're likely to experience (unless you're a staunch Zionist - as seem BBC decision makers; or are they just wimps under the eye of an indomitable power?).

I cite Pilger's powerful article, though, for its double relevance here: ie, Gaza and Freedom.

The Obama inauguration ceremony momentarily blocked-out the few sanitised yet sordid details allowed to us in the west: of the ongoing untold horrors suffered by the victims of Israeli aggression, trapped like sitting ducks in that massive prison called Gaza.

Israel is now recognised, I think, as the planet's most vicious regime. Its brutality dwarfs the extremes of 1970s and 80s South African apartheid, and even outpaces 30s Nazi Germany in its levels (though not yet scales) of atrocity: mass demolition reminiscent of the Blitz, indiscriminate slaughter, napalm-like phosphorous bombs, dime-bombs, dart-bombs etc, (against which cluster bombs and landmines almost resemble toys)... shooting children point-blank... indeed, shooting anyone... The suffering will doubtless continue long after whatever outrage, sympathy, concern or remedial actions the west or anyone else can muster has died away - should anyone dare to challenge the will of the Zionist thugs. Whatever response Obama might risk, it's notable that virtually every nation (unlike their populace) so far seems scared shitless of Tel Aviv. Even Bush cowered like a frightened rat - and now the BBC too... where the most senior staff - surprise, surprise - are Zionists (check names on wikipedia)!

But instead of joining with the proverbial herd as it understandably wallows in the great wave of Obama optimism, I'll now make a sharp sideways lurch:

 

 
 

FREEDOM

(Of a more cerebral kind)

Frisch wrote a story (within a story) of a man, well to do, middle-class, ‘happily married’ etc, etc… blah, blah, blah… who goes abroad on business, taking his impressive Ferrari sports car with him… (well, some up-market vehicle or other)... and while he’s away in this foreign country this vehicle gets stolen. The thief, in his rush to escape, crashes it with a kind-of spectacular finality: the car catches fire on impact and in the ensuing inferno is completely destroyed, along with its hapless driver…. who it is assumed by the authorities was its owner.

The news is received in his home town that the man is dead. When he gets to hear this, he is unsure how to respond, and from curiosity attends (in disguise) his own funeral. As he observes his wife, his mistress, his friends et al, he begins to wonder if maybe he'd be better off remaining 'dead' and beginning a happier more worthwhile life elsewhere.

So the problem is: In which situation, if either, is he free - or most free? The answer depends on several factors. On the face of it, he will be most free to remain 'dead' - but will he be happier?

Sartre declared that he had never felt more free than when working in the resistance in WW2 France under Nazi occupation. Members of the Iraqi resistance under US occupation there, or Hamas in Palestine under the Iron Heel of Israel, probably experience a similar sense of engagement and the accompanying paradoxical feeling of wellbeing. These emotional responses energise and inspire those who adopt such a role, which (like the prospects for Sartre's efforts in wartime France) might nevertheless appear utterly futile.

If all this is true, then it suggests our sense of freedom resides more in the mind than in our physical circumstances. Which explains too, perhaps, why the ending of the Bush regime evoked such unmitigated euphoria: Obama doesn't only represent a symbolic (and, one would hope, real) drawing-to-an-end of the irrational racial prejudices that has scarred the US for so long, but even more now the beginning of a new dawn for those in the Middle East - who, like John Pilger, remain pessimistic (and who can blame them?). I too remain sceptical.

All this is very relevant. When I reflect, for instance, on the fact that 30- or 40-years from now I'll be dead and forgotten, I don't feel quite so free as when such notions remain at the back of my brain. Maybe this is why many of us crave constant distraction: music, art, sport, work, aggression and war even. It's a thought. After all, by the time you reach 40 you'll have glimpsed the prospect of reaching 60 and retiring, so likewise at 60 you'll glimpse the prospect of death. In fact the latter will loom even more imminently. This means that whatever we own is only 'borrowed', as it were, because in 30-years or thereabouts it will all go to someone else. But I don't want to think about it. This life is so good and free that it seems absurd to reflect on its demise. In this context, even Zen can be seen as a distraction, a route to freedom - maybe ultimately the most fulfilling route of all, or at least the most pure freedom one can hope to achieve. Or is it? Is freedom possible without the wholehearted acknowledgement of reality as we can best recognise it? A pretty fair contingency, I reckon, was eloquently delineated by Camus when still in his twenties.

On the other hand, perhaps most of what we do is an expression of a yearning for freedom, an attempt to escape the 'burden' of life - as I've seen it sometimes called. This is distinct from its plural 'burdens' which implies: work, obligations, chores, effort, hassle, boredom, gloom, despair, and so on. And here arises the greatest paradox of all: that to escape the burden (a profound concept) we must fabricate burdens (a mundane plethora of preoccupying encumbrances). And this, presumably (ie, we are constantly told), will distract us from the thought that enslaves us most: our own inevitable demise ; ie, through the mundane burdens of life, we are released from the profound burden of death.

Well, TOSH! is my response. If we must be distracted - and clearly, going by the predominating themes in the arts throughout the ages (theatre, literature, painting, sculpture... etc.) not all of us wish to be, in fact frequently the opposite (especially in philosophy) - then why does it have to be by 'burdens' we are distracted... why not play? Remember the Nazi propaganda myth: 'Work Sets You Free'? Nothing could be more self-evidently absurd. Obviously, work enslaves, imprisons! Only by the absence of work can a person be set free... (an axiom the middle class have lived by since time immemorial). What kind of widespread catatonic deficiency makes the Fascist propaganda so easily swallowed by so many?

And yet, while in occupied France and probably nearer to death than at any previous period of his life, Sartre felt 'free' because, as he says, he was wholly 'engaged' (distracted?). Like a man living in the Stone Age, Sartre's energies were directed outwards, no time for inner reflections on the nuances of life, death, the world, existence... His was a survival situation; he and his compatriots were poised on a knife-edge, living from minute to minute, never certain what the next might bring. In other words: minimal security. Similarly for Meursault's predicament at the end of Camus's famous novel 'The Stranger' (sometimes entitled 'The Outsider'): convicted for a senseless murder and awaiting execution, every detail appears enhanced, glorified, like for someone under the influence of Lsd. In Meursault's case, though, it isn't what it seems. Unconcerned with security, rather he is profoundly interested in truth, in acknowledging only what is real.

Despite the relative safety and ease of my own 'escape', this liberation is precisely what I found during what I called my Great Quest, and what Michael Crichton describes as direct experience ... it presents an unambiguous reality, practical in every way, a reality one quickly learns to survive in and make the most of. One is 'distracted' certainly, from oneself, one's inner ruminations, beliefs and doubts, irrational fears and projections, fabrications, myths, humbug, boredom, etc...

 

INTERJECTION

Rod: "If this is a 'distraction' from a possible reality then how does one judge whether you are experiencing reality or escaping from it?

Me: "By noticing that the things I mention here are all fabricated in the psyche; they are not necessarily a reflection of the reality outside ourselves. Also, we are disinclined to look at ourselves in the same way an all-seeing alien might. I don't mean in any way judgmental or critical - we do that all right - but as being absorbed, to the exclusion of all else, in the minutia that sits under our noses - or at the forefront of our brain. Like ants in an ants' nest, we miss the wider view... which may reveal only a vast, bleak, meaningless universe, but it also exposes our true predicament. And if you deny, or refuse to acknowledge, what's blatantly true, then what...?"

 

And once free of all those mad chains, one can begin to sense the true magnificence of what I call Freedom. Every day during that Quest of mine, I could decide 'Where next?' or whether to just linger placidly in the gleam of the moment, gorging myself on new 'direct experience': 'trivia' perhaps, on the grand scale of things, but NEW, and carrying always those crucial aspects of novelty that can freely appear when the usual trivia, as a kind of 'security' (that dreaded noun, so adored by authority and establishments), obscures experience.

But there's another angle - one that Pirandello would have endorsed. Consider the translator's preface for Barbusse's novel 'The Inferno' (or 'Hell'):

Observation of humanity in its most private moments and secret activities has been a popular theme with writers and artists for thousands of years, but it has rarely been carried to such lengths as in Henri Barbusse's novel Hell.

A young man staying in a French hotel finds a hole in the wall above his bed, through which he can see and hear the occupants of the next room. Before long he has become obsessed with the study of the hidden lives of his neighbours, and he spends long hours and days at his spy-hole, not as a voyeur but rather as a seer. He sees in their naked reality childbirth, first love, marriage, adultery, lesbianism, illness, religion and death; and he hears the voices of his fellow humans whispering, screaming, pleading, arguing, exulting and dying. Only when he has explored every circle of the hell of human life does he pack his bags and return to the everyday world of pretence.

After learning of this novel from Wilson's 'The Outsider' where on page-1 he refers to Barbusse's hero as the anonymous 'Man Outside' - the thought struck me that if our normal condition is one of pretence, then what is the hero's state while he, as a seer, observes and explores 'every circle of the hell of human life'? Is he then free while engaged in his furtive observations? And what about the 'pretence' (or authenticity?) of those he observes who, in their own particular ways, appear utterly trapped yet may nevertheless sense certain nuances of freedom as they play out their lives... as do we all?

Yet, logic suggests that every event is predetermined by preceding events. And that human behaviour is determined both by genes and upbringing. Research using EEG (brain-activity) monitors has demonstrated that decisions are made prior to conscious awareness of a decision. What is one to make of this in connection with the concept of freedom? Internal body functions are mostly unconscious, though are not always immune from conscious influence. And when I go charging through Friston Forest over terrain that's rough and uneven, decisions where to place my feet, when to lean or leap and so on, are made more-or-less unconsciously - because I choose to direct my attention elsewhere, at enjoying the scenery, the movement of air, the scents and the birdsong, etc. Similarly when driving; indeed many things - the 'robot' kicks-in and allows me to focus on what really interests me. In deciding whether or when to go somewhere, whether to buy this or that, and at this or that price, whether or not to read this book instead of that... I might vacillate wildly, more so (or for longer) these days than when I was young - I have more experience now to weigh against the options, and a slower recall too, I guess... But does all that mean I'm truly exercising freedom? I've touched on this elsewhere - as also fleetingly in my article on Sartre. For me, the question remains strictly unresolved, yet I feel (intuitively) certain that I do exercise at least some level of freedom. But then, would the alternative seem too terrible to contemplate - because it reduces us to mere automatons, entirely at the mercy of forces beyond our control? On the macro as well as the micro scale, this often seems our fate - as many an arrogant bignut will argue to justify their callous motives. But still, I sense in our multifarious everyday circumstances many levels of flexibility and choice. And even if logically insupportable, I persist in my anthropic-leaning stance by quoting a paragraph that I once 'borrowed' for a university dissertation on 'Personal Relationships in Education':

The human living system with its properties of self maintenance and its inherent movement towards enlargement, is itself a centre of force capable of exerting an influence upon its environment.  We live our lives as well as being lived by them.  Our scope to influence surroundings and steer our own course may not be large, but it is still of crucial importance.  Large transformations of personality may be rare, but there is a touch of creation in almost everything we do. New situations are always a little different from those that have gone before, so that there is room for initiative and innovation in every event.

(From: 'The Enterprise of Living' - 1972 - Robert W. White)

'Every step is birth,' said Hesse, 'every step is death... ' And it's probably the same with freedom (or distraction: we step away from one, only to stumble into another). That is, we free ourselves in one sense by enslaving ourselves in another. It's a matter of interpretation: Where precisely do YOU sit on that ominous invisible line which joins an impossibly-perfect-freedom at one end to utter incarceration (or distraction) at the other? At what point on this line does disenfranchisement begin for YOU? For me near the former (impossibly-perfect-freedom), for a CEO it would surely be near the latter. All is subjective, after all, and we are definitely NOT all the same, of the same experience... at least, not when it comes to interpreting the nature of freedom - on which there can never (probably) be a last word. Though, for me, that'll do for now.

 

 
 

 

To conclude, here's a couple more poignant clips I nicked from ICH:

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"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that numbers of people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running and robbing the country. That's our problem.": Howard Zinn, from 'Failure to Quit'

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"With numbing regularity good people were seen to knuckle under the demands of authority and perform actions that were callous and severe. Men who are in everyday life responsible and decent were seduced by the trappings of authority, by the control of their perceptions, and by the uncritical acceptance of the experimenter's definition of the situation, into performing harsh acts. A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act and without limitations of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority" Stanley Milgram, 1965

Stanley Milgram was a psychologist who performed a series of experiments that proved conclusively that obedience to authority was so ingrained in the average US citizen they were prepared to cause lethal harm to others when instructed by authority figures to do so.

All those who took part were first asked if they would be capable of killing or inflicting severe pain on their fellow human beings. 100%replied categorically 'no'.
http://tinyurl.com/cm6xq

 

 

 

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