Surely we have to start with even defining freedom. And then, isn’t freedom vastly different for everyone? In fact, doesn’t one person’s concept of freedom potentially enslave someone else?
Like any good philosophical question, this inspires some ambiguity…
Actually, the very core of human existence is ambiguous. What do I mean by that? Well, on the one hand, we are free, individual entities with the capacity for choice over our actions. On the other hand, we are part of an objective world in which our individual choices and desires do not always coalesce. We desire to be sovereign individuals, yet we are dependent upon the collectivity of humanity.
Put simply, we long for the day when people’s actions and the world at large fall into accord with our expectations. People and the world usually have different plans. This creates great tension, and like any tension, it must be relieved.
So how do we go about relieving this tension? We often deny our own subjectivity and propensity for choice. We look for absolutes–unquestionable and external truths about how we should live. We relinquish our responsibility to that outside of us: religion, political leaders, corporations, bureaucracies, social media gurus, even the dogma of tradition. We submit to these as if to relieve ourselves from the burden of choice, often missing that these are choices in and of themselves- just expressed passively rather than actively.
Alternatively, sometimes we become so frustrated with these external entities that we like to fancy ourselves completely independent; without need for others or even for the world around us. We seek to avoid the interplay between our subjective selves and the objective world by withdrawing inward. This is illusory and an equally futile attempt at relieving the tension caused by the uncertainty that we feel.
So what do we do?
This post is inspired by the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir’s work, The Ethics of Ambiguity. Based on this, what I would like to suggest is:
Life is ambiguous, embrace rather than deny this.
Ambiguity is a necessary and undeniable part of existence. The answers to how we should live and behave are not clearly laid out before us. And we will always exist amidst the balance of tension between the subjective and objective in our lives; even becoming aware of this brings greater freedom. With the prospect of uncertainty and questions comes fear and discomfort, but also, the opportunity to shape how we live and behave. Values come from our choices and we harbor the ability to create them through the outcomes we experience and create. While the prospect of dealing with uncertainty may be daunting, what would a world of absolutes, void of choice, completely subjective or objective look like?
Take the uncertainty you feel and use it to craft freedom.
For de Beauvoir, the act of creating freedom is the overarching goal of humanity. Have you figured out what exactly freedom is and how it can be created from when I asked this question earlier? No? Well that’s good, and kind of the point. How we should act to create freedom for ourselves and others is inherently evolving and situational. It’s an open ended question and therefore it will require an ongoing investment, on all of our parts, to create and promote freedom. This very process of creating the conditions of greater freedom for ourselves and others is where we find value, meaning and ethics in our lives. We need to create freedom to evolve and we evolve through creating freedom.
This is of course in opposition to passively accepting what others will define for you as freedom. Which leads me to this…
Live a genuine existence rather than a “right” existence.
We live in a world of people often pretending to know the answers. It seems that the louder the voice and bigger the platform, the more we associate these people with the, “truth.” We have a tendency to idolize and support those claiming to have the answers, as we seek to relieve the tension of our uncertainty in everyday life. What if we decided that a genuine existence, one that embraces and builds upon ambiguity, was more important to creating freedom than a “right” existence? To be genuine would be to say, ” This is what I have found today, tomorrow I will build upon this answer, and in doing so, attempt to create a better way to live; with more freedom for myself and those around me.”
Shouldn’t we be courageous enough to admit that we don’t have all the answers because they are ever-evolving?
Shouldn’t we respect and follow those who dare to express the same?
What is your take?