The Irony of Liberation: How Obstacles Give Meaning to Freedom

Food for Thought

For many Americans, the time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is a vacuum. The American conception of “freedom” is being free to do nothing, and we rarely feel it because it signifies not the presence of something but the lack of it, such as work, stress, and responsibility. We cannot feel constantly under freedom like we can under pressure. In this sense, “freedom” is like “0”—a signifier invented after the fact out of the necessity to complement the other numbers that signify presence.

Imagine “freedom” where there are no responsibilities, constraints, or rules, like the heaven promised by Christianity. You can do as you wish but only feel that freedom if you remember the days back on earth. Even then, it’s not like pain; it disappears as soon as you stop thinking. If you lived there long enough, you may forget and become incapable of appreciating freedom.

If writing was all you ever wanted to do, you could achieve this ultimate form of freedom in jail. You could live in Russia or China and feel indifferent about freedom if you are not interested in expressing political opinions. Something must stifle or oppress your desires for the concept of freedom to be meaningful.

Freedom only has value if you have desires. It is counterproductive to think about freedom per se; it’s like thinking about obstacles when you have no destination. The danger is that you can become preoccupied with removing obstacles, as if out of spite, even though you don’t have anything you want on the other side. Even if you win your freedom, you wouldn’t know what to do with it. You give yourself a sense of purpose by fighting against obstacles—like authorities, political opponents, illnesses, bills, rents, and death—in order to conceal the fact that you don’t know what you want. The obstacles function as a convenient punching bag to displace your feeling of emptiness. Ironically, without the very thing you despise, your life would have no meaning.

Perhaps that is a legitimate way to live if you truly don’t have anything you want to do in life. Just make sure fighting obstacles isn’t a courageous face put on a cowardly heart.