“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”
~ Jean Jacques Rousseau
Can there possibly be absolute freedom? We want to believe that we are free, that we are governed only by our own actions, but just on the superficial level, in every state, we already relinquish part of our freedom to those who govern us to ensure protection and order in the state. So in order to live in a country that runs smoothly, we are subjected to giving up the absolute freedom we had. This is rather utilitarian in essence. (And this is the one instance in which utilitarianism makes sense to me.)
But maybe we weren’t even born free. The minute we were born, we’ve been under the control of our parents, or those who nurture us. Even for those who act out and defy the authority of their guardians, the law catches up with them. At least, that is the case in most societies I know.
In our society now, of course, the notion of freedom is a highly challenged one, a dubious honour that we think we have. In fact, the control over us, while it might seem to have loosened, is in fact tightening, in the form of the modern ‘root of all evil’: the media. The insidious way in which is extends its control over more people is overlooked because of the convenience it gives us, not to mention the entertainment value. Our society is structured around technology now. At least, the society that I’m in is. Our economy, one of the pillars of a society, is propped up by information and communication systems that connect us to the rest of the world. But I shan’t get into all that detail right here, since all that has been drilled into us and written to death in JC GP essays.
So suffice it to say, technology is the main mechanism of most societies in the twenty-first century. But technology is a broad notion. It doesn’t just fuel capitalism; it also affects us directly. We are bombarded by images daily, being fed signifiers that we can, if we are discerning enough, decode. We are told how to think, what to think, so consistently that we think nothing of it. Freedom of thought? What’s that? We know that the cool kids listen to AT 40, and blondes are stupid, women should strive to attain figures like Megan Fox because they are desirable by men, and it is possible to ‘drop a jeans size in 4 weeks!’. Wait. Is that really what we KNOW?
And then there’s the affiliated freedom of choice, or freedom of autonomy. Are our choices really based on what we want, what we decide we want, what we decide is good for us, or will add to our pleasure or benefit? Given all the subliminal messages we inhale, how can we properly filter our own decisions and those already made for us?
So, I guess there never is such a thing as freedom. Even less so in the world today as we know it. I don’t want to repeat myself on Plato’s allegorical Cave, but this is us seeing those shadows on the Cave walls and thinking that’s reality, that’s the truth, when in fact, that is just a feeble imitation of the Truth (the light that casts those shadows).