What is freedom in the context of modern life? Is it the ability to switch jobs at will? To sell your house and move to a new area at the drop of a hat, consequences and implications be damned? Are we free because we get to stay at home for a few hours before and after work every day, because we’ve got a couple of days at the end of the week to go out with friends and get drunk at the local bar? Is freedom that feeling you get while listening to your favorite song on an off day, completely aware of the fact that you’ve got all the time in the world, at least for the time being, at least for this insignificant blip in your otherwise busy work life? It could be any of those, at least at a glance. After all, the overwhelming opinion on the matter in the mainstream seems to be that happiness (bear in mind that this is a state of being that I do, and henceforth will, associate directly with the concept of individual liberty or freedom) is finding the good in life, no matter what is going on on the macroscopic scale because, well hell, there’s just too much bad in this world for each and every one of us to concern ourselves with it all the time. This line of thinking, as well as other, rather similar ones that all boil down to “close your eyes and try to think happy thoughts”, is indicative of a sentiment that is becoming increasingly predominant throughout the West, the idea of every man for himself in the existential sense. It’s as if, due to the blurring of the lines between the good life and the boring, predictable life, we’ve collectively chosen to begin retreating into a land of fairy tales and empty platitudes that hide us from the truth.
That truth is that our existence is a vapid and unfulfilling one. That we’ve surrendered our place in the world, our obligation to bear responsibility for every step we take and every decision we make, in the name of relative material and physical comfort in the short term. Man has succumbed to social alienation and freed himself from the condemnation of freedom.
We’ve become divorced from our surroundings, from the world that we were brought into. The individual now wanders the limits of a personal walled garden that separates him from the outside. What influence can you and I have on the place we live in? We inhabit sterile cities, monolithic anthills that might as well have been planned and designed by an alien civilization with no direct means of contacting our own race. Rows of different-yet-familiar condos line the horizon, inhabited by strangers that come and go as they see fit, some of them just aware enough of each other’s presence to drop a “Hi!” or “Have a great day!” in passing – a momentary crack in the wall that separates us from anything resembling a true community, a thin ray of sunlight that breaks through the thick grey clouds before being blocked once more.
Each passing day brings more of the same yet each passing minute in the office brings us no closer to the prophesied sense of fulfillment and maturity that we hear about all through our formative years. Charlie Chaplin, during his fiery speech in The Great Dictator, claimed that we are not “machine men, with machine lives”, yet isn’t that, in essence, what our lives boil down to? Divorced from the product of our labor (if indeed such a product even exists, considering the pointless, cyclic nature of the majority of jobs today), divorced from the effects said product has on the consumer, on the human being that is putting the creation to use, divorced from the decision-making process at every level in our professional lives, perpetually beholden to sycophantic underlings of higher-ups that are, in turn, slaves to the whims of even more important bosses, of owners and share-holders that demand the utmost efficiency and automaton-like obedience. It’s this insane march of profit-driven progress that has left us, the ordinary people, the Joes that work 9-5 with little ambition and even less objective reason to hope for a way out of this stale and monotonous state of being, lagging behind and wondering if playing catch up is even worth it at all. But none of us are willing to make an effort to change any of this because none of us are capable of doing it on our own and the isolation has gone on too long for us to be aware of how to meaningfully organize and form a mass movement aimed at bringing about a paradigm shift in the way that society views itself, the meaning of its very existence and the point of the entire equation.
Because that’s what it’s all about in the end, isn’t it? The rat race, the alienated, consumerist-fuelled cycle that we go through gives us something to do, respite from the inevitable question – why? Why are we here, what are we doing, why should we go on doing it? Today we can hide from these questions, we can bury our noses in the internet and pretend they never even existed, we can dive into our jobs and dedicate all our free time to making the higher-ups happy and the putting a smile on the kids’ faces on Christmas Day. But they never truly go away. And each new generation is slowly coming to realize that nothing will ever get better until we come to terms with ourselves and reconcile our current reality with whatever it is we want out of our collective existence. This issue is becoming ever more pressing, as capitalism is exposing itself to be an unstable fundament for a society that exists within a finite world with finite resources and an unpredictable ecosystem that is stretching itself thin in an effort to protect itself from our short-sighted pursuits. It’s time to ask ourselves what we want to be and how we want to achieve it. Or maybe we could go where humans have never gone before and ask a question that seems unthinkable at a larger scale – do we even want to be?