Freedom squish

by CarlD

I was recently involved (as a bit of a thread-jacker) in a conversation over at Edge of the West about drug policy. Dana’s original post expressed a sensible doubt about the value of anecdotal evidence in disproving the destructive effects of pot smoking, and noted that the success of the anecdoter in question “has less to do with the fact that pot isn’t dangerous and more to do with the fact that if one is well-educated and well-off one has to really screw up before anything affects one’s expected life outcomes. They have a safety net made of money.”

It seemed to me this good thought got pretty well covered in short order, so I went meta by suggesting that moving transgression thresholds here and there was more likely to squish unfreedom around than to actually make anyone more free (although I’ll accept ‘more choice’ in a supermarket sense as marginally preferable to ‘less choice’). Pot itself is not much of a point, nor are its specific properties and effects more than a distraction; it’s just where the line happens to be drawn in a disciplinary regime that works by drawing lines somewhere. I made this argument in some detail there and won’t reproduce it here – click through.

So if it’s not squishing unfreedom around, what would it mean to be more free? I don’t have a satisfying answer for that, but here’s my answer, in a couple of parts. Like Voltaire’s Brahmin I wouldn’t want to exchange paralyzing awareness for busy ignorance. And like Camus’ Sisyphus I think there are all sorts of things worth doing anyway (like teaching) not because they’ll actually work in some larger transformative sense but because this absurd fate belongs to us.

Would it be different if it was cheese?

Would it be different if it was cheese?

Freedom is the recognition of necessity, as Hegel said. When I was driving down to school this morning I chanced to be behind a couple of cars in a row that were pretty much ignoring the lines painted on the road. Their flirtation with those transgression thresholds may have seemed like freedom to them, but acceptable transgression is part of how the system’s built. Around here beat up old guys in beat up old pickup trucks drive real slow, right down the center of the lane. Freedom is in coming to grips with the lines, accepting their power to limit and compel, and releasing the desire for somewhere, something else they simultaneously create and frustrate. If there’s room to move and to play within the lines, so much the better.


2 Comments to “Freedom squish”

  1. I like this: “Freedom is in coming to grips with the lines”–not necessarily obeying them, but recognizing that they exist. The positions of privilege implied in the “safety nets of money” idea don’t recognize the limits, and that’s what’s frustrating.

    And old guys in pickup trucks drive the same way everywhere :-).

  2. Cool, Undine. Btw, I’ve been picking at a draft post on the concept of ‘privilege’ forever. It’s one of those rhetorical wmds that always misses its proper target – fully privileged people are by definition immune to it – and therefore mostly causes more collateral damage than it’s worth, I think. Among other things I’d like to disentangle the stuff that’s great about privilege but bothers us because everyone doesn’t have it from the stuff that is just plain obnoxious. The way you’ve put it here is very helpful because you offer a lens to focus right in on the latter.

    Those pickup guys keep trying to teach me to live right, but I keep using up all my dawdle where I am before I get in the car so I have to hurry. Then again, a cotton field is patient in a way that a section of world history isn’t.

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