The Reign of 'Freedom'

By Mariusz Popieluch
Buddhistdoor Global | 2011-01-01 |
Under the ideological banner of freedom nations have been built and intellectual revolutions took place. Under the same banner slavery and racial segregation in most parts of the world have been abolished. We also know that liberation plays a central role in Buddhist philosophy. It naturally is a value worth seeking and apparently even fighting for - after all, in its absence human dignity and other values that make us human tend to suffer. Over time the concept of freedom has acquired an esteemed status among values in general, and as most would agree, rightly so. Presently however, at least in the ideological sense I fear that it is somewhat overvalued - there's an overemphasis on its superficial status - the freedom, or the illusion of individual choice in particular. I have a problem with this because such ideological misuse diminishes the importance of the burden of responsibility – a necessary consequence of freedom.
It the modern (postmodern) age the concept of freedom has acquired the form of an instrumental label, a catch phrase, and is used primarily to appeal to our ego. This emphasis on individual freedom, which leads more to a hedonistic attitude than anything else, is leading us toward an egocentric and atomized society of self sufficient individuals to whom the value of others is only instrumental. Naturally in this ideological climate personal identity is no longer something that emerges from ones attachment to a given community and culture, but rather it is an object which can be shaped according to our whim and current trends. But we also know that trends can be manufactured, mainly by the government-corporation tandem. Now it becomes bitterly obvious who benefits from the so called idea of freedom of choice which is only as real as its true nature – a slogan.
Case in point; it has come to my attention that a certain social experiment has been carried out in a Swedish preschool, which illustrates precisely the ideological climate which I'm talking about. The idea is to alleviate any gender related pressures on the children’s social development. Supposedly under the nurture assumption, children are to freely choose their identity and shape their roles accordingly. This is done quite comprehensively, firstly by implementing a gender neutral language where gender delineating pronouns are eliminated from the local language and in their place a gender neutral noun friend is introduced. Secondly a team of trained pedagogues makes sure that the children indeed exercise their freedom i.e. when choosing what games to play and what toys to play with.
The idea has merit, but I fear that the style of its execution contains flaws which are quite harmful. Firstly on moral grounds such an experiment will be responsible for a cultural rift between the children and the generation of their parents and grandparents - artificially introduced and developed behavioral patterns would add to the usual inter-generation communication noise. Such generation with a reduced ability to value the support of the elders will be left more vulnerable and isolated thus becoming easy targets for manipulation and indoctrination by the corporate and political dream makers.
Secondly the role of the pedagogues which aid the children at every step in making sure that they exercise their freedom fully, will condition those kids to expecting guidance from the state at every step – it will deprive them of their autonomy – an exactly opposite outcome from the declared one. Personally I think the whole approach is absurd - it's a kind of compulsory implementation of freedom: ‘now, now my little friend I must insist that you make sure that you've chosen that particular toy freely and it is not a reflection of a model that you're have been exposed to at home’.
I'd like to shift focus to another example of the instrumental and disingenuous use of freedom ideology. Under the banner of Freedom as an euphemism, we have witnessed over the last decade propaganda campaigns used by certain countries in order to win popular and UN support for military engagement where the motives were quite remote from liberation. Naturally this example is not intended to posit the existence of drawbacks to the idea of freedom, but to illustrate its ideological bargaining power when used as an euphemism to cover up morally dubious acts.
I’d like the reader to take two points from the above. Firstly, be wary when you’re presented with freedom as a bargaining element – what is really hiding under its banner? Secondly, realize that each degree of freedom delivers additional responsibility which, if not heeded will lead us on the path of ultimately becoming confused, demoralized and miserable.


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