Freedom for me is not some selfish idea about being able to do whatever I want, but being able to live in accordance with my deepest values.
Since beginning to actually consider what those values might be, I have been astonished by the amount of obstacles that can sit in the way – either externally through some persuasive social logic and system organisation that holds different values, or internally, which I suppose is the prisoner mentality that arises from internalising those external values. Either way, it’s following orders that everyone might be better off not following.
Extrinsic values of popularity, financial success and status competition that underlay most of my previous efforts are inherently incarcerating. It seems like we all know this, and accept at different levels that self-interest above all else is, below the surface, displeasing and diseasing. But it’s still difficult to imagine a way to live any differently; prisoner mentality.
These values create modern day wonders such as high-carbon lifestyles, which feel very nice, feel insane to consider giving up. But these days it takes more and more drastic measures to deny that something utterly atrocious is happening. I sometimes wonder whether, in my inability in the past to see the obvious flaws in the Myth of Endless Growth, there was a similar psychological process going on to the one that might make me bury a personal trauma, act like it never happened. This would be understandable in a situation which threatens the very ground I stand on, both in the sense that it shatters a worldview that I was raised to subscribe to, and that it literally erodes away the soil under my toes that grows my food.
These values alienate me from what my heart truly desires: loving relationships, connectedness to something bigger than myself, and an attempt at service towards that bigger thing. And not killing things.
Our common pursuit of economic unhappiness creates such horrendous social and ecological conditions that we would do well to be deeply concerned. But the prisoner mentality says that there’s nothing that can be done, so we seem to proceed as normal. Our culture creates a black hole that we don’t want to fall in, and so we run away from it like frightened rabbits. And those who succeed in running away from it achieve the further widening of the hole to swallow those not fast enough.
For those who are not in the hole, opting out of this madness is a real and necessary option, if we can get past our denial and indoctrination. And an important step towards slowing the damage – to ourselves, to those who are in the hole, and to the natural support systems we take for granted. The funny thing is, my experience of ceasing to pour my energy into accumulating my way to imagined security has involved a swelling of wellbeing, and also deep appreciation and sense of responsibility for those systems that sustain us (and that I am trashing).
Stand and fight or roll over and give in? Honour my own values or meekly accept someone else’s? The first carries the fear of the unknown, a leap of faith and the discomfort of being responsible for my own actions and all their consequences, the inconvenience of radical behaviour change. The second comes with the slow, deep, grating anxiety of not being true to myself, of being in service to attractive but dark forces… and dark days ahead.
To die inside and carry on living like that sounds like a terrible way to go. On the path of unhappiness, a bit of me dies with each step, and the most I can do is tell myself it doesn’t matter. Freedom, however, is quickening… and by its very nature, it means it doesn’t have a path. So a zombie walks through life very differently to a human being.