Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Genesis: An Essay on Freedom

There are times in my life where I am in awe of the accomplishments of man. It strikes a chord with me sometimes...


A failure of logic seems to be universally accepted in modern civilizations: In order for us to provide what we need, for our own being, we must exchange our time, goods, or services to provide something others need. It is a circular failure. So much energy is wasted. We help others live comfortably so that we may gain some reward of money or goods, so that we may live comfortably.Why have we not circumvented this and simply provided for ourselves?

The answer is simple: The goods and services we rely on for comfort are incapable of being reproduced by an individual.

Consider an example easily identified with modern life: the automobile. Many of us in a modern civilization are reliant on this machine but it is a complex relationship; well beyond the ability of any individual to produce or fully maintain. Even if you are a skilled mechanic, someone or some machine built the engine block you just put in, or the crane that helped you lift it, and even designed the machine that built the engine block. That same mechanic can not reproduce the microchip that controls tire pressure sensors or could have mined the copper ore, smelted it and turned it into the electronic connections, much less have harvested the raw rubber materials, processed them and finally manufactured it into an insulation for that copper. An individual can not do everything in our complex world of technology and specialization.

It is possible we take the use of the automobile as increasing our quality of life and giving us greater range of expression. Is this not true? With the use of the automobile you can travel far and wide while increasing the number of things you have experienced. Mountains, far from my home, can be visited or the great cities built by the hands of generations of men. But at what expense?

In the perspective that has been laid out, specialization and advanced technology may add to our perceived quality of life but could also simultaneously remove our individual freedom.

We are not free if we rely on things that are beyond our individual capacity. It could be that true, intrinsic, freedom may come only when the tools we use to better our existence are within our individual capacity to recreate them. The automobile will only serve us well as long as we need no others to maintain it. When it fails, we see our quality of life diminished and our expression limited. We need someone to help return us to our desired way of life.

To use specialized technology is to sacrifice our freedom for an illusion of expanding it. It is an enslaving agent. 

In an example of basic technology recall the gift of Prometheus.  If you were a paleolithic man, raised in a world where fire was used to prepare meals, fend off animals and sustain warmth, and you did not command the ability to make fire, you would be reliant on your fellow man for sustenance and protection. However, as one who knew how to make fire you, alone, could travel as far and wide as your feet and skills took you, all the while having the freedom to use fire. It is a possessed skill, a possessed knowledge, capable of being reproduced regardless of who is in your company or social reach. In that there is total freedom.

Freedom is expressed when you need not the technology but only the capacity to recreate it. 

The man who becomes reliant on the ax for his quality of life, and can not recreate it, should it fail, is enslaved to the ax. He may perish under the prison he created, unless a solution is found within his capacity. The man who makes a new ax from materials he collects has command of the tool, and freedom of the skill. 

What can we make of all of this? The most basic way I can convey it is: as we have become more and more reliant on technology and others to maintain our perceived quality of life, we are limiting our freedom by becoming enslaved to the technology and our fellow man. If we want full freedom we have to live in a world that is capable of being reproduced by an individual and not a society of men. 

When my mind follows the line of thought I have outlined above I begin to think about Genesis. The book in the bible. In the western world these are ancient stories. I do not approach them from some religious significance but from an understanding of a deep moral problem that was understood fully and wholly by our ancient ancestors. 

The first story we encounter in Genesis is that of the Garden of Eden. This is a story with roots over 6,000 years ago. In this story man has everything he needs. Fully sustained and satiated by nature,man  provides for nature and nature provides for man. It is interrupted however by the original sin, the first and most grave of sins: The desire for more. It is not enough that man possessed the capacity to do what was desired and live as they wished to live. What was wanted was the ability to control the earth like a god. Virgin mankind wanted what was beyond the individual human capacity. Once the goal is reached for, God punishes, and the bounty of nature is removed; men become enslaved to the land, to each other. 

Cain and Abel follow the fall and provide another story capable of interpretation in the same vein. In giving a sacrifice to God, Cain is rejected in his capacity to create crops while his brother, Abel, provides a sacrifice he sought through his hand in the wild. Abel's sacrifice is accepted however. A conflict of agriculture vs. hunting/gathering for ones needs? Agriculture is the key development that led to civilization. Civilization leads to specialization of skills and, consequently, a way of life an individual can not solely sustain. Could this be the great sin against God here?

Population increases as agriculture takes hold and men rely on other men. Sin becomes rampant and we encounter the third mythical story of Genesis: The Great Flood. This story is told and retold by a number of peoples and cultures but in our western tradition it has a specific, poignant, purpose. The flood is a device used to return us to the beginning. To start anew. Might it not be an attempt to return us back to a world within the capacity of the individual? If so, it fails.

We are then led to the great Tower of Babel. Specialization returns and the great cities of men arise. No one man is capable of the great works they desire and we all begin to work together to a goal. The consequence of such great works comes in the form of us failing to be able to communicate. As the men in the story build this great structure they are plagued with varied tongues. Unable to communicate they are forced to live the life of an individual. A minor return to the beginning?

When I consider these stories I would like to see the ancients telling us of the greatest tragedy of man. The sacrifice of the individual freedom. What they really mean, I can never fully know but, there is the possibility this is the sin God punishes us for: We have sacrificed ourselves to raise the collective whole and worthy few.

To become reliant on others and the greater works of man could be the highest of sins because it denies us of our self and true, personal, freedom.

It is a hard one to swallow considering the world we were born into. A challenging feat of character or necessity would need to be undertaken to escape from modern society. The attitude to reliance on others, a desire for that which is beyond our capacity, has enslaved generations past and the generations to come.In that point lies the nature of why it may be the great, original, fault of man. It has become a perpetual state. A perennial condition of mankind.

After an effort to make the precluding arguments, I must consider a counter line of thought. I assume freedom is a high good. That it is a state to be desired and sought after. However, under the definition above, it is an incredibly elusive state in our modern world. Now, I ask, "Is freedom even  in human nature?"

Human beings, Homo Sapien-sapiens, have tirelessly been considered social creatures for countless generations. A fantastic case can be observed in other social creatures, a pack of wolves, a pride of lions, or a herd of buffalo. These are noble creatures. There existence, though, is dependent on each other. It is the nature of their being. Are humans so different? We are not the albatross that needs no companionship beyond a mate to sustain. Nor are we like a polar bear wandering alone among the ice. We are naturally reliant on one another. It is a world we are literally birthed into. We suckle at the mothers breast for the first years of our life while other, more solitary, creatures can sustain within minutes, hours, days or weeks. 

Take it as you wish but maybe freedom was a concept never meant for mankind. Maybe it is a product of our psyche as we have desired to exist beyond what we have been granted. The idea of absolute individual freedom might be the forbidden fruit we were never to touch.  Or maybe a state of freedom is the greatest state of bliss. That is to live in a world made by your hand, sustained by your hand and capable of being reproduced independently by your hand, is the most elusive, and highest of goods.


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