The Messiness of Freedom

Willem de Kooning, Woman 1, 1950-52

“Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational.” -Hugh Mackay

Man, a messy mix of good and evil who came from mud, is capable of both the monstrous and the miraculous. Huh.

“People take the longest possible paths, digress to numerous dead ends, and make all kinds of mistakes. Then historians come along and write summaries of this messy, nonlinear process and make it appear like a simple, straight line.” -Dean Kamen

In every dystopian novel you find a theme of order, rigidity, uniformity, homogeneity. Smooth, stable, predictable, predetermined systems enforced through coercion, fear, propaganda, and manipulation — and usually science (standardized, sterile reproduction; population control; genetic manipulation, etc.).

If you haven’t read these novels, you really must:

Captain Beatty in Fahrenheit 451:

“We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against…

“Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it…

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none…

“Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.

“Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with…”

Selections from The Giver:

“Why don’t we have snow, sleds, and hills?” he asked.

“Climate control. Snow made growing food difficult, limited the agricultural periods. And unpredictable weather made transportation almost impossible at times. It wasn’t a practical thing, so it became obsolete when we went to Sameness.

“And hills, too,” he added. “They made conveyance of goods unwieldy. Trucks; buses. Slowed them down. So — ” He waved his hand, as if a gesture had caused hills to disappear. “Sameness,” he concluded.”

“The Giver told him that it would be a very long time before he had the colors to keep.

“But I want them!” Jonas said angrily. “It isn’t fair that nothing has color!”

“Not fair?” The Giver looked at Jonas curiously. “Explain what you mean.”

“Well…” Jonas had to stop and think it through. “If everything’s the same, then there aren’t any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things! A blue tunic, or a red one?”

“Sometimes I wish they’d ask me for my wisdom more often — there are so many things I could tell them; things I wish they would change. But they don’t want change. Life here is so orderly, so predictable — so painless. It’s what they’ve chosen.”

“I liked the feeling of love,” he confessed… “I wish we still had that,” he whispered. “Of course,” he added quickly, “I do understand that it wouldn’t work very well. And that it’s much better to be organized the way we are now. I can see that it was a dangerous way to live.”

“What do you mean?”

“Jonas hesitated. He wasn’t certain, really, what he had meant. He could feel that there was risk involved, though he wasn’t sure how.

“Well,” he said finally, grasping for an explanation, “they had fire right there in that room. There was a fire burning in the fireplace. And there were candles on a table. I can certainly see why those things were outlawed…”

From Brave New World:

“My good boy!” The Director wheeled sharply round on him. “Can’t you see? Can’t you see?” He raised a hand; his express was solemn. “Bokanovsky’s Process is one of the major instruments of social stability.”

Major instruments of social stability.

Standard men and women; in uniform batches. The whole of a small factory staffed with the products of a single bokanovskified egg.

“Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines!” The voice was almost tremulous with enthusiasm. “You really know where you are. For the first time in history.” He quoted the planetary motto. “Community, Identity, Stability.”

From Anthem:

The Teachers had said to us all:

“Dare not choose in your minds the work you would like to do when you leave the Home of the Students. You shall do that which the Council of Vocations shall prescribe for you. For the Council of Vocations knows in its great wisdom where you are needed by your brother men, better than you can know it in your unworthy little minds…”

We knew this well, in the years of our childhood, but our curse broke our will. We were guilty and we confess it here: We were guilty of the great Transgression of Preference. We preferred some work and some lessons to the others.

In contrast, freedom is unpredictable; chaotic. Freedom means uncertainty. Freedom is perplexing, distressing — the agonizing splinter in your mind whispering that you don’t have all the answers, that you could be wrong, that you could make mistakes.

“Liberty is always dangerous, but it is the safest thing we have.” -Harry Emerson Fosdick

Freedom forces you to question your beliefs as you are hurled against an infinite variety of beliefs. Freedom means pain.

Freedom is messy. And what is the critical element that makes makes it so?

Click the image above to find out.