About a year ago I wrote about what it means to be a free man as well as provided examples of who I considered to be free, ie. Diogenes, Buddhist monks, etc.
I think that for the most part, I am correct on the ideas I expressed in that blog post, but I’ve recently been thinking even more about the concept as well as examining deeper layers as to what it means to be “free”.
So today I’m writing about and exploring that. Exploring the idea of the free man and what it means.
I think that in general, we can start from the premise that you are born free. If we look at existence, then narrow it down to living organisms, we can recognize that all living things strive to continue living in some way or form. Whether it be through a plant growing through fertile soil (which is also largely alive with its mixture of bacteria, fungi, bugs, etc) and enriching itself with the power of the radiant sun, or the duck that I saw swimming around in the lake on my morning walk earlier today, rattling its feathers after a nice sleep and then dipping its head into the water to hunt for some breakfast – all living things strive to continue to live.
Life and by extension living is the standard of value. It can’t be any other way. There’s no value in striving to die because to die is to no longer be capable of valuing. A thing must be living in order to value something.
Animals aren’t exactly cognizant of this though, or we at least know this from the studies we have done. Ducks do what they do because it’s what they do, plants grow because it’s what they do. They are just the way they are because they have evolved to be as such. It’s a process of pursuing living for the sake of living.
That said, when it comes to the human condition, we are self-aware and capable of recognizing the things we value, why we value, and choose to pursue otherwise, too. All individuals are separate living organisms to one another that all pursue particular standards of value that differ from one another. A man who eats three times a day has a different standard of eating than I do, which is maybe once or twice a day alongside extended fasts.
It must be understood and made clear that we are separate units. I am not the same as you, you are not the same as your family. You may have split from the cellular structures and DNA that your family had also split from, granting potentially similar features within a wide variety of things, but ultimately you still have a different mind and different senses that grant you the ability to see the world from a different angle.
Note that I say angle, because it must be said that we’re all looking at the same reality. A bus hitting you will damage me just as much, and maybe even killing us probabilistically, with a near infinite amount of variables that are taken into account such as mass, force, velocity, gravity, location, etc that adjust the probability of survival or death.
Ultimately though, it is the same reality, the same rules, the same living organism – but a different mind that can react differently to the incoming bus. We are the same in our traits and what defines us as human is our biggest difference – our minds.
And that one difference is what makes all the difference in our chosen values, which consequently turns into our way of life.
And that requires the freedom to choose, which is what we all have. We have the power to choose.
There is a scene from my favourite gaming series of all time – The Legacy of Kain – that has stuck with me ever since I’ve heard it, and I think it’s what led me down the path of philosophy and the desire to know, because it was such a hard hitting quote that it made me realize that indeed, I have the power of choice, and nothing can ever take that away from me unless my life is taken.
“Kain : Listen to me, you must understand that every creature is bound to one predestined path. We are all shackled…
Raziel : To the Wheel of Fate. Believe me, I know that even better than you do.
Kain : All but one. Because of your remaking, you are the one unbound creature, the one among us all that truly has free will. You have a choice, Raziel.“
You have a choice.
While the dialogue was pointed in the direction of one of the main characters, what it was saying on a deeper level was the player – you – had a choice.
All creatures are bound to the proverbial wheel of fate. Plants can only be plants. Animals can only be animals. They cannot be any other way. They cannot choose otherwise.
But you can. The human mind has the capability to choose otherwise and to go a different direction.
You have a choice. But you have to choose to be free.
It’s been nearly two decades since I first heard that quote and yet it still stays with me, because of its profound resistance to the idea that we are slaves to our fate and deterministically set in our ways. It’s a powerful proponent of our free will, and a grand showcase as to why literary works and art in general are so spiritually important for us as humans.
The idea of the free man is not the idea that we can be other than human, that is not possible – but that we have the ability to choose our destinies and also walk away from what is given to us.
It’s a mindset that requires a lot of commitment to truth and a profound amount of courage.
You are, in fact, born this way. You are born with the ability to be free, and as you grow up, as your mind develops the ability to think, you become aware of this fact. The awareness of choice.
Of course, babies and children are dependent on their parents. They cannot help but be dependent because of their lack of developed survival skills and formal logic. This isn’t what I’m talking about though.
I’m talking about the ability to think. Once you begin to become self-aware, to be able to understand the concepts you have absorbed over the years as a child, you become aware of the default state of a human, and that is to be completely free to choose, and that includes the choice to think.
But the problem lies in the environments and people we grow up around. We have the freedom but we are taught not to explore it. We’re taught to think and act in certain ways. There’s an “established order” that allows particular forms of action but forbids the other.
We’re born free, but we grow up with it shackled and enslaved.
There are obvious reasons why we are forbidden from doing many things and allowed to do others. You are free to murder whoever you want, but the consequence is imprisonment and potentially death. You’re free to steal, but the consequence is retaliation – likely violent.
These rules are in place because it creates harmonious structure within a society of individuals that thrive when they co-operate in win-win relationships. This is how humans have come far and solved problems via peaceful conflict instead of with bloodshed. It’s the optimal route of survival in a world full of individuals that must work together in order to survive the harshness of nature.
However, there are many rules in place that harm the individuals ability to act and be free. The corruption of society started with the skeptical minds of poisonous philosophers that instilled ideas that teach people to comply to established rules, to build rules against those who choose to rebel, and to work on suppressing ideas that do not comply.
I am trying to be as clear as I can though that rules are useful and necessary for a number of reasons. By having law that protects individuals from harm, we ensure that we restrict the ability of people who choose to be violent and destructive towards others for no reason. There are consequences to actions, and an efficient way to mitigate bloodshed is by establishing law and order that aims to crush and restrict it.
But nonetheless, this goes back to the very notion that you have the ability to choose to do these things, regardless of the consequence that it entails. You would likely be stopped or killed, but no one has the ability to take away your choice from committing to the action.
You are free, but all choices have consequences.
But let’s continue back to the idea of a society that is becoming corrupt and how it can enslave you.
Earlier societies in history had much more restricted forms of thinking and belief, particularly in religious societies. There are stories of witch hunts happening because herbal doctors were considered witches as their actions did not comply with the standard practice of “pray the pain away” or archaic methods of medical attention.
There are also stories of blasphemers being cast out of societies and treated as animals due to their refusal to think with the pack and follow the established rules.
Many of these people are what I call “free men” or “free women”. While the consequence for thinking and acting otherwise at no expense to anyone else was ostracization or sometimes even death, those people took a chance to choose otherwise and walk a different path.
We also know now that many of those societies – now long past us – were extremely twisted and corrupted in their ways of thought that created intense suffering among human populations, all because of corrupt philosophical systems that placed obligatory rules on all individuals as a collective, teaching them that there is only one way to live life.
This is that proverbial “wheel of fate” that was described in the quote from Legacy of Kain. It’s the wheel that turns endlessly, keeping humans in its cogs, toiling away until death, only for their children to repeat that cycle.
In the modern day, we have similar systems, albeit more sophisticated. We now have the “rat race” – the one where the pursuit of money is all that matters, and compliance to new rules that claim “we are all in this together” while simultaneously dropping people who dare to think otherwise without a moment’s hesitation. The free men and women still choose to act otherwise, but they are cast out as a consequence.
The wheel of fate that dragged and murdered the people of the past never died, it just evolved into a different form. I see it as a form of a debt based, purely materialistic society, obsessed with its own image and seeking validation from every person imaginable through social media accounts, fabricated photos with fake smiles and dolled up styles, but emptiness on the inside. It’s a wheel that turns on the dime of likes from others and approval from sponsors. The individual may be alive, but the soul inside died a long time ago.
I must be clear however, I don’t reject the idea that working in a corporate environment or promoting your image/work is bad by default – we must always remember that every individual has the ability to choose their own values and meaning for life. There is a reason why many choose to work in offices and build businesses, or promote their fashion because it means something to them. Capitalism as a system is fine and gives us the most freedom to dow hat we please – it is how people act within it that creates the problems.
But there are many people who have chosen this path because it’s what they’re taught – not what they have thought. There’s a big difference there, and I’ll use myself as an example.
I chose to move from my home country and work in Japan, because it was of intense interest to me at the time and I wanted to get out of where I was. I was incredibly depressed and wanted something different, but I wasn’t sure what.
I tried the corporate world of IT and office stuff, but within a year I had had enough, and realized that something was deeply wrong with where my life was going. I was able to make money if I continued, but it seemed to have been at the cost of something much more valuable, but at the time I wasn’t sure what. So I quit, and the year after that was the darkest period of my life that I barely remember, because I was doped up on anti-depressants and a diagnosis of “generalized anxiety disorder”, while simultaneously having intense disinterest and disgust for the general “rat race” corporate ideas that were offered to me.
That said, the interest of Japan and living in Asia never left my mind, ever since I was young. So with courage, lots of consideration and a renewed sense of focus – one that slowly came back to me after I had gone cold turkey from anti-depressants – I left my home country.
That was very hard to do. It took courage to leave and start something new, especially given that I was basically starting from nothing – that includes not even knowing the language.
But I chose to do so. I was criticized for it by many, and a few were shocked that I would suddenly leave like that without really preparing all that much, but I did it, and I survived.
In fact, it’s been over eight years now, and I’m doing fine. My mind is clear, my doubts are sincere, and while I really don’t make much money at all in this strange journey of teaching that I have committed myself to, my soul is alive and alight. All demons that I thought had complete control over me have vanished.
I’m alive because I rediscovered the fact that I am free, and nothing can take my choices away from me sans the grim reaper. I own the consequences of my choices, and what keeps me alive is the fact that they are my choices.
I own myself. No one else does. There is profound self-respect in knowing this.
When I originally wrote the first article of the free man, I gave the examples of Diogenes and the Buddhist monks as being truly free.
Maybe you will understand better what I mean by this now when I talk about freedom.
Diogenes was a philosophcial cynic that decided to live in a wine barrel and was highly anti-social. He would often lambast other philosophers, interrupt their debates and he is most famous for telling Alexander the Great to get out of his sunlight – which ended up impressing the conqueror.
The reason he was free was because he chose to walk away from what was considered the “standard of value” based on what the society at the time claimed. Perhaps for most, living in a barrel isn’t ideal and that is completely valid as it’s your value hierarchy and life after all – but Diogenes is a good, extreme example of someone who chose to walk away and lived well into his 70’s, with an incredible legacy, too. There are consequences to his actions – but he always had the freedom to choose and suspect that he knew he did.
Conversely, many Buddhist monks were once very wealthy, prestigious people who walked away from it all to become very simple men who live in a temple and help others. The consequence was removing all that is within the current standard of what is valuable in society, but they knew they could choose, and owned their choices.
I’ve never encountered a monk that wasn’t happy. That isn’t an indication that their religious beliefs are the right way to go – this is the wrong way to think about it, but it’s an indication that it was the right way for them.
They chose their values. They used their inherent freedom, and owned the consequences of their actions.
And that is what the “free man” is. The ability to think about what your life is like, what it could be, what you want, what you don’t want, and walking away from the unnecessary, the societal standard, and becoming your own person. To become one of the ones that are unshackled from the proverbial wheel.
I think that very few people in this world truly have this level of courage to walk away from what they have been taught to stick with. That’s the cynic in me talking, but I can count on maybe one hand all the people I know that have chosen otherwise and truly become an unshackled, free thinking and free acting agent in this world.
It’s not an easy thing to do. It requires the emptying of the basket – the removal of what you thought mattered to you, the elimination of poor ideas, the intense peer pressure from people who insist you comply, and an unyielding respect for reality, your mind and honesty to the both of them.
But for me at least, it’s worth it.
I recently thought a lot about what I want in my life and the choices I have to make. One thing that crossed my mind was, given the current climate where people are being pressured to do things for the benefit of society ie. vaccination mandates in many Western countries, if in the unlikely event that my work tries to force particular policies on me, I would walk away and carve a new path. It’s a principle of mine that no one can ever control me and I them – and as difficult that choice would be, I would respect and trust myself enough to walk away and come out OK. I can take it, as much as it may risk becoming destitute.
But that is the consequence of being a free man that doesn’t allow the world to control him. He abides by the rules that are just, but defies what is unjust.
And after much thought and cutting down on what is said to me vs what I actually want regarding my future, whether it be in wealth, health, love, etc – and a lot of stress behind the emptying of that basket – all I really want is what this shot from The Last Samurai – one of my favourite films – entails:
A small, traditional Japanese house with a nice balcony, where I can sit listening to the summer rain while reading a book.
It’s pretty simple, it’s quite different and it’s also very, very out of line with the standards of the day. It’ll also have significant consequences that will require work for me to figure out.
But I want to do that, because I’m free to do so – and while consequences come and go, a life where you respect yourself can only come and go once.
That is what being a “Free man” is.