What is freedom? 2016 edition

This is a new version of a post I wrote back in 2013 about what freedom means to me.

I have been thinking about this for a while, and I have gone through some changes in how I define my views. When I was a teenager I oscillated between anarchism and liberalism, then I fell under the libertarian label, at least nominally since I don’t think I knew a whole lot – to me libertarianism was just “the best government is the least” – all with certain hedonistic tendencies (or about as hedonistic as it gets, for me at least), and now I’m a libertarian-leaning and right wing liberal with the occaisional anarchic tendencies, even if that is just free speech anarchism (well, almost – I’m prepared to accept active calls to violence or participation in violence as an exception in certain circumstances, but apart from that it’s free speech absolutism all the way). But all of that centered around one ideal – freedom.

Anyways…

Freedom to me means the ability of each individual to live the way he/she chooses to live and to follow his/her own natural inclinations without coercion from the state or too much pressure from social norms. It means for Man to be the social, competitive and perhaps spiritual animal that it is, perhaps more. You should be free to be the best that you are, or to become even greater than you are. It is independence, the ability of the individual to have agency and control, thus it is responsibility for ones own actions. It means the ability of the strong, the successful, the meritorious to earn the fruits of their effort in a competitive society through their own effort. It means being able to say whatever you want without being forced to fear coercion from either the state or anyone else. It means being able to express yourself as you please, without that same fear of coercion. It means not having every aspect of your life controlled or regulated.

My ideal society is one were this freedom is the highest ideal, and one that is in harmony with the natural order of how humans and societies work rather than held in bondage to utopian visions of the world. People need to be free to follow their own paths in life, to make their own decisions and pursue their own natural inclinations – free of peer pressure, free of state coercion unless you’re actually harming other people, free of the imposition of grandiose ideals that work against human nature and the human spirit whether they come from religion or from secular ideologies.

What France is becoming should not surprise you

Recently, France has passed a law banning people from paying for sex, with clients facing fines of €3,750 if they flout the law. Apparently, prostitution is not a crime in France, but paying for it is, which basically means that the French government isn’t criminalizing sex workers, but rather banning people from paying them for their services. If you think that sounds stupid then guess what? It is. Seriously, how do you ban people from paying for sex work without criminalizing prostitution as a whole? How does that work? It doesn’t. If your government wants to ban people from paying for sex, you might as well just criminalize prostitution altogether because the whole point of prostitution is that one person pays another for sexual services. It’s fairly obvious that laws like this exist only to work against the sex industry. The people passing these laws seem to not want to punish sex workers directly so they want to punish the clients instead – but such a thing by itself is a punishment of sex workers because it directly harms their industry as a whole. If you want to protect sex workers, just decriminalize prostitution as a whole and allow sex workers to operate in a regulated industry. The pimps and traffickers can’t exploit sex workers if they operate in an environment where their rights are protected by the law. But of course, that’s common sense, and governments don’t often consistently operate under common sense.

To be honest, though, I actually don’t feel too surprised with this law being passed in France. The French government has made notable moves towards authoritarianism before, despite their president Francois Hollande’s claims that their country values freedom (specifically freedom of speech). In 2011, France banned Muslims from performing street prayers in the absence of adequate mosques, apparently to appease the French far-right’s concerns that the street prayers are a sign of “invasion”. In 2010, the French government passed a law banning the wearing of the burqa, the traditional veil often worn by women in Islamic culture. Four years later, the ban was inexplicably upheld in the European court of human rights. The law was passed on the pretense of preserving the freedom of women, presumably under the delusion that women only wore the burqa under coercion, but anyone who knows anything about freedom and liberty can inform you that it is totally possible to wear a burqa by choice and that banning the burqa does nothing to protect the civil liberties of women. Just last year, in the wake of the attack on Charlie Hebdo by Islamic terrorists, the French authorities arrested the comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala over apparent anti-Semitic remarks and for supposedly inciting racial hatred and sympathizing with one of the attackers, and he was also given a jail sentence in Belgium on similar charges. He’s been sentenced seven years imprisonment for the specific charge of his social media comments that supposedly sympathize with terrorism. The French authorities also opened up several other cases of people “condoning terrorism” or mocking murdered policemen, and similar instances of what some might describe as “hate speech”. And later last year, in the wake of the Paris attacks in November, France decided to extend a state of emergency and pass a bill whose provisions are very much characteristic of a country panicking about terrorism. Around the same time, the French government closed 3 mosques that were supposedly linked with radicalization, and suggested that about 100 more mosques would follow under the pretense of preventing radical ideology and hate speech. Oh, and the government has also raised plans to police online “hatred” – twice – which at this point you know is not going anywhere good..

It should also be noted that, again, despite Hollande’s claims that France is committed to freedom of speech, France is not completely liberal. So-called hate speech is illegal in the country, and specifically speech that characterizes a group as a mortal danger is illegal. Which of course, is stupid. You’re not coercing individuals, truth be known you aren’t violating any of their rights. Only the mythical right to not be offended or insulted. France also has laws prohibiting Holocaust denial, as well as libel laws and online surveillance curtailing freedom of speech online, and it actually endorses the concept of a “public speech offense” with regards to the arts. And as you surely know, when you legally divide speech into acceptable and unacceptable speech, you do not have freedom of speech. And no, there’s no such thing as “partial” freedom of speech either. Because of this, it’s clear that France is not the liberal example of democracy the media sometimes has you believe it is (at least during coverage of the attacks in France), but in fact an illiberal democracy, or rather an authoritarian state – after all, any country that decides what you can and can’t say is in fact authoritarian because it does not recognize freedom of speech.

So in my opinion, France is slowly but surely embracing full-on authoritarianism. The only peculiarity seems to be that it frequently seems to center around women, Muslims, and Jews, and a noticeable paranoia concerning terrorism.

A belief driving witch-hunts and moral panics

I watched a documentary about the infamous “video nasties” that were the center of a lot of controversy and media scandal in the UK, and the characteristically British problem of how the furor surrounding them always leads to media hysteria and the erosion of freedom of expression. For those who may not be aware, the term “video nasties” refers to low-budget horror movies which were released on home video in the UK and were typically highly graphic in their violent content.

In the documentary (which is ironically titled Ban the Sadist Videos), I learned a little something about what I feel drove the moral panic surrounding it, or rather the people whipping it up. There was always this belief that these videos would fall into the hands of children and that the videos would not simply desensitize them to violence, but also compel them to actually commit the brutal acts of violence depicted in the real world. I think this mentality reached its lowest point in 1993, when a boy named James Bulger was beaten to death two other boys and the movie Child’s Play 3 took the fall for it as the supposed cause. But interestingly enough, the documentary showed quite a few interviews conducted by news reporters talking to children who apparently have seen some of these “video nasties” and don’t seem particularly traumatized by it. To them it was nothing more than entertainment, and what’s more it was the kind they clearly weren’t meant to watch, so it had that forbidden fruit angle – the kind that I’m sure today’s youth may be familiar with. Even more interestingly, I think at least one of them that they were unrealistic and silly. But of course, the media was never that concerned about what the children as free agents thought – they were only concerned with children as people that had to be “protected”.

During the 1980’s, one of the key figures in this whole moral panic was one Mary Whitehouse, a woman who I swear her name has become synonymous with prudery, censorship, and moral panic over the years – at least in the UK. She’s also known for being an ally of everyone’s least favorite wicked witch Margaret Thatcher, who helped introduced stricter censorship to the UK and contributed to this country having the strictest censorship in the Western world by the 1990’s. People like her and the British press were keen on promoting the idea that the images they saw on video would directly harm people and through people their social order. In my opinion, this all hinges on a central idea – the idea that human beings are inexorably influenced by forces that they cannot control because they lack the ability to choose whether or not to feel influenced.

This week I caught an article from author Ryan Holiday, and this is probably my favorite part of it:

Real empowerment and respect is to see our fellow citizens—victims and privileged, religious and agnostic, conservative and liberal—as adults. Human beings are not automatons—ruled by drives and triggers they cannot control. On the contrary, we have the ability to decide not to be offended. We have the ability to discern intent. We have the ability to separate someone else’s actions or provocation or ignorance from our own. This is the great evolution of consciousness—it’s what separates us from the animals.

With every crusade against violent and subversive media, there seems to be the belief that the opposite of that comes to effect; that people are ruled by things they cannot drive and will always act at the behest of certain influences because they can’t say no, so they have to be protected by self-declared guardians of public morals. With every crusade against those deemed as “detestable slaves of the devil”, we’re always told be on the lookout for those controlled by supposedly evil forces, who are possessed by demons because they engage in witchcraft and beliefs outside of the Church. Beware the rationale behind all the self-imposed guardians of public morals; they are believers in the notion that we are mindless automaton-like beings.

The great struggle

The Asuras fighting the Devas.

The Christians and Muslims proclaim the struggle between God and Satan at the battle of Armageddon, and want to convert as many people as possible so that their God may hold their souls as property. The Hindus proclaim the struggle between their gods and the “ego” embodied by Man and the Asuras, and pray for the eventual . The Buddhists proclaim the struggle of salvation and enlightenment, and the hope that eventually all beings will be saved. The materialistic atheists take their lack of belief in God and the soul and extrapolate it as a struggle against all religious and spiritual belief, guided by the desire to convince others that any spiritual or religious belief is stupid. The leftists proclaim their struggle against corporate America and go about trying to get people to “wake up” – to come around to their viewpoint. The anarchists proclaim their struggle against “the system” and also want people to “wake up”. The feminists proclaim their struggle against the “patriarchy”, and want people to join them in their struggle. The rightists proclaim their struggle to “make America great again”, and will never tire of followers – Donald Trump is not the first right-wing politician to claim this as his goal, and he may not be the last. The communists proclaim their struggle for their ideal “stateless society”. The fascists proclaim the struggle for their perverted notions of purity. Hell I think there are even some in Satanic, Luciferian, or generally Left Hand Path circles who prefer to emphasize a great struggle for liberation from the cosmos and its God. And still there are always the type of people who wish to lead the people to march in the name of progress, against the old and unfashionable world order.

For a lot of people the world of Man is locked in a struggle of light versus darkness, the old versus the new, the rich versus the poor, science versus belief, materialism versus spirituality, theism versus atheism, the left wing versus the right wing, male gender interests versus female gender interests, one racial interest against another, capitalism versus socialism (or versus communism depending on who you ask), liberalism versus conservatism, war versus peace, love versus hate, and many other struggles. And the majority of the time, it’s believed that one must prevail over the other – and anyone on the other side is surely misguided or evil. If it feels like you’re either part of a revolution or just fodder for the system, you should know that something’s wrong. Everyone’s got a vision for the world, an ideal to follow, and for most people it’s always about an ideal for other people to live under and they’re always looking for followers; their cause is useless without them.

To be honest, I think the idea of a great struggle goes back even before the establishment of monotheistic belief. You tend to notice many conflicts found in the older polytheistic mythologies. The Aesir versus the Jotunn in Norse mythology, the Egyptian solar deity Ra or Amun-Ra versus the serpent of annihilation Apep, the Olympians versus the Titans in Greek mythology, among other examples. It may have been that in old polytheistic traditions, that conflict was a little more balanced, or simply representative of natural processes. But of course, religion and politics march on. Even then though, sometimes it kind of seems like one side is supposed to win out over the other, just like in today’s narratives of the great struggle.

In a way, I’m reminded of the Law and Chaos conflict. Even as a usually pro-Chaos person, I can come around to the fact the struggle between Law and Chaos even leaves little room for the individual to do much other than follow the figureheads of the Chaos faction and then ultimately enact their vision – though that might be because of real-life figures reminding me of some of the worst aspects of the Chaos factions in the games, some of which I’ve been willing to overlook in the past. But even the Neutral fans can be like that, insisting that their way is correct (usually citing canonicity, which is weird because -in my books at least – the individual’s relation to the story supersedes established canon in the MegaTen series). And even in some of the games, or at least more recent games, taking the Neutral path doesn’t always feel like asserting individualism (like a lot of people claim) – you’re still following someone else’s cause or following someone else’s orders (Stephen in SMTIV and Commander Gore in Strange Journey).

If I have a struggle, it’s the struggle to fulfill my own ideals, my own convictions, and to preserve my own liberty – without lapsing into herd mentality or unhealthy extremism. I will fulfill my ideal, and carry my Reason, without imposing on the liberty of others. The cause of the continued survival and advancement of freedom is the only cause I want to be a part of – even then I can imagine groups of people claiming the cause of freedom, and then actually fulfilling the exact opposite as part of their dynamic as a group (but hey, that’s often what happens when people think they can achieve liberty by promoting group or herd mentality).

I say, be who you are on your own terms, and don’t just someone else’s struggle if you don’t sympathize with them, and even if you do try to make it about your own fulfillment – or at least, your own relation to a cause.

The law of liberty

Freedom of speech is simple: everyone must have the freedom to speak as they wish, and everyone must be allowed to express any opinion or thought they please. There are no exceptions. Not even those whose opinions or beliefs are unpopular or even revolting are to be exempted from this freedom, and no unpopular or unsettling statement is to be exempted. This is the law that all who believe in the concept of liberty invariably oblige themselves to when they profess their belief in the concept of freedom of speech, because in observing this tenet we nourish liberty itself. In order for liberty to be sustained properly, we must have freedom of speech in the truest sense. No “partial” freedom of speech will suffice.

In our age, we still have to deal with the thought of the youth, not just the old, in parts of the world being blind to this basic reality. The entire notion of no-platform policies being implemented in many universities is based exactly on the ignorance towards the fundamental nature of freedom of speech. It’s based on the notion that you are allowed to say somethings but not others. It’s based on the notion that freedom of speech exists only as long you don’t say anything that could be accused of being hateful, offensive, and even aggressive. And ultimately, it’s still based on the notion that someone else decides what you are allowed to say, which is fundamentally opposite to the notion of freedom of speech.

The reason I say that no “partial” freedom of speech will suffice is because such “partial” freedom of speech is ultimately non-existent by definition. If you are only partially allowed to speak freely, but otherwise not allowed to say certain things, then you are living in an environment of restricted speech rather than in freedom of speech. Those who wish to support freedom of speech must remember that if they are to support liberty, if they are to support true freedom. Liberty means that we can do as we wish provided it need not directly harm others in the sense it would deprive others of the right to exist as independent beings. It is free agency. Genuine freedom of speech is an essential part of this notion of liberty. Without the right to speak freely, we aren’t really free at all in any strict sense of the word. Thus the law of liberty is clear: freedom of speech means exactly that – no exceptions.

The willingness to create structure

There was a lecture I had in university yesterday morning about game design theory, and an interesting thought occurred along the way. A lot is made of how in the game industry you as a designer will end up working for a client of some kind, with specific ideas of what they might want (not sure if that’s completely true in the world of indie games but that’s besides the point), about the need to meet the demands of consumers, and how creativity can only account for so much. But it’s important to remember you can’t make a game for everyone, and I did learn that if you have an idea for a game, it’s entirely possible to find a demographic for your game and hone in on it. Not only that, but if you focus on that niche, you may in fact be more likely to succeed than if you tried to have something for everyone. Like putting something from Battlefield in a game that isn’t Battlefield for any of its competitors, for instance: the result is something that’s just half of Battlefield in a game that’s supposed to be completely different.

And along the way it occurred to me that maybe, if you do all the planning, the market research, and the consideration for who’s going to receive your game idea as soon as you plan the idea, which would be somewhere in very early stage the game, likely before the pre-production stage, then you might just be free to explore the creation and production of what you really want to make, knowing that you’re making it for people who might actually want to play it. And that takes thought, consideration, and planning, specifically coming up with a plan for what you’re making. And I thought that maybe that planning and that consideration is what frees the creator in the world of game design, rather than having an idea and just expecting it to get through on the sole basis of it being your fondest creative vision.

I think it takes a certain faculty within the human self: the willingness to embrace and create structure to benefit your own personal goals or to fulfill your own desires. Order or structure is ultimately a product of the will, so the power to create it is another expression of the self, its will, and its potential, rather than as necessarily being detrimental to the imagination, or at least not if applied in tandem with creativity and/or flexibility in the case of game design. With that in mind I feel something about my attitude towards order and chaos might be changing, as I hope to explore in a future blog post.

Chaos, the will to power, and the Black Flame

I haven’t finished reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra yet (though I think I’m getting closer to the end of the book), but I’ve found some information about the concept of will to power as espoused by Nietzsche that I think leads me to believe that the “all-powerful life force: passionate, chaotic, and free” I’ve read about on the back of my copy in fact refer’s to this concept of will to power.

Will to power is the concept of a life force behind all that is, characterized by the drive to grow in power, become stronger, and attain mastery and overcome both the world and the limits within, and Nietzsche apparently felt that every form of becoming and appearance, even reality itself, is an expression of the will to power. Having learned somewhat more about this will to power, and discussed it with others, I think the life force I envision can expand to the will to create, the will to express, the will to expand, the will to become immortal, all perhaps related to or complimentary to the will to power. But I feel I feel the life force I envision might be more than just will to power (at least by Nietzsche’s definition), as I feel there are other attributes to it reflected in other ideas. After some thought, I think the all-powerful, passionate, chaotic life force of freedom and personal power is at once the power of selfhood, the power and life force tied to the Black Flame, the hotly glowing flame of desire, imagination, being, and the “I”. And I am Black Flame might not even be the only name for it, the Flame of the Adversary or simply the Inner or Chthonic Flame might work too, or even simply the Satanic Fire, but the Black Flame is a name that really sticks, and I especially like its connection to the ideas of the Temple of Set, which teaches the Black Flame is the life force and the source of consciousness in the individual. You could say this is what Satan represents in the context of Satanism (though I admit this is usually in a non-theistic context; however some forms of Satanism or demonolatry refer to Satan as a force representing the All from which all demons originate, as is my understanding anyway). And as I mentioned before, this force can potentially be reflected in other concepts from other cultures.

It’s hard to find images to illustrate this life force, but I think this might be a really good one.

At any rate, I feel like I understand the life force I’ve been looking for a lot better, and with that it might be easier to make it grow in me and fulfill my being through it; because in the end, no matter what, I feel like it’s my life force, and I think I at least reflect that in how I prefer to express myself as an individual. Could I still refer to it as Chaos? Probably, though I have made statements in the past that Chaos was more a state than a force, and I don’t think I’ve revisited and reconciled that yet.