LENT: Week five, Wednesday – Freedom and Self
The French writer Michel Houellebecq, in his book Atomised, used a metaphor from quantum physics to describe people as being either waves – movements outside of themselves – or particles, where the same isolation that makes them “free” makes them lonely, apathetic and unable to form connections.
In our time it is not only unfasionable but inconceivable to think outside the method of preserving individual autonomy. We worship “freedom” – a negative defintion focused not on what we can do but on what we cannot be obligated to do. Our civilization understands itself not as a product of history and maker of future history but as a facilitation – like a big shopping mall with a legal system – of individuals doing what pleases them so long as they do not interrupt others doing the same and disturb the peace.
This condition has not made us happy. While we agree that liberty, equality, fraternity and open economies are noble methods, the goal of these- having a better civilization and individual lives – has not manifested itself through these methods. By basing our ideal on freedom, we have closed ourselves off to obligations outside of ourselves, which coincidentally are the things that makeus feel most alive. We are prisoners of the self and it is no surprse we act selfishly as a result.
– Brett Stevens, from the foreward to Peatti Linkola’s Can Life Prevail?