Are You Ready and Willing to Be Free Again?
The modern West’s sudden and near universal acceptance of “lockdowns” — a novel concept of government-enforced house arrest — signifies a far-reaching and sinister shift away from bedrock democratic values. When fear was injected into the atmosphere by the media, the West was a sitting duck, ready to accept any lifeline offered by any politician — even the communist dictator — in a stunning reversal of our nation’s founding principles.
“Give me liberty or give me death” was our original rallying cry. Oppressed by British rule, Americans rebelled. They fought for independence, for the right to live their own lives in their own way. This passion for liberty created the most successful republic in history, a nation to be proud of — a beacon of hope and prosperity for people of all nations.
Today’s Americans behave in a diametrically opposed manner, trusting the government with blind allegiance and giving it full and total control over their wellbeing. Even personal health decisions like whether or not to receive a quickly-developed vaccination are entrusted to politicians to mandate. Any neighbor who disagrees is marginalized and rejected: “She’s an antivaxxer; she must be an ignorant Trump supporter.”
You cannot betray the concept of “give me liberty or give me death” any further than by adopting the premise that no one can disagree with you and still be a reasonable person. When you are on board with a plan that includes subverting your neighbors’ autonomy and violating their bodies as you deem necessary to satisfy the people on TV, you’ve rejected the American experiment. You’re a collectivist, and I wonder: have you looked into how well collectivist systems have worked out for regular people lately?
It is shocking how many people appear to want to live in a world where everyone thinks just like they do. The average person quickly distances himself even from political opponents, as if it would be desirable to have just one political party that everyone votes for. Yet in 2021, in affluent coastal communities, republicans have to pretend to be democrats, and they actually do it. When even this commonplace difference of opinion cannot be accepted and dealt with, it’s clear we’ve moved far away from prizing eccentricity as John Stuart Mill did in 1859, back when Liberty was cool:
“[T]he mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.”
This fear of eccentricity — which I’d argue is tantamount to freedom — was laid bare in March 2020. Even when the “deadly disease” propaganda out of China was thickest, the average person really did not want to lock herself at home and pull her children out of school, let alone force people out of work. Yet it was only the very rare person who made this desire public. Everyone else pretended to agree — they decided to “go along to get along.” They put the “stay home, save lives” sticker on their Facebook profiles. They did drive-by birthday parades (my God.) And now that the failure of lockdowns is irrefutable, they refuse to admit they were wrong, afraid to face the damage they helped to cause.
To summarize, the appearance of universal agreement with lockdown was just that: an appearance. Agreement was depicted because most people do “what’s cool,” and because mass media is everywhere, and because social media astroturf propaganda efforts are very effective. A society that wants to “be cool” is very easy to manipulate. The dissenters will betray themselves to stay cool, so just make something appear cool, and the conformists will jump on board.
To today’s Americans, appearances are everything — we are afraid to be different, lest it make our friends uncomfortable (maybe we will lose one, whatever will we do?!) We have ceased caring about truth and authenticity entirely. We have tacitly agreed as a society that true things should be hidden whenever they conflict with what is “popular”; with what everyone “smart” and “cool” is doing. Anyone acting outside of these boundaries — the “eccentrics” of centuries past, considered by Mill to be geniuses — are today’s untouchables.
In a nation founded by rebels, somehow it has become cool to be a conformist.
Thanks to lockdowns, we know that people want to “stay cool” more than they want they want their kids educated, more than they want to open their businesses, and more than they want to breathe freely. They will even accept open-ended vaccine dosages for an illness that poses less risk to them than driving a car — anything to “stay cool.” Disagreeing with someone is too much for Americans today. Confrontation is so scary that we’d rather let society dictate who we are; that way, everyone else will feel comfortable.
“Care what other people think of you and you will always be their prisoner.” — Lao Tzu
This is how the West sacrificed freedom before lockdowns were ever imposed. We care far too much what other people think of us. We fear freedom. Freedom is truth and authenticity and acting in your own interest, as your own person, even when — especially when — it makes other people uncomfortable. Why would you want a bunch of fake “friends” who only like the image you’re projecting? They will leave you the second your social power is tarnished. If you’ve never burned a bridge in your life, these are the people you’re surrounded by, guaranteed.
Speaking the truth, even when it burns bridges, will dissatisfy just the people you want to be rid of: the people who want you in a box, who resent having to follow onerous rules themselves, and mean to force you to do the same. The only power they have is the power to reject you, and once you don’t care about that, you’re free. You say the truth, accept the results, walk away from the wrong people and end up with the right ones.
Trade truth for popularity, by contrast, and you kill yourself in a sense. All that’s left of “you” is what society finds acceptable, which isn’t “you” at all. It’s completely external to you and has nothing to do with you. By conforming, you betray yourself by accepting the premise that there is something wrong with the real you. Maybe you’re so bent on being perfect (as defined by others) that you don’t even know what “you” is. That would make you the perfect cog in a machine, but as for your personal well-being, there is nothing worse. You will suffer.
“We defraud ourselves out of what is actually useful to us in order to make appearances conform to common opinion. We care less about the real truth of our inner selves than about how we are known to the public.” — Montaigne
The mind-bending part of conformist behavior is this: we all know the truth. We know. We just aren’t saying or doing it. There are dozens, hundreds of people who email me thanking me for opposing lockdowns and for standing up for medical choice and privacy. So why aren’t they doing this themselves, if they admire it so much, and know it needs to be done? If everyone did it, there could be no repercussions for any of us. Yet it isn’t happening because we are scared of telling the truth, which means we fear freedom. Far too many of us fear freedom.
We fear freedom and authentic humanity so much that we pretend people are robots. One glimpse of human frailty and a person can be blacklisted without a trial. Humanity is barbaric at present, demanding a certain perfect image and absolute cooperation with majority rule or social death. It isn’t hard to understand why people eventually crack in such a system, or develop severe anxiety disorders. Consider one of my favorite passages of literature from modern philosopher Karl Ove Knausgaard, discussing how he was banished by his family for simply telling the truth in his epic autobiographical novel:
“The social dimension is what keeps us in our places, which makes it possible for us to live together; the individual dimension is what ensures that we don’t merge into each other. The social dimension is based on taking one another into consideration. We also do this by hiding our feelings, not saying what we think, if what we feel or think affects others. The social dimension is also based on showing some things and hiding others. What should be shown and what should be hidden are not subject to disagreement . . . the regulatory mechanism is shame. One of the questions this book raised for me when I was writing it was what was there to gain by contravening social norms, by describing what no one wants to be described, in other words, the secret and the hidden. Let me put it another way: what value is there in not taking others into account? The social dimension is the world as it should be. Everything that is not as it should be is hidden. My father drank himself to death, that is not how it should be, that has to be hidden. My heart yearned for another woman, that is not how it should be, it must be hidden. But he was my father and it was my heart.”
“He was my father and it was my heart.” What is there to gain by calling Knausgaard a freak and rejecting him, when we know these things happen all the time — alcoholism and infidelity? Shouldn’t we revere him for his brave example, for his confidence? I find his display of human vulnerability incredibly attractive, perhaps because I see so little of it in my daily life. I’m tired of the display of perfect people with perfect lives and perfectly-scheduled, perfect kids on the path to Harvard. I want the mess, and I want to show my mess and still be accepted and loved.
Knausgaard, I guess, is the rare modern eccentric. He puts it all out there. Here he is again, discussing the purpose of publishing a novel so true that he lost family members over it:
“I was there, turning 40. I had a beautiful wife, three beautiful kids, I loved them all. But still I wasn’t truly happy. It’s not necessarily the curse of the writer, this. But maybe it’s the curse of the writer to be aware of it, to ask: why is all this, all I’ve got, not enough? That’s really what I’m searching for, in this whole thing, an answer to that question.”
Maybe that’s the heart of it all — even the heart of the current crisis. We are all so empty despite “having it all,” because “it all” has been defined by something other than us. Hollywood, the media, popular politicians — they are telling us what to be, and we have listened, and we are miserable. We are lying, pretending, putting on a show; hiding our pain with drugs, drink, porn, overspending. Things that they sell us.
The end result of this entire exercise in anti-self-development is lockdowns and forced perpetual vaccinations, a segregated society with everyone suspicious of everyone else, and technological apartheid on the horizon. Slavery. If we had all defined ourselves, instead of turning into a mass with one hive mind, afraid of any differences — of freedom — would we be here? I don’t think so. We’d be happy, healthy, and free.
“To be satiated with the ‘necessities’ of external success is no doubt an inestimable source of happiness, yet the inner man continues to raise his claim, and this can be satisfied by no outward possessions. And the less this voice is heard in the chase after the brilliant things of this world, the more the inner man becomes a source of inexplicable misfortune and uncomprehended unhappiness.” — Carl Jung
We’ve neglected individuality in pursuit of perfect conformity, and as a result we’ve become a miserable society filled with miserable people who will never feel safe enough. There is no boundary they will not cross in pursuit of perfect compliance with the rules, doing anything and everything that’s needed to “be cool” today, as defined by The Today Show. “Come to our all-vaccinated wedding!” “I won’t play tennis with ‘the unvaccinated,’ regardless of the fact that I took my own vaccine and stand 40 feet away.”
This is what we’ve become.
We simply must revisit truth and authenticity sometime very soon. We urgently need to find what’s real in all of this fake, and that can’t be done without individual human voices. If you care about liberty, you must do this one scary thing: embrace it. Be free. “But to be free, you have to be inconsiderate.” Yes. Inconsiderate to others, but considerate to yourself. Speak now or forever hold your peace.
Stacey Rudin is an attorney and author. You can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/stacey_rudin