The Biggest Threats to Man’s Independence
It is human nature to hyperventilate about the big picture while ignoring the small one. While we worry, rightly, about the ever-encroaching surveillance state and off-the-leash legislation and the threats they pose to individual freedom, there are certain tangible ways in which we daily curtail our own independence. Here are seven blatant examples.
Surely it’s a sign of degeneration when you experience a potent, all-encompassing existential dread every time you forget your iPhone at home.
No other thing in existence is quite so detrimental to one’s independence as the smart phone. What you do when you have a smart phone—or even a regular cell phone—is allow every single person and organization you know interrupt you and impose their realities and demands on your own.
When I see people around me nattering away on their phones about some family problem or who said what on Facebook or that they’re just around the corner and they’ll be home in like two minutes, I just shake my head.
I shake my head because they’ve been caught up in a web of kinship and suffocating relationships which the late, great Marshall McLuhan once called “the global village.” Much like village life, everybody’s got their nose in everybody else’s business, privacy’s nearly nonexistent, and independent agency is impossible.
Plus, how unadventurous is it to constantly use Google Maps everywhere you go and check and plan and research every little thing you’re doing all the time? Not saying we have to go back to Neanderthal times, but surely it’s a sign of degeneration when you experience a potent, all-encompassing existential dread every time you forget your iPhone at home.
This one’s a bit counter-intuitive. How can the car—the unspoken main character in Kerouac’s On the Road and the seemingly penultimate expression of going where you want to go at any speed you want—possibly be a threat to independence?
Simply put: it makes you lazy.
For the very first consideration in regard to independence has to be the physical. Before you ponder more abstract matters of law and economics and society and government, you’ve first got to ask yourself these more elemental, basic questions: Am I actually physically autonomous? Can I move around and get where I want to go without the aid of some bulky, expensive, polluting machine? Can I walk long distances without feeling like I’m going to fall apart?
If the answer is no to any of the above, then your first step towards independence is simply that: a step, an actual physical step of your foot. And then another one. And another one. And many, many more.
If walking takes too long to get to your job or wherever, then consider a bicycle. Unfortunately, bicycles have gotten caught up in the culture wars. Bikes are now immediately connected to eco-anarchists and hipsters—and that’s sad.
Because the bicycle, even more than the horse, is such a great symbol of independence: powered not by oil produced by medieval-minded Middle Eastern dictators but by your legs. And, unlike a car, you get more fit the more you use it.
As Susan B. Anthony once said about bikes:
I think it has done more to emancipate woman than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood.
And, might I add, manhood.
What is independence, anyway? Hard to say with much certitude, but, to me, the term’s wrapped up in the concepts of mobility, spontaneity, and wildness. Definitely not domesticity.
And owning a home is the very definition of domesticity. When you buy a house, you are chained to your property with links both mental and physical. For the life of me—I can’t remember where—but somewhere Rousseau said that in buying property and building a house you gain a home but simultaneously renounce the rest of the world.
Home ownership’s an illusion anyway. Many towns have ordinances which dictate the length of the grass in your yard and what color you can paint your abode, and property taxes doesn’t seem all that different from rent to me. And, of course, most people owe money on their mortgages—so when those monthly payments stop rolling in, kiss that dream home goodbye.
Which brings me to debt in general. Debt is our collective national Damoclean sword. Whether it’s our college, our cars, our houses, or our credit cards, we tend to write off several decades of our lives and sign over our ambitions and dreams to monolithic financial institutions.
Who knows where or when, but somewhere along the line we injudiciously threw aside the old-fashioned values of thrift and moderation and talked ourselves into the faulty proposition that consumption on a massive scale—regardless of our means—is both good for the economy and ourselves.
Our Constant Need to Be Entertained
We’ve forgotten how to be by ourselves, and we relentlessly bask in second-hand experience. For the swirling abyss of raw, unfiltered existence scares the shit out of us—which is scary. It seems we need to constantly escape our surroundings or else we’ll go insane—which is insane.
As much as I love movies and books and music and art and the world of the imagination, there needs to be a time when we just set everything aside and live our own lives and see with our own eyes. We live too much in the third person and not enough in the first.
So put that smart phone away, shut down that computer, switch off that TV, mute that stereo—and, even though it well-nigh kills me to say it, close that book.
Freedom is dangerous. Laws and regulations regarding safety are all fine and dandy: seatbelts should indeed be worn, drinking and driving is rightly penalized, and the indiscriminate brandishing of firearms at all times and places has justifiably been constrained. But there comes a time when safety concerns and over-planning suck all the fun out of life.
If you don’t know the sweet thrill of being out in some natural and/or desolate place with no one else knowing where you are, far out of range of cell phone service, then perhaps my words will strike you as exceeding strange.
But if you can kind of connect with the idea that being out on your own like a complete unknown like a rolling stone is amongst the purest forms of independence, then you also know that living without nets sometimes is at the heart of being a man.
You may think that your deeply-held convictions make you a bastion of virtue in this fallen world, but the truth is far from that. Your passionate adherence to a well-defined set of codes and viewpoints in fact makes you a dipshit.
Strict devotion to a certain political party or religious sect is not a strength, but a weakness. It shows that reality and new information are just too much for your mind to handle and you prefer complacency to truth.
Indeed, ideologies of any stripe are the very “mind-forg’d manacles” which William Blake once spoke of. When you wholeheartedly commit your psyche to a specific creed, you are forced to discount and reject all history and experience and facts that speak to the contrary.
Not saying we all have to passively float along in a miasma of relativity—but it’s important to remember that Reality has its own unfathomable agenda.