Freedom – condemnation or liberation?

I read once a Jean Paul Sartre’s quote that “Man is condemned to be free”.  My immediate thought was well, this sounds abstract still it is catchy.  Why should freedom be treated as condemnation and not as liberation?  Obviously, I didn’t read the full quote, which goes “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” I feel the challenge is not responsibility alone but also what he chooses to do with this freedom. There is a psychological term known as “Paradox of Choice“, which is the conundrum one faces, when provided with myriad options. It’s the state we all would be in when choosing what to watch on our favorite streaming platforms. Any sane person would say having a choice is better, but little does the person know that the very choice paralyzes the person from choosing.  So why are we talking about Freedom and Paradox of choice?

I believe this is one of the reasons why most people are fine with simply following orders. They like to be ordered by someone higher-up. This could be governments, religions, parents, corporations, or all of them. People find it hard to find time to think about life’s choices and act upon them. Most people won’t have the luxury of time to think, even those who have that luxury would be scared to do so. This gives ample opportunities to the very few who can take advantage and order others around. Religion set the ball rolling on this, which then is taken forward to extreme levels by Governments & Corporations.

Let’s just look at one of the order givers in the society – The Government. More than half of the countries around the world follow some form of democracy. Democracy it is said as “for the people, by the people & of the people”. But on seeing the recent increase of populist, even authoritarian, leaders one is led to believe that since people are expected to act to retain the “freedom” that democracy supposedly provides, they are willing to trade democracy for totalitarianism. This lets them off the hook, as they don’t have to do any thinking or take actions but simply follow orders. In addition to this, people are content to live their lives as they know it. If someone with progressive ideas comes across and ask people to do things differently, people get scared. They are so comfortable with the way things are that they hardly ever venture into new territories. I believe this one of the reasons why conservative parties tend to govern its populace longer than progressive ones (taking UK, US as reference & Tamil Nadu, India). One should never forget that whatever positive change that has happened in the society is largely thanks to the progressive ones, who were willing to think and act different. They questioned the status quo and changed it for good (mostly).

If we take a step back & presume if everyone in a society is open for any new changes and act on his/her liberty, wouldn’t that society become chaotic? One might be led to wonder if there indeed is a need for order givers.  What about those people who neither give orders nor take orders? They live their lives in their own terms, may be within bound of societal norms or not. If they largely live by norms that aren’t bounded by the society, then would these people have more freedom than the order takers have? May be philosophers & artists fall in this category. They enjoy more freedom than rest of us yet are bound by some constraints. Are these people, in Sartre’s mind are not condemned? We never know, just as I would never know why I wrote this article in first place.

Disclaimer : The data quoted is not exhaustive, but just finding the ones that suit my theory. 🙂

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