The Burden of Freedom

The astonishing thing is not that some people steal or that others occasionally go out on strike, but rather that all those who are starving do not steal as a regular practice, and all those who are exploited are not continually out on strike: after centuries of exploitation, why do people still tolerate being humiliated and enslaved, to such a point, indeed, that they actually want humiliation and slavery not only for others but for themselves?

Deleuze & Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 1972. page 33

Why do people desire their own humiliation and slavery? People don’t like to be responsible for their own decisions; they don’t want to be free. Freedom is a burden; it requires cognitive work. You actually have to think. A person’s actions becomes contingent rather than necessary. (See Sartre). If I can simply follow orders, then I don’t have to take any responsibility or worry about being an ethical person. If I am issued a uniform to wear every day, then I don’t have to worry about choosing the “right clothes.” If I get my food from a military or prison chow hall, I don’t have to worry about selecting the right food. This is why many people prefer an institutionalized life. They want clear regulations and procedures, not the messiness of life on their own. They can’t bear freedom.

The same principle applies to conservative, insular religious communities (Hasidic Jews, the Amish, monastic orders, etc.). This doesn’t mean they necessarily follow all the rules of the institution, but they want to know what the rules are. If they want to be left alone, they will follow the rules; if they want to cause trouble, they can break the rules. They may prefer this condition to what they perceive as a chaotic or terroristic, rule-free outside world.

Under conditions of terrorism, there are no clear rules or procedures; you can be killed at any time for any reason or no reason. The terroristic ruler, like a god above his creation, will not bind himself by any regulatory code. If people know the rules, then they can try to stay out of trouble by following the rules, but if the rules are uncertain people just feel helpless. An abusive parent might beat a child for not finishing his dinner or for finishing his dinner–it doesn’t matter. This parent is saying, “I can beat you at any time, and don’t forget it. Be good or bad, it doesn’t matter.” The goal is to paralyze the victim with anxiety.

People want clear expectations; they want to know that if they put their hand in fire it will hurt. Kafka explored a world where clear expectations don’t exist. This is a world where you cannot expect to be left alone just because you are a law-abiding citizen.

When people vote for a fascist like Trump, they are expressing their desire for a “strong leader” who will set clear guidelines for right and wrong; they don’t want any uncertainty. They can’t stand porous borders. Thus, they reduce complexity (us versus them, right versus wrong) and oversimply everything. This is what the call for “law and order” amounts to. Democracy is too messy for these people; they prefer authoritarianism. This much is clear after the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.


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