The education system played the cruelest trick on you and you never even noticed it. The trick was in the way in which the education system treated authority. If you’re to think back to your schooldays – I am once again speaking primarily of the West – you can probably remember a lot of adults on power trips, bureaucratic systems which seemed nonsensical to you and rules which, clear as day, were there only to assert that there are those who will tell you what to do…just because they can. At the time school’s authoritarian system seemed so cruel, demeaning and frustrating, not only because it was, but because they wanted it to seem this way. Only a Beano-esque caricature of authority such as that found within the Western education system could possibly make life after school seem free…
Which is the exact reason they needed to test you, to push you to the absolute limits of capture. If you’re to think back now, notice how utterly absurd it is that one had to ask to go to the toilet, to ask if it was OK to perform a natural human function! If you’re school was anything like mine the majority of pupils went along with this, they understood it was how things are and so thought nothing of it. Now, to the point. If we’re to take this absolute culmination of minute control techniques and place them in relation to the reality of life after education, it suddenly makes that life seem very free. No longer do you have to ask to do, well, anything really. You can buy what you want, own what you want and – within limits – do what you want. The problem of course is that this newfound ‘freedom’ understood in relation to your previous prison-esque existence makes even the most mundane tasks seem like a dream (to some).
It always amazed me that post-education I found that a large majority of my acquaintances genuinely enjoyed tasks such as insurance, traffic, post-office trips, taxes etc. Nothing makes modern Western man feel freer than chatting about the chains he shares with others. It makes them feel very adult if they mention these things, and to feel like an adult makes them feel free. Except, this entire notion of ‘adult’ was created in relation to both the education system’s desires for you and its means of authority. Or in short; I bet you can’t wait to leave here and be an adult. And that’s how they get you. Usually the education has left enough frustration in one’s system that this illusion of freedom doesn’t wear off for an entire lifetime, and so people find themselves assimilated into more complex constrictions and believe them to be freeing. Often the more complex they are, the freer they feel. I mean, think of the lengths of time, patience and mental-fatigue people go to with regard to sorting out even the most minor of status or monetary benefits. “I spent just 3 hours today and managed to get £100 off my car insurance!” Humanity, a cosmic emetic!
“When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution… Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress. ” (Paul Virilio, Politics of the Very Worst)
Virilio should have extended his metaphor – as beautiful as it is – to freedom, as Dmitry Orlov has:
“The freedom to be car-free is not generally regarded as important, while the freedoms bestowed by car ownership are rather questionable. It is the freedom to make car payments, pay for repairs, insurance, parking, towing and gasoline. It is the freedom to pay tolls, traffic tickets, title fees and excise taxes. It is the freedom to spend countless hours stuck in traffic jams and to suffer injuries in car accidents. It is the freedom to bring up neurologically damaged children by subjecting them to unsafe carbon monoxide levels (you are encouraged to have a CO detector in your house, but not in your car—because it would be going off all the time). It is the freedom to suffer indignities when pulled over by police, especially if you’ve been drinking. In terms of a harm/benefit analysis, private car ownership makes no sense at all.” (You are not in control)
I don’t want to focus this solely on technology as both Virilio and Orlov have, though understandably they both hold freedom in high regard. I wish to extend this idea back into what I was previously talking about, that is, other’s ideas of freedom as imposed upon your psyche. Both Virilio and Orlov’s quotes make it clear that one’s idea of freedom is eschewed, largely by our fixation on the material. The same idea of freedom applies of course to all further materials, take just a moment to think of the freedoms that come with the material you hold so dear to your heart: Property, communication devices, PCs etc. But this also applies to habits-of-freedom. Once again I return to the juxtaposition between the archetypal authority of the school vs our cathartic release from that hellhole. If we take just one single habit we all currently abide by out its regular context, we can begin to see the damage that has been done to us by adjusting to these ideas. Let’s take a shopping trip.
One might argue that we have to eat. And I would agree, we have to eat, it’s a biological fact. I’m not arguing that the system doesn’t make it difficult for one to not shop at supermarkets, nor am I saying that it doesn’t occlude that there are actually other options. Much in the same way that the System’s Neatest Trick assimilates all rebellious behaviour into its own loop, so too does the system assimilate all alternative modes of existence into its breath of control. Think of the butchers, bakers and…candlestick makers in relation to a contemporary supermarket, they all seem nostalgically quaint don’t they? Almost like a non-serious way of doing things. They’re still accepted somewhat of course, largely because there’s been a huge push in recent years for artisanal, organic and free-range stuff etc. Let’s take it one step further, let’s say you go to a friend’s house for dinner and they state you just need to go hunt the rabbit and pick the mushrooms before you can get started. What would you think? You most likely would think this absurd, but it was not long ago that such a reality was commonplace, only since the 60-70’s has the idea of non-corporation reliance seemed crazy.
Back to freedom. When you engage in the freedom of shopping, the ur-freedom of Western society, what is it that you’re exactly engaging in? You’re free to walk down countless aisles of useless products and be pulled to and fro by subconscious advertising that wishes to harm you (junk food), you’re free to walk under mass fluorescent lighting as opposed to walking outside, you’re free to engage in mind-numbing conversation with those who only speak to you out of monetary obligation, you’re free to engage in the desires of others being imposed upon your will. Quite frankly, you’re free to engage in a battle which you walked into of your own accord.
This piece isn’t about altering an alternative to this, – I would push growing veg, attending local markets and foraging, by the way – this piece is about freedom, and our idea of freedom. Now, people don’t only see that shopping trip as a part of their free life, they often see it as an expression of freedom in itself. “Well I actually buy Brand X detergent…”. The earliest years of life were – if you’re like the average person in Western society – spent within familial and state authority structures, your brain was sculpted to understand that outside such structures was freedom; if only I could leave school, if I could leave home, if only I could get a car…then I’d be free. The trifecta of stereotypical Western freedom: A job, a house and a car. 3 basic forms of temporal and monetary debt.
To the title, No Personal Gods, No Personal Masters. Once again, this is a way of saying you’re in control. The one thing that you are 100% in control of is yourself. What then are these habits and ideas of freedom, for as has been quite thoroughly stated up until now, you need to take responsibility. So to understand that the ‘freedom of shopping’ is another’s desire forced into your will is one thing, but then to blame that ‘other’ for you taking action on it is another. You can understand who’s to blame, just don’t blame them, because you’re just as silly for willingly walking into the trap.
This form of pseudo-freedom has become a personal Master. You bow to it as you would a schoolmaster who was telling you off. You get angry at the traffic but never seriously consider getting rid of your car of finding a closer job. The supermarket frustrates you but you never seriously consider learning to grow vegetables, attending farmer’s markets or sourcing the products from local suppliers. You hate your job and the cycle it feeds, but you never seriously consider there is an alternative because you know full well you’d never do anything about it, you are scared. But what you’re scared of is falling outside of a notion of freedom that was never your own to begin with. There’s a little fascist inside all of us and we fucking love them, why? Everything is easier when you’re told what to do. Why do you think people work so willingly? They have no clue what else to do, instructions and obedience are illusions of sense and reason, they only make sense within a constricted system.
It is easy to yell from the rooftops “No Gods, No Masters!”, because once again, that is an action of externalization, it is removal of responsibility and thought. It is placing the direction of one’s own life into the hands of an abstraction. You worship these sculpted abstractions as if they were real, and perform emotional feats with regard to these beliefs; you feel helpless, depressed and anxious about the future, all because you have subconsciously constructed your life around these illusions of grandiosity. It is very easy to rebel against a God or Master, for their presence shall strike you down; but to rebel against the personal Gods and Masters of our own tortured psyche is another battle all together, their presence cannot appear for it to be struck down, for you always finds a reason for it remain strong and vigilant, you power the illusion that is ruining your life!
What you’re doing when you abide by these illusions of freedom is putting the responsibility for your own life in someone else’s hands. There is no such thing as a shop with ‘good choice’ or ‘good selection’, those ‘choices’ were already chosen for you, the real choice is to think about what choices you actually have, and whether or not you become subservient just because of the convenience. Who taught you that serving someone was what one does, was it the idea/person you serve by any chance? Who told you that X was good, beneficial and positive, was it X by any chance?
You introspect on the truths of contemporary freedom and fall into despair, where’s the alternative, where is the other you cry. Remove the binary, the idea that there is some land of hope waiting for you; the idea that there is state of freedom fit just for you that is external to you is false. The only freedom is the one you create after burning all mental haunts to the ground and rebuilding. Use not the foundations of an archaic mass or state, use not the building material of a thousand lonely ideologies, use not the habits, customs and traditions of those who conspire against you. State loudly and often, even to those who do not presume they’re in such a position ‘I do not respect your authority, your status has no merit within my domain.’ The supermarket walls begin to melt, roads begin to appear as shackles, houses offer little protection only suffocation, schools become prisons and the work becomes a matter of shifting abstractions. Alter your perception of freedom in such a manner that it does the word justice. We are free is a paradox. I am free, when proclaimed loudly, sounds like a cry for help. Internally, quietly, knowing that your choices are your own, and that you’re working towards a greater state of being which has been wholly devised in moments of solitude and reflection, without tampering from the world, within such a state is found the seed of freedom, let it blossom and do what you absolutely must, before it’s too late.
Too late isn’t an age or time; too late is when fatigue leads to submission and you forget yourself completely, a potential human dissolved into nothingness.