If any of you were fortunate to own one of those old 1980s Macintosh computers, you remember the “Puzzle DA.” A DA, or desktop accessory, was a little program you could access quickly from a drop-down menu, like calculators and stuff. The Puzzle DA was a digital version of that old puzzle game you could find in five and dime stores.
Made of a grid along which square pieces could be slid into any open adjacent position, the dimestore puzzle was like an ancestor of the Rubik’s Cube: you had to maneuver pieces out of the way so that you could arrange the squares in the right order, usually one to twelve or something like that.
Like its counterpart Mine Sweeper (or Solitaire) on Windows, the Puzzle DA was what bored office workers did for hours while waiting to
diesee five o’clock arrive every day. Most jobs since the 70s have taken a few hours a day of application, and the rest of the time simply involve Being There… just in case something happens.
Jobs also have rhythms. If you run a store, there are a few rushes during the day — usually morning, lunch, and right after everyone gets out of work — and the rest of the time you can spend building scale models of the pentagon out of q-tips if you want. Few people come in and even fewer of them are serious customers.
Office jobs tend to operate around the principle of deliverables. Your industry has some kind of niche, and that flares up a few times a year, but until those projects are in motion, everyone sort of mills around trying to look busy so they do not get fired. Bosses fear this the most, so they invent endless busy work, much as teachers do.
Technically, you have the freedom to choose any job you want. In reality, you are limited by what is on offer. You might want to live in a certain place, say, to be close to family and friends. You have only a certain amount of time to spend looking for other jobs, and you might want to spend that on actually living.
Thus jobs present to us the paradox of freedom. The more freedom we get, the more we are playing the Puzzle DA, arranging little squares carefully so that we have what we want. If what is on offer is bad, we accept that and then waste our lives away, enjoying our “freedom” to listen to the irreplaceable seconds of our lives tick down while we distract ourselves to support the pretense of others.
In this modern age, we keep trying to make freedom work. That is, we all have it — none of us are serfs any longer, or the replacement for serfdom, chattel slavery — but no one is really happy, either. Someone else is always making more money, getting money attention… social status I mean, or enjoying more power.
Our society tears itself apart perpetually through internal conflict as everyone jockeys to move their numbered square into the right place, displacing hundreds or thousands of others in the process, creating perpetual chaos out of a need for what seems like order.
However, we are told that we are ahead of the game and everyone else because we have “freedom.” What is that, exactly? It turns our to be somewhat complicated, because “freedom” has both positive and negative definitions:
Negative freedoms are freedoms from interference by others. A negative freedom, like freedom from violence or freedom from theft, imposes a direct obligation on others to refrain from some action (don’t hurt, don’t steal). Positive freedom refers to the actual ability to act or choose among a set of viable options. A related idea is the distinction between negative and positive rights. Negative rights and negative freedoms are roughly interchangeable; to enjoy negative freedom is to have your negative rights respected. Positive rights are entitlements to certain goods or services. They impose obligations on others to provide those goods or services. Positive rights are one of the building blocks of positive freedom.
In other words, negative freedoms mean a lack of interference by the intrusion of others, but positive freedoms mean the breadth of choice available to you. One can have all of the negative freedoms possible and still have few positive freedoms, like a man alone on a deserted jungle island. No interference, but not much to do, either.
The problem we face is that positive freedoms are inherently unequal. Some are smarter, healthier, stronger, better looking, and more fortunate than others. Someone is always born on land that is sunnier and flatter than other land, so his crops are better, or his neighborhood is better looking.
Even more, we see how ludicrous the concept of positive freedoms — like “free will,” another fascination of idiots — necessarily is. We never know the full range of options before us because most of this world is mystery and most paths are unknown. All we know are the options we have experience to recognize.
Around and around again we go fighting over freedoms. Conservatives promise greater negative freedoms; they will install social order, remove parasites, stop chaos, and generally give you a chance to do your thing and prosper if you can. However, their ideal has a fatal flaw.
Positive freedoms include the ability to do horrible and stupid things. The larger the potential field of actions, the more the chance that someone picking randomly will venture into the horrible and stupid. The Left promises more positive freedoms through their subsidy system, which in practice translates to more error and chaos.
We ask, might there be a way out of this? There is, but it requires casting aside freedom and replacing it with paired duties and privileges. This means that instead of looking for a reason why no one else can stop you, or another option like a product on a shelf offered to you, you look for something affirmative you should be doing.
For example, if you are a guardian of a city, you have wide leeway to do whatever is necessary to make your role happen, and as long as it achieves that, it will usually be forgiven even if somewhat extreme. This is not a “freedom,” but a purpose, and in order to achieve that purpose, you have more lassitude than freedom allows.
Under a traditional society, there are no “freedoms,” because freedom becomes a goal in itself that competes with the goal of society. Instead there are paired duties/privileges, meaning that those who fulfill their role are able to do so and gain some luxuries because of that without the chaotic, open-ended mandate to “do whatever you want.”
Modern people will find this baffling because they think in a feminized legal context. For them, the only things that make sense are hard rules that say they have the “right” to something or another. However, that creates inevitable conflicts and constant infighting over what rights apply where, like someone doing a Puzzle DA.
The future does not belong to “freedom.” It belongs to purpose. This ends the constant internal conflict and reshuffling, and lets us get back to doing what makes our lives meaningful, even if it not wholly by our own choice.