Freedom Under (Great) Pressure

Please pardon me as I take an existentialist turn during this national holiday.

Regarding human nature, I think it is sound to say we are free. I also think it is critically important to qualify this by saying that our freedom operates under great pressure, the pressure of historical, socio-cultural, genetic and intrapersonal forces. The irony of this is that we become ensnared when we fail to understand our freedom, as well as the forces that press upon us.

9 Responses to “Freedom Under (Great) Pressure”

  1. Simon  

    Ok, well happy 4th of July anyway mate! 🙂 (Even tho it’s the 5th now)

  2. Anthony Velez  

    Hey, I did ask for pardon.

  3. K.L.B.  

    Okay… so what’re you saying?

    What’s your point?

    The Scriptures indicate humanity was free from the get-go. Even amidst oppressive regimes and tyrannical governments (both human inventions) humans have always had choices.

    This entry kinda’ reminds me of “Choices,” the song popularized by George Jones. (Incidentally, it was written by some good ol’ Southern boys – and did you know that Alabama ranks second nationally in the number of native fish species that inhabit our waters?)

    Now really, Anthony… if you insist on being creative, you’re gonna’ have to move South!

    “I’ve had choices, since the day that I was born.
    “There were voices, that told me right from wrong.
    “If I had listened, no I wouldn’t be here today.
    “Living and dying, with the choices I’ve made.”

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  4. Anthony Velez  

    I think that if someone thinks, “Well duh, of course we’re free”, then that person has not thought very deeply about the various forces that profoundly influence and shape us. I also think that if someone only sees human behavior as the sum of cultural or genetic forces then they are not plugged into the whole picture. Both of these options have been present within the Western Tradition, and I happen to be one of those odd persons who contemplates questions regarding human freedom. My tendency has been to focus on the forces that shape us, but I also know full well that there can’t really be a sense of responsibility without some kind of freedom. So, the expression in this post, is my attempt to respond to this matter in as concise a manner as possible.

  5. K.L.B.  

    I don’t think that you’re referring to me in the opening sentence of your response. That’d be too easy, and I’m not gonna’ make this personal. However, as you well know, I express similar ideas in a vastly different manner than do you. I just don’t choose to use “profound” words. *LOL* (Yet my vocabulary is extensive. Remember, Anthony? “It’s okay to say “green.'”)

    And, while I enjoy discussion of various theories, I take a more practical approach, often asking the proverbial question, “how does this issue relate to me, or how can, will or does it influence me?” I’ve often considered theory and practice to be two often conflicted ideas. For example, why is music theory called, “theory”? It seems to work quite well, and we have analyzed music physically and emotionally for quite some time. And in the area of nursing or healthcare, again, there’s an area of theory and practice, both based in learning, understanding and science.

    You see, I’ve always viewed theory as an unproven area, one for which we have no rational or scientific explanation. I think my perspective to be correct, especially since the word “theory” has its roots in the Greek “theĹŤria,” which means “contemplation, or speculation.” In other words, a WAG… Wild-Assed-Guess.

    An example is one of my favorite phrases, frequently found in the PDR – Physician’s Desk Reference (the “bible” of medications available in the U.S. pharmacopeia.) “The exact mechanism of this drug is unknown…” In other words, ‘we don’t have the foggiest idea of why or how this thing works!’

    In explaining to my patients (and others) I often take great delight in reminding them (and others) that while tremendous advances have been made in healthcare and medicine, the exceeding majority of our knowledge base is almost infinitesimally small compared to what we DON’T know.

    I don’t think the picture is a complicated as you presuppose. (I like to recollect the phrase popularly attributed to A. Einstein – though with little certainty – that “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”) That’s why I illustrated with the chorus of the song “Choices.” The opportunity to make choices requires a certain amount of freedom. But see? You knew that already.

    “I think that if someone thinks, “Well duh, of course” it’s a country song, “then that person has not thought very deeply about the various forces that profoundly influence and shape us.”

    Honestly, our songs speak more to our existence than any Hegelian, Kantian, Kierkegaardian, gobbledygook. And by no means am I belittling or intending any disrespect for their ideas, but again, let’s just simplify things a bit. (You and I are better than they are anyway… we’re still breathing!)

    Let’s examine a “make-believe” person, born in a ghetto of a megalopolis, whose parents (when and if they can be found) are drug addicted, constantly bickering, fighting, fussing and fuming, stealing or whoring to support their habits, and they live quite literally from hand-to-mouth… if not under a bridge or homeless shelter.

    Is that child free? You might argue “no” because of the “various forces that profoundly influence and shape us.” In other words, a negative answer says that the child CANNOT rise above their raising. (That’s a line from a country song by Ricky Skaggs, by the way – “Don’t get above your raisin’.” It speaks of the “various forces that profoundly influence and shape” a person.)

    So, there ya’ go! Country music speaks to the philosophical. And I am deadly serious.

    Perhaps you mean to ask, “are all men truly free?”

    Are, for example, the Massai people free? What about Chinese or Korean dissidents? Are they free? What about Charles Manson… is he free? Who is free?

    Could Charles Manson have done differently? Could the Massai live elsewhere AND live differently?

    Again… I ask, “what’re you saying? What’s your point?”

    Perhaps you’re asking ‘Can man change?’

    Give an example.

    Or, to borrow a Southern phrase, “put the hay down where the goats can get to it.”

    You’re erudite… read the lyrics to the songs which I’ve mentioned, then consider your answer.

  6. K.L.B.  

    Here’s a great story that, I believe, succinctly illustrates this conversation.

  7. Anthony Velez  

    Kevin – You were right, I was not specifically thinking of you when writing the opening of my response to you. I was pointing to two basic options that people tend to take regarding the matter of freedom. However, you probably picked up on some defensiveness on my part, but can you blame me when you began your post with “Okay… so what’re you saying?” and “What’s your point?” That seemed a bit dismissive, but I realize I could have misread your tone.

    After reading your initial response and thinking through this matter further, it struck me that perhaps I should have shared that in reading various texts in Western philosophy, both sides (freedom and determinism) are capable of developing compelling arguments. And so, I puzzle through these questions in my attempt to mediate or resolve what seem to me to be very real tensions.

    Regarding referring to Hegelian, Kantian, and Kierkegaardian philosophy as gobbledygook, and then saying, “by no means am I belittling or intending any disrespect for their ideas,” that seems a bit disingenuous. However, I do connect with you regarding the ability of music (or any art for that matter) to speak to our existence.

    You inquired as to whether I was asking whether man can change. I think I would be a hypocrite, regarding my profession of Xian faith, if I said no. The Gospel says “Yes” we can change and overcome any of the forces that profoundly shape us, because Christ has submitted to these forces, and through death and resurrection, overcome them. Consequently, we, by trusting and obeying him, can partake of his victory. In my post I said that humankind is free, because I think that the natural state of humanity is a state of grace. We always were meant to be partakers of the life of God, and thereby have the power to exercise dominion over ourselves and the world around us. Also, as I implied, when we fail to understand the nature of our freedom, and the forces that work upon us, we do become ensnared, and thereby are no longer genuinely free. However, this is where I find insight in the Church Fathers who said that the life of Christ is a light that helps us properly see these things, and can therefore keep us in freedom.

    In conclusion, I will take a personal turn, and say that this matter regarding freedom and the forces that shape us, regarding responsibility and slavery, is very important to me, because I am trying to make sense of my own continuing struggles with sin, which seem to contradict the power of the resurrected Christ that is at work within me. I know of some who because of such struggles have come to the conclusion that Xianity doesn’t work, and have lost faith. I don’t see myself as at risk for that kind of loss, but I certainly don’t want to have a faith that turns a blind eye to any part of my (or our) ongoing struggle in this age between the ages. So, taking what I said and expressing it more personally: Yes, I am free, but my freedom operates under forces which exhibit great pressure upon my freedom, and to the degree that my life is not illumined by the light of Christ is the degree that I fail to genuinely understand this tension, and thereby remain ensnared on some level. Of course, the hope is that one day I will see Jesus face to face, and in seeing him I will be transfigured. In the meantime, this hope offers me incentive to live a godly life.

  8. Anthony Velez  

    Oh, I totally missed your words about theory and practice. Regarding the relationship between these two, I don’t think you can separate them. Underlying specific practices are theories about what things are and how they work together, which inform what kind of practices are possible or at least favorable. Sure, many people engage in certain practices without understanding the underlying theory, and they employ the practices quite well. Yet the ability to critique our practices requires some kind of theory about what things are and how they work together. Also, often certain practices or change in practices were inaugurated by theoretical shifts in understanding. Ultimately, I don’t think humans can conceive of a consistent course of action without an underlying theory. A theory is merely a verbal presentation or account of phenomena that we experience within a particular context.

    I liked what you said about the limits of theories, as there are always points where a theory’s representational qualities breaks down. Just the same recognizing this weakness does not mean we should dismiss, get rid of, or discount its importance. Rather we should be critical users and analyzers of theories.

    To give a brief example of the importance of theory in relation to car races, the driver does not need to understand the theory behind combustion engines, the mechanic, however, has to have some kind of understanding of such things if he is going to be able to repair it and/or tweak it to obtain maximum performance. And even more important than the mechanic, is the original engineer who designed the engine. He or she better have some understanding of how to convert chemical energy to mechanical energy, which requires theories about the nature of energy in general as well as in specific contexts. Otherwise, the engine wont’ work, won’t work very well, or will “BOOOOOM!” And, nobody wants that.

  9. K.L.B.  

    You, I and others (the ones that read your blog, et al) are a select few, to be certain. We’re highly educated, and enjoy esoteric conversation. I sincerely doubt – as I’m certain you would well agree – the average Joe or Jane would have heard of those philosophers, thus to them their writings are gobbledygook, but not, perhaps the ideas they discuss, espouse or promote.

    So in that very great sense, we have an obligation to others in that regard. We mustn’t “get above our raisin’,” and must get “down to Earth with” others in explaining those mens ideas. The question I ask is, “How can we relate this idea to others?”

    I probably didn’t do a good job of explaining that from the outset, for sometimes when I write, I take the perspective of another (and outsider, if you prefer) to illustrate my point. I suppose it’s that sense that I don’t like to, nor enjoy living in isolation. We weren’t made for that, you know. Thus, I think it incumbent upon us to share, both the germane and the illogical as well as the passionate and mundane.

    I suppose I consider myself a good “mixer.” You know… blends well in almost any environment. So, I neither consider myself pretentious, and indeed hold in contempt those whom are. (Not that you are, of course! But I think it a very real danger for many, nevertheless.)

    What I didn’t understand from your original piece – you did a much better job in the elaboration – was the sense that our loss of freedom may not necessarily come from our own exercise (though it often may), but from our lack of understanding the true nature of our freedom, vis-Ă -vis that “we always were meant to be partakers of the life of God, and thereby have the power to exercise dominion over ourselves and the world around us.” The point at which “we do become ensnared, and thereby are no longer genuinely free,” is the point at which we deny that “the natural state of humanity is a state of grace.” (I might take exception to your wording – though I hope I understand your assertion – for I believe it contains ambiguity, and could properly use clarification. The “natural state of humanity” is sin, and selfishness. We are beneficiaries – whether we acknowledge it or not – of the Almighty’s grace. Thus, I perceive your statement of “natural state.”)

    Like you, “I am trying to make sense of my own continuing struggles with sin.” Once, I thought that it was possible for humans to enter into a state of sinlessness, that one didn’t “have to” sin, simply because it was a nature set aside by our submission to Him. Now, I’m not so certain. I sense that my carnal appetites (about which Paul wrote extensively) indeed does war with my soul. Yet, like the Apostle, I am eternally grateful and recognize that “But I thank God, who always leads us in victory because of Christ. Wherever we go, God uses us to make clear what it means to know Christ. It’s like a fragrance that fills the air.” (1 Cor 2:14 GWT)

    For some (and it’s almost a joke – seriously, it IS the subject of many jokes in the South), drankin’, smokin’, and cussin’ will gitcha’ ta’ hell faster’n greezed lightnin’! “Well, shit! I left my damn cigarettes at the bar.” That’s the punch line, of course.

    Well… would Jesus drink Jack Daniel’s whiskey? Would He smoke a big, fat stogie? Would he curse? It’s not recorded that He did, but he sure did get mad! (Was He madder’n hell? I dunno’, but today, He might be charged with menacing, battery, assault, creating a disturbance, promoting riot, etc. Poor guy.

    Jesus had to be a pretty cool dude. I mean, think of it. Here he socialized with whores, drunks, thieves, blue-collar types… low-lifes, and tells ’em about the Kingdom. The King among the commoners. Now THAT’s my kind of guy!

    When you wrote “to the degree that my life is not illumined by the light of Christ is the degree that I fail to genuinely understand,” was most clarifying! I concur, and perceive it is a very real danger to us in our state of transformation if we forget from where we came. That’s one reason why daily reading of the Scriptures is important to the believer.

    And, I am so dog-goned tired, I’m gonna’ quit here for the time being.