Existential Psychology

Illusion Of Freedom

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Let’s say you’re trying to get your child to eat healthy. One clever way to do it is to offer the illusion of freedom by offering a couple of different healthy options from which to choose. “What do you want to eat, the carrots or the broccoli?” You’ve framed the interaction in such a way that your child gets to feel in control when in actuality you’re in control. Whatever choice is made your underlying agenda is met.

If you think this same strategy isn’t employed with you by the various structures of societal power you’re kidding yourself. Ideas are put forward in such a way that you think you retain the freedom to choose amongst various options when in actuality the bedrock of all of these options remains the same. And this bedrock is always about keeping the structures of power and influence in place as they are in order to insure the continued smooth functioning of the society in which you find yourself.

This illusion of freedom to which we’re all subjected every day of our lives isn’t always malicious, it isn’t even always conscious. In the existential sense we all badly want to believe that the world as we find it represents objective reality, we want to believe that we’re not historically conditioned but rather that our particular set of cultural and societal circumstances is valid, right, and proper as a matter of course. It’s not just laypeople who fall into this trap. Freud’s entire system of thought was based upon the premise that his Victorian society was the perfect society, the height of humanity, and that any deviations from that norm were neurotic and therefore in need of treatment.

In our daily lives and relationships we often feel compelled to accept the lesser of two evils simply because our psychological orientation is bounded by systemic cultural thought. Part of breaking through this limitation is coming to terms with the fact that our societal and cultural structures of power and influence are not set in stone, they’re not eternally proven, they’re not simply the way thing are, but instead represent just one of countless different perspectives on what the human condition and existence are. Ultimately if we’re interested in personal freedom we have to come to our own conclusions about these questions, to decide what we authentically believe to be best for ourselves, others, and the world. Sometimes this means breaking free of the confining schema that appear to offer us different options when in actuality these options are no different from your child’s choice between carrots and broccoli.