Do You Long For The Freedom of Your Chains?Anja van Kralingen
This is a guest post by Ryan Parker.
I was recently privileged enough to spend two weeks on holiday in the UK, in part visiting Stephen, during his marathon sabbatical, and in part simply spending time in London visiting as many places of personal interest as time and money would allow.
Naturally, being a competitive Jo’burger I couldn’t help comparing life in London with life in Johannesburg and actively seeking out the positives and negatives of both places.
In the course of which it struck me just how ordered, controlled, and rule bound Londoners seemingly prefer to live. Johannesburg by comparison seemed a little wilder .
At first, especially as a tourist, this was a real boon and I’m guessing here, but I’m sure that if any Jo’burger were stopped in the street and asked whether he/she would prefer a more governed society, the majority would loudly proclaim, yes! After all, if you are not in the business of crime, what have you got to hide?
Yet as I spent more time on London’s streets I imagined living a whole life under such nanny like strictures.
There are, by way of example, no less than 57 CCTV cameras, as you walk from the underground platform of Liverpool station to street level. This is a distance of no more 300 metres and is already well policed. Of course if one walks the streets of the Johannesburg CBD, one can be safe in the knowledge that only half the cameras work half the time.
There are also constant ‘Received Pronunciation’ verbal warnings on the station’s P.A. warning travellers to ‘Mind the gap’, ‘Step away from the closing doors’, ‘Have your tickets ready’, ‘consider X number of stairs in this station’ watch out for ‘broken glass on such and such platform’. At times it seemed as if there was an omnipresent, omniscient strictly obeyed, ‘Voice Of Authority’ looking over every person’s right shoulder.
Stephen and I discussed my observations in some detail, if I recall correctly it at 3:00 am in the morning after we had just spent a rather rough night in Soho and were now on some random bus heading in the absolutely wrong direction. (That’s another story altogether.)
Notwithstanding our situation, Stephen still had the good grace and presence of mind to ask me to write a guest blog exploring why we as human beings long for the pseudo safety of Nanny State type controls.
The question in essence that we asked was; what are we so scared of losing, that we feel so strong a desire to subject ourselves to nihilistic procedures, processes, and prescriptions, rather than to soar slightly wild after birth.
Are all our seemingly benign rules and regulations perhaps artefacts of a deeper desire, a socially contracted craving to restrain the ‘Devil Inside’.
Carl Gustav Jung stressed that our modern world does not give enough opportunity to experience the archetype of the Shadow. So for example when a child expresses his/her animal instincts, he or she is often punished. Of course such punishment does not lead to the extinction of the Shadow, which is impossible, but it leads to the suppression of this archetype.
The Shadow retreats to an unconscious state, primitive and undifferentiated. And perhaps then, when the Shadow does finally breaks through the repressive barrier, and this does happen once in a while, it manifests itself in a sinister, pathological way.
Now admittedly the process of individuation is not something that comes from the ‘outside’ of a person, but rather is an inborn internal natural process.
Notwithstanding this fact, I think we must for the sake of argument accept that external forces, socialisations and experiences influence the manner and rate of each our own personal process of individuation.
In which case then is it not just possible that the social restrictions we place on ourselves to behave ourselves, to repress our animal instincts and punish our shadow side are also just the things preventing us from reaching any form of individuated earthbound freedom?
A freedom which is in part denied us, when we hand all responsibility over to a government, no matter how caring and benign it may be.
Romantic Barbarian Freedom VS Idealised Roman Law
I am, of course, afraid at this point that you might jump to the conclusion that I am foolishly promoting social disorder and chaos as some sort of romanticised freedom for all humanity.
In the ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire’ (1788) Edward Gibbon derogates, at some length the romantic idea of ‘Barbarian Freedom’, noting with authority, that the Barbarian men were languid, lazy, and lethargic for most of their days, only rising to action to gamble, drink or fight. The Romans by comparison were a disciplined, determined lot, albeit devolving over four centuries into more barbarian modes.
By the way let’s not make the mistake of equating the Roman Empire with the modern Nanny State. In fact not by a long shot can we even begin to compare the two. The Roman authorities did maintain a legalised tyranny over subjects, slaves and strangers but certainly did not endeavour to worry and care for their citizens to the extent of telling them how to cross the road safely.
Roman citizens, at the height of their power, were aware of the reality of their responsibility
It may seem rather redundant to make the statement that we cannot escape reality, since reality by definition is all encompassing, and leaves us nowhere to escape to.
Nevertheless, I cannot help but wonder if our desire for a prescriptive society, as strong here in South Africa as it is accomplished in England, is an attempt hopelessly and rather bleakly, to escape, ignore or even rebel against reality.
Is it perhaps a fear of the reality of taking adult responsibility and individuated accountability for ones actions, knowing full well that really free men take huge risks and fail, and so rather choose to contract in with one another so that no-one ‘breaks the rules’.
In this rather subtle and almost unconscious manner we can all licence each other to avoid the extreme, powerful, life making or taking decisions pregnant with consequence.
Is it perhaps the case that humanity, under the ever present spectre of global nuclear Armageddon, is aiming toward a more robotic state?
A state not unlike the world ruled by robots in the film ‘The Matrix‘, a world where there appears to be free choice, but where in reality there isn’t.
Is it that our post-modern preference is now to leaning toward a retreat back into Plato’s cave?
The only difference being that there is now a sign ‘Mind The Gap’ above the cave entrance?
Ryan is South African by birth, Lebanese by constitution, a poet and scholar in orientation, a business and communications skills trainer by profession- he is founder and director of Parker and Associates. His passions include history, classical music and his family.