Inner Freedom

October 13, 2020

We cannot be free inside if some experiences frighten or distress us. We shut out and deny them, and as a result many if not most experiences get edited, censored, forgotten, and pushed aside in favor of a narrow band of experience that feels safe. Limited freedom is based on what you can reasonably expect from life.

Total freedom begins by looking on life as a field of infinite possibilities. It takes some persuasion to make total freedom seem like more than a pipe dream, however. Is it even desirable to feel totally open, unbounded, and free of boundaries to keep us safe?

A key issue here is spontaneity. Spontaneity is without rules, which seems like a recipe for anarchy. Rule enforcement is the surest way to keep people in line, or so the rule enforcers believe. Consider the extreme example of applying to the bank for a personal loan in China. If you want a loan there, you can use your smartphone, and online lending agencies check you out electronically, using data stored in the cloud.

An applicant gets accepted or rejected for a loan in one-tenth of a second, after the lending agency has checked out 5,000 (!) personal factors, including how firmly your hand moved when you filled out your application and how low you let your phone battery get before recharging it.

Each of us is happy to enforce rules upon ourselves—we don’t need an authority figure to do it for us. Self-discipline and impulse control are considered desirable as marks of a mature adult. There’s a famous experiment in child psychology  in which a youngster is placed in a chair with a marshmallow on a table in front of them.

The child is told they can eat the marshmallow right now, but if they wait five minutes, they will be given two marshmallows. The experimenter then leaves the room and watches what unfolds through a two-way mirror. Some children fidget, fighting the impulse for immediate gratification. Others grab the marshmallow instantly or wait patiently until the five minutes is up.

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