0213 – freedom requires violence

There were other thoughts in parallel with the Bullshit one. What were they? Okay here’s one that I had written down but didn’t start on: Freedom requires violence.

That’s a very loaded statement, I know, so let me qualify that and narrow the scope dramatically. I don’t mean it in a blunt, “you cannot be free without hurting other people” sort of way, rather I mean it in a much more nuanced sense. Let me just riff on the etymology of violence for a while-

Old French violence (13c.), from Latin violentia “vehemence, impetuosity,” from violentus “vehement, forcible,” probably related to violare, violation -> c.1400, from Old French violacion and directly from Latin violationem (nominative violatio) “an injury, irreverence, profanation,” from past participle stem of violare “to treat with violence, outrage, dishonor,” perhaps an irregular derivative of vis “strength, force, power, energy,” from PIE root *weie- “to go after, pursue with vigor or desire,” with noun derivatives meaning “force, desire”

So you see, if you trace it all the way back- freedom requires force, vigor, some element of irreverance, violation, ‘injury’.

What about freedom? Old English freodom “power of self-determination, state of free will; emancipation from slavery, deliverance;”. Old English freo “free, exempt from, not in bondage, acting of one’s own will,” also “noble; joyful,” from Proto-Germanic *frija- “beloved; not in bondage”, from PIE *priy-a- “dear, beloved,” from root *pri- “to love” (cognates: Sanskrit priyah “own, dear, beloved,” priyate “loves;” Old Church Slavonic prijati “to help,” prijatelji “friend;” Welsh rhydd “free”).

Interesting how love got all tied up in there. Etymology is really a beautiful thing.

I don’t know abut human communities and societies. I don’t know about nations and tribes. I’m writing about this from the perspective of a single human mind, my own. And by freedom I mean loosely the ability to do what ‘I’ (which is itself a complicated and messy concept, very likely to be fiction altogether) want to do.

Pause. Let me reframe that. There’s two kinds of freedom- ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’. The latter is messy and I want to rule out talking about that for now. I just want to talk about ‘freedom from’.

Freedom from what? From base appetites. From anxiety. From fear. From social expectations. From all the things that typically keep you from doing the things you otherwise say you want to do. (Saying you want to do something is a whole new can of worms though.)

I’ve always thought of myself as a pacifist. I don’t like fights and fighting, and I’ve shied away from every single one that I’ve ever encountered. I typically just apologise, claim responsibility and strive to be as diplomatic and neutral as possible.

But I’ve come to realize that there are some circumstances in which neutrality does not work and is not relevant. There are some circumstances in which negotiations get you nowhere.

This applies at many scales of reality. I’d prefer to talk about the less contentious ones. Consider for example, running an online community. And consider censorship, editing, deletions and bans as acts of violence. (Edits can be artfully done, using subtle, consensual persuasion). But bans and deletes are definitely violent acts, at least in the context of an online forum.

Imagine a world where the only way to communicate with other human beings was through an online forum. Now imagine being arbitrarily banned by a powerful moderator without warning. You get a sense of why that might be considered a violent act. Isolation and exile are known to be some of the most torturous things you can do to a person.

Any online community that gets sufficiently large becomes used and/or exploited for marketing purposes. It’s simple economics- the larger a community becomes, or the more apparent the purchasing power of the members of a particular community, the more lucrative it becomes to advertise on that channel. Reddit and Quora are great case studies for this.

What do you do once your forum starts attracting spam? You have to moderate and delete, because otherwise you drive off your most valuable contributors. The forum suffers from the evaporative – cooling effect and dies a slow, painful death. You might say that your forum has some ground rules or basic standards- fine, fair enough, that’s just preemptive, institutionalised violence. It’s order that’s instituted by the looming threat of violence, which hopefully nobody will have to use, witness or be subjected to.

Let’s leave forums for a moment and think about neurons within a brain. Okay- I’m no neuroscientist and I don’t actually know how the brain works. Let’s think about thoughts and how different thoughts coexist in the mind. The mind is rich and full of all sorts of messy, convoluted thoughts. Happy thoughts, sad thoughts, angry thoughts. Positive thoughts, negative thoughts, thoughts about thoughts. Base thoughts, sublime thoughts. Many of these thoughts should be able to safely coexist.

But what happens when some thoughts are volatile to others? When some thoughts “damage” or “disrupt” the “community” of your thoughts? Again, you can’t really have a complete anarchy of mind- there’s some sort of order that emerges, some central control or semblance of control, some order. These things seem to be socially divined- we keep ourselves from burping and farting and belching and defecating in the presence of others, we make it a point to be civilized, blah blah- all of that is for the smooth functioning of society. We destroy a certain uncouth, ‘barbaric’ part of ourselves in the service of social relations. This is rarely framed as a loss, because it’s always implied that the highest status people of any social group are the most civilized of all, and the rest of us ought to aspire to be so refined. But is refinement necessarily a good thing, and necessarily something that we should desire, and most importantly, do we lose something in the process?

I make the case that any time we seek to do something, to achieve something, to build something, we have to get rid of something else. That’s creative destruction. You have to break eggs to make an omelette. You have to kill a smoker inside of you to live healthily. You have to kill the resistance to make art. I’m not doing this justice and I’m going to end the vomit here so that I go to bed, but the basic idea is-

aren’t the demons in your head equally valid denizens, citizens? And isn’t it basically impossible to live a happy, healthy life without bludgeoning them to death? You can’t peacefully co-exist with those who will have you hurt. Freedom requires violence.

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