Comfort vs Freedom

June 14, 2012

A friend recently sent me an essay attacking social media that contained the following quote:

Consumerism promises that magical transformations are easy, available on demand, and that a self understood in terms of lifestyles and personality experiments—rather than in terms of communal tradition, meaningful work, or the continuity of life experience—can be a worthy expression of individual freedom.

This run-on sentence jumped out at me because I have long struggled with the trade-offs between traditional life and modernity.   I tend to prefer the modern to the traditional.  I hate to see the sorts of constraints placed on people from traditional cultures.  Women are cattle, queers are hung, and innovators are set on fire.  On the other hand, I recognize that modern life leaves us isolated and adrift.  It’s comforting to know your place and purpose in the universe as provided by faith and tradition.

Any group (or intersubjective identity for you post-modernists) provides some amount of constraint and comfort as opposed to the freedom and isolation of  the individual.  Baseball fans watching a game together exert peer pressure to prevent any member from switching the channel to the Home Shopping Network, but they have a lot of fun.  It’s just better for self-realization to have choices about the groups that we become part of.  We have always had complex identities that changed with the context: friend, family member, hunter/gatherer.  Our very mind seems to be a shifting competition between semi-autonomous urges, interests, and styles.    Modern life gives us the opportunity to more fully explore our composite natures.  It’s just isn’t easy.

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