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Freedom

July 24, 2009

“… freedom is a joke when everything costs money.”1

First: I don’t think I like people I hardly know jumping to incorrect conclusions because they inaccurately assumed something about me.  It’s not the most aggravating thing in the world, but it’s not one of my favorites.  But I don’t know how to change it—I don’t even know how to explain exactly where I stand anyway, so how should I know how to stop people before they get confused?  But then, I also admit that I have a tendency to let little things bother me.

A lot of things I never say seem to pop up in conversation from time to time.  The most recent one that has been bothering me was when someone said to me “You can’t hate material possessions that much.  You’re on a computer, after all.”  Then came cars.  Her and I had only spoken a few times, but I don’t ever remember letting out any rally cry against material goods.  I don’t remember letting out any of my personal philosophical beliefs.  It’s easy, even when viewing me from afar, to get a few things about me right, though; one of them might be that I don’t care for anything that is unsustainable in the long term.  Therefore, the reckless pursuit of materials goods is obviously an act deserving of my scorn, because the reckless pursuit of material goods is a practice that cannot be sustained.  And different goods have different affects on the world, and also vary in usefulness.  Of all of the things I have I value some of them.  My bike is one, and my computer another.  Soon enough my “survival gear”—backpack, knives, cooking equipment, tent, blanket, etc.—may become the most useful of all.  I own more than these things, but not a lot.

I also thought more intelligent people would see the error in the “but you’re on a computer!” argument.2 Is it maybe a bit inconsistent to say that a society built to depend upon complex technology cannot be sustained and then use some forms of complex technology?  Probably.  But hypocritical?  I don’t think so.  I was born into this culture and since I can’t yet escape it it’s completely logical that I’ll have some its practices ingrained in me.  This isn’t really the point.

I told her that cars and computers and any other single thing, in and of itself, isn’t the problem.  The issues are the larger society that produces those things, and for me to direct my scorn at a computer or a car or a flat screen TV or anything else would be stupid.  Sure, I don’t like people accumulating more and more junk, but this alone doesn’t define me as a person—it barely even scratches the surface.

The car thing is the thing that has bothered me for, well… weeks now, I guess.

“What about a car?  A car is freedom.  I could go anywhere on the continent right now.”

I responded in the way I summarized above: I told her that a car alone isn’t the target of my scorn, and that was kind of the end of it.  But the second thing she said, “A car is freedom,” has really bothered me.  As far as usefulness/utility is concerned, I agree that owning and driving one might be better than owning and watching a fancy TV.  But that owning a driving a car makes you free is something I completely disagree with.

How free you are, what determines that freedom, and what the definition of freedom we’re working with even is would entail a different post altogether; what is clear, however, is that to believe a care makes one “free” is to believe something that is not true.  An automobile provides the illusion of freedom.

These are just a few ways (maybe just one big way) in which owning and driving a car keep a person not free:  Cars cost money—considerable amounts of money, from the time of purchase to the time of junking them.  Buying new ensures that you’ll be making payments for years, indebting you to the dealership, the bank, and whoever else might become involved.  If you stop making payments at any time, someone is going to take your car away.  If you somehow evade them, eventually you’ll have the cops looking for you too.

That’s just ownership.  Throughout the life of your car you’ll also need to maintain it, and maintaining a car isn’t cheap.  If something breaks it’s going to cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.  If more than one thing breaks these costs accumulate.  You have to change your oil every 3,000 miles (and if you don’t you run the risk of more things breaking, costing much more than oil changes do), which could cost you anywhere from a few bucks a year to hundreds of dollars.

And of course to even drive the damn thing you need to buy gas.  The price varies, of course, but most people are going to fork over hundreds of dollars per month just for gas.  And then to legally drive on the road you need to have your car registered and insured; if you don’t you’ll get a ticket, and if you don’t pay that ticket you might go to jail.  Insurance is going to cost you hundreds of dollars each year, if not a thousand dollars or more.

To cover all of these expenses you’ll need a source of income—a job.  This alone takes the majority of your freedom away, assuming you work full time (and depending on the cost of owning, driving, and maintaining your vehicle alone, this might be necessary), as the majority of your waking hours are already determined.  Yes, the car owner could go anywhere on the continent on a whim if she wishes, but for how long?  In Michigan, and I assume in other states, your vehicle’s registration must be renewed each year.  You must pay your insurance bill every month (or whatever your contract specifies) or else it will get canceled.  And if you get sick of everything and take off to the Canadian wilderness, you’ll obviously have to quit your job—then what?  You’ll be able to drive for a while, but not forever.  That “freedom” your car bought you is fleeting.

I can say without any doubt in my mind that I feel more free now, that I don’t drive, than I did while I drove.  I was always trying to scratch money together so I could keep driving.  I wasn’t free to go anywhere on the continent because I couldn’t afford it.  If I were to ride my bike or hitch-hike (neither of these take a constant flow of funding to keep going), however, I could—it’d just take considerably more time.

If my truck wouldn’t have broke down I don’t know whether or not I would have ever stopped driving.  At the time I was really wanting to ride a bike to more places, but I didn’t really have a reason to; I was still scraping up gas money so I was still driving.  But now that I don’t, I don’t think I ever want to own a car.  Even if I do someday “settle down,” get a good job, etc. I don’t think I”ll want to own and drive a car because it will make me feel less free.

Notes and Links

  1. “I’m Free” by Soul Position at lyricwiki.org
  2. 5 Common Objections to Primitivism, and Why They’re Wrong at tobyspeople.com
    An Open Letter on Technology and Mediation at primitivism.com
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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 21, 2010 5:12 am

    People bring up computer and cars as counter-arguments because they feel that if they can find hypocrisy in your reasoning/actions the entire premise will then be “wrong.”

    The desire to point out fallacy probably comes from some sort of guilt, or blind fear of being wrong themselves.

    Also, take into account that you are intelligent, and well thought out. This is intimidating to most people, especially if what you think and say inadvertently points out some flaw in the way they live. Feeling flawed may cause people to seek flaws within you.

    I realize this is an old post, and that you may not be all that bothered by these conflicts. I apologize if I came off patronizing.

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