Today, I discuss the false virtue of freedom, a better way to look at it, and why discipline is crucial to achieving freedom.
Table of Contents
- What Is Virtue?
- What Is Freedom?
- What Makes Freedom A False Virtue?
- Focus On Discipline
- Freedom Is Not Whim-Worshipping
- Be Disciplined So You Can Be Truly Free
What Is Virtue?
“All that a man loses in the pursuit of virtue is comfort.”
Virtue is behavior that shows high moral standards – for example, being generous to those in need or being patient during a challenging time. Although difficult to perform, virtuous actions build stable lives and accomplish meaningful goals.
What Is Freedom?
Freedom is the ability to do, act, and say what you want without hindrance from people or systems of authority, whether the state, family, church, corporation, etc. Additionally, you are free when you overcome your vices. For example, you are free when you are not enslaved to pornography or junk food.
What Makes Freedom A False Virtue?
Freedom is the byproduct of virtue, particularly discipline. Similar to humility, independence is not to be pursued but is earned from the pursuit of virtue. If you blindly seek freedom, you will easily be manipulated.
What do I mean? When they think of independence, most people consider the ability to pursue anything they want. To be fair, this is understandable. We should be able to seek what we want, select who to love, and invest our resoirces where we’d like as long as we do not infringe on the rights of others.
However, it is easy to succumb to vices if we do not have virtues or limits. We are not free if we are addicted to drugs, obese from overeating, or unable to form close bonds because we indulge in casual sex. Although we are “free” to participate in these activities, they inevitably corrupt our lives leading to instability, trauma, and failures. Such a negative state of being is not freedom.
Freedom Is Not Whim-Worshipping
“What does it mean, to act on whim? It means that a man acts like a zombie, without any knowledge of what he deals with, what he wants to accomplish, or what motivates him. It means that a man acts in a state of temporary insanity. Is this what you call juicy or colorful? I think the only juice that can come out of such a situation is blood. To act against the facts of reality can result only in destruction.” – Ayn Rand
For most people, “freedom” can be summed up by saying, “I can do whatever I want.” Such a mindset is damaging. We can’t do whatever we want. On the practical level, we can’t fly, for example. On a moral level, we can’t harm others. On a spiritual level, we can’t do whatever we want and excel at our goals. If you wish to accomplish anything significant, you must be disciplined by doing things you don’t want to do but will make you better.
And lastly, on a communal level, you can’t do whatever you want. Other individuals depend on you, and you must be dedicated to them if they are loyal to you. You can’t abandon your family to pursue your dreams. Nor can you do whatever you please without indirectly damaging the virtuous, productive, or innocent. Such behavior is pathetic and does not improve the individual, his society, or his community.
A free man is disciplined, and there is no way around this reality.
Focus On Discipline
Discipline “is the quality of being able to behave and work in a controlled way which involves obeying particular rules or standards.” The “rules and standards” include communal obligations, virtue, and life’s realities, such as basic economics. When we follow these rules and standards, we are empowered to help others and improve our lives.
Look at the average addict. A drug addict is not free because he relies heavily on the drug and pushers to get him his fix. He cannot endure life’s suffering without drugs and cannot pursue virtue because he is too dependent on his vice. Sure, he can decide to enjoy this vice, and no authority can stop him. But his addled body can’t exercise freely, and his drained bank account cannot attend to emergencies.
However, a disciplined individual is focused, secure, and capable. He has limits informed by virtue, his responsibilities, and his weaknesses. This man is “freer” because he has expanded his resources, developed his character, and built his community. Therefore, when life’s emergencies strike, or he needs to accomplish an impressive goal, the free, disciplined man is able to overcome challenges.
Be Disciplined So You Can Be Truly Free
“True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline.” – Mortimer J. Adler
In my experience, you can tell a person’s maturity based on how they view freedom. If a person wants the freedom to pursue their vices and live a life of hedonism disconnected from virtue, then they are not a serious person.
But if someone says they want the freedom to provide for their family or earn an honest living, you are dealing with a mature person. They recognize that man should be free to pursue the good, not wallow in vices. We should always have reasonable limitations on what we follow because a man without limits is not “free.” As I explored in a previous post, these limits should come from the individual. If they do not, then external forces will brutally apply limits for us.
However, if we discipline ourselves, we can build lives that are genuinely free to pursue meaningful goals.
Whim-worship will not make you happy. Be virtuous. Become an individual.
- What is an activity or thing you enjoy? Can you quit this thing or activity for three weeks without major withdrawals or emotional pain? If you think you can, then give it a shot.
- Do you have systems that help dictate your day? Are you clear about your goals? Do you know what you want your life to become?
- Who are “free” people in your life with no responsibilities? For example, I have several coworkers who are “free” without children or major responsibilities. However, they are on SSRIs, go to therapy, lack long-term goals, and are always underachieving. Have you experienced the same or do these people you know live happy lives?
- I suggest reading Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins to see how discipline can give the individual the freedom to achieve impressive feats.
Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.
*Image credit to Unsplash.