What freedoms do we afford?3 min read

There is a multiplicity of importances in daily life.

A young son may find it important to lunch, because his stomach is growling and he might not be able to help but focus his attention there, because his physiology practically demands it, much like his father has experienced in the past; and yet for his father now, the matter of lunch and even a growling stomach has so long been a familiar importance that it now might seem less important, less attention-grabbing, transitioned toward a sort of background as unconscious ritual—as with drivers carried away in conversation remaining mostly effective on the road—and in this way, the father’s lunch preparation might be carried out in the absence of much attention, in the absence of much momentary importance to him. As with the conversationalist driver, the father may operate as though he delegated the action of lunch to his subconscious, and in this way, he may afford himself greater freedoms for other matters, to converse with his son for example.

Here I am not interested in what freedoms we “can” afford, in the sense that we must pay for them and then how do I consider the limitations thereof, rather, I am interested in what freedoms we do afford ourselves.

Let’s take the driver for example again. This time, they are not driving with anyone, they are alone. What freedoms do they afford themselves? Are they practically satisfied with the channels on the radio, or silence but for road-noise, or perhaps they even think to talk with themselves? Another driver might think, I have my phone right here, so why don’t I call someone and speak with them? And another driver still might take driving rather seriously, so they disallow any distraction from their driving whatsoever. The thought of any one of these modes of driving as possible, as options that are available, this is our affordance of a freedom to ourselves.

Now when we consider the apparently important affairs of the world, do we afford ourselves the freedom to consider them freely with a disinterested attitude of observation? Or are we finding ourselves rather automatically constrained to perceptions, to importances that others have enunciated for us—through the radio, through our phones, through conversations and reading?

There is a kind of humility we require, one that sprouts naturally from the insight that none of the expressions we can offer one another, none of the systems of expression we use to communicate, none of these affords us a universally applicable and ultimately durable way of understanding, if only because we cannot have meaningful expressions and systems of expression which do not rest on presuppositions outside themselves. This humility is critical, particularly in times where we may easily fall prey to whirlwinds of false certainty, and it affords us as much a deeply rooted peace as it may afford us an ultimate anxiety that can sometimes attend glimpses and understandings of ineradicable uncertainty and freedom.

One trouble of today is that, while we are apparently out of practice in being disinterested, we seem to yield so much control to infrastructures in our environment that pipe apparent importances to us from external systems that are indeed interested in capturing our attention, but with scarcely a hint of doing so with our best interest at heart.

We’ll need to learn to embody systems of our own that may insulate us from the buffeting forces at play in our cultural wasteland, and as they insulate us and gate our exposures intentionally, serve us in invigorating our own craft of cultivating importances, of cultivating what we notice as possible, of cultivating our freedoms.

As it has been said, swimming alone at sea is not the kind of freedom that you actually want.

We want constraint, constraint that we imbued with intention, that the constraint may give rise to freedom.

Do we afford ourselves the freedom of ultimate humility?

Do we afford ourselves unknowing?

We must, for we can only ever know by way of unknowing curiosity.

In this way, the affordances might change in our favor.

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