A Freedom to Live or a Freedom to Die

What is freedom, really?

Is it the ability to do whatever you like without regard for anyone but yourself?

Some people think so. But more often than not there will eventually come a time of the great hang-over, when that ultimate freedom that had been sought so diligently has somehow lost its meaning.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

This is what Shakespeare’s Macbeth laments after his wife, driven by her feelings of guilt, has committed suicide. Lady Macbeth had succumbed to one form of insanity, while her husband has succumbed to another form of it — Nihilism.

What Shakespeare knew, but would not allow his anti-hero to recognize, is that the “tale told by an idiot” is a result not of fate’s unpredictability but of Macbeth’s own actions in breaking all the rules of his society — murdering the king and covering up this murder by yet more murders. This led then to his ever more paranoid actions of killing in massacres everyone that might even potentially become a threat to him. It was those massacres and nothing else that brought on the resistance to his rule and his eventual downfall.

Nihilism, the annihilation of societies, moral rules and values would, according to Shakespeare, in the long run lead to self-destruction.

For a 16th century man Shakespeare was a pretty perceptive observer of society and human nature, and that he was far more enlightened than many of our contemporary authors, thinkers and social scientists.

During the 20th century many of those thinkers had come to the conclusion that Nihilism, the overthrow of moral rules in exchange for a perceived ultimate freedom of the individual, would create the best of all societies.

The most important tools for this freedom for all would be the freedom of the markets liberated from all restraints of morality and concerns for the common good. The unrestrained self-interest of the financial players in the global markets would, according to those thinkers, create the best of all worlds.  They were the models for the truly free individuals of which all societies should be since the struggle for survival and proliferation of one’s own genes and the fulfillment of one’s own self-interest were the biological foundation of the human being and his real purpose in life. If everybody would act according to those principles, human society as a whole would prosper.

Many of those who ascribed to this philosophy were originally disciples of Ayn Rand and her ideas, which she called Objectivism. One of her early followers was Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve and master-mind of the financial deregulation policies in the US.

Today we know that this belief in an unrestrained market has not only brought on the financial collapse of 2008 and the instability of the whole financial system, but also the economic destruction of many nations.

What the freedom of the free markets brought to most people all over the world was the freedom to die early of malnutrition and untreated illnesses or of violence and political instability. To others it brought the freedom to live without a roof over their heads or a safe source of income and steady employment. To those who still have those things it brought the freedom of an every day fear of loosing the little security they have and the ability to support themselves and their families.

On the other side of the spectrum, however, the freedom for the markets has given a tiny minority of people the liberty to increase their wealth enormously and at the same time use this very wealth to increase their influence on the foreign and domestic policies of their nations and on the mass-media, which in turn has worsened the situation even further.

In the story of Macbeth, serving one’s self-interest also includes the use of lies, deceptions and the justification of mass-murders, killing those who in the future might become a threat.

American foreign policies have clearly taken on the form of Macbeth’s paranoia. This can be seen in the NSA spying scandal even on America’s closest allies as well as in the threatening and the actual destruction of any country that might show a slightly different economic or political model. No matter how small and insignificant these countries might be economically or militarily, their very existence is seen as a future impediment to the elites’ power and domination and the fulfillment of their self-interests.

The use of violence and the destruction of ethical rules had driven Macbeth to such a height of insanity that he could no longer perceive his own responsibility in the events enfolding around him.

America’s serial acts of military violence and overt and covert war-fare, and its negation of the rules of international law, have driven the country’s political and economic elites into a similar madness, displayed quite recently by President Obama in his scripted UN speech, where he still insisted on America’s exceptionalism and its military’s positive and important role in bringing justice and stability to the world. Some consider the speech as an example of the ultimate hypocrisy, but it could just as well be a sign of the most pervasive form of self-deception, a blindness to one’s own responsibility for the pains inflicted on one’s victims, the symptom of a psychopath.

The story of Hope and her ancestor David in “When Hope Came” was originally conceived as an anti-Ayn-Rand tract.  The story counters the idea that being rational means being self-seeking and purely out for one’s own self-interest, with the idea that the ultimate human rationality lies in altruism and the realization that the other person’s interest must be considered equal to one’s own for a society to be sustainable in the long run.

Observations of recent events have shown once again that a culture governed by the ideology of unrestrained selfishness is unstable and will eventually become violent towards the outside and self-destructive inside towards itself. This destruction within and without will subsequently even effect and harm those who initially profited most from their self-seeking attitudes.

Rand’s philosophy failed in its own presumptions, that personal survival and the fulfillment of all one’s own desires and ambitions should be the highest goal to be achieved in every individual’s life. When looking at the observed outcome of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, her ideas turned out not to be rational but rather irrational, since they have sacrificed long term survival and well-being of the individual and his or her descendants for short-term interests.

The reality is that human beings are, by their very nature, not designed to be lonely tigers, but to be social beings within the context of a community.

But living within a stable community will always demand of you responsibility for, and cooperation with, others and also the compliance to commonly accepted rules. While these might be seen by some as constraints to their personal freedom, in the end, however, society’s acceptance of ethical rules will give you a real and most important freedom — the freedom to live.

Eve Human is a healthcare worker, a blogger, a poet, a writer of a political science fiction novel, and a peace and human rights activist living in Iceland. Her websites are Eve's Thoughts, Eve's Poems, and When Hope Came. Read other articles by Eve.