On Freedom and (Un)Happiness

in freedom •  2 months ago

“Freedom is slavery”
—George Orwell

As a libertarian, one of my highest values, perhaps my very highest value, is personal freedom. But lately I’ve had cause to ponder to what extent others feel the same. Specifically, I’ve had reason to wonder whether some people’s sense of personal well-being and life satisfaction involves prioritizing fewer choices, or even no choices, over more choices. Or, to state it bluntly, whether some people honestly value and prefer “slavery” over freedom.

My limited interaction with some in the BDSM community has convinced me that there is a least a significant subset of people, called “submissives” in that community, who prefer to be denied freedom of choice. These people are most fulfilled when serving under the will of another, generally called the dominant, Dom/Domme or Master/Mistress. While the submissive retains ultimate authority to veto an instruction from the superior (via safewording, for example), the submissive submits to the will of the superior in most everything. Even things they don’t particularly like or enjoy.


But..why do they do so?

Many of them ( and perhaps most people?) feel incredibly burdened, even completely overwhelmed or “bound up”, by the responsibilities of decision making. For many, deciding for themselves what they want is an imposition since, truly, they often simply want whatever it is that the one(s) they serve wants. So, paradoxically, natural submissives who have surrendered their freedom of choice often indicate that they have never felt so unburdened, so released (from the expectations of decision making), and so “free” as when obliged to obey the will of their Master. For them at least, it seems that Orwell got it right—what we libertarians call freedom is for them slavery, and what we call slavery is for them freedom.

Society in general, and libertarians in particular, are often inclined to view natural submissives as simply juvenile or pathological, as having an under-developed sense of personal identity, or perhaps as suffering from a debilitating anxiety, with surrender to some superior person being just an unhelpful (and abusive) coping mechanism (perhaps akin to using alcohol to soothe anxiety). But recent research seems to suggest that this is not true. Recent studies have shown, for example, that participants in the BDSM lifestyle, including submissives, are generally psychologically healthier, and happier, than the population at large. Significantly so.

And, in a way, this does make some sense. Over millions of years, humans evolved to not just survive, but to thrive, in explicitly hierarchical systems. In such systems, subordinates were expected to obey the will of superiors almost without question. It seems unlikely that evolution would have created a system where the evolutionarily-beneficial submission to hierarchy was achieved only begrudgingly or resentfully or at great emotional cost to the subordinate. Instead, given that evolution often rewards evolutionarily-beneficial activities, such as reproduction, through pleasurable subjective incentives (such as arousal and orgasm), it seems likely that evolution would also reward evolutionarily-beneficial submission with similarly pleasurable subjective incentives—perhaps a sense of belonging, of purpose, or even paradoxically, a sense of being “liberated” from the responsibility of decision-making.

And the science suggests that this is exactly so. We know, for example, that humans, primates and other animals are rewarded with “hits” of pleasurable serotonin when they find and assume their “place” in hierarchical social structures. This serotonin gives them a sense of belonging, purpose and, paradoxically, freedom.

That being the case, perhaps many (most?) humans are actually maladapted to society’s present emphasis upon “empowerment”, “equality” and “freedom of choice”, at least when people of a submissive inclination (which, if primates or many other animals are any guide, may in fact be the significant majority) are actively shamed or ridiculed for surrendering that freedom to perceived superiors. Said another way, perhaps society’s insistence that everyone is “equal” and should exercise independent decision making as much as possible, rather than actively and openly deferring to superiors, actually inhibits production of much-needed serotonin and therefore interferes with our sense of belonging and purpose, undermines human happiness and contributes to our present existential angst. Said another way, perhaps the empowerment initiative is anything but empowering?

If so, then women (who, interestingly, are far more often than men diagnosed with depression) may be more adversely impacted by society’s misguided empowerment initiative than men. In male-dominated institutions, such as the military or the higher echelons of corporate America, open submission by males to superiors is not shamed. In fact, it is considered honorable. Men generally experience very little discomfort or consternation when offering up an emphatic “Yes, sir!” (or today even a “Yes, mam!”) to the command of a superior. But in many ways, modern women are no longer afforded the same luxury.

Rather, as a consequence of feminism, women are often implicitly or explicitly shamed for openly and excitedly submitting to superiors, especially to a male superior. In fact, the term “male superior” is itself anathema to many feminists.

As a consequence, female submissives, unlike most male submissives, are often portrayed by their female peers as turncoats to the cause of women’s liberation. They are accused of surrendering the empowerment that feminists have fought so long for, or of collaborating with the “patriarchy”. Consequently, female submissives, unlike male ones, are often peer-pressured into exercising freedoms and powers that they don’t want and can’t happily bear. Or, if they do submit, they must appear to do so only reluctantly and resentfully. Either way it only aggravates (rather than soothes) their anxiety and results in feelings of alienation rather than of belonging.

In short, I’ve come to realize that not everybody values freedom the way that most libertarians and feminists value freedom. For a meaningful percentage of the population, freedom is slavery, at least if that freedom does not include the right to surrender it (without being subjected to systemic shaming or ridicule).

Both libertarianism and feminism would do well to account for the innate need of many people to live under the direction, command and control of another, sometimes even a male other. And rather than deriding such psychological needs as juvenile or pathological, libertarianism and feminism need instead to recognize them as evolutionarily-mature, compelling and indescribably fulfilling.

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Very interesting and thought provoking point of view, human nature is very complex, and in psychology there is also a phenomenon called "paradox of choice". In fact making decisions is not always as easy and desirable as it may appear. I think most people want to be free, but do not want to make difficult decisions and then bear the consequences. Additionally, natural hierarchy is needed for social structures to work, leaders need followers and vice versa.

You can feel the true Freedom if you believe in God! have Faith in God gaves freedom.

Great blog sir sean!

The hierarchy helps keep the society in check... It's been a while I read your post, welcome back @sean-king

Not everyone knows what to do if given freedom, hence the choice of people to be 'willing slaves'

Freedom is not acceptance of submission, but the realization that at any time you can give up this post, in the military department it is difficult to refuse

I've realized that some people might indeed might not enjoy or even want the amount of freedom that libertarians might want, but I've never really took the thought as far as you did here. Personally I just cringe to the idea of "yes sir-ing" and following the orders of others, hence why I didn't go to military (Finland has a compulsory service) but to civil service. Luckily that just ended since even there I had some problems in beginning to do things I saw as pointless, haha. I guess I'm that of a like to do my own decisions myself.

Now I wonder what is the evolutionary advantage for people who don't want to follow the orders of others... I guess someone has to be like that because somebody has to give orders, right?


If everyone was always competing to be “top dog”, it would be counterproductive from an evolutionary perspective. Lot’s of energy and effort would be wasted on the competition. By rewarding people for submitting to authority within hierarchies, evolution strikes a balance between competition and cooperation.


Makes sense.

I never really gave it much thought as to libertarians and feminists motivations since their arguments are so flawed at times, I tend to dismiss a lot of what is said. But you make a good point on how they value freedom, freedom above all and freedom at all costs.

Freedom really only has value if you place value in it, if you want to make your own decisions and enjoy that you will also have to take the brunt of your poor decision making too. People don't want to take that risk and only want the idealistic form of freedom that suits them when it's convenient but they happy to give it up when it's not. If you valued freedom, for example, why would you give it up to use something like Facebook. You would rather have the benefits of access to mass communication than the freedom and privacy.

I feel true freedom cannot exist without rules. We need rules because freedom without rules means you become a slave to your own desires and that really isn't freedom at all!

When I retrospect on relationship dynamics of considerable power imbalance in my life, where I was submitting to an authority.... Well, I guess I find myself grinning just like I am right now as I type this, where I get to enjoy more freedom in my life because I have submitted.

Its like what the Taoist Masters say, experience form (discipline) so that you can enjoy formlessness (more power).

Very interesting and unusual approach to this topic of freedom. I like how you explained it.

Though I wouldn't go so far to compare the lifestyles against each other.

Overall to set oneself under the hierarchy of something which we consider more wise I also see as a natural pull in general.

The loss of such hierarchies causes some pain. The highly individualized life of us modern people leaves it up to the single mind how to decide and what to practice in order to find ethics. The gap which is there because people do not believe in government and church must be filled with something meaningful.

Division of powers and the victory of having freed societies from the celestial is the upside. But the downside can be found as well. Many ethical questions are not answered by the people in power as they expect the citizens to find their own answers and do not find themselves in charge to serve as role models. Because when you try to be a role model in the sense of following moral principles you risk to be tagged as a Christian (which became meanwhile a curse term for many). Since this role is not accepted any more what can you say you are?

All the names like libertarian or feminist or humanitarian are just nouns which cannot explain you as a person on a whole.

Better it is to make choices and practice what potentials you've got in the events coming up every given moment. In one situation you surrender and in another one you lead. One encounter needs submission and another one authority. There are infinite choices but one has to make up ones mind at a certain point in time and space.

Life, Freedom and Property; Without that we are just animals o corpses

There are many ways to do everything and make it easier. I am really interested in reading this. I get a different sensation when I start following you from the beginning. I am waiting for the next post.

In short, I’ve come to realize that not everybody values freedom the way that most libertarians and feminists value freedom. Yes it is true. Sometimes i argue with some feminist friends because they say bdsm stuff it's like a slavery and i told them that it's not like this but a free choiche of a female it's hard when some people see freedom onlt i their personal way, like free ? yes! But as i want.

Obviously, we have come a long way to equality, but did not come close enough. Feminism can perform its functions with the constant development of the movement. However, development is difficult for a number of reasons, the main one being the misunderstanding of the concepts of "feminism" and "feminist". At the moment, for many women feminism sounds like a curse, many are afraid of being accused of hatred of men. It must be remembered that women fought for their rights, not against men. The alignment of all the male pattern has never been the goal of the feminist movement.
The goals of the feminist movements vary depending on the circumstances and local characteristics of the culture. If in Muslim countries feminists are fighting for the opportunity for women to get an education, in European countries they are calling for the elimination of cultural stereotypes of gender behavior.
Any woman should remember that only thanks to feminism she has the opportunity to receive education, work and lead an independent life. Feminism is a belief in equal opportunity and rights. For a hundred years all over the civilized world, women have received the right to vote, passive and active, the opportunity to receive equal wages and access to social benefits.
Originally having emerged as a social and political movement for the equality of men and women, the feminist movement grew into a movement for social progress, and the goals that the participants set for themselves are significant for the development of the whole society.