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2021-03-04 10:00:30 (UTC)

The Meaning of Maturity

Personal entry follows.

"Comfort or freedom. That's the way it works. You can't have it both ways."
--Dennis, "Some Kind of Heaven," 2021

"Our society is a slave factory and until we recognize that and reorganize it so it isn’t, it will produce slaves. [...] What we call freedom today is simply the ability, sometimes, to choose who our master is."
--Ian Welsh, blog entry, March 2021: Our Society, the Slave Factory

Spurred perhaps by my recent birthday, I've begun (once again?) to ruminate on how I spend my time. Am I "spending it well," or am I "wasting it?" What are the consequences if I "step out of line" too far? Most importantly: how much choice do I have in the matter?

For example, I pour a tremendous amount of energy, effort, and time into my day job. In the evenings once the work day is done, I do what I can to recuperate and re-energize. Some days it doesn't come easy, or at least what I do hasn't always re-energized me like I have been at other times. I woke up today feeling a bit low, and maybe 10 minutes after clocking in (as I work remotely) I mentioned that I would be taking a Personal Day, and promptly clocked back out again. Since the rest of this month will be a demanding one (I will be facilitating two separate training sessions this month, simultaneously), I know I should "rest now while I have the time." I will be busting my ass all throughout the rest of this month to help the training go as smoothly as possible. As it happens, today is likely one of the last few days where I have nothing plotted on my work schedule before training begins on the 15th, so "I called out well," as opposed to "calling out sick."

Of course, you certainly can't call it that to your boss' face, otherwise you'll be branded as a slacker or whatever. It would "set a bad precedent in the office environment," or something like that. Mentioning that you call out well - instead of sick - could encourage others to "slack off."

I don't mean to portray my supervisor and our executive director in a bad light. This really is the best day job I've ever had, and I've worked here long enough that they trust that when I am on the job, I am working and I don't do anything to betray that trust. I explicitly took a Personal Day today because I refuse to just clock in, and then slack off while providing the illusion that I am working throughout the day. My energy just isn't here for it today, and the opportunity to take time off is here. So I took advantage of the opportunity as opposed to abusing that trust.

Which brings me to the quotes I mentioned above at the outset of this entry. The first is from a documentary I watched earlier this year, called "Some Kind of Heaven." It reveals the lives of elderly people, most of whom live in a fancy retirement home in Florida. They live their Twilight Era in a quiet, tranquil environment with all their needs cared for, activities scheduled throughout the day, meals, and every sort of amenity required to live their daily lives.

Dennis is a California transplant in his early 80s who lives in a van, masquerading as one of the residents. He shows up at sunrise, showers on the grounds of the retirement home, then lounges by the pool. He admits he's trying to hook up with one of the wealthy widows at the retirement home so he'll have a roof over his head and all his bills paid for. When his latest plan falls apart and he moves back into his van, in an introspective moment he explains his thought process at that point in his life, and speaks the quote.

I do wonder what freedom really means, in the context of modern, Western society (as I live in the 'States). When I hear people speak the word, Freedom, the phrase that most often comes to mind is, "I can do whatever I want." When I hear Dennis speak it in that moment, though, I consider the possible comparisons of freedom and comfort. Maybe this is more what people mean.

Comfort: someone else takes care of me, and all my needs are met.
Freedom: I am given the opportunity to take care of myself, and seek out the means to meet my own needs.

I think I do agree that this dichotomy makes a lot of sense. It seems either rare, or an immense challenge, to develop some kind of "happy medium" between being always waited on and catered to, versus assertively going for what you want to want - either immediately at the time, or in pursuit of your future plans.

In this way, I find much in common between children and the elderly. When someone is an infant, adults step in and rule the child's life: the child "doesn't know any better," and so their life must be directed by another. Eventually, an adult will age and grow into an elder: infirm, losing ability in both their body and mind (should they not die of other causes before then). At that point, they either have their own children - likely grown adults - or employees like those at the retirement home attend to them. These elderly are cared for almost in the same way children are, with a pension or retirement fund providing a supplement until their eventual death.

I understand the resistance of the elderly to go into a retirement home, convalescent center, or nursing home. I think even those whose mind is going understand that they will no longer have that Freedom, experienced while they were younger functioning adults. That Freedom will be replaced with Comfort: their assertiveness, their agency, their capability and control is stripped from them, and this is justified in acknowledging "they can't take care of themselves anymore."

In an ideal scenario (in this case: those who live long enough to make it to old age and become an elder), do the Free surrender to Comfort? For those who have lost their mental faculties but are still physically functioning: is their Freedom taken away from them? A friend of mine is caring for her father who has dementia, and I wonder just how much control he still has over his own life, and how many decisions about his life are now left in the hands of his daughter - who has moved back home to live with him in his house.

When I consider the Ian Welsh quote, then all manner of other dimensions enter this puzzle: political, social, civil/legal, professional, economic... Where does the boundary between Freedom and Comfort lie, in modern Western society? Is the pursuit of Freedom even possible, particularly in a society that has so many layers of rules and regulations upon it? Is capitalism a way to ensure that there is always to be a small subset of those who are completely Free, while Comfort is imposed upon the rest (of us)? Have the masses been socialized to pursue Comfort instead of Freedom? Have our choices and opportunities been stripped away in the insidious imposition of Comfort on us? Is debt the lever that the elite use to pressure the masses into the "willing slavery" illustrated by Aldous Huxley?

Maybe this is the only line of comparison that can be drawn between the capitol rioters and the Black Lives Matter movement. Are the capitol rioters and BLM an example of powerless masses sacrificing some of that Comfort in their lives in pursuit of Freedom and agency? In modern, Western society, it seems pretty clear that these two groups are treated differently by the elites, and a double standard or even "spectrum" of the terms Freedom and Comfort can exist.

... I have a sneaking suspicion I'm rambling to the point of confusing even myself. There -must- be a spectrum of Freedom, and a spectrum of Comfort. And I think that the extent to which we participate in society is where the tipping point exists between the two ends of Complete Freedom and Complete Comfort. Social dynamics and dominant culture (here in the modern West, being capitalism and white male supremacy) dictate and enforce the status quo, and levy penalties on those who would step outside of those boundaries. Inequity and injustice is manifested through the social and cultural pressures enforced on someone because of their skin colour, their socio-economic status, their sex, their age, their physical and mental capabilities, and their allegiance to various "tribes" and social circles.

A commenter on Welsh's blog noted that Freedom is impunity: the ability to do, and not suffer negative consequences. So what tribes in the US have the most Freedom?

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All this makes me also consider a second dimension on this spectrum of Freedom and Comfort: Quality. If an abstraction of this two-dimensional spectrum is plotted out on a grid, then we have the Freedom - Comfort dimension going from left to right, where Ultimate Freedom is all the way on the left, and Ultimate Comfort is all the way to the right. We then have the Quality of Life spectrum plotted from bottom to top: No Quality at the bottom, and Ultimate Quality at the top. Dividing this two-dimensional spectrum into quadrants, it would be like this:
Upper-Left Quadrant: Highest Freedom, Highest Quality
Upper-Right Quadrant: Highest Comfort, Highest Quality
Lower-Left Quadrant: Highest Freedom, Lowest Quality
Lower-Right Quadrant: Highest Comfort, Lowest Quality

Again, were I to consider the two tribes of the capitol rioters and BLM, I'd suspect that they both occupy more of the lower-half of the grid. However, in my view the rioters would be in the lower-left, and BLM represents those of the lower-right.

Residents of the retirement home in "Some Kind of Heaven" represent those in the upper half, likely in the upper right quadrant. Dennis - when living in his van - represents those in the upper left quadrant, but dropping.

I'd hypothesize that those who "luck into" the upper half of the grid at the early part of their life have a much better chance of staying there, while those in the bottom half of the grid have little chance in rising in station in life. It may be that the general trend is to move towards Lowest Quality on the grid, regardless of one's station in life. But maybe I suspect this just because I consider myself pessimistic and/or a bit of a hopeless grump: a Benjamin the Donkey of Orwell's "Animal Farm."

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I guess this is the formation of a paradigm: a way of looking at the world. I should consider all the different ways one could poke holes in this paradigm in an effort to elaborate on it and strengthen my arguments.


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