Freedom of choice is what you’ve got.  Freedom from choice is what you want. – Devo 

I pity the mind that finds comfort in subservience.  The mind that not only respects but damn near worships one or many imagined authority figures.  Of course, all authority figures are imagined.  Some, like the tyrannical God of the Bible are entirely imagined: that is, first we invent the notion of an omnipotent creator and then we imagine that he is imbued with ultimate authority and the capacity to reward or punish us depending on our level of devotion to him.  Other authority figures are actual people – in the same sense that you and I are people, a concept we can grasp only because of the interrelation and inherent equanimity of all phenomena.  I can only know “me” in relation to “you”. But most of us aren’t content to view humanity as a level playing field.  We give some of the most headstrong (and usually least compassionate) contrived titles that we imagine bestow upon them the power to control and make decisions for us.  Cop, general, captain, president, prime minister, king, queen, Ayatollah, lama, Dalai Lama, Pope, priest, rabbi, imam, master, Don, admiral, parent, guardian, teacher, mentor, guru, boss, supervisor: how we love to wave the magic wand of imaginary import over the heads of those we fear most.

Guilt and fear are the first concepts we’re taught as children.  Once our parents are satisfied that we’ve got a sufficient portion of each weighing down on our psyches, we are then told what entities we should use as the arbiters of these feelings: usually the parents themselves, first and foremost, followed by God as explained by the parents from the point of view of their particular religious tradition, then teachers and police officers and really just adults in general, as conveniently implied in the catch-all parental phrase “respect your elders”.

Yes, it’s all just part of the game and how each one of us choose to play it, but it strikes me as such an unimaginative and boring way to approach this meaningless but fascinating experience called life.  The psychological reasons that people have for adopting the role of a subject are varied, of course, but I suspect all such reasons have at their foundation a distaste for meaninglessness.  But why does everything need to have meaning?  Since you and I and another can all read the same philosophical or theological treatise and derive completely different meanings from it, doesn’t this prove that “meaning” is just another invented subjective concept?  We so desperately want to feel that our experience is meaningful, never realizing that this desire is precisely what causes us to feel anxiety, guilt, fear, anger, self-loathing, stress, tension, isolation and depression.  And for creatures possessing such an impressive and flexible organic computer as the human brain, we’re so pathetically predictable in how we choose to use it.  Nobody experiences true freedom because nobody actually wants to experience it.  The whole notion of living life moment by moment, moving and grooving between emotions and experiences with complete freedom and without judgment strikes us as frivolous, maybe even irresponsible.  But is it?  To whom is it your responsibility to behave otherwise?  Most people would answer that question with one of the invented authority figures I listed in the first paragraph.  But the idea of a chain of command dictates that these authorities also answer to a higher authority, even if it’s the completely imagined despot called God.  You see, the choice of an authority figure is arbitrary due to the fact that it’s done under our own personal authority.  I can choose, for instance, to view Donald Trump as the President or even the dictator of the nation in which I live.   Perplexingly, many do choose to view him that way.  Or I can choose to view him as what he really is: one of billions of pairs of eyes that constitute the Universe viewing itself from as many disparate angles as possible.  He happens to be a rather extreme example of the narcissistic, authoritarian angle.  I might be described as an example of the rebellious clown angle, although such a broad descriptive has many other distinguishing features.  The punk-hippie hybrid stereotype writing this post is not the same self-witnessing aperture of the Universe as some other punk-hippie hybrid stereotype that may be reading it.

Here’s the reality we’re truly running from when we take on these subservient and/or authoritative roles: we’re all going to die and the person we think we are is going to cease to be, because it never existed in the first place.

We can run from this thought right until our very last breath, and most people do, but on a subconscious level we never really buy our own sense of meaning or identity.  This is illustrated by the physiological muscular tension we carry and the psychological ennui we suffer as a matter of course.  Somewhere at the heart of our consciousness, we know everything we believe is utter hogwash.  We know that the only sensible way to play the game of life is to treat it as a game; one where the rules can always be changed when it loses its luster or stops being fun.  Yet we’re too guilty and unsure of ourselves to actually do this, to let go and just be.  So we continue to look to others to tell us what to do, how it is, and why we’re here, even though we are at least somewhat aware of the desperation inherent in such an obsequious outlook.  Our narcissism tells us that life must mean something; our fear and guilt tell us that we are too puny or vulgar or impure to BE that something.  Hence, there’s no way to enjoy this potentially fascinating game so long as we insist on it being meaningful.  And there’s no way for us to hoodwink ourselves into finding it meaningful unless we create an authority figure to teach us what the meaning is and what we must do “for our own good”.

Stop pretending that you are a stranger to yourself, as if you are two separate entities ensconced in one skin.  Stop telling yourself that you’re doing it wrong, failing to understand, failing to play the game properly.  This is just another game, albeit a pretty crappy one with no hope for occasional forays into ecstasy and bliss.  There is no authoritative you to direct a subservient you; you cannot look at yourself in the mirror and say, “pull yourself together!” and expect anyone to respond to such a command.  The commander and commanded are one and the same.  If you can manage to pull your view of yourself together into a single yet interdependent entity, it will follow that you can do the same with all of the imagined authority figures that materialize in your world.  Do you want to see Trump as the President?  Go right ahead.  Do you prefer to see him as a threat to oppose, as I often but just as foolishly do?  Again, indulge your pleasure.  But try to remember that dark exists in order that we can experience light in contrast.  “Evil” exists in order that we can experience “goodness” in contrast.  And subservience exists in order that we can experience freedom in contrast.  Once you know how to choose your own experience at will, you won’t need the contrasting landmarks anymore.  Someone with a true understanding of who they are and what they’re not doesn’t need to view someone like Trump as an authority or an enemy.  The flop-headed lump bloviating from behind the presidential podium is one kind of aperture through which the Universe experiences itself, nothing more and nothing less.  You and I are the same thing.  We can pretend that we’re not, and we can pretend that he’s not, and we can think that all of our philosophical analyses are nothing short of inspired, but sooner or later, we’ll be in for a big disappointment if this is how we keep insisting the Universe should be.   The Universe doesn’t need to dictate and it doesn’t need to be instructed.  It acknowledges no inferiors or superiors because to a Unity, those are nonsensical ideas.  And we are nothing other than the Universe.  Be the Universe because you can’t but be otherwise and feel yourself being the Universe because you may as well acknowledge and enjoy your true breadth and depth.  Although meaning and fun are not synonymous, fun is the only satisfying meaning to which you can subscribe without continuing to make things unnecessarily difficult for yourself.  Simplify.  Reject authority and unsubscribe from learned guilt.  Most importantly, have fun.  That’s the wisest contrived meaning one can possibly impose upon this beautiful, meaningless life.


13 thoughts on “Subservience

  1. Very well put and another welcome reminder. ‘Unsubscribe from learned guilt’ is the perfect mantra for me today. I also love the
    ‘subservience exists in order that we can experience freedom’ part.

    I think the apparent human need for authority, even an imaginary one, is to do with taking away responsibility and absurdity lest we drive ourselves mad with existential despair. If we do things because a higher being told us to then we really don’t have to think about our own predicaments so much, and have a convenient reason/answer/excuse to life’s unknowns. People who become obsessed with conspiracy theories interest me for that reason – they know there is something phoney in the authority structure but they still have to pin the responsibility for that somewhere other than themselves… Jung also went some way to explaining this need we have with his father archetype. Unfortunately the very thing that seems to lift the weight of responsibility also imprisons us as you rightly point out.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Exactly that. In a way they devolve their responsibility level even further than the religious, by imagining those in power are purposefully controlling their thoughts, chemical intake etc.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wasn’t there a movie or a show or something in which the premise was that human beings craved subservience, that it was in their nature to be ruled? Oh man, if I can’t remember this it’s going to bug me all day. Anyways, at the risk of this coming off like a shameless plug, I wrote a post a while back that you might like. It’s less to do with the authority angle and more to do with the search for meaning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure what show that might have been, but the premise is a fairly common sci-fi trope, even if it’s just implied somewhere below the plot. Your post from January is awesome, and it brought quite a few elements into the debate about the search for meaning that I’d never thought of.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t believe I almost missed this while on my hiatus. You are channeling Watts here, my friend (who I just finished reading) and Harari (I just started on his newest book Homo Deus). Your words have helped me past a mental block. Watts’ The Way of Zen opened my eyes to how little I really know about my self-supposed enlightenment. It helped me along, but left me wondering how far I really am. The Universe, as seen through Watts’ “eyes of many gems caught in a net”, is our playground. Hearing you explain the concept so brilliantly put me back on track. Thanks.

    In his new book, Harari describes the willingness of mass populations to be subservient to invisible Gods—and the people who represent them; or to just ordinary people like Presidents, Prime Ministers and Kings (to borrow from Tim Hardin’s Simple Song of Freedom) in order to sustain their “imagined reality”. You hit his philosophy like a nail on the head.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Pablo! Homo Deus is next on my reading list. I was trying to explain to my devout Buddhist friend Bernie yesterday that the reason I’ve jettisoned so much of my former Buddhist practice and study is because I no longer want to label myself as a Buddhist (or anything else) and because meditating with strict attention to technique, reciting incomprehensible mantras and reading repetitive Sutras was starting to feel like work; like a homework assignment. In other words, no fun, and just something I was doing out of a self-imposed sense of obligation. And I now feel — with the sage help of Mr. Watts, of course — that if something feels like an obligation, it’s missing the point.

      Liked by 1 person

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