It’s a pretty universally recognized truth that the human spirit yearns for freedom. Yet, there’s another side of humanity that has developed an obsession for control over others. It’s a strange dichotomy. The desire to be free and the instinct to oppress are overarching parts of humanity’s saga, and history is to a great extent, a record of oppression and the struggle for liberation. Take a look at any news website. Social movements and political initiatives abound, with each, regardless of its location on the political spectrum, attempting to mass power in order to control the behavior of others.
The usual narrative is, “I’m being oppressed (if I’m a minority) or injured (if I’m a majority) in some way. I demand the freedom to behave the way I want. Therefore, no one should be allowed to _________.” Then these groups make use of the sensationalist news media, leverage political power, exploit faint-hearted university administrators to circumvent due process, boldly incite Twitter mobs to excoriate people at the slightest provocation, and take advantage of every opportunity to signal their own sterling virtue in order to rationalize their behavior. Freedom for me, but not for thee.
Now we should understand that the compulsion we feel to control the world around us is natural. It is an ingrained part of our programming. It is built into our brains because the human experience forces us to confront the chaos of the world around us, which can be quite overwhelming. In this battle between order and chaos, the greater our sense of control, the lower our anxiety. We have to deal with natural disasters, the cycle of seasons, market fluctuations, illness, and the choices of the myriad individuals who surround us. If we can exercise a bit of control over the environment—and even over other people—our perceived chance of survival goes way up. This is such a stressful thing that most people, I suspect, prefer order over the welfare of others. And many people voluntarily surrender their freedom to those who promise certainty of order.
But let’s consider the implications of the impulse for control turning into an obsession. Once the impulse becomes an obsession, it can easily become a pathology—a sickness that will not only lay waste to others but also consume our own soul. Taken in a broader sense, when we attempt to dominate others, what we’re doing is attempting to fix the problems of the world by human effort. The secular face of this effort is referred to as politics. The spiritual face of this effort is referred to as religion. The social face of this effort is referred to as social activism. The economic face of this effort takes many forms and is manifested when a person or group attempts to control the economy to prevent exploitation. As I tried to illustrate in my previous post, no matter how it is implemented, the lust for control over others incites conflict and culminates in ruin.
It is the human effort part that is the problem. For thousands of years, we’ve been attempting to fix a spiritual problem by trying to contain it within a coercive system. Every human effort to constrain the dark side of humanity has failed. Every legal system has failed. Every religion has failed. Every philosophical school of thought has hit a wall. Every political system has reached a limit of advance and has either eroded or imploded. The War to End All Wars left the twentieth century as vulnerable to (or as prone to) violence as any other century, as people and groups who amassed power in order to right the wrongs of the world unleashed devastation on an unprecedented scale.
So where does that leave us? Left to our own devices, we will, in the name of “the greater good,” create hell on earth. Political, social, or religious domination is not the answer to the human condition. Freedom by itself is not the answer either, for without responsibility, freedom can be misused to harm others. I’m forced to conclude that without divine intervention, we will never fix the problems of the human condition.
I think that this is what God has been saying to us from the beginning and what He finally had to exemplify through the life and death of Jesus. It is a difficult thing, but we must surrender our obsession for control over others, and maybe we should rethink the utility of coercing compliance. Perhaps a better way is, to the extent that we are able, grant freedom to others and allow God’s divine life to live through us. Admittedly, I don’t know how exactly that would look or what exactly the result would be. But I think it’s worth a shot.