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Creating Negative Freedom

Aggression is how we create negative freedom for ourselves! Admittedly this statement probably isn’t going to make a hell of a lot of sense to anyone who happens across it, but if we can understand that and it tells us an awful lot. It tells us a huge amount…



Aggression is when we are trying to make reality be what we want it to be. This also involves judging reality, or ‘saying what it is’. Judging is aggression, labelling is aggression, evaluation is aggression. Controlling is aggression. There are two things we can say about aggression – [1] is that it is ultimately impossible to make reality be what we want it to be (trying to do this, we might say, is ‘a tactic that is doomed to failure’) and [2] is that we don’t know that it is impossible, that we don’t know that our endeavour is ‘doomed to failure’. We actually feel very strongly that we are getting somewhere as a result of our aggression and this misleading perception is of course what allows us to continue indefinitely in the aggressive mode.



This brings us neatly to a consideration of ‘negative freedom’. One way of defining negative freedom is to say that it is when we think that we are free but we aren’t. Another way of defining negative freedom is to say that it is the freedom that we have not to be free. If I have no freedom to do a certain thing and I see that I have no freedom to do it then I have no ‘freedom not to be free’; if on the other hand I perceive myself to have freedom in this respect (when I don’t have it) then I am ‘free to be unfree’. As far as I’m concerned I’m free (even though I’m not) and so in this case the type of freedom that I have is ‘negative freedom’.



Negative freedom can be seen in two complementary ways therefore: we can see it as a useful tool for avoiding seeing that we have no freedom, or we can see it as a very effective trap. Negative freedom is a trap because it ‘invents its own rules’, so to speak. It’s a toy universe, a ‘made-up’ universe that is constructed on a very simple premise – the premise in question being that ‘walking in the direction of due North’ is fundamentally different from ‘walking in the direction of due South’! Negative freedom is when we create a universe that is ‘neatly looped back on itself’, in other words. We have created a loop that we are constitutionally unable to see as such and the reason why we are constitutionally unable to see it as such is because our guidance system, our navigation aid, is founded upon the principle that ‘positive is fundamentally different to negative’.



This is simply how thought works and there is no getting around it! Thought is based on boundaries and a boundary equals one thing and one thing only – the separation of inside and outside, the separation of positive and negative, the separation of ‘yes’ and ‘no’. A ‘boundary’ is simply a shorthand term for the ‘separation of plus and minus’, there’s one opposite on the one side of the boundary and the other opposite on the other side and this (very clearly) equals ‘separation’! Thought simply can’t spot that positive and negative are simply the two sides of the very same arbitrary boundary – thought is based on the assumption that ‘plus is radically separate to no’ and of course there is no way that it is ever going to be able to spot this as an assumption’. All of our evaluations are based on this key premise so it is hardly going to be possible for us to turn round and evaluate our own assumptions, our own logical premises in this matter. This means therefore that the rational mode has a ‘built-in blindness’ with regard to seeing that ‘walking the direction of due North’ is the very same thing as ‘walking in the direction of due South’. And yet if we look at the three-dimensional globe of the earth (bringing into play a degree of perspective here) we can very clearly see that ‘walking due North’ will sooner or later turn into the apparently very different movement of ‘walking due South’. Perspective reveals that the difference in question is ‘apparent but not real’, therefore.



So here we have a description of a very effective type of prison – it is so effective that it’s hard to imagine anyone ever escaping from it – we have created a ‘loop world’ and our minds are fundamentally incapable of understanding the nature of the loop that we are trapped in (the nature of the loop being as we have said that ‘movement in the positive direction is the very same thing as movement in the negative direction’). The basis for all activity when we are operating on the authority of this mind is the idea that ‘plus is radically different from minus’ – this is therefore the basis of our ‘understanding’ of the world. Our ‘Sat Nav’, the ‘guidance system’ which in which we play so much trust, is operating on the basis that polarity is the fundamental principle behind reality itself, and yet it isn’t. Reality itself isn’t divided into plus and minus – there is no basic orientation of ‘North versus South’, there is actually no basic ‘orientation’ at all.



Another way of putting this is to say that reality is symmetrical – it’s the same both ways, in other words. It’s not just ‘the same both ways’, it’s the same all ways! This statement – the statement regarding the irreducible symmetry of reality – is utterly baffling to the everyday mind, needless to say. I have been operating on the basis of my rational Sat Nav for the whole of my life and now I have discovered that the assumed basis of this trusted navigational system has no relation whatsoever to the actual nature of the world we live in. What could possibly come as a greater shock this? There isn’t really any way to overstate the magnitude of this shock – we are suddenly confronted with reality and its nature is radically different from what we had previously imagined it to be. Where does this leave us? We have discovered that everything we thought we knew is redundant – of all the shocks it is possible to get this is the greatest – absolutely nothing – absolutely nothing – compares to it!



We don’t know that what it is that we are being confronted with – it’s not as if we can say to ourselves – ‘Oh – this is reality!’ That would imply a capacity of relating to non-dual or non-polar reality that we just don’t have. All we experience is the implacable falsification of everything we know, including our idea of ourselves. Faced with an assault like this on everything we know (an assault on our very being (or at least on what we take to be our very being) our reaction is going to be one of pure fear. It could also be said that our reaction might be one of pure aggression but this is of course the very same thing – aggression is simply fear turned into unreflective action. When we blithely refer to this thing that we call ‘ontological insecurity’ this is what we are referring to. Is it any wonder therefore that we have no interest in ‘reality as it actually is in itself’? Is it any wonder that we are constantly on the run from ‘unconditioned reality’?



If we weren’t so very habituated to relating to the world (and to ourselves) in a strictly rational way, then it would be a different matter. Ontological panic comes from the need to have everything in boxes when reality doesn’t actually come in boxes. Ontological panic comes about because our way of relating to the world is in a strictly ‘rule-based’ manner when reality itself does not obey any of our assumed rules. How inconvenient this is for us! How inconvenient it is that reality steadfastly refuses to obey any of our rules! The ‘flip side’ of this is of course that if reality did obey our assumed rules then it wouldn’t actually be reality – it would only be a reflection of ourselves in this case, it would only be ‘an extension of our unquestioned assumptions’. This is the price that we pay when we ‘flee from reality’, therefore – the price is that we withdraw into a tautological realm, the tautological realm of our own unrecognised projections.



There is a ‘penalty clause’ associated with this trick of withdrawing from reality into the tautological world of our own unrecognised projections and this penalty clause can be very neatly explained in terms of this thing that we have called ‘negative freedom’. One definition of negative freedom, as we have already said, is that it is the freedom we have to make things be the way that we want them to be. It is a dimension in which we are able to ‘exert our will’ and obtain results that are congruent with our will. Another – related – definition is to say that negative freedom is the freedom that we have to see positive as being radically separate from negative (which translates into the freedom we have to separate positive from negative, or separate the North Pole from the South Pole). This is however a deeply paradoxical definition since we don’t have the freedom to separate the two opposites ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ – we just think that we do! This gives us a third way of talking about negative freedom – we can simply say that negative freedom is the domain of rational thought (which is to say, it is the realm which thought automatically assumes in its operation).



As far as thought is concerned, there is a direction in which we can usefully travel and that is the direction that takes us from one opposite to the other – the direction that takes us from ‘wrong’ to ‘right’, so to speak. This is the movement that takes us in the direction of ‘achieving our goals’ therefore and so – using the definitions that we have just been looking at– we can say that negative freedom is the freedom that we have to move towards the realisation of our goals. This is where the paradox comes in because we very much take it that the possibility we have of moving in the direction of our goal is actual honest-to-goodness freedom, not the counterfeit version of it! If the possibility that we have of moving in the direction of realising our goals is – in truth – negative freedom, then this turns everything we know on its head. Striving to attain our goals isn’t freedom at all – it’s tautological, it’s ‘going around in circles’. How could ‘chasing our goals’ be anything other than ‘going around in a circle’, after all? We are certainly not moving away from ourselves or moving away from our unconscious assumptions about the world through our goal-orientated behaviour, we are only reaffirming their validity.



In one way, as we have just said, this understanding is immensely baffling to us – it stops us dead in our tracks. Goal-orientated behaviour is all we’ve got; it’s our one and only trick! But in another way – in a profoundly ‘underrated’ way, admittedly – this isn’t a problem at all. Our genuine freedom lies in our ability to act creatively – when we act creatively we move away from ourselves and our hardwired assumptions about the world. We are not moving towards our goals but away from anything that we might previously have considered ‘relevant’ or ‘important,’ and what’s more, we don’t know how we move in this direction. We’re moving ‘out of equilibrium’ and the whole thing about moving out of equilibrium is that we don’t and (can’t!) know how we are doing it. There are no methods to ‘move out of equilibrium’; there is no ‘knowledge-base’ to tell us how this movement may occur. If we were to see things from the positivist standpoint, we would of course have grave reservations with this since the idea that there can be a type of movement about which we can – of necessity – say nothing at all about does not sway us in the slightest! That means nothing at to us – there is no proof, there is no evidence. How can there be something that we don’t (and can’t ever) know about? But what we can’t see is that the only real type of movement there is is the movement about which we can say nothing – this is the movement of freedom! This is ‘movement without a model’…



The ‘movement of freedom’ is the only type of movement there is! No other type of movement exists – the type of ‘movement’ we’re so invested in its circular movement, which is ‘movement that goes nowhere’. If we weren’t so invested in keeping tabs on everything then this would be a different story – moving in a way that we don’t understand in a direction that leads beyond everything we understand wouldn’t be such a big problem to us then! It wouldn’t be such a huge big headache. It will in fact come quite naturally to us. In terms of negative freedom therefore, we can say that when we ‘do what we know how to do’, when we ‘enact our purposeful routines’, then this is ‘negative freedom’. There is no freedom at all in this, although there seems to be. There seems to be freedom in our purposeful actions (and in our rational thoughts) because of the mind-generated illusion that we can separate negative from positive, north from south, left from right; there isn’t any freedom in our purposeful actions and rational thoughts really because this is possibility ‘only an illusion’!



We rely very heavily on our purposeful/rational activity – when there’s no pressure on us and ‘life is good’ then that’s a time when we might allow ourselves to be a bit more creative, a bit more playful, a bit more spontaneous, in our response to life, but as soon as that pressure is back on again we revert immediately to the rational/purposeful modality. We are therefore completely ‘undervaluing’ the spontaneous/creative/playful mode, and yet this ‘spontaneous mode’ is the only time we can be who we really are. It’s our actual nature that we are undervaluing or devaluing, in other words! Whenever trouble or difficulty comes our way we are panicked into handing over responsibility to the ‘machine which is the thinking mind’, and the thinking mind (as we have said) operates purely within the realm of negative freedom. The other way of putting this is to say that the thinking mind is always aggressive – all it knows is how to impose its own form of order on the world, and it is this that plunges us into the prison-realm of negative freedom. We don’t avail of the freedom that’s actually there when we try to impose our own order on the world; freedom is (of course) when we don’t try to impose our agenda, our own assumptions, on everything around us and this is the one thing that the instrument of the rational mind can never do.



When we don’t try to impose our own game-plan on the universe then instead of negative freedom we have actual freedom – we have ‘the genuine article’. All we need to do in order to be free therefore is to stop being so aggressive the whole time. Nothing could be simpler! Nothing could be simpler, and at the same time nothing could be harder either…







Art: René Magritte, Decalcomania. (1966)






Author: Nick Williams

Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.
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  • Margie carter

    Thank you AGAIN

    LOVE ♥️
    LAUGHTER
    GRATITUDE …

    June 27, 2019 at 4:44 pm Reply
  • Stefan

    Wow… This is so deep down the rabbit hole – not sure if I can find my way back. ;-D

    July 28, 2019 at 8:22 pm Reply
    • Stefan

      It seems to me that all of our illusions come down to the illusion of being a self, separated from the whole, while we’re just a part of it. So actually there’s just the freedom of the whole system.

      I think it doesn’t reallly matter, but because of consistency I’d still prefer to call the defined, goal-driven illusion of freedom ‘positive freedom’, just like you called the defined, goal-driven illusion of reality ‘positive reality ‘.

      Operating with words talking about this non-game-realm is weird. Because the very structure of language is ‘designed’ for goal-driven usage (poets seem to have found some way out of this dilemma).

      July 29, 2019 at 6:56 pm Reply
  • Stefan

    I see… A question just occured to me – why is this defined, goal-driven, rational freedom ‘negative freedom’? You are talking about ‘positive reality’ as defined reality for example in some other article. And what you call ‘negative psychology’ is an undefined non-game psychology. Maybe I’m just confused, but shouldn’t what we try to create through rational, purposeful thinking and action then be called positive freedom?

    July 28, 2019 at 8:48 pm Reply
    • Stefan

      That’s why what we try to create through rational thinking and purposeful action, a illusory kind of freedom, would be ‘positive freedom’ A freedom for a self that doesn’t exist.

      July 30, 2019 at 7:51 am Reply
  • Stefan

    Because the self is an illusion – it is the illusion itself- it can’t be free of the illusion of itself.

    July 30, 2019 at 7:53 am Reply

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