Negative freedom is the freedom not to be free. Or as we could also say, negative freedom is the freedom that we have to prop up the illusion of the mind-created self without knowing that this is what we are doing. When we are exercising negative freedom we neither know that the mind-created self is an illusion, nor do we know that we are propping it up! If we knew one thing then we’d know the other – if we knew the mind-created self needed propping up then we’d know that it wasn’t real and if we knew that it wasn’t real then we’d also know that our job is doing to have to be to prop it up…
Because of this we know negative freedom simply as ‘freedom’, whilst the genuine article is something that we are completely unacquainted with. Freedom itself is a stranger to us! We wouldn’t know freedom if it walked up and punched us on the nose – in fact if freedom did walk up to us and make itself known to us then this would in all probability be a highly traumatic experience. We would feel the very basis of our reality being threatened and this is not something most of us would have much of a taste for. Having the very basis of one’s reality challenged isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and so the chances are that we would see an encounter with genuine freedom as being some kind of a psychotic experience. We would probably feel the need to have a chat with a psychiatrist.
We don’t know freedom. All we know is negative freedom and we consider this dubious substitute as being perfectly adequate for our needs; not only is it the case that we consider negative freedom perfectly adequate for our needs, if genuine, honest-to-goodness freedom came along we would run a mile. This is of course the only way things could be – if negative freedom is ‘the freedom to prop up the illusion of the mind-created self without knowing that this is what we are doing’ then to bring actual freedom into the picture would ruin everything! From the point of view of negative freedom, to bring actual honest-to-goodness genuine freedom into the picture would be an utter and unmitigated disaster…
Bringing freedom into the picture ruins everything because then – with the addition of genuine freedom into the mix – there’s nothing to stop us seeing that the mind-created self is an illusion, and that we are caught up on a full-time basis in propping it up. Genuine freedom means that we’re free to see that the mind-created self is the mind-created self and that we are obliged to maintain it the whole time because it simply couldn’t exist otherwise. We free to see that we are constantly engaged in a task that is both pointless and thankless and this is likely to prove altogether more freedom than we had bargained for!
With the addition of genuine freedom into the mix we’re free to see what it is that we actually doing and when we see this we can no longer go on doing it! The whole show comes to an end, therefore. The scam has been blown wide open and so the show has to come to an end. And yet the thing about this is that the show is all we know – the show is the world for us, the show is existence itself, and so we really don’t want for the show to come to an end! We absolutely don’t want this. What this means therefore is that this thing that we have called ‘genuine freedom’ is the most unwanted of all possible things – it is like the deadliest of poisons as far as we are concerned; it is like pure cyanide as far as the exercise of negative freedom is concerned.
The set-up which is negative freedom can continue indefinitely just so long as we make sure never to let any actual genuine freedom into the mix and so this becomes the one thing that we must never permit. And at one and the same time as not permitting any genuine freedom into the mix we have to make sure that we don’t actually see that this is what we are doing. Not allowing ourselves to see that we are excluding genuine freedom from the mix is the same thing as not allowing ourselves to see that we are propping up the illusion of the mind-created self. We exclude any mention of genuine honest-to-goodness freedom, and at the same time we strenuously deny that we are excluding anything…
‘Negative freedom’ is just another way of talking about denial therefore – in denial there is a conspiracy going on to cover up the truth and in negative freedom there is a conspiracy going on to cover up the fact that there is such a thing as genuine freedom! With denial there cannot be any question of letting in any portion of the truth, no matter how small, no matter how apparently insignificant, and in the case of negative freedom there similarly cannot be any question of permitting the exercise of any degree of genuine freedom, no matter how small, no matter how apparently harmless this exercise of freedom might seem. For the exercise of negative freedom there has to be ZERO genuine freedom. Anything more than zero freedom just won’t work.
This is a completely bizarre situation, if only we could see it (which of course we can’t). This situation that we’re talking about here is an utterly crazy sort of thing. We’re perfectly free to do the thing that we’re doing (this thing which is the enactment of negative freedom) but in order to ‘do the thing’ we have to prevent ourselves from seeing what the thing that we’re doing actually is. How crazy is this? Because we are preventing ourselves from seeing what it is that we’re actually doing we are also – at the same time – preventing ourselves from seeing that the thing which we’re doing (the ‘task’, so to speak) is absolutely guaranteed to fail right from the word go. If anything was ever absolutely guaranteed, this is it!
We are free to pursue the task at hand – we can pursue it and pursue it until the cows come home, or until hell freezes over – but we’re not free to see that it is a non-starter, we’re not free to see that it is actually frankly impossible. This being the case, we might wonder just what sort of ‘freedom’ it is that we’re talking about here! ‘Freedom’ doesn’t seem quite the right word! We’re free in a reversed kind of a way, an upside-down kind of a way. We’re free not to see that what we’re trying to do is impossible – if we could see that what we’re trying to do is actually impossible then of course we would no longer busting our asses trying to do it…
Negative freedom means that the one thing which we absolutely CANNOT see is that what we are being compelled to do (by the rules of the game) is FRANKLY IMPOSSIBLE. This is after all how the game gets to continue. This is how the game gets perpetuate itself in the way that it does perpetuate itself. Going on and on trying to complete an impossible task is what negative freedom is all about. That is negative freedom in a nutshell. We cannot see that the one thing that we are always trying to do – the one thing that matters most to us – is a flat impossibility and this profound lack of insight drives all of our thinking, all of our behaviour when we’re trapped in the deceptive world of negative freedom.
“So what is this impossible task and why is it impossible?” we might ask (if we were not quite paying 100% attention to the argument so far). What is this endeavour that we’re engaged in, this ‘coup’ that we’re always trying to pull off, so to speak? This question brings us right back to our original definition of negative freedom as ‘the freedom to prop up the illusion of the mind-created self without seeing what we are doing’ (or ‘the freedom to continue maintaining the mind-created self without either seeing that we are maintaining it or that what we are maintaining is an illusion’). The task or endeavour in question is of course the task of maintaining the illusory mind-created self.
The key thing about this task is that it IS a task – it’s a job, a duty, a chore. We don’t freely endeavour to maintain or promote the mind-created self! There’s nothing free about this job at all; as we have already said, freedom (actual genuine, honest-to-goodness freedom, that is) can’t be allowed into the system. We don’t freely do anything in negative freedom. That’s the whole point. There’s no such thing as freedom in the system – instead, there are ‘compulsions that we identify with’, ‘rules that we obey unquestioningly’, ‘structures or systems that we struggle automatically to maintain’. We really ought to know this. We would know this, if we paid any attention at all!
We don’t freely maintain the self – there is nothing ‘free’ about the self at all. The self is, after all, an exercise in negative freedom from beginning to end. The self is a forced march. Maintaining the self is all either fear or greed, and both fear and greed (aversion and attraction) come down to the very same thing – they are compulsions that we helplessly identify with. Greed and fear are both prime manifestations of negative freedom, in other words!
The propping up of the self is the impossible task that we can’t see to be impossible, and the reason it is impossible is because the self which we’re trying to prop up isn’t real.
Another way of talking about this is to say that the ‘impossible task’ which we are locked into is the task of finding freedom for the mind-created self. This is very clearly a complete non-starter – it is a non-starter because nothing the self does is ‘free’. Nothing free can ever come out of the self. The self can never find freedom no matter what it does. For the mind-created self – very clearly – finding freedom is an impossible thing.
Finding freedom for the mind-created self is an impossibility because the mind-created self is an exercise in negative freedom and there is no way that genuine, honest-to-goodness freedom can ever come about as a result of an exercise in negative freedom, no matter how much we persist in it…
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.