The choice between importance and self-freedom

Robert Nozick made a somewhat personal yet insightful work in his The Examined Life. He gave us an idea of how philosophy is practicable in life and how it can be used to have control over ones life and make life more connected to oneself rather than herhis daily routines.

He said in his introduction that the most important step in living in an examined life is to make a philosophical self-portrait. Simple as it may seem, a philosophical self-portrait is a detailed reflection upon ones life, on how someone views death, reality, among others. In order to create a philosophical self-portrait, one must know how shehe reacts to certain instances. Thus, it is necessary to create an inner discourse or a very deep reflection because most of the time we are hounded and restricted by social circumstances that forces us to percept ourselves in a different way. Through a discourse, one can know what one really believes or thinks about.

Living an examined life, on the other hand, has many benefits according to Nozick. First, a careful self-examination will stop an individual from being driven by the monotonous routine and the fast-paced life. Living in a monotonous way dehumanizes a person, deprives himher of the venue to think and ponder. Depriving oneself of the right to think is almost equal to leveling oneself to animals of lower order, as they have no capacity to think like humans. Therefore, living an examined life completes a person, make one truly human and gives one complete understanding of the life that one is living.

For instance, an intellectual may be confined to his apartment, his office and the classroom. He is confined to the intellectual turmoil around him, and although he exhibits a very powerful intellect and a large span of knowledge, he was imprisoned to living for the sake of it. Paradoxically speaking, he is in constant thinking but he has no examined life, no philosophical portrait or whatsoever. In this sense, he is no control of his life. On the other hand, he can contemplate of his own life and make his own philosophical self-portrait and put life his out of automatic pilot, the metaphor that Nozick used for a life without conscious control.

Another benefit of making a philosophical self-portrait is that is gives someone the opportunity to know oneself more. It is a common assumption that a person knows more about herhimself rather than the others. However, this is not true as even our own identities, our selves, are created. Moreover, we tend to adapt to the different contexts that we are in. Consequently, we create many identities and it is even possible that among all these identities, none is truly you. Making a philosophical portrait gives this dilemma a certain level of resolution, because making a philosophical portrait puts both your mind and emotions into play. We do not brand ourselves as something simply because that is our emotional reaction or intellectual eureka. We talk and even argue without selves, until we find (or at least comes close to) our true philosophy, our true selves, our Platonic I. Hence, making a philosophical portrait makes us confident that we know ourselves.

Knowing oneself is a very crucial but baffling term that is often connected with young people. It is bcause adolescence is the stage where one chooses what she must bewhat will be the I that one will project as an adult. The different identities that teenagers have make this task almost impossible. However, a philosophical self-portrait will help teens gain a stable identity, the one that they will deem us truly them and only for them. Hence, making a philosophical self-portrait is an exercise that can help teenagers gain foothold in this chaotic world.

The inevitable Y-road
The adolescent stage (or the teen stage) is a biologically and psychologically disturbing phase. It is the transition period between childhood and being an adult, and it is often the most problematic because of many complex reasons.

One of the complex reasons that I am talking about is the inevitable decision of an adolescent of the life that heshe must tread in the future. Because most of the time the decisions during adolescence are very deterministic, the pressure makes some perky and unstable. This is especially true in light of the common Y-roadthe life of importance and the road of self-freedom free-will.

Nozick (1990) gives us a definition of importance and weight. He said that importance is a dimension of reality that is irreducible to value and meaning. On the other hand, freedom for Nozick (1983) is incompatible with the truth of causal determinism. Although these definitions may seem rather erratic as every philosopher often has their own definition of these two terms, in practice the two are rather simple. It is often the Y-road of many intellectuals and even common teens.

On one hand, living a life of importance is living a life of meaning. It has weight (although of course Nozick made a distinction between the two), and hence it has a social importance. Of course, every life is important in one sense or another. However, the importance we are talking about here is a social importance. Living a life that has social importance means that it is significant in the affairs of the world it has a goal and principle that must be realized. It is debatable whether every human being has hisher own set of principles, but it is no question that some people live with paradigms of purpose. Hence, they do not live for life but they live life for a certain purpose, what it may be. It can be world peace, gender equality, communism, or a Braudillardian dystopiait really doesnt matter, but the point is that those who take these principles into action are living a life of social importance, even from their own point of view.

However noble this kind of life may be, it has a catch. This is because living a life of importance means submerging oneself into the realization of a goal. It then requires a certain amount of effort, time, and dedication to live this kind of life, and for people with pleasure-centered point of view, this is certainly not a happy life. It means sacrifice, even to the expense of sacrificing the most important things in ones life, just for the realization of the purpose. This PurposePleasure fraction makes some uneasy, and this is exactly the point why many teenagers hesitate to live this kind of life. Especially because the phase of youth is often romanticized as a stage of blissful happiness and freedom, adolescents develop an understandable hesitation of leaving it and entering into a life of burden. However, the weight and importance that a life of burden comes with is equally fascinating for a teenager.

On the other hand, living a life of freedom actually means living a life of deliberate indifference to the world, and even to the society. It means living a life that can transcend social standards and norms. It can even mean living a life of complete submersion to self-centered pleasure, individual expression and individual self-determination. This kind of life is very alluring precisely because it means an unlimited opportunity to be happy and to be free. Although during the turbulent teen year this is already a staple, the point of adulthood threatens to jeopardize this freedom and many teens are normally afraid of losing it. This is because it is naturally a human nature to find happiness and sustain it. No person wants pain and suffering.

Again, this kind of life has a big catch. Living a life of complete freedom separates one from the world, and in this sense, ones existence has no social relevance. When one dies living this kind of life, she will be forgotten instantly, leaving no trace of existence. Living this kind of life deprives a person of making a relevant legacy. This very fact gives many teenagers the hesitation to practice this kind of life, as it is an equally important human need to be loved and accepted, to be taken as important and relevant (hence the conception of the tricky concept of love). It is a common assumption that no person wanted to die an unknown, an irrelevant. However, this is the assumed price to pay for living a free lifestyle.

This is a common dilemma that teenagers face in the Y-road of their lives. Looking from the zoom out point of view, it appears that the two roads are equally appealing and equally acceptable. However, choosing one path deprives one the opportunity to tread the other. This pressure of choice makes this point of decision making very difficult.

I personally believe that, for now, a life of happiness (the second choice) would be the better choice for me. This is a rather hard decision but I think that this would be the best in the meantime.

I have been in a radical social movement and I find my experience of having a hard principle and a goal rather fulfilling. Having a new purpose in life, a purpose that has a noble cause, gave me the motivation to work as hard as I can for the realization of the purpose. It completed me, in a sense, as I felt I was wanderlust before I entered the movement.  It gave my existence a reason, and in fact it was a reason that I must be proud of.

However, I felt the pressure of being in the movement. It requires certain rules that are truly suffocating, for the sake of discipline. This discipline, in turn, was claimed to make the organization run smoother and to make the achievement of the goal easier. I understood the point, but it left a rather disturbing question on mewhether the purpose I have is really worth the sacrifice. In the later days, I felt that the pressure was heating up and I was gaining importance in the group, but also gaining burden. I lost connection with my old friends and most of all my parents. At this point, I started to question whether it is really significant.

I felt that I had lost a certain aspect of my youth and, of course, being young is something that cannot be regained in the later parts of life. The freedom and even my own identity, my individual I, was defaced. It had been integrated into the single and collective identity of the social movement I am in.

After that, I decided to leave the group in order to regain my Self. It is more like a carpe diem moment, but nonetheless I still hold some of my principles in my baggage.

I believe that leaving a purposeful life is a really heroic act and I deem them as truly admirable. In this sense, I may appear as a coward. However, I believe that every people have herhis own place in the world, and every individual is a different from each other. Hence, no one can impose an identity or the defacement of identity into another person. This error, if done in a global scale, can be considered heavier than the noble purpose that a group may hold.


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