Sartre kept on going off about the meaning of life is to pursue freedom, but I still have very little idea of what it means to live a “free” life. He says something along the lines of acknowledging that we have freedom in the first place, I find that quite underwhelming.
There is a lot I want to do in life that requires the sacrifice of other things I want to do in life. I want to eventually have kids and move to a house in suburban New York, but that requires sacrificing other parts of my life. Effectively, if I want to be able to afford a house in New Rochelle, I won’t be able to work at the US embassy in Mozambique doing some variety of administrative work. Everyone keeps on saying that you should do what you want to do, but they often fail to acknowledge that doing some things means that you can’t do other things. I really want to move to Mozambique, but it probably means that I won’t be able to afford a house in New Rochelle when I approach my 30s and want to move to suburban New York.
When we are younger, our parents exist as the source of our money. They give us money, and we implicitly do what they tell us to do. In a sense, they have equity in our lives because they provide capital for us to continue living. We are willing to sacrifice our freedom to do what our parents want us to do because they have ownership over our lives. When we grow up, we obtain jobs for ourselves, and we are no longer dependent on our parents to financially support us. We can listen to our parents less because they no longer have their equity stake in our lives. We still do because that’s what we do to pay them back for all their investment into our lives, but they no longer have final authority over what we can do or not do. We think we financially support ourselves, but in actuality we are dependent on our employer to support us now. In return, we do what our employer wants us to do, which also involves additional restrictions in our lives.
When I was growing up, if I want to go on a two-week trip to Mozambique my parents wouldn’t let me because they don’t want to travel alone in a place without an established tourism network. Now, if I want to go on a two-week trip to Mozambique I won’t be able to because I have limited vacation days every year. Different phase of my life, different restrictions. The only time I would be able to go on a two-week trip to Mozambique is when I retired with enough saved up when I don’t have to work again in my life. By then, however, I would be so tired and frail that I won’t be able to take the 20+ hour flight to Mozambique.
If I want to own a house in New Rochelle, I would have to work all my life. If I want to take a two-week trip to Mozambique, I would have take a hit on my career. These are both things that I want to do. At present, however, I value owning a house in New Rochelle more than I value taking a two-week trip to Mozambique. As long as I continue on the career track that I am currently, never in my life will I ever have the freedom to take a two-week trip to Mozambique. It is the limitation of my freedom. Nietzsche kept on going off about not listening to other people and do things for yourself, but where did that get him? His life was sad, wretched, and I wouldn’t trade my life for his for the world.
Something I feel Sartre and Nietzsche never really addressed in their philosophy is the ontology of opportunity cost. It seems that after Kierkegaard’s Either/Or there isn’t much discourse surrounding how choice necessitates unhappiness. Economics is quite different now than it was back then, but I don’t ever remember them discussing how choice in one direction precludes choice in another. Living according to freedom, according to Sartre seems more than anything a myth of “having it all.” It’s like that episode in Bojack Horseman where Princess Caroline tried raising a kid and scheduling a party and being swamped at work in the same week. She wasn’t able to accomplish it even in this fictional universe. If you live in accordance to freedom, then you would have a free life, which is the life that he said you should supposedly have. What about the life that you don’t have because you chose to have another life?
It is seldom that our choices have a clear and contrast right and wrong division. There is nothing that tells me I have to get a house in New Rochelle or I have to go to Mozambique. They are just both things that I am interested in doing. Pursuing absolute freedom would be able to accomplish both of these things, but it is not possible to do so. We certainly do have some choice over what direction we want to guide our life, but we do not have the capability to do two things that are at odds with each other. That is the limitation of our freedom, and it is a choice that necessitates sacrifice. In this sense, the human condition necessitates a limit to freedom — therefore, we are not born to be free.
The closest thing we can come to freedom is financial independence — from our parents, from our employers, from everything. Financial independence means that I could afford a house in New Rochelle and go on a two-week trip to Mozambique. It means being able to reconcile this paradox of choice that precluded freedom. In that sense, having money equates to having freedom. It means coming one step closer to living the freest life.
Granted, money can’t buy everything. A famous aphorism I’ve heard: money can’t buy style. Although, if you’re rich and can afford a personal shopper, I guess you can buy style. Money also can’t buy friends, but money makes it a lot easier to make friends. Money can’t buy friends, but money can buy experiences that make making friends a lot easier (3-day EZoo passes don’t come cheap, but 3-day EZoo friends make making friends a lot easier than not having a 3-day EZoo pass). Also, there’s that quote from Avengers End Game: “No amount of money ever bought a second of time.” I disagree with this quite a bit. What is the point of time if it is not to make money and spend money?
When we reach adulthood, we spend quite a bit of our time working. Why do we work? It gives us something to do (so we don’t get bored), but it’s also to make money. What do we do when we don’t work? We spend money, among other things. If you make a lot of money very quickly, it buys quite a bit of time actually. If I had money, I could spend more time with my friends and less time making money. If I want to purchase a house in New Rochelle, I would need to accumulate quite a bit of money, which takes a lot of time. If I had money, I wouldn’t have to work as long as I need to purchase a house in New Rochelle. It gives me time to earn money for another purchase, such as a Toyota Camry. If I want to buy a house in New Rochelle and a Toyota Camry, I would need to work for a significant period of my life. Mortgages and loans means that I’m indebt to the bank, which takes away even more of my freedom. Having money means being able to afford a house in New Rochelle and a Toyota Camry without sacrificing your time to obtain the money needed to make these purchases. It gives you time to pursue other things, such as making more money.
I used to think the meaning to life was art and literature, but I think the meaning to life now is participating in consumerism and achieving freedom from all the ontological impossibilities that result from not having money. As long as we are dependent on money given to us from someone else, we cannot live the freest life that we can. The only way to achieve true freedom, true ownership of our lives, is to live life without worrying about money ever again.