For indeed none can love freedom heartily, but good men: the rest love not freedom, but license.
- John Milton (full quote here)
I have been thinking some recently about obligation – what an obligation is, and where our obligations lie. My mind might be changing about the matter, hard to say from within the mists.
Also recently, I have been rekindling an old interest in self-experimentation. (sometimes I feel like I was on a certain track until about age 16, then read a series of books that shunted me down a very different track, and have spent the last few years hauling myself overland in the vague direction of the first track.)
Tonight, we combine the two!
I frequently operate under a normative framework in my everyday life. Normativity is very embedded into the way I work and the way I make decisions. For the most part, I am okay with this. Doing things because I ought to makes intuitive sense to me, and this framework reliably gets the job done.
Sometimes, though, I worry that my framework is too restrictive, and I think about changing it.
That conversation usually goes like this –
Alcibiades: Hey, I don't feel too great about the way we work around
Glaucon: Mm, why not? What's your worry?
Alcibiades: Well, we're always feeling like we have to do this or that. Even when we're doing something that we're supposed to do, there's something else we're not doing!
Glaucon: Hm, I guess it does feel a little demanding sometimes.
Alcibiades: And even when we're on top of everything, it feels like we could be working faster.
Glaucon: Well, isn't that true? We don't work as efficiently as we could. We could focus better, read and write faster, plan more strategically, and execute with less hesitation.
Alcibiades: That's true. But maybe being able to do something better doesn't mean we have to do it better?
Glaucon: Where would we set our goals, then? How would we know what was acceptable, and what wasn't?
Alcibiades: I'm not sure. What if we didn't try to set goals?
Glaucon: That's insane! Without goals, we'd just sit and watch pirated TV all day. We wouldn't make it out of the house!
Alcibiades: Yeah... But maybe that's okay? What are our goals based on, anyway?
Glaucon: Does sitting around all day sound good to you? Isn't it better to strive towards something great?
Alcibiades: Yeah, I guess. I just wish there was a way to do that without all the accompanying shit.
Glaucon: I'm all ears. But until you have an alternative, I suggest you get back to work.
The problem here is that all the debate comes before the evidence. Alternatives to the status quo get picked apart before they're given a shot. Even more troubling, sometimes I try out an alternative for just a teeny bit. Then, when things don't go absolutely swimmingly, my prior belief gets reinforced. Alternatives don't work, feeling like you have to do something is the only way to do it. No half measures.
This isn't very scientific.
Here's something more scientific:
For the next [AMOUNT OF TIME UNDETERMINED], I'm going to be in a "radical open period." I'll do what I want. I won't worry to much about not doing the things I should be doing. I'll read what I want, write what I want, eat what I want, sleep for how long I fancy.
I have definite obligations related to my current employment, so I am going to bracket out a significant portion of each weekday. This bracketed portion will be excluded from the radical openness blossoming all around it.
I'm guessing that this openness will not be an easy sensation to maintain. I'm deeply habituated to my current practice, and will default to it when not thinking. Spending a substantial portion of my waking time in a professional setting will continue to reinforce my current working practice, which is heavily salted with have to's and should have's. On top of this, there is no point in trying to not try. My plan is to be gentle, non-prescriptive, and expecting a lot of regressions to habituated practice.
The point of this exercise is not to induce some grand shift in life direction. It's just to test out a hypothesis: perhaps living without obligations in my day-to-day results in a series of TV binges. Perhaps it will result in something else. I'm hoping for the latter.
[rereads: 3, edits: inserted line break, added ", though," added some spaces, cut "going in", cut down the Milton quote so it reflects its appearance in Empire:Total War, en-dash –> comma, added a missing "to"]