WAYS TO RELAX #6: Powerless Freedom

Browsing the Book Cover Archive (ooooh, book porn, so hot) the beauty of this cover design initially caught my eye, but the quote on the cover is what really interests me. The opening line of Rousseau’s treatise reads, “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.”


“Those who think themselves the masters of others,” it continues, ”are indeed greater slaves than they.”

“Powerless Freedom” is the name some friends used for the summer they lived entirely without electricity. I loved their expression of individual liberation as the result of their lack of agency. I know that this doesn’t exactly jive with Rousseau’s proposal for a civil society organized by collective will (laws, voting). But I think in the 1700s or whenever, he was addressing the issue of a certain kind of oppression or exploitation that could be resolved by introducing what we now understand as democracy.

Today the concept of civil society and democracy is (in my little corner of the world) given to the point of being almost invisible. And so the forces of oppression we may wish to resist have an entirely different source and quality. Maybe if Jean-Jaques were alive today he would have written the Anti-Social Contract. Probably not. Maybe the Anti-Social Networking Contract? Probably not that either.

Either way, power that you may wield over others is an illusion. Don’t forget to let go.