Yesterday, when walking home by the river I felt a strong urge to sit by the bank. I wanted to look out and take in the scenery. In my way was a three foot high fence. I pondered the fence for a little. I knew others had scaled it. Walking past that way before I had seen the grass marked black from campfires and discarded cans of beer. I stared at the fence knowing I could climb it. Knowing no-one would stop me.
Rather than climbing immediately, I reflected on the purpose of the fence. The river was near a residential area so this fence was probably there to stop children running into it. It was not erected to keep responsible people like me out. But at the back of my mind was this niggling fear that someone in the nearby houses would see me climb. Maybe they would report me to the police for fence jumping. Maybe they would come out and shout at me. Of course, all this was nonsense. No-one would care if I sat by the fenced off river. But still, I feared the consequences of breaking the rules.
Ideology is a lot like this. The physical barriers such as gates, fences and police, that stop us doing things, are backed up by much more powerful habits of thinking. The fences physical power to stop me entering the space by the river is much weaker than the psychological signal that the area is forbidden. As I am not someone in the habit of breaking rules, jumping the fence involved an internal mental struggle with the representatives of authority that live and lobby in my own head. The reward was freedom but the risk was to my own security.
Accepting security and routine is not always a bad thing. In our lives we often don’t fight for things we want, in order not to disrupt the other things we like and already have. Pursuing happiness can adversely affect your sanity and relationships with other people. Worst of all is when what you think your fighting for doesn’t actually exist in reality. We after all can make a habit of projecting onto people and object our own ideals and fantasies. Maybe I was projecting a false image of freedom onto the other side of the fence and the fight for it was at best not worthwhile and at worst disruptive.
Now of course, I don’t want to tear down river fences and risk children falling into the water. But I do see that state intruding into my head, and find myself a slave to habit and conformity much more than I would like. Living with this is perhaps just the cost of living in the world; the cost of being part of society. That is why sometime we just need to jump that fence, sit by the river and smile to ourselves while screaming internally fuck society! Yesterday, however, after pondering the fence for a little, I didn’t fuck society. I stayed on the path, crossed the river and went home.