Chris Pecora

Difficulty with Freedom

Paralysis and no Cheese Martins.

By Fred Stenson

Freedom can be difficult. You think you’re free, and then you ask: Am I free, or am I just brainwashed into thinking I’m free? Take, for instance, today’s trip to the grocery store. I had a short list of items. After I had them in the basket, I remembered my 2022 pledge to weigh all actions for their freeness. If a person isn’t doing that—weighing the freeness of one’s actions—you may very well be walking around enslaved.

So I reconsidered the items in the basket to see if any of my choices had been coerced. First off: the triple bag of Featherstone Cheese Martins. Would I have bought them if I hadn’t seen a provocative commercial in which a nice-looking person danced while holding an open bag of Cheese Martins? I experienced a brief sexual tweak when the dancer hopped and two Cheese Martins came out of the bag and floated to the floor in slow motion. Clearly, it was libido manipulation and an infringement of my freedom.

Am I free, or just brainwashed into thinking I’m free? I reconsidered my grocery basket to see if my choices had been coerced.

Cheese Martins are a product of the nation in which I live, and I may also have been influenced by nationalism. Without consideration or genuine volition, I had reached for the bag with the maple leaf on it. Upon further interrogation of the impulse, I thought there might be more political content. The province in which Cheese Martins are made is governed by a leader allied with the leader of my own province. But that same province contains many people, especially in its cities, who think Albertniks are bumpkins. Why on earth, in the name of national pride, would I buy a confection produced by people who call me bumpkin? The hell with Cheese Martins! I put the bag back, though it was on sale and something I like to eat during baseball games. But I’d made my decision. I must live with it.

I won’t waste your time with an explanation of my reasoning on the other products, but within minutes my shopping basket was bare. I put it back on the stack.

In the parking lot I was looking for my car when I remembered I hadn’t brought it. I almost did. I had it out of the garage, but then paused to properly weigh the action. Whose impulse was it to take the car? Had I considered all factors, such as the dramatic rise in gas prices caused by the war? If I kept driving, was that symbolic of my having made a choice about the war? It was a bad war, no doubt, but what was the best way to express that? By consuming more gas, or less?

And, if I continued to choose, as I had today, to leave my car in the garage, was I expressing or seeming to express other beliefs? The neighbours would eventually notice, and might fail to see the connection to the war. They might think I was expressing my opinion of petroleum, which, in turn, might imply my position on climate change.

Someone came up to me in the parking lot and asked if I was all right. Why do you ask, I asked.

“I noticed you were standing in this one spot for quite a while. Your eyes weren’t focused, and I thought perhaps you were having… Well, it could mean a number of things.”

“Am I not free to stand here with my eyes unfocused?”

“Of course you are. But am I not free to ask if you’re all right, if it seems you might not be?”

It was true. It was the person’s right. It was both our rights.

And what is my position on climate warming? Do I have one? Must I have one? Because the province I live in is a large producer of petroleum, does that amount to an obligation to take the side of increased oil production? Would that then imply a position against believing in human-caused climate change? What about the 97 per cent of world scientists who say human causation of dangerous climate warming is not only true but obvious? Would I be more free if I accepted their authority or rejected it? What about the implied subservience to the oil lobby?

Then I remembered I had been in the grocery store without wearing my mask. On the previous day, I had spent hours deliberating on the mask issue and concluded that my free will lay in the direction of wearing a mask indoors or wherever crowds gather. I was thinking of the grocery store when I discussed this with myself. So what had happened to make me not wear one?

I must have forgotten.

Yes, that was it. I had forgotten. And having admitted to myself that I had forgotten, I instantly relaxed. Why would I relax? Perhaps because I was under no internal or external pressure to forget. And, by Jove, that was the breakthrough! The realization was that I had forgotten simply because I had, which had to mean that forgetting was an uncoerced event, perhaps one of the very few of those left on the planet. I have to say that the sensation of forgetting was beyond pleasant, marvellous, and I vowed to do much more of it.

And, just like that, my feet began to move and I was on my way home.

Fred Stenson’s novels include Who By Fire, The Trade, Lightning and The Great Karoo.


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