Freedom Vertigo
The cage is now open. Dare I fly? What if I fall?


(permanent link) added: 2013-03-13 13:56:09 sponsor: TheHandle (last reply: 2013-03-27 10:05:57)

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"And where does the newborn go from here? The net is vast and infinite."
The Major, Ghost in the Shell

Congratulations! All these new options have opened up for you. Now then, what will you choose? What do you mean, you're intimidated? Shouldn't you feel more comfortable, with all this room to move? Shouldn't you feel more hopeful, with all this room to improve? Do you know how ridiculous it sounds, when you say, in a tone of anguish, "I have much more choice than I could possibly know what to do with!". Could it be that you're suffering from Freedom Vertigo?

The increase in freedom need not be a physical limitation of restraints; sometimes the limit of what you can do is fixed by what you think you can do. Hence, when you stop believing in God, Fate, the Rules, or what your parents would approve of, you can find yourself in a similar situation; this specific instance of that vertigo, of realizing that you can decide who you'll be and what you'll do with your life, after the authorities that used to decide that for you are discredited, is precisely what existentialists called "existential angst".

The trouble, is that, with so many choices, the probabilities are overwhelming that you'll take a suboptimal route; regardless of what criterion you follow (and even assuming that you can figure out a consistent criterion quickly enough to be practical, for time will not wait while you're Agonizing Over New Choices), it is almost certain that you will not get to weigh every option in a satisfactory way.

while it is true that, when confronted with a very wide array of choices, Science can help you narrow it down to fewer options, there's only so much you can do before it's time to just trust your instincts, close your eyes, and leap.

Related to Freedom from Choice, which, from the examples, seems to be about getting or being rid of the vertigo-inducing freedom. Can overlap with So What Do We Do Now? and And Then What? when the fetters lost were adversarial in nature (a rival or an enemy that needed to be defeated, an urgent problem that demanded all of your attention until it was solved); this is why even The Unfettered is not immune to this trope, once their goal, which justified any and all means, is achieved.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Code Geass averts this trope to an amazing extent: characters achieve drastic increases in freedom or power, or suffer sudden and dramatic loss of moral or ethical constraints, yet instead of thinking their new options through, they enthusiastically charge ahead in the direction that appeals to them the most in the immediate moment. Something they all, without exception, come to regret dearly.
  • The first Fullmetal Alchemist anime had this as a recurring theme, along with guilt. Characters spend much time agonizing about future choices, and regretting past ones.
  • Subverted in Ghost in the Shell, where the Major reacts with exhilaration rather than fear to her sudden, dramatic increase in freedom, providing the page quote.
  • This topic is discussed in some length in Neon Genesis Evangelion. One of the Mind Screw segments shows an interesting graphic metaphor; Shinji is drawn in the middle of an empty space, drifting. He can go wherever he wants, but, lacking references, this freedom is meaningless. If a reference with which to interact is drawn (i.e. a straight line, which he can treat as a plane to walk on), however, some of his freedom is immediately limited by its very existence.
  • In Psycho-Pass, one of the alleged selling points of the all-powerful Nanny-State-AI Sybil System is that it frees people from this kind of choice, most of the time. Only the most extremely talented people are bothered with "choices" and "alternatives" anymore.
  • In Vinland Saga, the Prince finds himself in that situation once he claims the throne. In the process, he grows a spine, but progressively loses himself to extremism, bastardry, and regret. A more ironic example in the same work is when Thorfinn has his revenge stolen from him, and, emotionally, finds himself despairing and purposeless as his life's goal vanishes. On the physical side of things, however, he is enslaved, so his mundane freedom decreases drastically.

Film
  • Subverted in Ghost in the Shell, where the Major reacts with exhilaration rather than fear to her sudden, dramatic increase in freedom, providing the page quote.
  • In The Great Dictator, the Tramp is confused with the eponymous Head of State, and is asked to make a speech. For a moment, you can see the timid hairdresser terrorized at the sheer amplitude of what he can achieve from that podium, the fate of the world resting on his words alone. He soon finds his footing, however, and the result is one of the greatest speeches ever given in fiction.
  • Averted in Django Unchained: whenever a slave is freed, they have a rather clear idea of what they want to do with their newly acquired freedom, and act on it quite swiftly. Often, the goal is 'get the hell out of here'. Played with in that the first time the freed Django is allowed to pick his own clothes... he dresses in a children's outfit that's dated two centuries.

Literature
  • In Interesting Times, the underclass of the Jade Empire have something worse than whips keeping them down: discipline and obedience. When the heroes of the Silver Horde free them

Live-Action TV
  • Barney Miller
    • In one episode a UN diplomat is discovered to have a slave. When the diplomat is convinced to free the slave, the former slave doesn't know what to do with himself.
    • In another episode a man who was in prison for 30 years gets out, and finds he can't deal with the ouside world. He needs to be told when to eat, sleep, etc. "The last decision I made for myself was 30 years ago. And that one was wrong."

Real Life
  • Closely related to Analysis Paralysis.
  • One of the core sentiments that were the focus of the Existentialist movement:

"Existential angst", sometimes called dread, anxiety, or anguish, is a term that is common to many existentialist thinkers. It is generally held to be a negative feeling arising from the experience of human freedom and responsibility. The archetypal example is the experience one has when standing on a cliff where one not only fears falling off it, but also dreads the possibility of throwing oneself off. In this experience that "nothing is holding me back", one senses the lack of anything that predetermines one to either throw oneself off or to stand still, and one experiences one's own freedom.[21]

It can also be seen in relation to the previous point how angst is before nothing, and this is what sets it apart from fear that has an object. While in the case of fear, one can take definitive measures to remove the object of fear, in the case of angst, no such "constructive" measures are possible. The use of the word "nothing" in this context relates both to the inherent insecurity about the consequences of one's actions, and to the fact that, in experiencing one's freedom as angst, one also realizes that one will be fully responsible for these consequences; there is no thing in a person (his or her genes, for instance) that acts in her or his stead, and that he or she can "blame" if something goes wrong. Therefore, not every choice is perceived as having dreadful possible consequences (and, it can be claimed, human lives would be unbearable if every choice facilitated dread). However, this doesn't change the fact that freedom remains a condition of every action.

Western Animation
  • Rio is largely about the male lead learning to leave his comfort zone, adapt to new circumstances, and make full use of his new freedom.

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