More Luxurious Chains: A Study of Contemporary Freedom

How our sense of personal freedom has degraded throughout history and how we can reclaim it

Mike Sturm
5 min readAug 20, 2022


Photo by Kaley Dykstra on Unsplash

The book 1984 is famous (infamous?) for many things, but chief among them is reinforcing a particular vision of freedom. You could call it optimistic, but it is rooted in an almost pessimistic way of viewing people in societies.

That vision of freedom? It’s the vision that — no matter how many restrictions are placed on a person from the outside, we are always free to think and feel anything. If you manage to give that up, you’re no longer free.

And it is, indeed, possible to give up that freedom. In fact, we do it partially all the time.

We used to define freedom in physical terms, because life was largely physical for most people. These days, life is largely mental (cognitive and emotional) for most people. For most of us, basic physical needs are no longer the focal point of each day. By and large, we have food, water, and shelter.

So the mental time and space that used to be taken up by pursuing basic sustenance and security is now free to be occupied by other needs — or at least things we think are needs.

And this is where the idea of modern freedom gets sketchy. It’s where the ways we think we’re more free than any of our modern ancestors might actually be ways that we’re less free. It might turn out that we’re just in more luxurious chains.

“Happiness is a Choice?!”

Just over 12 years ago, my wife and I went to Jamaica for our Honeymoon. While at the fancy resort hotel, we met a man in the lobby who was drawing portraits for money. We happily paid him for the chance to get a hand-crafted memento. We still have that picture; it’s pretty good.

The artist was young, but somewhat world-weary. He had a calm presence about him — as many folks we met did. This was despite the fact that he’d run into some pretty tough times over the past several years. I’m talking about genuine misfortunes — which at that time, he was still working through.

I asked how he managed to stay upbeat through it all. He said that when he was a kid, his…



Mike Sturm

Creator: — A simpler personal productivity system. Writing about productivity, self-improvement, business, and life.