Charles Cooley - Human nature and the social order (1902)
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We cannot feel strongly toward the totally unlike because it is unimaginable, unrealizable; nor yet toward the wholly like because it is stale - identity must always be dull company. The power of other natures over us lies in a stimulating difference which causes excitement and opens communication, in ideas similar to our own but not identical, in states of mind attainable but not actual.
When one has come to accept a certain course as duty he has a pleasant sense of relief and of lifted responsibility, even if the course involves pain and renunciation. It is like obedience to some external authority; any clear way, though it lead to death, is mentally preferable to the tangle of uncertainty.
It happens from time to time in every complex and active society, that certain persons feel the complexity and insistence as a tangle, and seek freedom in retirement, as Thoreau sought at Walden Pond. They do not, however, in this manner escape from the social institutions of their time, nor do they really mean to do so; what they gain, if they are successful, is a saner relation to them.
Since freedom is not a fixed thing that can be grasped and held once for all, but a growth, any particular society, such as our own, always appears partly free and partly unfree. In so far as it favors, in every child, the development of his highest possibilities, it is free, but where it falls short of this it is not.