It is a mighty concept, appealing to the most optimistic regions of the human heart. The idea of freedom has been used to jusitfy some of the most grotesque and heart-rending wars, most spirited and complex political and philosophical debates, and most incredible individual acts in human history.

When Mel Gibson cried "FREEEEEEDOOOOOM!" in lieu of recanting his beliefs at the end of "Braveheart," audiences shivered with hope and wept in their popcorn. Honestly, what other word could he have yelled that would have made viewers say, "Wow, that was totally worth getting his intestines diddled with rusty forceps." It's the only one!

Growing up, we learned a great deal about freedom, but didn't experience a whole lot of it. To varying degrees, our "freedom" was overseen and regulated by our parents. While I considered this patently un-American, and wrote numerous petitions to the House Un-American Activities Committee (before learning that it had been dismantled decades ago because it itself was un-American), I eventually realized that it was completely lawful for my parents to besmirch my freedom to eat Reese's Peanut Butter Cups for every meal. Turns out that before age 18, Uncle Sam doesn't trust me to do what's in my best interest, that fascist.

For many young Americans of my socioeconomic class, the advent of adulthood roughly coincides with their departure from home and arrival at that fabled oasis that is college. And whether your parents were the sort that let you watch all the television and go to all the parties that you wanted or the sort that diddled your intestines with rusty forceps when you failed to call home on the half-hour, the freedom that is built in to the college lifestyle is a welcome one.

And boy, do we know how to use it! After years of parents' tyrannical rule?characterized by distinct anti-fun prejudices?the average first-year collegian is chomping at the bit (literally or figuratively, depending on how controlling/sadistic his parents are) to take full advantage of the liberty a college environment affords.

Most Bowdoin first years discover the same outlet for their repressed lust for self-rule: "Social" House parties. Social House parties allow these newly christened adults to exercise their right to chug frothy cups of urine-flavored beer and rub up against one another without Dad activating the shock collar.

These activities are often followed by exercises in free speech?e.g. bellowing at police or initiating one of those delightful chants at Super Snack?and afterwards, an oft-forgotten constitutional freedom: the right to spend the night wretching into a toilet. It's so damn...patriotic! Why can't those godless commie pinkos in Congress love freedom this much?

The duration of the first-year freedom binge varies by case. In some instances, it lasts all four years of college, and even beyond. In other cases, the freedoms of college life are never realized, or at least not indulged.

My own experience places me betwixt these extremes. Freshman fall, I could be spotted at almost every single Social House party, costumed when necessary, drinking in, among other things, my newfound autonomy. But by the spring, I was so burned out on Social House parties that I quit drinking in anything, including many of these previously indulged liberties.

I found that an environment where navigating between rooms takes between one and four hours, where attempts at conversation are stifled by a pounding baseline so relentless that students dancing too close to the speakers risk shellshock, and where the air is so saturated with heat and sweat that you need a snorkel to breathe became overwhelming after a while.

Unfortunately, the freshman and sophomore year social life revolves around Social House parties. They were not the only option on a weekend night, of course, but they were by far the most popular. As a result, I often found myself placed in a position where I would have preferred not to attend a Social House party, and yet I felt as though I had to in order to avoid becoming a recluse. Social House parties were the new homework: another thing getting in the way of fun on weekends.

My cynicism toward Social House parties has relented somewhat since then, probably because not many of my friends attend them anymore either. The desire to exercise my freedom to go out and defy my taught notions of propriety has been replaced, if only partially, by the desire to exercise my freedom not to do so. I realized that just because you are free to do something doesn't mean that refraining from doing it is any less worthy an exercise of freedom.

Stoic Greek philosopher Epictetus said, "Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling the desire." While it is liberating to shake off the parental yoke and exercise your freedom to act irresponsibly while you still can, it is prudent to cultivate habits of responsibility and restraint within that freedom.

Freedom wielded irresponsibly is no longer an ideal worth losing intestines over. So treat your freedom with respect. Mel Gibson will be proud of you. Unless you're Jewish.