Greece, England, Wisconsin! Who’s next? Ireland, Spain, Minnesota, California? The vocal and increasingly violent displays of displeasure with new austerity measures are multiplying across the globe. The plan of the international oligarchs and banksters, a plan to maintain the lifestyles of the rich and famous by sucking the life-blood out of the masses, is not going to succeed without a struggle – resistance from the people. Even the cultured and mellifluous intonations of the French Iron Maiden newly coronated head of the IMF cannot stop the visceral reaction among common folk.
Many have finally awakened to the fact that this world they have constructed, this spectacle, was not engineered or intended for our use. It is further becoming apparent that the greed and profligacy of the current generation of elites is nothing new; it is not a recent addition to the panorama, but a fundamental ingredient of the original curriculum of the West. It was baked into the contestual hierarchies of management and control from the earliest beginnings of sedentary life in the kingdoms and cities of the ancient Near East.
But that is only part of the story. The Canadians, our oft-frozen neighbors to the north, have also shown some life of late, challenging the radical curtailment on freedom of speech and assembly that is another symptom of this emergent global plutocracy and its totalitarian underbelly. Yet, this has been an ever-present but latent dimension of all hierarchy, whether it be the autocratic absolutism of Hobbes’ Leviathan or the republicanism he sought to demolish (Marshall Sahlins, The Western Illusion Of Human Nature).
Unfortunately those self-proclaimed freedom-loving couch potatoes in the USA are still scratching their heads over the unanticipated foreclosures on their homes, the loss of their retirement savings, along with the repo of their cars and Barco Loungers. We are in such a tizzy – between the spectacle and the material displacements – we cannot clearly see yet the imposition of this incipient fascism as it spreads its tentacles further into our daily lives.
But, not too long ago we Americans were convinced that our lifestyle represented the pinnacle of civilized progress, the realization of freedom, and the best technology and politics had to offer. What we as a nation had achieved, so we thought, was a dream come true. And it was this ‘American Dream’ that we held out to (or perhaps thrust upon) the rest of the world as the meaning of the ‘good life’ and the proper end of human existence.
Now, establishing and expanding this American Dream required not just ingenuity, but lots of industrial energy and productivity, a good deal of land-clearing, substantial pollution, gross dissipation of natural resources, incredible amounts of human labor, trillions upon trillions of dollars in public and private financing, political ‘wrangling’ and a good deal of social engineering and international exploitation. In short, the American Dream not only set a new standard for what civilized people expected from life, but it also laid the foundation for exponential exploitation and abuse – of ourselves, our fellow humans, and our planet… a direct consequence of trying to manufacture, market and live the dream. And yet, while we were destroying our planet in this quest, have we really made our personal lives better, more enriched, more satisfying and fulfilling?
Well, of course, the skeptical reader might proclaim, “America has the highest standard of living in the world, and we are an example to the rest of humanity… we are ‘that shining city on a hill’ that Ronald Reagan spoke about. And we have achieved this status because America is the land of the free – the hope of the world!” Since our founding this has been our national calling card. And the beacon of lady liberty at the entrance to the New York harbor has been a manufactured symbol of that freedom and that hope around the world.
‘Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to be free…’
But on this Independence Day what exactly have we come to understand by this word ‘freedom’? What does it mean to American’s today? And how has this quest for freedom realized itself in terms of America’s lifestyle and living the Dream?
Maybe it is free time that we have in such abundance here! That must be it! Well, come to think of it, this doesn’t appear to be the case since we seem to work almost 24/7 – more than any other people on the face of the earth. We are slaves to the time clock, the electronic calendar, the blackberry and any other number of mobile devices marketed for our (read: society’s) benefit. With all of this focus on the business of work and schedules, there appears to be very little ‘free time’ to call our own. True, this compulsion – this apparent slavery to the clock – has made us the most productive and efficient people on earth. But this very “efficiency implies the reification of time… a preoccupation with past and future.” So where is there any opportunity for the fleeting present – for freedom from the clock – in which to enjoy the ‘good life’ and the fruits of our labors?
Along with squandered planetary resources, the fleeting reality of the present moment has all but vanished from American consciousness and Western experience in general. Many of us seem to live in a perpetual state of anticipation – waiting for our next promotion, a pink slip, or that vacation, a new car, getting the kids through college, retirement, or just waiting for our scientists and politicians (our specialists) to find solutions to our latest round of crises.
If one looks even cursorily at life in America today, and the direction of technological innovation supporting and directing our lifeways, it becomes clear that freedom for the American psyche is not freedom to live in the present; rather, with respect to time, we are and remain slaves of the future and the past. We seem, rather, to be more concerned with freedom of movement, of place and location. But, trains, planes and automobiles have given way to wireless networks, mobile devices and virtual communities.
Our search for freedom, beginning with our ancestors’ move across the Atlantic from the Old World to the New, has led us to erect a world where we no longer need to be tied to any one place, no longer dependent upon a particular location or home; we are free to roam without anchor, without encumbrance, but also without real kinship or community. And to keep in touch with other freely floating, almost disembodied, newly minted ‘friends’ and family we have virtual networks that give us the illusion of being connected and being stable. But this is a false sense of connection, and a false stability – part of the illusion spun by our engineers and marketers – but it seems to provide a feeling of freedom that many of us have now come to pursue and enjoy today.
But is it really freedom of mobility that we so cherish and believe we have achieved, or is it yet another, more compelling sense of ‘freedom’ that haunts us? Is it perhaps freedom from personal identity, an attempt to escape our own embodiment, an almost pathological yearning for anonymity in an increasingly anonymous world that globalized, urban environments and virtual networks provide us with, so that we can be anyone we want to be or no one at all? Is it perhaps a desire to escape our own flesh, our very selfhood? Is the anonymity of wireless, urban virtuality merely a way of escaping that objectified sense of self, which reified linear historical time has created for us? Interestingly enough, it appears that the anonymity of the Internet and its social networking has provided us with a way to ‘make believe’ we are who we want to be; to be more, better, or other than who or what we actually are; maybe that is the freedom we covet.
The truth of the matter, however, may be quite the opposite. The disembodied virtuality of a wireless and networked world may only provide one with the illusion of anonymity and the promise of an unidentifiable freedom to be. In fact, it may instead lead to a real loss of freedom, to greater public identifiability, and the possibility of being singled out in a wholly networked and connected global village. In this event, not only does it make us slaves to the new media, but it also increases our vulnerability to the state, the perennial political and social forces of manipulation, monitoring and control. Where then is our freedom, and what then of our dream?
Maybe it is freedom of consumer choice that we covet: four hundred brands of toothpaste and one hundred and fifty brands of toilet paper. But what good is all of that if you need to work constantly just to afford the medical bills for your teeth and stomach problems?
Well, perhaps it is our freedom from authority that we treasure? I think not. There are more hierarchies backed by legal proscriptions and prescriptions guiding our every move. We have more laws and lawyers per capita than any other country on earth. And the USA is the most overly ‘prisoned’ country in the world. Yet, we consider ourselves the most civilized, that beacon of hope for humanity. All the while, we control people and engineer the environment more than any previous empire on earth. We label this ‘the good life’ and the body politic believes us. Or they have, at least until now.
In truth, perhaps the system itself is the problem, and not those it was intended to protect from themselves and their treacherous neighbors. Perhaps one of the illusions that is spun by the empire is that human nature is evil – that our basic instincts are corrupt (as Christianity would have it) – and that we need the State as well as the Church in order to keep all the diverse elements in line so we can enjoy our freedoms. Well, my friends, this is the fable they have foisted upon us, and we continue to live as if it were true. But it is just another myth.
The question we should focus on at this juncture is where does this impulse to command and control come from? As St. Augustine asked: Why do some feel the need to lord it over even those who are by nature their equals? Is it really a response to the fundamental evil inherent in ‘human nature’ – something that needs to managed by any means possible? Or is it possibly a symptom of the very conceptual framework (the religio-political elaboration of human nature) that emerged in order to justify the exertion of such control? Is this psychological framework – the very vision of a corrupt human nature – possibly part and parcel of the cultural baggage of the curriculum of the West? This is a question I would like to entertain in the commentary on this post, and in the coming weeks on the blog. Happy Independence Day, my friends.