THE LEFT IS THE GUARDIAN OF SLEEP
by Paul Occam
How do we reconcile that in the last century there has been further progress in human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, environment, child labor, basic protections and equal standards – than at any time in history – and yet there is the feeling that there is less and less freedom for more and more people?
It is no longer possible to support a family on a single income. Everyone works. An education costs a lifetime of debt. Under such a mountain of debt, people are coerced to work for the highest bidder rather than the greatest cause. And with a mortgage and family, what does one say when the boss asks you to do something that is perhaps immoral?
In giving people the freedom of buying anything on credit, other freedoms will continue to be taken away. We are sold our own happiness back to us as a receipt for future payments – a bill of unending goods. Alas, if the bookie gives you a loan and you fail to pay – you lose a finger, they break your legs. It is not so different with the bank. The etymology for mortgage after all is – ‘a pledge unto death.’
Despite social gains, the reason there is no sense of progressive individual freedom in the US is because almost none of the popular movements have significantly touched the third rail. Economic power has always been the secret foundation for real individual freedom and the actualization of ideas, including human rights. It is the power to make choices, help others or be independent. Our country was founded on this realization – when the colonists made their stand against taxation without representation.
Successive generations seem to have bought widely circulated false notions of personal freedom or preferred symbolic illusions to the real thing.
The struggles to address basic inequalities, most recently in the 1960’s, began with a sentiment against a “non-representative” government. Serious critiques of society and government reformation in the 1960’s included an economic component which quickly became lost or got cashed in for sexual freedoms – one of the strongest legacies of that era. Although the 1960’s held the promise of Herbert Marcuse’s ‘Great Refusal’ and the consolidated energies of change for a better life, what happened instead was the creation of a significant counterfeit culture. Instead of granting people basic economic freedoms, which would have changed everything, they were given sexual freedoms and equalities, none of which significantly threatens economic hegemony. As Fuerbach pointed out, the hallmark of modern life is to prefer the symbolic to the real. Oppression is quite amendable to being an equal opportunity enterprise. One slave is as good as another.
We can imagine the wizard of such a system throwing a dog a bone. “Fuck anyone you want people, bite the apple in the garden, just don’t touch that knob over there that says Federal Reserve.”
To this day, many of the freedoms people spend most of their time and energy passionately fighting for – have no bearing on changing underlying economic oppressions that affect the vast majority of the population – and every aspect of daily life.
Things stay the same or get worse. This fact is not even talked about. People have more rights today, and even less freedom than their parents.
Even to know something outside the general commerce of ideas and desires is rare – because it is not seen as worthwhile. Controlling the range of “choices” (desires) is the primarily mode of control today. It is simply easier to want what is easily available or what is “special” – or momentarily unavailable – than to imagine what could be. Nobody thinks to order off the menu – when sitting at the diner.
When we imagine what could be…. that is when things seem hard to bear. It is exactly this kind of thinking that is no longer permitted.
Paul Occam is the pen name of a San Francisco writer.