Rage. Almost every adolescent feels at one time or another or most of the time a feeling of suffocation and expresses that feeling with rage. David Graeber in his on line essays on revolutionary social movements called “Revolutions in Reverse” , he focuses on this alienation. Why were so many American teenagers “entranced” by Raoul Vaneigem’s book “The Revolution of Everyday Life ?” he asked himself. Then he answers his own question. “It must be the highest theoretical expression of the feelings of rage, boredom, and revulsion that almost any adolescent at some point feels when confronted with the middle class existence.” The young see before then mind-numbing unimaginative work before them and it freaks them out.
I got to thinking about this. For a long time young working and middle class people were bought off. Not by the distractions of game playing, sports watching, or mindless movies although those activities helped the fragmentation of their social life. No it was more insidious. They were bought off by the myth of American freedom through ownership of your very own home. You could leave the nest and feather your own complete with mate and cute little chirpers. You were no longer subject to authoritarian education structures or parental controls. You were free.
But unlike a bird, you had little time to soar like an eagle or dart and play in the sky. To mix some metaphors, you got yourself saddled with debt and if you went to college, you piled on some more saddle packs full of anxiety and woe.
In the new AMC TV series “Hell on Wheels”, the railroad baron asks a couple of young Irish lads why they were in the middle of the U.S. tagging along as the continental railroad was being built. The brothers tell him of sneaking on a train when they were mere lads and going to the big city of Dublin. Their father found them and hauled them home, but it was the grandest time of their life. So for them a train was the symbol of freedom and they wanted to be a part of the building of that railroad in the hopes of capturing that feeling of freedom again.
For over 40 years we have been subjected to a bad version of “freedom” with its emphasis on the mythical rugged individual. But libertarians of the right should take a look at what left libertarians call “freedom” and maybe find some common ground. Here’s how the CrimethInc collective (who Graeber calls “the most inspiring young anarchist propagandists”) describes freedom:
We must make our freedom by cutting
holes in the fabric of this reality, by
forging new realities which will, in turn,
fashion us. Putting yourself in new situations
constantly is the only way to ensure
that you make your decisions unencumbered
by the inertia of habit, custom, law,
or prejudice – and it is up to you to create
Freedom only exists in the moment of
revolution. And those moments are not as
rare as you think. Change, revolutionary
change, is going on constantly and everywhere
– and everyone plays a part in it,
consciously or not.
Graeber calls this statement “elegant”. Direct action is, he says, “the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free.” “Sovereign” may This is revolution and not some kind of “to the barricades” moment. This is releasing the barricades in our minds and unleashing our imaginations. It is pushing back against the elites who say that we need to get back into the boxes; the voting booths, the endless marches and rallies to petition our king for some gruel, writing letters to the aged satraps in the halls of congress, or sitting in the audience at public hearings of excruciating boredom. So-called “realistic” “pragmatic” choices are made in those boxes but “in an insurrectionary situation, on the other hand, suddenly anything is possible.”
This is what is called “reinventing everyday life.” So forget universities. Go sign up for a course in freedom at one of the Occupies. The tents may be gone for now, but the Forum is always open to those who choose to live as if they are already free.
What Do They Want?
Is it about wants? Or something else. I read a statement years ago that the 20th Century was the century of Freud. And with any luck, the 21st Century would be the century of Jung. Not sure who said it but it really resonated with me. My take on Jung was that he emphasized the idea that we are all a part of a whole, with each of us having individual gifts contributing to that whole. When we look at another, we see ourselves. In the BBC documentary “The Century of the Self”, Adam Curtis explores the use of Freud’s theories to direct people away from a communal way of thinking and into rampant mirror-gazing.
The premise of the film is that the birth of propaganda/public relations/marketing began with Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays when he was hired by the Wilson administration to sell the idea of “making the world safe for democracy”. Unfortunately, that meant becoming involved in the hideous carnage called World War I and forcing your neighbors to buy War Bonds or be put in jail. After the war, he was asked by the tobacco industry to use his PR skills to figure out how to sell cigarettes to women. He branded cigarettes “torches of freedom” that would challenge male power simply by lighting up. From then on, advertising would no longer speak to people’s needs, but to their inner desires and yearnings. And freedom would now be defined as freedom of choice.
And so the transformation of the American citizen into the American consumer began in earnest. Americans were sold that they needed clothes that showed their individuality and made them sexy. Men were sold that the kind of car they drove showed who they were; powerful and, yes, sexy. The kind of soap you bought made you happier and more admired.
What we are witnessing in Zuccotti/Liberty Park with the #Occupy Wall Street could be the great turning away from the century of “me” to the century of “we”.
At least it has opened up the discussion of what we really need rather than what we want. The greatest need right now seems to have our voices heard and a need to take back the meaning of words like “public” and “cooperative” and “social”. It is a pushback against all the punditry that insist on a label, logo, banner, slogan, brand, buzzword, sound bite, pitch or demand.
No, we will no longer be defined as consumers. We will no longer be cogs in your machine. We are free men and women. We do not define freedom as the right to choose between 100 brands of cereal. Our definition of freedom is freedom from domination by corporations and their agendas. Our definition of freedom is not to be subservient to the 1%. We are taking back our humanity. We are taking back our public spaces and our commons. We are a community; a community of concerns. We care about each other and the planet we inhabit. There is no expiration date on what is happening around the world and at last in the United States.
So it’s not what we want, it’s what we really need.
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Posted in Social Commentary, The Accidental Activist
Tagged Bernays, class warfare, Freud, Jung, marketing, occupytogether, occupywallstreet, propaganda