Freedom Isn’t Free



May 25th, early afternoon.

Here is an idea.

“Freedom isn’t free.”. It reminds of us the song from that post-9/11 great American satire by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, Team America: World Police.  “It costs folks like you and me.”

What defines the democratic institutions of Western Liberalism – at least in their idealized forms – is just freedom itself.

I am sitting in the backyard, with construction noise blaring out behind me.  Inside and on the TV, some Conservative politician has been raving about his ‘Common Sense’ approach to gun control laws for the last twenty minutes or so.

We are a generation which asks, “freedom for whom?”  We see the people in and around our society who are free – we see the actual ideals of freedom embodied by our institutions.  Freedom is mostly economical, its ideal very bourgeois.  The eternal question that we ask ourselves, ringing out from our younger years when its expectations were washed out of us: “what would I do, if money didn’t matter?”

Society profits off of the dream of this elusive freedom in every way that’s imaginable, and of course these profits are unequally distributed among an elite minority. A most transparent wealth of examples comes from the pool of any province, state or sovereign’s lottery corporations.

“Freedom isn’t free.”

Go figure – the ideal of Western Liberalism is and always was based on slavery. Take a look at ancient Athenian democracy, and Aristotle and Plato (taken at their word) become apologists. Now we’re all globalized, emigrated and intermingled, so it’s harder than ever to discriminate purely on a racial basis who becomes the enslaved. But that has never mattered as much as we are told it has. We easily forget that, in each original state in America which countenanced slavery in the history of its ‘founding,’ free black men owned slaves. Freedom, again, is just freedom to participate in a special economic institution – that of slavery.

And not much has changed since then.

The university has become a site of direct economic and indirect ideological oppression of young people. To the credit of the histories of our academic institutions, the universities have mostly also continued to be sites which foster the critical minds of young social progressives who choose to become their students.

Now universities have been moving for quite some time towards a privatized funding model, and even department headings are reshuffled and prioritized directly by virtue of their productive capacities. Traditional continental universities do not distinguish between the natural and the human ‘sciences,’ for example; this is why the French and some German traditions in philosophy have made more efforts to impress their relatively more highly esteemed colleagues in history, sociology, and anthropology, compared to the cold logicism of their ‘pure’ Western analytic counterparts, all in awe of science and its industrious technology. A new young bourgeois has grown within the walls of the technocratic elements espoused by Western Liberalism throughout the history of its romance with industry, and now Silicon Valley is worth more than Wall Street (a capitalist topology.) And this is increasingly where university funding is coming from.

The pains of cuts to our universities are unevenly distributed. Students in the humanities – in philosophy, history, sociology, anthropology, women’s studies, critical theory, etc. – are seeing their departments put on the chopping block, while engineers and computer scientists remain untouched and aloof, often even oblivious to the realities that stand at the periphery of their perceptions: in a word, an elite.

This uneven distribution naturally expresses itself in the form of a political division. While I dare not speak univocally, I have witnessed firsthand these divisions in Quebec, in student association assemblies and solidarity meetings, an opposition and antagonism expressed through absence in the anti-austerity movement’s student layers, there in those streets where we find most often students from the ‘humanities.’ I would expect that the experiences of many others will attest to this.

No doubt the teachings of these departments are more often directed at a lived experience of critical thinking, which also explains why the greater numbers of students of the left in these departments. But students in the ‘hard’ sciences and engineering are seldom socio-politically daft. Moreover, one need not look far in any given discipline to find the values of the ruling class, expressed either implicitly or explicitly.

We see that our departments are less valued. Privatization and funding cuts crush the critical culture, exercising economic pressure through massively climbing student debt and an inability to find jobs in our disciplines, or anywhere that pays close to a living wage. The young are increasingly the wage-slaves, and those that try to better understand, in order to improve society itself are doubly punished with the burden of debt and the threat of under-labouring alienation. Student loan horror-stories stand their tellers like heads on pikes foreboding the entry of many others for whom the prospect of such a debt is a more literal death sentence.

Our Western neo-Liberalism still punishes poverty as if it is a social sin. Our democratic institutions are designed to give freedom to the slave-owners, as ever have they been.

We are kept even from being culturally significant – critically underrepresented in bourgeois media, taking recourse thereby to social media – just as barbarians in the old Athenian polis.

Here is an etymology game: ‘barbarism,’ from the Greek barbarismos, meaning roughly “to speak like a foreigner.” Bar bar bar bar… phonetically signifies meaningless jibberish. Nothing is more barbarous, in this purest sense, than the oppressed voice of the radical left to the ears of the bourgeoisie, young or old. Barbarians then and now, we are simply paid little mind, as one quickly tunes out of the sounds of a foreign language, when one is not quite eager to understand.

Nietzsche’s hammer doesn’t belong in our hands anymore. It belongs at the front steps of all of our democratic institutions. They are ageing and decrepit, so they shouldn’t be tough to topple. Freedom is very free, but it too is enslaved, corrupted at its excess by a minority of the obscenely wealthy.

The anarchists are utopians intoxicated on the escapist ideology of the absolutely ‘free’ – we may be drunk on an idea, but perhaps not quite so much. We need some institutions, but they call for us to rebuild them.

The abolition of old institutions must smash at the foundations of economism. Abolish the Senate, a historical faithful to the British House of Lords. Nationalize the banks. And crucially, end the privatization of university funding. As outsourced research labs for corporations, universities are rapidly becoming sites for scientific discovery at the major expense of human (self-)discovery, technological rather than social progress.

And all of this is preliminary to the question of the kinds of results that lie within the network of possibilities for such sciences, directions of research programs and their implicit sociocultural biases. But, we must never absent ourselves from rooting out such oppressive ideologies at their material source…

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