Freedom isn’t free. Notoriously it costs $1.05, but generally the metaphor is assumed to mean that freedom is incessantly under attack, and therefore must be defended. There are terrorists and rogue nations who hate our way of life, and if they are unchecked, the freedom to live our lives the way we choose is imperiled. We must therefore adhere to a universal responsibility to fight wars, or at the very least, support those who fight them for us, against these existential threats. However, implicit responsibility suggests that those who adhere to this belief are not actually free: they are slaves to conflict. If we must fight, then we are no longer free to engage in peace.

There is also the freedom implied in the Free Market. No interference, no subjugation, allow the whims of the Market to dictate social direction. The ebb and flow of supply and demand will nurture and care for us. Yet, if our ability to participate in the market is determined by our wealth (either in the ownership of the supply side or the purchasing power of the demand side), then indeed social direction will be commanded by the wealthy. Voting with your dollar naturally leads to those with more dollars owning more votes. Even in the free market we are not free: we are slaves to wealth. Even the wealthy are encumbered by their duties to wealth perpetuation. If we seek responsibility toward externalities and an equality of opportunity, we will not find it in an ideology with implicit responsibility toward the profit motive.

Is it controversial to say that freedom requires submission? Bob Dylan waxed poetic that it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but we’re gonna have to serve somebody. Human beings have needs; we will always be beholden to bread. What are we willing to submit to in order to enjoy other freedoms? Who then benefits from that submission? What if we want to live in a world with freedom from conflict? What if we want to be responsible toward other human beings rather than to an abstraction? Maybe it would be nice to be responsible to your neighbours instead of responsible to a conflict with them.

Anyone who preaches freedom is preaching slavery on some other level. This is not always a terrible thing; responsibility is a necessity for social cohesion. The despots who hide its presence in their proselytizing are seeking only to deceive their listeners into accepting their shackles without critical thought. Be open about where the restraints will lie, and allow them to be justified. We were never free. We will never be free. We will always need to submit. The question is: where do we wish to place our submission?

We all know what left-wing identity politics looks like. It’s someone saying, “I’m black, and that’s the only thing that’s important about me!” Or someone else saying, “I’m a woman, and therefore I’m oppressed!” Historically marginalized groups whining about how they’ve been historically marginalized, and how that marginalization bleeds into the present. Boo-freaking-hoo. Also, they’re all postmodern neo-Marxists on top of it. This doesn’t actually mean anything, but that doesn’t stop it from being the highest condemnation of left-wing identity politics that most people can think of.

hqdefault

Stalin’s best-kept secret was all the hidden pogroms for those who used the wrong gender pronoun

What’s interesting is the less-considered right-ring identity politics. And I don’t mean the, “I’m a straight, white male, and I’m being replaced by a black, dyslexic trans-woman!” kind of identity politics, though that certainly plays into it. I mean more the, “AH! That Muslim is going to blow up my twin towers!” or, “AH! That immigrant is going to rape my entire extended family!” or, “AH! That Mexican is going to bring the drugs into my delicate community!” Whereas left-wing identity politics is about the identity of the self, right-wing identity politics focuses on the identity of the Other.

Now, this isn’t some romantic idealization of the Other as some exotic utopian fantasy (which is very much a thing, and has its own problems as an ideology), but one driven by fear. Machiavelli is credited with prioritizing fear over love as a method of governance, and while he is commonly interpreted to mean fear of the ruler, that fear can be directed outward to great political effect. If the populace is afraid, it is far more likely to accept authoritarian control. There’s no need to worry about the bogeyman, daddy’s got you. Just do as daddy says, and things will be okay.

cop

Whatever kind of Daddy you’re into

A big problem with identity politics, left and right, is that no group is homogeneous, and so categorizing any group will always be disingenuous. The problem with right-wing identity politics in particular is that the reality and statistics are often skewed because fear is the ultimate goal, and if reality doesn’t back up that someone who looks different is inherently a threat, by Jove we’ll make them a threat.

The politics of fear never lets up, which is why right-wing identity politics is so dangerous. Imagine if the white nationalists get their wish, and all the blacks, Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, gays, whatever, leave America. We’ll even say peacefully to avoid any overt Nazi parallels. Since the politics of fear was never based on reality in the first place, the underlying goal being emotional manipulation in order to maintain dominance, new out-groups would need to be created. All of a sudden people might start remembering that the Irish and Italians weren’t considered white, once upon a time, and then it’s time for them to go. And so on.

2019-03-20-rally

Do you really think ‘hate’ has a retirement plan?

Diversity is a thing forever now. The world is global. This is not something that can be undone. Sorry? But also, at the same time, I’m not sorry. What this means is that pluralism must be included as a given in any on-going political conversation. Fear of the Other reeks of obsolescence and hangs on only in the propaganda of despotism. There’s no such thing as the bogeyman. It’s time to grow up.

In a somewhat bizarre turn of events, Bernie Sanders recently went on Fox News to discuss his vision for America. I say “recently” in the sense that Blog for Chumps is updated only ever infrequently, so this is about as Breaking News as you’re going to get. I’m only going to focus on the one section that I’ve set up in the hyperlink there, when Sanders is asked, if he likes high taxes so much, why doesn’t he take the initiative and pay more? Be the Leninist vanguard of the Keynesian welfare state!

Sanders, despite the positive reaction from the crowd, actually answers this question rather poorly. He states that he pays what he is obligated to pay, and then turns to whataboutism to ask for Donald Trump to release his tax returns to see if the President is following those same obligations. Of course, the question was not about meeting obligations, but exceeding expectations in order to conform with the ideology that Sanders allegedly espouses. Namely, higher taxes on the wealthy.

There is a much better response to this question: ignore it entirely and respond to the underlying ideology that drives it instead.

Social change is not an individualistic concept. Slavery was not abolished because one slave owner decided he didn’t think it was such a great idea anymore, and then everyone else fell in line like plantation-owning dominoes. Democracy didn’t come about because some monarch took it upon himself to diffuse his absolute power. Democracy is by definition a collective concept; imagining an individual shifting the gears of government, on their own, toward a government that literally requires the will of demos, is patently nonsensical.

Voting

I live under a monarchy. I’m going to cast a ballot, and just hope that everyone else follows my shining example. NO OTHER EFFORT REQUIRED! YAY FREEDOM!

There is a prevailing myth about Rosa Parks that she was just some random woman who had had enough, and her stubbornness ultimately lead to the dissolution of the segregated seating on Montgomery transit. Yet Parks was already an active activist and member of the NAACP before her refusal, and then she engaged with the activist community in a lengthy bus boycott to overcome the racist practice. Her decision and the consequences that followed were heavily steeped in collective action.

It’s neither individuals nor their actions that change the world. It is when individuals organize into groups that they become effective. The Civil Rights movement overturned segregated buses, just as revolution brought about democracy. Bernie Sanders paying more in taxes would do absolutely nothing to implement his goals. The question is attempting to twist hypocrisy into a situation where the very premise it is pushing is meaningless. However, there is an even darker side to the way this question (and those like it) is framed.

What this question is suggesting, beyond twisted hypocrisy, is that individual action is the solution to social problems. Billionaires just need to start changing their minds about a system that privileges them indiscriminately, and income inequality will become a thing of the past. The peasants can just wait for the king to give them rights. The slaves can wait for their masters to have a change of heart.

slave master

I tire of owning people. I guess you can have your freedom…

Immanuel Kant famously wrote that ought implies can. You are only morally obligated to make change in situations where you are actually capable of doing so. If individuals can’t change the world, then it’s not their fault. Poor people certainly can’t impact policy on their own, so they just shouldn’t worry about it. The moral duty to change the world falls entirely on the corporation, I suppose, since corporations are the only entities with the means to do so.

Individually, maybe, we bear no responsibility for the world, but we are useless as individuals. Collectively, however, we are capable of much, and that is where the responsibility lies. Here’s what Sanders should have said:

“I assume you’re asking this question because you want to frame me as a hypocrite. However, you’re assuming that anything I do makes a difference. The reason I’m sitting here talking to you at all is because I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of a grassroots campaign, years in the making, that has relied almost entirely on a collection of regular people who believe this kind of policy is needed. My taking of any action on my own means nothing; it’s what we’re doing as a group that’s making a difference. In fact, in even asking this question, you’re asking the American people to look to me, or people like me, to improve their lives by, in this case, individually paying more than is legally required in taxes. Don’t do anything else, just wait for ol’ Bernie to pay more in taxes. That will start the revolution! That’s not what they should be doing, and shame on you for suggesting it! What they should be doing is joining this movement, join a union or an activist group, and push forward change that doesn’t rely on any one person to make a statement. ”

SANDERS

No idea if I’ve captured his cadence or speaking style, but who gives a shit. I think I just want Bernie Sanders to refer to himself as “Ol’ Bernie”