Marketing consumption, loneliness, and war
“Freedom is not free. It takes billions of dollars worth of media propaganda to manufacture the illusion of freedom.” Caitlin Johnstone
The United States’ national anthem calls the USA “the land of the free,” and many Americans love to think of it that way. If freedom means the right to carry guns, drive fast, and shoot off fireworks, the “free” label might be true. Other areas, such as work life, housing, healthy environments and the right to live in peace aren’t free at all. We have freedom for a few at the cost of misery for millions.
American freedom was always a lie. When the Star Spangled Banner was written, the country’s economy depended on over 600,000 slaves. By 1860, according to the US Census Bureau, that number had increased to almost four million, 13% of the population. The anthem actually celebrates slavery and American freedom in the same (3rd) verse.
This disconnect has never changed, and the oppressed groups are not only African slaves or Native Americans. They include most of the working class and much of the middle class. People think they’re free while working 60 hours a week to keep a roof over their heads or commuting 90 minutes each way to a job they hate. Depending on their neighborhood, non-rich people may live in fear of militarized police and of desperate youth driven to crime.
How can a country call itself free while locking up two million people? Or making 600,000 people sleep in the street? Do you think their situation doesn’t impact our quality of life? Can we walk by beggars every day and not feel the hurt around us?
These contradictions are inevitable in a society that prioritizes individual freedom above the common good. There used to be a saying: “No one is truly free while others are oppressed.” That’s a nice-sounding Leftist sentiment, but the truth is that no one is truly free unless others are oppressed. Individualistic freedom and oppression both represent separation from the mutual connection which is our natural state.
Drivers’ freedom to drive polluting cars keeps asthmatic children from walking outside. Smokers’ freedom might keep them out of indoor spaces. A child’s freedom to spill milk all over the floor depends on someone else’s having to clean it up.
On a larger scale, a property owner’s right to do what they want with their land involves denying others’ freedom to use the property. America’s 400,000 correction officers’ freedom depends on denying freedom to two million inmates, and they go home every night with the knowledge of their prisoners’ lives.
Do you see it? Individual freedom is a scam. It makes us miserable. Aside from sociopaths, most of us need connection to other people and Nature to live well. Going it alone doesn’t work. As Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of “Braiding Sweetgrass” says, “All flourishing is mutual.”
Good up to a point
Freedom is better than slavery, better than imprisonment, better than addiction (three conditions listed as opposites of freedom in dictionaries.) But the main definition, the one marketed by America is ‘the power to do what you want to do.’ And this is only good up to a point.
Children need limits to grow up. Adults need structure to stay sane. We need support and connection; otherwise things fall apart for society and for individuals. Freedom is good, but when we go too far away from our community, we become lonely, lost, and in some cases dangerous.
If a person is denied room to breathe and move, say in an abusive relationship or by an employer demanding a seven-day work week, they would be right to leave, fight back, or demand more freedom. But freedom from responsibility to our children or to our Mother Earth is excessive and will not make anyone happy.
Freedom as marketing strategy
US talk of freedom is an advertising slogan. Older readers might remember the General Motors’ ad: “It’s not just your car; it’s your freedom.” In reality, American freedom is limited to the most superficial things, like guns, clothes, cars, or taste in music. We’re encouraged to show off our freedom by buying things.
May we think of freedom, not as the right to do what we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right. Peter Marshall
Writing on July 4 2021, I get the feeling many believe that making a lot of noise is freedom. In a pre-Independence Day thread on Facebook, some were pleading to prevent fires by not exploding fireworks. Some commenters agreed, but others (all male, I noted), called the post an attack on freedom. “Would you rather be free, or rather be a safe slave?” commented one. Personally, I’d feel freer knowing my neighborhood isn’t going to burn down while I sleep.
Freedom to starve
America’s mythology of freedom is used as club against any government attempt to help people. At age 70, I have social security and Medicare. Those benefits are sources of freedom, and everyone should have them. Because of them, I can go places, do things, have a decent apartment, enjoy life. Without them I’d be miserable or dead. Social support creates freedom. Isolation disguised as freedom creates misery.
When progressive politicians advocate making public universities tuition-free or canceling student debt, hundreds of freedom-loving Americans try to shout them down. “They made the choice to buy something they wanted. They should pay for it,” is one argument. “Why should I pay for someone else’s education?” is another.
Most of the world acknowledges that education is a social good, and at least 16 countries provide university-level education at low or no cost, but Americans think it’s freer for us to live with a lifetime of debt. Conservatives have fought against social security, welfare, Medicare, and other social programs as attacks on freedom. They think helping people unfairly forces some to pay for others and subverts poor people’s independence.
The cruel ideology of every individual for themselves makes most people poorer, more stressed, and more lonely. Studies show people who live in close communities are healthier and happier. When society helps people survive, they become more productive citizens, as many studies of universal basic income (UBI) have shown. Telling people, ‘You’re on your own’ is not liberating; it’s oppressive.
America’s so-called freedom is used to promote endless wars. The military claims to be defending our freedom (from whom?) The US government says they are bringing freedom and democracy when they bomb, invade, or sanction other countries. The target countries don’t find freedom, only poverty and destruction, but people who follow American media would think freedom is on the march.
In the minds of US rulers, yelling “freedom” is a way to get people to spend their money, work their asses off, and fight wars. Their freedom is not our happiness; it isolates and impoverishes us. If we first re-embrace connection and responsibility, we will have the possibility of true freedom.
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