Thursday, July 7, 2011

Freedom and solidarity

Jodi Dean sez:
In the US during the Clinton years, those who were pushed out of the paid labor force were told to educate themselves. More education was going to be the key for getting ahead. Now the discussion is whether education is worth it. With one hand, states eliminate teachers, slash education budgets, cut student loans, and raise tuition. With another, pundits ask whether education pays off. Some publish charts and graphs claiming to measure education in terms of salaries and wages in various occupations: does more education mean more money? Education is but a production input, and the humanities don't seem to be worth their cost. The bigger point: the middle class (like the poor and working classes before it) is being told that there is no hope. The so-called American dream is over (and there have been graphs and charts on mobility in Europe that show how much it exceeds social mobility in the US). Education isn't a way to get ahead. The only ways to get ahead are luck, chance--lotteries, prizes, game shows, contests. But hard work--nope, doesn't matter, no jobs. So this is what life under the tyrrany of capital looks like: word hard for your overlords and then die (in the mean time, you can worship celebrities like so many saints or so much royalty in a formation better described as neo-feudalism than neo-liberalism).

So it's not a suprise that the US right uses a rhetoric of freedom. People feel trapped. People are dependent. Our lives are not our own--someone else owns them. Our futures are already tapped, trapped, our work going to pay off our debts to the entities that feed off us. The language of freedom and "taking our country back" expresses a real longing for a world where one could work hard, make a better life, have some kind of security, some kind of promise of rest. The right mobilizes this longing against the state, against taxes, against public sector workers, against teachers, against the unemployed, as if these their dependence were the cause of the dependence of the rest of us. The right deflects anger away from capitalism, away from the coercive force of debt, away from finance as a mechanism of class power.

The language of independence and fear of dependence makes sense. And this means that it can be redirected, set straight. The only possible independence comes from depending on each other. Only this dependence, this solidarity, can emancipate us from capital. We have to be liberated from the tyranny of private interest. Notice: the right urges individualism with every breathe (well, not every breath--they oppose all sorts of sexual and reproductive choices). Anything that hurts an individual choice is a harm. This is the choosing of the market, the consumer approach to freedom (free-ness). It's not even the producer's approach to freedom: producers have to work, have to confront the vagaries of the production process as well as the challenges in realizing the value generated through production. Freedom for the right is the same as dependence on the market, and this is no freedom at all.

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