Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: freedom, how to live, ideology, Leaves of Grass, love, poetry, Walt Whitman
Here is an uncorrupted description of the idea of American individualism and freedom, which of course has been so utterly debased to be unrecognizable: randian selfishness, libertarian isolation, war and hate and poverty.
It’s a recipe for a lovely dish. Do these things: love all beings, commune with the marginalized, spurn ideology, read poetry, resist authority; and you will become … a great poem: distilled calm, revealed truth, aspect of beauty, before your tribe, for people to see.
This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
—Walt Whitman, “Leaves of Grass,” 1855
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: america, Benjamin Barber, competition, cooperation, freedom, Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Dewey, The Lost Art of Cooperation, Thomas Hobbes
You can win and lose in music or cooking, as crazy as that seems. In order to win, others must lose, in the American way, developed by the emotionally stunted, and everyone takes the risk of losing in the belief that someday there will be a big win. Of course there never is.
For Thomas Hobbes social existence was a war of all against all, zero sum. For him competition is an ideal not a problem.
But there is also the cooperative paradigm, the non zero sum game, in which the rising tide floats all boats. It enables strength, sustainable lives, health, freedom.
From Benjamin Barber:
It is much the same with entertainment. Our most successful shows, themselves in a competition for survival with one another (sweeps week!), pit on-camera competitors against one another in contests only one can win. The eponymous show Survivor is the Darwinian prototype, but the principle rules on all the “reality” shows. On American Idol, singing is the excuse but winning the real aim. In the winners’ world of television, nothing is what it seems. Top Chef is not about excellence or variety in cooking, but about winning and losing. Project Runway turns a pluralistic fashion industry that caters to many tastes into a race (with clocks and time limits) in which there is but one winner. The competitive culture hypes winners but is equally (more?) fascinated with losers. “It is not enough that I win,” proclaims the hubris-driven American competitor, “others must lose.” And Americans have shown themselves ready to become big losers in order to be eligible to become big winners—however remote the odds. We are a nation of gamblers willing to tolerate radical income inequality and a large class of losers (into which we willingly risk being shunted) for the chance to win.
That tension is hard to maintain, however. The two modes of being inevitably become the source of rival theories of politics and society and, as a consequence, two distinctive approaches to human identity. When we contemplate nature as a kind of parody of human warfare and anarchy, as Thomas Hobbes did, our social existence becomes a “war of all against all.” According to this model, we live in a “zero-sum” world where one man’s victory must be another man’s defeat. We either have to sacrifice our liberty to secure tranquility or live well through rivalry and conquest. The price of attenuating competition is always high, even when it is deemed necessary for survival (as posited by social contract theory). In our very impetus to move, this view argues, we cannot help but collide with others. In collision, we cannot help but experience others as limits on our own freedom. The preservation of freedom demands competition, while any restraint at all on competition, even mere civility, becomes an unfortunate limit on liberty.
This celebration of radical competition has, of course, been contested by theorists such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson, and John Dewey, who have treated competition more as a problem or pathology to be overcome than an ideal to be realized. In the cooperative paradigm, the world is understood to be a non–zero-sum game in which we can win by helping others win. We are psychic as well as material beings and can coexist in common space with similar beings, even become stronger by doing so. Mutual aid and common ground are extensions of our common being and make possible healthy and sustainable lives. Freedom becomes a feature of our cooperative interaction with others rather than a symbol of our rivalry with or independence of them. We are free not when unconstrained but under constraints and norms we choose for ourselves. And we are free together, not alone.
The Lost Art of Cooperation by Benjamin Barber
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: freedom, Lao Tzu, life, money, serenity
Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.
Freedom to be involved, and freedom to be left alone in a history that’s millennia old. While the second is how we describe ourselves, the first is the freedom that truly defines and animates us.
The standard source of the distinction between two senses of “liberty” is a speech in 1819 by the great political theorist Benjamin Constant. The first, “the liberty of the ancients,” consists in having a voice into the policies and representatives that govern us. The second, “the liberty of the moderns,” is the right to pursue our private interests free from state oversight or control. Though the liberty of moderns is more familiar to Americans, it is in fact the liberty of the ancients that provides the fundamental justification for the central political ideals of the American Democratic tradition. For example, we have the freedom of speech so that we can express our interests and political views in deliberations about policies and choice of representatives.
Is the United States a ‘Racial Democracy’? By JASON STANLEY and VESLA WEAVER
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: D.H. Lawrence, democracy, freedom, liberty, Studies in Classic American Literature
Can you tie ideology to geography? Is Europe one thing and America another? Here’s an observation by D.H Lawrence that does. Regardless of the geography, surely some people – in the way they form themselves, and in the way they teach themselves to think – achieve freedom; while others merely the image of it.
Democracy in America was never the same as Liberty in Europe. In Europe Liberty was a great life-throb. But in America Democracy was always something anti-life. The greatest democrats, like Abraham Lincoln, had always a sacrificial, self-murdering note in their voices. American Democracy was a form of self-murder, always. Or of murdering somebody else.
The love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.
Studies in Classic American Literature, D. H. Lawrence – notes on James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer
Filed under: brave new world, departure lounge, the sweet life | Tags: choice, freedom, Slavoj Zizek
Rez-de-chaussee is the ground floor of a building in France. In that country you enter at the rez-de-chaussee, and climb the stairs to la premier etage. In America, on the other hand, you enter a building from the street directly to the first floor.
Zizek, the Slovakian philosopher, uses these … construction notes, to illustrate a cultural difference between the European and American visions of freedom.
In his metaphor, the French rez-de- chaussee is a sort of ante chamber, outside of time, uncounted, a base of tradition from which we draw the resources needed to live a life of freedom.
Modern, traditionless America, on the other hand, jumps directly into the deep end – equipped with credentialing and ambition in lieu of the base of history and tradition that undergird the European way – and thereby finds its own kind of freedom.
Here is Zizek:
The lesson to be learned is that freedom of choice only functions if a complex network of legal, educational, ethical, economic and other conditions is present as the invisible background to the exercise of our freedom. This is why, as a counter to the ideology of choice, countries like Norway should be held up as models: although all the main agents respect a basic social agreement and large social projects are enacted in a spirit of solidarity, social productivity and dynamism are at extraordinary levels, contradicting the common wisdom that such a society should be stagnating.
In Europe, the ground floor of a building is counted as zero, so the floor above it is the first floor, while in the US, the first floor is on street level. This trivial difference indicates a profound ideological gap: Europeans are aware that, before counting starts – before decisions or choices are made – there has to be a ground of tradition, a zero level that is always already given and, as such, cannot be counted. While the US, a land with no proper historical tradition, presumes that one can begin directly with self-legislated freedom – the past is erased. What the US has to learn to take into account is the foundation of the “freedom to choose”.
Slavoj Zizek, Why Obama is more than Bush with a human face, Guardian
picture: the Spanish Steps in Rome
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: false freedom, freedom, Slavoj Zizek, The Spirit of Rebellion
A good illustration of how there is the perception of freedom – a constitution, abundance of goods and services, a shot at life, etc – but not the whole story of our relative freedom. Not only is the whole story not a part of our daily existence but, more critically, we lack the language to begin to tell it:
Let me tell you a wonderful, old joke from Communist times. A guy was sent from East Germany to work in Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors, so he told his friends: “Let’s establish a code. If a letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I say. If it is written in red ink, it is false.” After a month, his friends get the first letter. Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: “Everything is wonderful here. Stores are full of good food. Movie theatres show good films from the west. Apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot buy is red ink.” This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want. But what we are missing is red ink: the language to articulate our non-freedom. The way we are taught to speak about freedom— war on terror and so on—falsifies freedom. And this is what you are doing here. You are giving all of us red ink.
Slavoj Zizek, The Spirit of Rebellion