I’ve been reading through an interesting subreddit the past couple days called /r/LateStageCapitalism. It chronicles and disparages the decay of capitalism and consumerism. It gets you thinking about how we are encouraged to live our lives. In that spirit, a post about freedom and a disclaimer that I can only point to aspects of the truth; I cannot relate it directly or in its entirety. When something is wrong or doesn’t make sense, point it out for me and we’ll try to improve it together.
“America, land of the free,” the slogan says. But what is this freedom that our culture advertises to us? Ownership. It’s ownership — your own business, your own car, your own house, complete with obligations and payments. The American Dream, cultural dinosaur that it is, is a house with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a dog, is it not? Success in terms of property.
What does it mean, though, to be free? America’s two major commodities seem to be ownership and fear, and what better chains to bind yourself with.
For our white-collar citizens, ownership seems to me to be the greater bind. The more you own, the more you can lose. And how natural it is to self-moderate in order to keep what you have and accumulate more. You would be free to travel, but for your mortgage. You would be free to flip your asshole boss the bird and walk, but you’re already working 60 hours to afford rent, utilities, food, and transit. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard wealthy people tell me how they used to go to parties, drink, have all sorts of fun adventures, but now they have to be responsible (conform to middle-class values) because they don’t want to lose their comfortable lifestyle. I grew up with middle-class people, and I don’t think I ever met one that didn’t seem weighed down.
The joke, of course, is that ownership is merely a human conceit. We are ephemeral beings, born into a body that’s destined to die from the moment of its conception. We are given our bodies, and this is symbolic of the entirety of our existence. All we have is given, not by other people, but by the planet. Ultimately we are all living off the teat of our cosmic mother, and it is indicative of our profound alienation from our own natures that we hoard our mother’s milk and trade it and vandalize it as though we are the supreme creator, as though we are entitled to what our cosmic mother has given us, as though we did anything more than rearrange what was already there. And of course, the moment you expire, what good is your ownership? As the adage goes, you can’t take it with you.
The rest of us, of course, are lucky to have roofs over our heads (when we do) and so it’s all about fear. Being so close to ruination every day, to disaster, makes it very easy to scare us. The establishment treats terrorism like an existential threat, like a scourge, but the rulers and the terrorists are more like symbiotes in a feedback loop of fear-generation. Our rulers benefit from a fearful population eager to give away its power in exchange for security, and the terrorists benefit as their enemies decline into post-capitalist authoritarian decadence. Anti-terror measures such as surveillance and police action send a clear message to us: if you act like them, if you question us, we will ruin you. Rule yourself by fear. The terrorists, of course, send much the same message.
So do you speak out against the state? Do you denounce materialism, capitalism, authoritarianism? Do you attend protests where pepper spray and detainment are the norm? Do you come out of the closet in the wake of the recent mass-killing of LGBT+ people in Orlando? Do you keep your revolutionary ideas to yourself and moderate your public speech?
Fear, fear, fear.
You suffer all the injustices in the world, and you truly suffer them, because of what you stand to lose if you stop playing the game. Fear is the antithesis of freedom, and the establishment wants you to buy in completely. Buy, consume. Define yourself in terms of what you own. Conform and obey.
What is the answer here, in a situation where we truly do court death and destruction every day? It is simple, but it is difficult: awareness without fear — a radical acceptance of reality in all its facets, good and bad. We become overwhelmingly attached to the pleasurable and positive aspects of human existence to the exclusion of the negative, as though we could ever have pleasure without pain. True freedom is to live comfortably at the hem of Death’s robe.
One of our culture’s deepest conceits is to think of Death as remote, as though we are somehow ever safe from danger and ruin, as though we even need to be. For millennia we lived off the land, lit fires and took watches against the predators in the night. This is natural. Death is natural and yet we fear it as something abominable and alien.
Freedom is the ability and willingness to go anywhere and do anything, and the acceptance of all the consequences of such a life. The chains that bind us must be broken at the base. Without attachment to your self, to your own narrative, to pleasure and the exclusion of pain, there is nothing in heaven or earth that can cause you suffering. I’m fond of saying that the enlightened individual can be at peace in the depths of hell.
It is possible. It seems a herculean task, and indeed I think we are in this world to transcend it, but it is possible.
I have experienced it myself. I live with one foot more or less in that world, the world without fear and suffering, though it may take lifetimes for me to fully transition into it. But I know enough to tell you that the cultural narrative we live in is optional. Fear is optional. Ownership is a false notion and we are all merely stewards and stewardesses of this planet, borrowing a bit of its matter to house our souls and ambulate them around its surface. There are better ways just waiting for you to seek them out, and the reality is ready and willing to teach the adventurous and brave. Our planet grows psychedelic plants for just that purpose.
True freedom comes from within, and cannot be denied. When you find it, you’ll realize you had it all along.