The Fear of Freedom: The Act of Living

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I am VERY angry.  These are incredibly uncertain times.

The UK is boiling over with a hatred and sense of alienation whisked up by UK and international self-interest – by the global libertarian elite: the 1%.  THEY do not want an EU.  THEY do not want peace.  THEY do not want social justice.  THEY do not care about the UK.  THEY support any political party who will pander to THEIR demands.  THEY control everything, everywhere.  THEY hate socialism.  THEY exploit people using whatever means necessary via THEIR media: lies, racism, hatred, division, xenophobia, false austerity, war, denying environmental destruction, on and on…

This global libertarian elite have riven the UK apart.  THEY backed #Leave.  Isolation, division and turmoil are THEIR favourite foods.  THEY feast on the very anti-immigrant sentiment they create in the first place.  THEY support fascists AND corporations; NGOs and authoritarian dictatorships.  THEY cover every eventuality.  But, most of all, THEY sell us the lie that we should be free from control.  That the people must take back control.  Individualism.  Not the individual responsibilities of a socialist democracy. No.  The divided, alienated, powerless individualism of a consumer: a consumer of THEIR products, THEIR media, THEIR culture.

Make no mistake, the global libertarian elite backed #Leave not just to unleash nihilistic division upon the people of the UK but to sow the seeds of disintegration across Europe too.  THEIR message is powerful: THEY will use the most disenfranchised people in our countries, in our communities, the people most affected by THEIR neoliberal agendas and austerity cuts, against our governments, against our better judgements, to destroy democracy whether in progressive, left, or centre-right wing forms.  The aim is to create instability, to falsely lead the most disenfranchised, vulnerable people to believe that they’ve taken back control, before revealing that the result is out of control.  The seeds of a new authoritarianism are now sown.  Now THEY just need to find another glove puppet “leader” – a “strong leader” – from, in the case of the UK, either a far right Tory or even a sinister “third way” new Blairite.  And THEY will do everything in their power to prevent socialist democracy rallying to oppose THEIR dominance, THEIR oppression.  These Neocolonialists know how to divide and rule.  The present attempted Blairite coup against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is about divide and rule.  It MUST be resisted.

Why?  Because, I believe, that our only option right now is to find the “freedom to”, not the “freedom from”.  The freedom from leads us into new authoritarian control, if not outright fascism; automaton submission at least. The freedom to gives us back our autonomy, our sense of relevance in the world, our sense of meaning something, an aliveness, connectedness. To do this, I believe we must become active, become activists, we must use creativity as a force for freedom, real freedom.  We must remember that, in the words of Erich Fromm in Fear of Freedom, ‘there is only one meaning of life: the act of living itself‘ (1942 [1941], p. 227).  We must realise that the libertarian elite have emptied individuality and freedom of all meaning, all value.  We must be creative.  We must co-operate.  We must participate in a fight for our freedom.

The arts and culture can be a powerful ally of progressive socialist movements for autonomy, solidarity, justice, co-operation, hope and peace across all people in the UK, Europe and the world.  And yet, in the UK, for example, the arts and culture have been used to build new palaces for the elite and their well-off servants, to help housing developers socially cleanse council tenants, to promote centrist, depoliticised happy participation in state-sanctioned cultural activities.  The result is that the arts and culture have been turned into the “Creative Industries” – a means to “produce” innocuous art that is easily “consumed” by more people.  The result is that art is used as a colonising arm for the pacification and “civilisation” of those most disenfranchised by global neoliberalism – those most likely to have bought the #Leave lottery tickets.  But, and this is important, the disenfranchised people tend to stubbornly refuse these offers of officially-sanctioned cultural salvation.  Arts Council England scratch their heads.  Many (not all) art institutions scrabble to work out how to increase their “outreach” programmes, how to become “inclusive”.  The thing is that spending on arts and culture was and is exclusive, elitist and dismissive of everyday culture, of working class culture, of “other” cultures.

LOOK AT THE RESPONSE TO OUR CURRENT #BREXIT CHAOS BY MANY ARTS INSTITUTIONS!

THESE ARE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES.  TUMULTUOUS.  INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT!

Most arts institutions haven’t even mentioned the #Leave vote.  It’s as if it hasn’t happened.  The Institution of Art has its head down.  Trenches dug.  Carry on as normal.  Business as usual.

NO!

I suggest that we need to rethink the role of arts and culture in the UK; that we need to spend much more money on the types of culture that the most disenfranchised WANT.  To not interfere, but to recognise how important creative acts are to people of all backgrounds.  We must, of course, focus spending and restructuring around the NHS, our welfare state, around public expenditure not austerity, on rebuilding social bonds from the bottom up instead of wastefully spending billions on weapons of mass destruction.  But the arts and culture can play a part in a move towards a socialist democracy too.

For me, my focus is on activist art and interventionism.  This is (and operates best when) outside of state funding agendas.  Here too, individualism and co-operation creatively open up moments of dissent, offer glimmers of opportunity for self-realisation, and fight for our rights, for social justice, against fascism, racism, hatred, oppression, exploitation and displacement.

I found solace during these past few difficult days in the work of psychoanalyst and critical theorist Erich Fromm that will inform my path through the lies and divisions created by the 1% for the 99%.  I would like to end by sharing four quotes from Fromm’s Fear of Freedom I think are incredibly relevant to our solidarity today and in our futures even though they were written in 1941.

The cultural and political crisis of our day is not due to the fact that there is too much individualism but that what we believe to be individualism has become an empty shell.  The victory of freedom is possible only if democracy develops into a society in which the individual, his growth and happiness, is the aim and purpose of culture, in which life does not need any justification in success or anything else, and in which the individual is not subordinated to or manipulated by any power outside himself, be it the State or the economic machine; finally, a society in which his conscience and ideals are not the internalization of external demands, but are really his and express the aims that result from the peculiarity of his self.  These aims could not be fully realized in any previous period of modern history; they had to remain largely ideological aims, because the material basis for the development of genuine individualism was lacking.  Capitalism has created this premise.  The problem of  production is solved – in principle at least – and we can visualize a future of abundance, in which the fight for economic privileges is no longer necessitated by economic scarcity (Fromm, 1942 [1941], pp. 233-234).

We must replace manipulation of men by active and intelligent co-operation, and expand the principle of government of the people, by the people, for the people, from the formal political to the economic sphere (ibid., p. 235).

The words democracy, freedom, and individualism become objects of … abuse …  There is one way to define the real meaning of the difference between Democracy and Fascism.  Democracy is a system that creates the economic, political, and cultural conditions for the full development of the individual.  Fascism is a system that, regardless under which name, makes the individual subordinate to extraneous purposes and weakens the development of genuine individuality (ibid., p. 236).

The victory over all kinds of authoritarian systems will be possible only if democracy does not retreat but takes the offensive and proceeds to realize what has been its aim in the minds of those who fought for freedom throughout the last centuries.  It will triumph over the forces of nihilism only if it can imbue people with a faith that is the strongest the human mind is capable of, the faith in life and in truth, and in freedom as the active and spontaneous realization of the individual self (ibid., p. 238).

We can, I believe, only find our place in the world, our freedom, our meaning, through the act of living; through co-operative acts of living together, creative acts that build social unity, acts of participation in the social process for social justice.  Only then can we regain control over our lives, our freedom.  Only then can we offer hope where there is now despair; togetherness instead of loneliness, and strength in place of powerlessness.

STAY STRONG!

In solidarity…

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