A Culture Enslaved
There is a question one should ask about how we are classified, how we are characterized within Americana. The question pertains not only to our roles as citizens and laborers, but also to a more fundamental purpose, a purpose that as of yet remains to be discussed.
The question is, “What word do economists use to describe us?”
The answer to this question is surprisingly simple, but its ramifications are anything but trivial. Economists describe us as consumers. We are, in a very strict sense, consumers. We are classified by our ability to consume. On an even deeper level of interpretation we are the embodiment of consumption. To say that something is necessitates that thing’s existence. Thus, to say we are consumers necessitates at least the perceived existence of this conception of consumption.
But what is consumption?
Consumers consume, which is not to be redundant. We are, metaphorically speaking, decomposers. We digest, assume, purchase, and bequeath the products of capitalism. Without our efforts as consumers, warehouses remain full as there is more supply than demand. Thus, while we are fixated on ownership, and while Americana is defined by its principles of ownership, corporations love an empty warehouse.
The formula is simple. We consume, they provide; and in their provisions corporation must make appropriations for what they perceive as a “need” in the general population. They, of course, are in the business of fulfilling needs, at least perceived needs.
What has any of this to do with freedom? If someone were to ask you, with all seriousness, “What’s freedom?” how would you respond? What would you say? What could you say? I’d venture to guess that more than half of the population would suggest that freedom is inextricably bound with an ability to choose. Choice is what determines freedom.
Such a response, in fact, is expected, maybe even conditioned. On this notion, then, to assert the concept of freedom is to equally invoke the idea of choice. For example, I can choose to go to my political science class or I can choose to ditch class and hangout with my friends.
If I choose to go to class, I have freely made a decision based on a set of pro and cons and decided that the cons of ditching class outweigh the pros of going and so I choose to go. If, on the other hand, I decide to ditch class and hangout with my friends, I have decided that the cons of going to class (like boredom, sleepiness, and general ambivalence) outweigh the benefits of drinking a few Heineken with my friends and so I ditch class and drink a couple Heineken.
Such an account is a fair assessment of how one describes freedom; that is, freedom is described in terms of our ability to choose. But now I’ll ask the further question, “Can you think of an instance when someone has an ability to choose, but you won’t also agree that they had an ability to exercise their freedom?” Granted, this question is a bit more difficult.
If it could be demonstrated that Bob, for the sake of argument, had two options, option (A) and option (B), and it was shown that he chose option (B) over (A), but in so doing couldn’t really exercise any freedom in his choice, then it would, at least, suggest that the notion of freedom being defined in terms of choice is really a lie.
To that effect I offer the following example. Imagine that Bob finds himself confronted by an armed gunman while he is shopping at the mall and a nearby woman is yelling uncontrollably (forgive me for the sexist stereotype, but it factors into the discussion). The armed gunman is deadly serious when he instructs Bob to, “Shut her the (insert explicative) up!”
Bob, not knowing what else to do, shushes the woman by placing his index finger over his lip. The gunman, growing increasingly impatient, yells, “Punch that woman in the face and shut her up or I’ll kill her!”
Now Bob is confronted with a dilemma. Punching a woman in the face has serious cultural and, more so, legal consequences, but it also has moral consequences, which is why Bob has never struck a woman. Bob also understands that his failure to strike this woman may result in her getting shot and so Bob punches the woman and she falls to the floor, silent.
In analyzing this scenario, Bob had options and the basis of choice is grounded in the ability to choose from at least two alternatives. So it is very clear that Bob had an ability to choose. What isn’t so clear, however, was whether Bob exercised freedom in choosing to punch the lady.
I’ll skip the many steps of outlining the argument and jump right to the conclusion: Bob was not free because his options were imposed upon by the threat of death, and in an attempt to prevent murder, Bob committed a bit of harm to save a life. Bob was not free, however, because his hand was, so to speak, forced.
Granted, there are many rejoinders, but this isn’t a debate class. The point is simple. To assert that freedom is described as an ability to choose is naive at best, and a down right lie at worst. I will argue for the latter.
The wool has been pulled over our eyes. The greatest lie ever told in the history of human civilization is that freedom is expressed in our ability to choose. In the upcoming pages, I’ll offer what I believe to be the true source of freedom, which is not rooted in choice. In fact, there is no surprise that economists classify us as consumers and still we believe we are free.