Well. It seems the world is once again learning the true nature of Capitalism: it’s boom and bust, over and over. The good thing about it is that we live under a generally comfortable but totally misunderstood version of freedom. The bad thing is that when the economy busts, we gain a clearer conception of this sort of freedom, and it is as startling as if we were just waking from a vivid nightmare.
We all want to live in a world where we can live better year after year. A new washing machine, a better refrigerator, a flat screen LCD television, and we’re all set for Nirvana — not now, but later. It’s always later. We chase a vision as if it were an image captured in a disappearing dream, and just when we think we have it, it slips away, taking with it our fanciful delight at the new, turning it into the mundane. This is overcome by new desires, new purchases: which in turn slip away from fancy. Then the world comes crashing down, a neighbor loses her job and might lose her house, we can’t get financing for a new car, and it suddenly dawns on us that we really must do something about our credit card debt.
Problem is, we never have quite enough to get the things we want that will sustain this version of personal freedom. During distressing times such as these, this is a starker reality for those who have been directly affected, yet it should be plain to anyone: this is, we uncomfortably admit, not freedom. Were we free, we would have unfettered access to credit; we would see prices continuing to drop on things we want to buy to make our lives more interesting; we would not have this nagging impulse to consume.
Isn’t it odd that we always equate freedom with bourgeois society? Freedom to us is the freedom to open a business, essentially. Freedom to make money. Funny how we’ve never been taught to look at tribal societies as free. We’ve never thought of the Yanomani as free. Are the Bedouin free? They needn’t go to school; they needn’t have televisions; they have no bank accounts, no credit cards. They also have no health care, no retirement plans (oops, maybe that’s not such a bad thing, given how many 401k’s have imploded recently.) But I’d wager that a nomad would make a convincing argument that he (or she) is more free than a family tied to a school schedule; more free than a couple opening a restaurant. But not many of us would shed the lives we lead to take on the new skin of the Yanomani. It’s just not our version of freedom. Our version of freedom is replete with manufactured possessions. We measure our wealth by the number of artificial things we own. Freedom, measured by this, is far greater for us than it is for anyone living in the absence of an industrial society, because the Earth provides far fewer things than we can manufacture, unless, of course, one thinks of rocks. No two rocks are exactly alike, but who wants to fill a house with different rocks? They don’t do anything! Of course, neither do paintings, 99% of books, clothes, and so on. But — these are the very things that make us free. Rocks would not make us free. See?
I sure don’t have any answers. I’m just as deluded as anyone else.