FILE - In this July 21, 1963, file photo, Gloria Richardson, head of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee, pushes a National Guardsman's bayonet aside as she moves among a crowd of African Americans to convince them to disperse in Cambridge, Md. Richardson, an influential yet largely unsung civil rights pioneer whose determination not to back down while protesting racial inequality was captured in a photograph as she pushed away the bayonet of a National Guardsman, died Thursday, July 15, 2021, in New York, according to Joe Orange, her son in law. She was 99.   (AP Photo/File)

Your Granny’s Freedom

Nearly three decades ago, Madiba said:

“As a new dawn ushered in this day, the 27th of April 1994, few of us could suppress the welling of emotion, as we were reminded of the terrible past from which we come as a nation; the great possibilities that we now have; and the bright future that beckons us. [emphasis added]

I’m gonna level with you: there’s no bright future. That was hijacked. Maybe it was a red herring, even to Mandela. Instead, we’ve got Covid lies, Ukraine lies and no water.

Crisis after crisis: plague, lockdowns, looting, war, floods. Any who would accuse me of being cynical, I would counter with an accusation of my own. To perceive the world, and then say:

  • “C’mon man, we’re way better off now…”
  • “That’s a bad attitude, we need more hope/cheer/optimism…”
  • “There’s really no other option…”
  • “We all just have to get on with it/work harder…”
  • “If only the Republicans/blacks/Arabs/Africans/Chinese/Russians/poor did the right thing then…”

You see, that is counterproductive. It benefits no one to glimpse, as MP Sisulu called it, a “sea of African poverty” and be like, “That’s okay. It could be worse [I’m fine].

I get it, the atrocities – and their relation to us – are incredibly difficult to see. Expertly obfuscated, in fact. Recall that the prime directive of media is the ceaseless ideological justification of the status quo. Well, it’s to make humungous profits but by doing that.

Not even so-called Clever Boys are bothered. [Clever Boys are what I call smug, sycophantic know-it-alls.]

My uhm…peers and I in the, broadly-defined, “middle-class” struggle to recognize both our privilege and the ubiquitous injustices: stomach-churning, heart-wrenching injustice. Large-scale poverty; rampant crime; widespread dysfunction; overt corruption. Legalized theft and murder. Pandemics of mental illness. [I’ve said this all before, people are sick of me.] Billions – most people – indebted, hungry, homeless, sick; haunted by suffering, chased down by death.

Here’s where I lose most people. Right after they accuse me of virtue signalling. Since this is what they think of me: “Oh look at me, I’m so clever, I’m so unique, I’m a rebel! I know about capitalism, I know about American politics…but ah! I’m really just jealous of the rich, smart people.

They mistake me for a bundle of naivety, envy, depression, misplaced angst and attention-seeking.

Who likes to think about suffering? Yet, frankly speaking, the tragedy of the human condition remains a bright red, flashing, inescapable warning. To claim ignorance or wash one’s hands clean of involvement is a denial of reality. That’s insanity, can I get an amen?

So here is my counteraccusation. It is your response that warrants severe criticism. The bowing of heads, the turning of faces, the embrace of lies, the sociological cuckolding; the daily run on the hamster wheel; the judgement of hamsters who don’t want to run; the staggering, unmourned hamster death toll.

Obviously, this is personal. Though, much less than you think.

I know struggle. I won’t elicit pity with the details.

Chronic financial insecurity? Check.

Do you mean where every single day money is a crippling, overarching issue? Yeah, exactly.

Chronic illness? Sure.

Chronic mental illness? Not surprising.

Domestic dysfunction? Hell, yeah: I’m the son, stepson and grandson of abusive alcoholics. That’s not a brag; in a twist of irony, I’m fatherless today.

God bless my mother – she’s my father!

[My life involves surprising variety.] I’ve worked in the service industry. I’ve worked in small businesses, in private corporations, and public enterprises. Lodged with black guys, rented with white guys, and shared houses with several Indian guys.

Oh God, I’ve rented all my life.

I’ve toured eery prisons and glamorous skyscrapers. Encountered myriad characters; diverse, unique, frequently awful, infrequently inspiring. I’ve peered through broken windows in the house of the “scum”. I’ve sat at the bar in the apartment of the millionaire. I’ve tasted deep sadness and enjoyed rare exhilaration. I am legitimately human; proud and humbled, hopeful and sceptical.

Naturally, my heart breaks to see manufactured hurt, wrought by, what I’ve settled on calling, the Empire.

Where is there freedom? In the squalor, in the dirt, among the smoke and the sludge. During the floods and the droughts, the war – the nonstop war! In the grind. In the rat race. Behind electric fences and armed guards. Under obligation, under surveillance. Before the neverending pile of chores, the guilt, the shame, the regret. Amidst the excessive bureaucracy of everyday life.

And oh, the precarious line, the transparent manmade illusion: between poverty and sustenance, debt and wealth, a life worth living and a death merely forestalled.

I mean, even the children are zombies. Unable to feel, unable to reason, unable to connect. Angry, distracted and anxious.

While the adults are enslaved by work, seduced by fragile dreams. Deceptive, entrancing illusions, of eventual security. Of “making it”. This is all of you:

Oh man, if it wasn’t for all these stupid people, these idiots, who can’t listen and work hard like me, then we’d all be living in a utopia designed by geniuses like Elon Musk.

Nevermind. Because one day, one day! I’ll buy a duplex; I’ll have two cars, two children – then I’ll be envied. I’ll be a homeowner, a driver, a man! I’ll take pictures in Turkey and in London. Medical aid, investments, a pension! Private schools, private parks. Safe! Safe and sound, behind cameras, obedient to the law, sticking to the Science!

[Mediocre dreams!]

I am sorry, that’s way too harsh.

While, in the real world, unmasked of ideology, disempowered hordes foment. Why? They [We] are angry. We ought to be. The price of a dignified life is far too high. Like everything else. Like bread and insurance. Like education and petrol. Like the cost of leisure and art. Some of us are born two hundred thousand rands in debt.

These are the consequences of centralized power. The bourgeoisie – to use a Marxist phrase – through, both historical and contemporary, violence and deception – own the land, the water, the minerals, the wildlife, the crops. They control access to the houses, the food, the schools, the hospitals, and the medicine. And no; they didn’t “create” all of it to entitle them to ownership. All wealth is socially created.

Yet, we are forced to sell what we have left: our labour – our bodies, our minds, our daylight hours, our youth – to survive, let alone thrive. What we need, in order not to be completely devastated by strife, does not belong to us; and it keeps getting locked behind higher paywalls. That’s why everything – your likes, hate, data, image, influence – are all being commodified. Everything has a price tag in a world ruled by the rich.

Phew, I must be rambling – socialist propaganda!

You may ask: Why do all these foolish young people gravitate towards the provocations of a disgraced, mass-murdering German economist? Well, take a look for yourself:

“The proletarians [you] have nothing to lose but their chains. [emphasis added]”

You read that and think, “Yeah, it does feel like I’m in chains a lot.

“The bourgeoisie [landlords, CEOs, binary politicians, filthy rich bastards like Rupert or Gates], wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors,’ and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, callous ‘cash payment.’ [emphasis added]”

– The Young Karl Marx (2017)

“It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation. [emphasis added]”

By the way, you would cheer these if Ramaphosa or Kamala Harris had them in their speeches.

The last one, for now:

“You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. [emphasis added]”

I don’t mean to offend anyone. You may have not forgiven communism for killing a billion gazillion people. Socialism does not work! Except when it does (1, 2, 3, 4).

It is undeniable that everybody wants to be happy. To live life with dignity. Have comfortable homes, eat nourishing food and live in peace. These are essential human rights, not wages for work. Sadly, these inalienable liberties exist as rations doled out by pampered, self-serving elites. That’s just capitalism. And imperialism, capitalism’s international form, which secures foreign markets with propaganda, sanctions and bombs.

The movie Idiocracy imagines a world where everything is privatized. Where all people do is consume, 24/7. Humans are just inundated with ads. Everybody is a customer all the time, nothing more, nothing less. Where you get to pursue your desires to the nth degree. A society where the only things that matter are pleasure, image and status. While the land is a literal mess. Nature has been stamped out, and life, love and art mean absolutely nothing. Far-fetched? Nah, it’s actually a chilling depiction of the future.

Hey, maybe you’re a bit more pragmatic. Built with an old-fashioned winner’s mindset. You believe in pulling yourself up by your “bootstraps”. You believe in hustle and innovation; and Adam Smith’s “rational self-interest”, the “invisible hand” of the “free market” that trickles down wealth from the top. You’ve probably got Think Like A Monk and Rich Dad Poor Dad on audiobook. 12 Rules for Life is next on your reading list. Investments, sweat and gains.

Or maybe you’re a typical lazy, woke, entitled millennial (like me). But all this harsh rhetoric about who’s free, who’s not free, oligarchs, blah blah – I mean, you get it but it’s a bit much. It’s too dark, it’s too sad. You just wanna live your life.

And there’s other personalities too: the Christians who say you just need to have more faith. The uncles who tell you that this is life and life is hard. You must be tough. There’s more; I can’t recall them all.

Yet, speaking personally, I’ve found recognizing systemic dysfunction to be healing. Understanding the mechanics of suffering opens your eyes to reality; to our actual living conditions, uninhibited by ideals and theories. We’re conditioned to blame ourselves and take on the burden. Rugged individualism is deeply rooted in our culture. Yet understanding the sources of vice, conflict and want is a wonderful relief. And a powerful enabling force. It rescues you from distracting, self-defeating liberal politics, from the exhausting traditions of try harder, do more, wake up earlier.

In a remarkable way, awareness breeds freedom. If I’m being honest, there’s a lot of anger [Righteous Indignation!] in between.

Let’s revert back to “freedom”.

People who are:

  • Constantly battling to make ends meet
  • Constantly fixated on budgeting and saving
  • Constantly wishing they had some family money
  • Constantly indignant, envious or in want
  • Constantly trying to “self-optimize”
  • Constantly scrolling endlessly on their phones
  • Constantly dreading waking up at 4:30 AM, enduring traffic, sitting in a cubicle
  • Constantly dying to quit their jobs
  • Constantly dreading bills and debit orders
  • Constantly just one salary away from debt
  • Constantly withdrawing cash for rent
  • Constantly arguing interest rates because banks really own their car and house
  • Constantly surrounded by the poor, homeless and hungry
  • Constantly on guard for their safety, lives or possessions
  • Constantly fretting humanitarian crises everywhere (Palestine, Yemen,…)
  • Constantly struggling with anxiety or depression

These people, these people are so not free.