#OccupyWallStreet calls for freedom for themselves, drudgery for others
October 4, 2011
Mike Konczal on Rortybomb has asked people on the Occupy Wall Street protest to define freedom. The definitions they choose are simultaneously interesting and terrifying. Before we get onto the ‘terrifying’ bit, there are several quite sensible definitions, particularly this one:
Eight: ”Realization of human potentiality.”
It’s pretty broad, but I would similarly broadly agree. Freedom means the freedom to reach your potential, however you define it; to not be constrained by circumstances of birth, by lack of access to knowledge or by things over which you have no control, such as your health. This freedom does not yet exist for everyone, but I’d argue its achievement is a clear liberal* goal.
However, some of the definitions ask for freedom from reality:
Two: ”Revolution means freedom from necessity.”
Six: ”Freedom means freedom from necessity, freedom to do what you want without having to sell yourself in order to survive. Freedom to express who you are through whatever you want to do without any forces stopping you.”
Ten: “I think that freedom is your ability to carry out what you want to do. It’s not just about your social freedom, it is also about economic freedom. If you are always working for a boss, you don’t have freedom either. Freedom is always that you’re emancipated from your physical necessities and your mental baggage.”
What these definitions miss is that someone, somewhere, always has to be thinking about physical necessities. We can’t all be artists, because we’d starve to death. Someone needs to farm. Someone needs to deliver healthcare. Someone needs to get rid of the shit.
A society in which we are free from necessity is an impossible society; someone somewhere needs to take account of the necessities. If the people taking part in the Wall Street occupation genuinely believe such a thing to be possible, then they are calling for the slavery of others in order to remove the need for themselves to consider necessity, because that is what is required for such a thing to be the case.
The only fair way of distributing necessity within a society is for everyone to experience it. It is only through confrontation with the demands of necessity that we can identify effective ways of living in the world. Necessity breeds judgement, breeds character, and – above all – breeds virtue.
If the only call of the occupiers was for the rich to experience necessity themselves in the form of taxes, I could understand it. As it is, anyone calling for freedom from necessity is themselves an enemy of freedom.
*not in the American sense, in the actual sense.