Whether they are selling socks or toad meat, marketers are no strangers to the abstract concepts that humans want most that which cannot be sold. They know that what most humans want is freedom—but especially in America where happiness is mistaken for it.
But what does freedom mean in a world of meaningless words? Or is that just it? Is freedom merely a ‘construct?’ A ‘fabrication?’ A ‘fiction?’ No, in western society today, freedom is the God given negation of all other destructive fictions. Perhaps it would be simpler to drop the word ‘destructive’ and let ‘fiction’ stand on its own, since it is all the same to young people today. One will hear it spoken on campuses, inside of coffee shops, on picket lines and inside living rooms that this or that idea, whether ‘love’ ‘justice,’ ‘truth’ ‘race’ or ‘nation,’ are all ‘human constructs’—a favorite and oft repeated phrase of today. What was once considered a subversive discourse in western culture has now become part of the common rhetoric. Where it took the deconstructionists books and books aided by everything in their psychological and philosophical tool bags to abrogate the most well-grounded conventions, where it took Nietzsche’s entire career to become worthy of having helped mankind kill God, where it took Foucault’s painstaking literary and psychological analysis to prove that ‘Man’ himself is a convention, the common classroom dilettante can now dismiss anything he hasn’t taken two minutes to understand on the faith that it does not belong to human perception as an a priori.
This may have profound political relevance to the masses in different phases of history and is perhaps necessary so that this or that kingdom might be overthrown to make room for a different one. But on the other hand, this rupture in all value is responsible precisely for the dualistic reality it seeks to expose. If conventions are concepts and conventions are what we are slave to, then freedom becomes a mere escape from all concepts. If each concept is considered equally suspect as the next, when brought back into society to be handled, the masses mistake this for meaning that all concepts are of the same quality. This is the true spirit of democracy. Democracy does not subsist on value but merely survives in the bad faith that fairness means freedom. It makes things confusing enough that people think ‘fairness’ means ‘equal portion.’
In a society where the contemporary realm of concepts have been revealed to be mere fictions and when this revelation produces exalted states of liberation, as it happened with the Enlightenment, the whole nature of this exit from the world of contemporary concepts mimics a redemptive, religious path. Man of the Enlightenment fought through his fictions and arrived on a plane whose empty surface appeared to be his ultimate freedom. Since sovereign entities and stand-ins for sovereigns were no longer sufficient and undesired when proven so, it would be necessary for this man of the Enlightenment to praise the very same vehicles by which he arrived on this plane—those being ‘Reason,’ ‘Rationality,’ and ‘Progress.’ But instead of letting these vehicles recede into his being as mere faculties of his intellect and using them to appropriate all new features of reality, they became ends in and of themselves to continue arriving at the same exact plane—they became new transcendent concepts, unquestionable though quite unrepresentative of most minds.
It matters little what men of contemporary letters, contemporary values or pop-discourse choose to confront on their battlefield. The very way in which today’s leading academicians, journalists and cultural critics go about choosing ideological enemies makes their battles of less importance than they already were when they’d first attacked them. For example, listen to those polemicists against religion who fall for the same Manichean heresy that Christians couldn’t resist for two millennia—that there is an all-consuming evil force in the world, though in their case it goes by the very name of ‘religion,’ which takes many forms and which is responsible for all the misfortune in the world. Not only do such polemicists fail to comprehend that the conditions which were responsible for their hated ‘religion’ predate the religion itself and have and will exist in different forms, but they fail to recognize that their attempts to place abstract concepts like morality into the realm of objectivity are for nothing if not for helping these said conditions remain. To them, God is not dead—he’s merely an employee they fired from their company. They already gave his cubicle to someone else.
While any number of concepts might be counted as fictions, there are a great many beliefs, platitudes and empty ideas that people continue to peddle and cling to without a second thought of consideration. Here are a few:
- That every one is entitled to his opinion.—Who entitles him? More importantly, by what mechanism did he arrive at this opinion and how could it possibly be verifiable by anyone? Only one who expresses knowledge on a subject may speak on it, but what does even this have to do with ‘opinions?’
- Quiet people are often mentally disturbed.—There are mental disturbances of the chatty and the quiet variety.
- Artists are abnormal people, often possessing a great, psychic wound.—Psychic wounds may provide material for melodrama, but they often destroy what little concentration nature awards the artist. Many an artist would appear more wounded than most due to oversensitivity.
- Time is money.—It is precisely the opposite: money is time. This is why the rich remain rich. They have time to develop ways to make their money multiply, since they are not dependent on the constant cycle of labor which robs men of the very means of putting himself in a different situation.
The fact of the matter is that many people would become ideological refugees if it were not for freedom. So long as freedom is always something that exists behind, over and underneath the structures of modern society, it can always remain something far off, to be pushed back and repressed so that people can go on living their lives without working toward it. Let that which stands in its way remain so powerful, possessing mechanisms far too mysterious, so that the romance of the utopia that would result if this freedom finally did occur will make reality that much sweeter.
In more blatantly secular vocabularies, ‘truth’ is prioritized above ‘freedom.’ In both cases, the end result is much the same. Both cases commit this error—that both ‘freedom’ and ‘truth’ become solely eschatological. Is it not possible for man to have his one truth for his one question and his one freedom from his one chain?
So what happens when marketers get a hold of freedom? We end up with slogans like, ‘Have it your way.’ ‘Independent’ becomes a means of describing a music style where it was once a means of describing its production. In a capitalistic society, one is free to purchase a combination of products which will ensure individuality. Individuality, in the western world, is largely a matter of permutation in taste. It has little to do with cultivating an ontological rupture in one’s perception and everything to do with how one might stand out while moving in the same direction as the crowd.
Since the masses have been trained to think of reality in terms of dualism, any nihilistic devaluation of value will lapse into dualism as well. For instance, it is not good enough for them that there is no ‘good’ or ‘evil,’ because they presuppose that a lack of good in the world is, in essence, a great evil. What they perceive to be ‘reality’ is something to escape, thus the need for a utopia, which places good and evil not in the realm of action or in states of being, but between two phases of history; one pre-utopia and one post-utopia. The idea of revolution then becomes no better than the dualisms that creep into the major monotheistic faiths.
One can see them from far off; the unrelaxed manner in which people speak of their own individuality. One can see them for what they are: slaves to a whole series of different conventions for which they have not allowed any formal place in their lives. They are victims of precisely the very conventions they despised in name, and because they didn’t take the time to understand them, were swallowed up in them.
How many small freedoms are traded for the great coming freedom of revolution? How many truths are traded away in the name of the great tribunal which shall see the one truth come to pass?