On Freedom: An Historical Manifesto

______The old order was feudalism, a political and economic system of hereditary aristocracy that derived power from the king and ruled absolutely.  The compact with the serfs held that for their fealty and taxes, the peasantry would be protected and could work their land, the king’s land, on high interest loan.  The reality was that they were property.  But little barons and dukes and princes were raised at the feet of tutors who spoke of a divine responsibility to govern justly those beneath them.  At least there was that.  The roles were set at birth, there was next to no social mobility outside of the church or a king’s blessing, and more often than not, the words of the tutors went unheeded and the lords of men were cruel and vicious people.  But there were a few, here and there, who listened, and who took seriously the responsibility they had to care for the lives entrusted to them.

______Today we have a new government and a new economic system.  We removed the hereditary aristocracy and landed bondage of the serfs, and replaced it with the dream of a free market and a society of free actors, each in control of their own destiny, with the power to trade rags for riches in a single generation.  We demolished the old system, and the beautiful ideas of the Enlightenment came to fruition for the first time with the founding of the American republic.  Thomas Jefferson saw a new country arising on a new continent with a startling lack of wealth disparity and an equality of opportunity un-imaginable in the dynastic monarchies of Europe.  The new continent was so vast and so full of wealth that the prospect of becoming a landed citizen existed for anyone willing to go west.  In his innocence he labored under the delusion that these conditions would hold; that the old tyranny would not evolve here.  Here where slavery reigned.

______We are now lurching drunkenly through the final, farcical act of that republic, the longest lasting constitutional democracy the world has ever known.  When the bonds of feudalism were smashed and finally, when King George III had to remove his boot from the backs of his American subjects, a new and novel victory was won.  An incredible document was forged, creating a government of checks and balances, of bi-cameral legislative houses, of federal and state bodies to represent local and national interests, an impartial judiciary to set down a new legal precedent, and a built-in capacity to change and evolve over time.  Acknowledging the human instinct to primacy, it was built to create a balance between the inevitable factions.  It was one of the most beautiful, audacious moments in human history.  Sovereignty now rested in the people.  And in the muck that was this new and still unsettled political order, the lords of capital flourished.

______The free market is the finest method we have ever devised for efficiently allocating goods and services.  It is a system that looks unflinching into the eye of humanity and is built around our most predominant core trait, the manner in which we are most predictable:  Selfishness.  When the tyranny of the monarchy was removed, when men became suddenly free to govern themselves, a new tyranny arose to fit this new freedom.  People pushed and shoved against the as yet undiscovered boundaries of this new order, seeking a manner in which to claw themselves upwards, as ever, over the cries of those they shoved down.  The surest vehicle to power in this void was the market.  Those among us with the willingness to kill and enslave, those who saw opportunity in others’ misery and misfortune, those who made a cold profit at any cost, were rewarded with the role of barons in this new world.  The most effective cut-throats of humanity, rewarded by greed as the engine of growth, were raised to prominence over us all.

______And they ensconced themselves there.  The market is no longer free.  A government regulating monopolies, preventing collusion and keeping competition alive is required for a free market, and there’s no profit in that.  The dream of rags to riches is a fallacy afforded the masses as an opiate to supplement the old religions.  They bought out the legislature and they created a new hereditary aristocracy to pass it down to their progeny, who never had even the tiny check of tutors telling them they were born to rule, and as such had a responsibility to those they ruled.  This new breed of self-congratulatory, back-patting barons told themselves success is due to merit and gumption and naught else.  There is no compassion in any of it, no tutor to whisper as he tucks in his young charge, “rule well, little one, be a wise and gentle king.”  Ruling is simply the by-product of power; the means to more power.

______There is nothing good, nothing positive, nothing to believe in, in the people who have come to rule us.  They rule for themselves, the children of our codified system of selfish incentives.  They who devoured their siblings, they who rose  to top the market then colluded to force out competition, they who used their monopolistic positions to infiltrate the halls of power, to influence the laws, to slide members of their caste into the judiciary, they who have now have declared money as speech.

______If money is freedom to speak, then a tiny handful of us have drastically louder voices than the rest.  No longer do local elections revolve around local issues.  No longer do representatives from your  area represent your interests in congress.  They get their money to run their campaigns and thus their mandate to action from other sources.  As much lip service as they pay, as many babies as they kiss, the faucet of their funds, the means to their power, is very much in the hands of a global commercial interest.  That is not representative democracy, that is oligarchy; that is a cabal of corporations running a country.  And corporations have their own morality, a morality that has nothing to do with the morals of man: profit is good, loss is evil.  That’s it.  Growth must be maintained.  And that morality now governs our country, with all the might and flex of the American military straining its leash to be used.  And what can be done?

______Revolution is out.  We have modernized and militarized our nation to such an extreme that a public uprising would be laughable, if anyone survived the bloodbath long enough to laugh.  The efficiency with which the revolution would be put down, a revolution Jefferson encouraged, would be bone-chilling.  Those who seize power for the sake of power do not give it up, ever, without resorting to the violence at their disposal.  And the violent capacity of the modern American military is unmatched in the history of humanity.  So that leaves a military coup as the only possible uprising that could unseat the government.  And thus would end the republic.  The Caesar to our Cato.  And how often has the leader of a coup had even the minor graces of a Caesar?  I have no hope for another Washington to arise, seize the government, then voluntarily step down to show he is merely a citizen among equals.  That was a unique moment in human history.  So what can be done?

______We live under the protection of the bill of rights, the fruits of the enlightenment; we are the children of the constitution, the souls who have been deemed self-evidently equal.  Some things have changed, yes, and for the better.  We can speak, though it be a whisper.  We can aim for a slow and gradual change, the only option open to us, each aching, dragging step a struggle.  We can live lives of beauty, and honesty, and kindness in the meantime.  We can redefine success and we can refuse to accept a system re-written by the worst of us to further their own carnal, short-sighted, commercial dreams.  I admit it is not much.  The history of humanity is one of overwhelming cruelty, bondage, and violence, where the tyrannical instinct to dominate is so fierce as to rise to the top of any system we set before it.  At this stage in our evolution, utopia is a pipe dream — it’s simply not in the human animal.

______And yet, here we are.  However hijacked it is, we live in a republican democracy, the finest dream of checks and balances, popular sovereignty, and personal freedom to ever grace this earth.  The crafters of this dream got so much right, so much that is worth salvaging.  What they missed was the explosion of global capitalism, the incredible extent to which that wealth would be concentrated, and the political nature of the power that brought.  Make no mistake: We are not represented, we are ruled.  We pulled down the kings and the merchants took their thrones.  So what can be done?

______We can publicly fund our campaigns.  All of them.

By stripping private money and paid lobbyists from politics we can re-introduce the concept of civil servants.  When private money appears, we can condemn it for the bribery that it is.  This raises immediate questions of course, such as how much money is to be allotted each candidate?  How many candidates can run? What, if any, are the qualifications?  These are complicated, but not impossible questions.  Answering them will be the first step towards prying corporate morality off the head of our democracy before it devours its host.

______You shake your head, you say that even were such laws written to our satisfaction, the only people who could enact them are the very people they are designed to disenfranchise.  I agree.  It’s an impossible task.  But as my mother once told me, when faced with an impossible task, there is only one thing to do:

Begin.

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