Abbreviated proposal for “A Vision for an Emancipated Future” (a popular presentation)

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As if anticipating our own historical moment, Guy Debord once offered the following advice to anyone seeking to change the world: “Be realistic,” he insisted.  “Demand the impossible!”

It is perhaps no coincidence that the only politics befitting the dignity of human freedom today seems to us an impossibility.  We stand at the end of a long line of revolutionary defeats — some tragic, others farcical.  But the memory of such past struggles has faded, humanity’s deepest wish-fulfillments forgotten.  Instead we remain spellbound and transfixed by the current state of affairs.  We have lost the ability to imagine a society built on principles fundamentally different from our own.

Without an adequate understanding of the past, we have chained ourselves to the dumb reality of the present, abandoning all hope for a better future.  We have thus set sail into the open seas of ahistory, and landed promptly in oblivion.  Only now are we beginning to glimpse the first rose-fingered rays of the dawn of a new era.

Section I: Liberty

Rather than just air a laundry-list of social grievances, a kitchen-sink of disconnected single issues divorced from any broader vision of global emancipation, we prefer to rally under the banner of one overarching principle that encompasses them all.  This is at once the most abstract, metaphysical, but for that very reason the most radical of all demands:

Humanity can accept nothing less than the promise of limitless, inalienable liberty — or what is the same, freedom.

This universal ideal has in recent years been rendered increasingly banal and diluted, robbed of the radicalism it once held.  The question of freedom must be posed afresh — in its most profound sense — so that it might be retrieved.

By “freedom” or “liberty” is understood at least the following:

1. Freedom from oppression.
2. Freedom from want.
3. Freedom from fear.
4. Freedom from war.
5. Freedom from disease.
6. Freedom from ignorance.
7. Freedom from apathy.
8. Freedom from boredom.
9. Freedom from imposed necessity.
10. Freedom without borders.

The only limits that can be reasonably placed on freedom are in fact not limits at all: they only limit the false and shallow sense of freedom that has been sold to us under our present society.  Quite obviously, one person’s freedom cannot be had at the expense of another person’s freedom.  One cannot impinge upon the rights of others, and thus the civic freedom granted to every member of society does not grant anyone the license to kill, rape, exploit, or otherwise delimit the freedom of a fellow human being.

Moreover, the freedom to live as one wants in the present cannot be at exercised at the expense of the freedom to live as one wants in the future.  This, we maintain, is the rational essence of the fashionable notion of “sustainability.”  This should challenge us to find ways of cultivating inexhaustible abundance.

Finally, the universal nature of this liberty would simultaneously entail the total equality of all society’s individual members, irrespective of their particular race, gender, age, or religious/sexual orientation.  The freedoms guaranteed under an emancipated society would extend to all the peoples of the world.  This would make possible, for the first time, the true “liberty of all” (omnium libertati).

In order to ensure the freedom and equality that such a society would grant to each of its individual members, the wealth of the world must be made equally available to all.  However, different people have different needs.  The needs of a blind man are not the same as someone who can see.  True freedom would thus require that each person’s individual needs be met.  Only then would they be free to creatively develop and express their individuality as they wish.

Section II: History

Let us briefly take stock of our present situation and how we got here.  Once this has been achieved, we might be better able to discern the practical exigencies that face us in our time, and from there ascertain the possibilities for an emancipated future moving forward.

From Nature we have built up our own “second nature” — society — which still presently compels us and presses us into its service.    Though this “second nature” that surrounds us is a product of our own making, it has acquired a phantom objectivity all its own.  It appears to us in an estranged form, as something that operates independently of our will.  At the same time, society has further alienated itself from the original Nature from whence it sprang.  As helpless spectators we are forced to look on as modern society, driven by its fathomless hunger to extract profit, devours the whole Earth.

Until we gain mastery over this social world we have created, humanity will remain unfree.  To date, men have made their own history, but have not made it as they please; they have not made it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.  Once we are able to self-consciously take command of the vast forces of production we have released into the world, humanity’s own social organization — hitherto confronting it as a necessity imposed by history — will now become the result of its own free action.

Only from that time will humanity henceforth make its own history, rather than be made by history.  It will signal humanity’s ascent from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom.  This, then, is the historical task that confronts us.

Section III: Democracy

So it is with this vision that we claim our rightful inheritance to the legacy handed down to us by the great radical thinkers of the past.  And thus do we also take up the mantle of democracy once again in opposition to those who would deny it to us.  With Jefferson, we swear “eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”  And with the firebrand Paine, we unflinchingly proclaim that

Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations that preceded it.  The vanity and presumption of governing from beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all despotisms.

And if this vision of human emancipation seems too unimaginable, too wildly utopian, I have merely to reply that the only more utopian idea is the naïve belief that things will ever change under the present system — that the prevailing order could somehow be reformed through piecemeal legislation within the framework of the existing state.

The final goal of politics must be freedom from the necessity of politics; this alone is what makes politics so indispensable today.

Dies Iræ

Let it be remembered, however, that this journey through history has hardly been a one-way street.  The triumph of the human spirit and democracy is by no means guaranteed.  For humanity has not just blithely wandered on from victory to victory, along a linear path toward progress.  History has been subject to any number of regressions and cycles of recurrence.

This should serve as both an warning and a call to action.  For until humanity actively chooses to transcend the tyranny of the present, unless we seize the destiny that history has afforded us — we will be doomed to repeat all the mistakes of the past.

The fate of the entire world thus hinges upon humanity’s decision.  The tired, the hungry, and the impoverished all await news of the outcome with baited breath.  What will our decision be?

2 Responses to “Abbreviated proposal for “A Vision for an Emancipated Future” (a popular presentation)”

  1. Ross Wolfe

    Just to be clear, this shortened version is not intended to replace its lengthier manifestation. It should be thought of as a more popular, accessible companion piece to the original, in which the theoretical aspects are worked out in more detail. Kind of similar to how Einstein wrote up a popular presentation of his special and general theories of relativity without all the scientific jargon and complex math. (I’m not comparing myself to Einstein).

    • Chris

      “And if this vision of human emancipation seems too unimaginable, too wildly utopian, I have merely to reply that the only more utopian idea is the naïve belief that things will ever change under the present system — that the prevailing order could somehow be reformed through piecemeal legislation within the framework of the existing state.”

      I completely disagree with you. Our main adversary is not the state itself, but those who have hijacked it. As for legislation, it is only piecemeal when it does not get at the root of the problem. For example, restoring Glass-Steagall would not be piecemeal.