Saturday, May 27, 2017

The New "Four Freedoms" - What They Mean In A Political Tribal Era

It was none other than Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his Four Freedoms speech (technically the 1941 State of the Union address), who proposed four fundamental freedoms that people "everywhere in the world" ought to enjoy:

  1. Freedom of speech
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

None of these should be controversial although (3) has typically been problematic for conservatives who felt Roosevelt went way too far.   Most conservatives, indeed, are adamant that "freedom from want" ought not be in any proper freedom category. In fact, as the AHCA was being pushed through the House one often heard the refrain that "if people can't afford their health care they shouldn't have any."  Alabama's Mo Brooks even insisted that "good people don't get pre-existing conditions".

Given that lack of decent healthcare often precedes serious illness or disability, it also paves the way for want. It means the people affected are not able to work to pay for their lodging or daily bread, and hence reside in a state of continuing want. Do the Reepos, conservatives care? Evidently most do not. Why not? Because as I described in a previous post (May 5); they all adhere to the "loopy, quasi-religious trope that noble and goodly people prosper on account of their 'goodness' and hence can afford their health care because they 'earned' the jobs to pay for it via their righteousness."

If this trope were the least bit valid, and not a canard, then no one would be able to justify a freedom from want - because want is needed to show who the bad guys or non-believers are in relation to the good. (Unwilling to concede that some of the best people can get fatal illnesses - or be seriously disabled  by a terror attack - such as occurred in Manchester. )

Now, a "new Four Freedoms" has been proposed by Karl Albrecht in his brilliant Mensa Bulletin essay 'The New Four Freedoms - Staying Sane In The Post -Rockwell Culture'. (April/ May, p. 21).

Albrecht references that classic American artist Norman Rockwell did a series of four paintings entitled "The Four Freedoms" based on  FDR's 1941 address.  These appeared in a series of Saturday Evening Post issues and are shown in reduced format below (from Albrecht's article):
Image may contain: 1 person
Albrecht argues that the Rockwell images embody a critical cultural, iconic reference mark and that "for more than half a century Americans have carried the Rockwell images in their minds but have seen them slowly fade."    He adds that they have been "displaced by the relentless onslaught of modernity".   But I'd also add they've been superseded by a loathsome mutation of conservatism that now sees freedom from want as no longer valid, given it may spawn too many "entitlements".

Meanwhile, "modernity" for Albrecht translates into "television, movies, blaring music virtually everywhere, ever present video screens, relentless commercials, shocking news stories, computers, electronic games and cellphones".  Each of which, he insists, claims part or all of our senses. This leads him to ask if "fifty years from now Rockwell icons will still be a part of American cultural memory". Or, will they have faded from our collective consciousness?

He leans to the latter given the "digital environment we've created is now creating us". Hence he argues we need to define, claim and celebrate "four additional freedoms".   These he posits as follows (ibid.):

- Freedom from media

- Freedom from Commerce

- Freedom from Politics

- Freedom from religion

In respect of freedom from media, Albrecht means "exercising the right to choose when to tune in to the all pervasive electronic culture and when to switch it off.."   He adds that "media addiction or media habituation much more prevalent than techno-advocates realize."

In terms of current explosive events in the 24/7 cable news cycle he's correct. The craven attack at the Ariane Grande concert, for example, immediately sucked up nearly all air time on all media outlets. Not to say the vicious, cowardly act wasn't newsworthy, but rather was it that newsworthy?  Could it not be true that the endless repetition of the victim horrors played right into the terror vermin's hands and gratified the sick bastards? This is the argument of columnist Froma Harrop, who maintains giving so much air time to this terror filth and Isis spawn merely pumps them up to do more attacks. Hence, less attention is better.

Ditto now with the new story on Jared Kushner, seeking "secure back channel communications" with the Russians and conducting confabs with them that were at least "out of the norm" and definitely "violations of the Espionage Act" in the words of security specialist Malcolm Nance. But after you've watched ''x" programs on it - all reciting the same aspects  - you are merely habituating or addicting yourself to redundancy and overkill. Hence, as in the Manchester attack, I've just tuned out and refuse to even post any more about the latest Trump "bombshells" until the subjects are actually frog marched into courts or prisons. (Janice, by contrast, can't get enough and immerses herself in as many news shows as she can. I've even kidded her for being "addicted").

But this is what Albrecht means, when he speaks of freedom from the media. He means the freedom of each of us to liberate ourselves from the 24/7 "latest, latest news" and not feel the least guilty about it.  My niece Vanessa is at the other pole, where she disallows any cable news entering her home, period. She refuses to view "anything negative" because it can affect her  in a negative way. She is at the extreme that Albrecht refers to as a "media vegetarian".  I'm not there yet by I am becoming much more parsimonious in what I watch and when.

"Freedom from commerce" in Albrecht's view means "exempting yourself from the never ending onslaught of selling messages, 24/ 7, everywhere you go"  And indeed, for anyone who's read the book, A Nation Of Salesman: The Tyranny Of The Market And The Subversion Of Culture, this would mark an obvious freedom given we've literally become a nation of hustlers - out to sell, sell, sell.  Hence, no surprise the arguments of author Earl Shorris and Albrecht dovetail in terms of the U.S. evolving into a society where "citizens are automatically deemed to produce and consume at the maximum possible rate". 

Shorris argues this has lead to a cheapened, culturally deprived nation governed more by rank commercialism than higher values. And if one really wants an example of the weasel salesman, Donald Trump is it, now trying to convert the whole nation into a satellite of Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago.  Shorris' other point is because of the supreme emphasis on selling there has been little potential for more meaningful work to open up.  Unless a college grad now is lucky enough to get in with Google, or some research institute , he or she will be reduced to selling crap that most people don't need, can't afford and don't want.  No surprise then that an Accenture survey found that of college grads from 2014 and 2015, only 50 percent found jobs for which a college degree was required.

Albrecht also argues - like Shorris - that in the end we "needn't feel guilty about reducing our levels of consumption and discretionary spending: the economy will adjust as it always has."  Besides, pulling the plug on wanton consumption -whether of Starbucks coffee or the latest smart phone -will free the economy up for other pursuits in other directions.   But as Albrecht writes,  this requires:  "we declare our independence from the constant mind programming that urges us to buy more and have more."

"Freedom from politics"  in Albrecht's opinion means "letting go of emotional attachment to any brand name political party, ideology, tribe or hero figure."    He goes on to aver that "many people have deluded themselves into thinking they're independent, self-made thinkers, even though they've voluntarily enslaved themselves to one of the competing political brands".   That may well be so, but alas, it is identification with one or other of those "brands" that is the basis of voting, elections. And there is simply no way one can simply cease voting, unless there is no care concerning the future direction and policies of one's country.

Further, if one is intellectually committed to voting a certain way, whether for a candidate or referendum, it almost always entails some form of ideology. If I vote in a referendum to expand health services in Colorado, such as last year with the "Colorado Care" initiative, I am ineluctably backing an ideology. In this case that all citizens have a right to affordable, accessible health care, one of the fundamental precepts of democratic socialism. If on the other hand my neighbor voted against it, because he believes the market should determine access, that also is ideology, i.e. neoliberalism - or that the market must decide outcomes.

Where Albrecht is more correct is when he writes (ibid.):

"The quintessential irony of American political discourse seems to be the fusion of willful ignorance with absolute conviction."

The "willful ignorance" refers to voters not even possessing the basics of knowledge before entering the voting booths.  As I've posted before, this willful ignorance has proven costly in our elections because too many vote blindly.  More than two of five registered voters can't name their state Senators and representatives (in the House).  These voters, by any standard, ought to be disallowed from pulling a lever. Another one in three are unable to name even four of the Bill of Rights.  4 in 5 aren't aware of "unenumerated rights" - as ensconced in the Ninth amendment, and an equal number can't recite the general welfare clause in the Preamble of the Constitution.  Why is this level of ignorance bad? Because it plays directly into the fake news dynamic and worse, reinforces it on the basis that the same ignorant people buying fake news are often 100 percent convinced they are right, or at least proud in their profound ignorance.

Albrecht refers to the writings of Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and others such as set out in Jefferson's 'Notes on Virginia" and The Federalist Papers. When one reads those, as he advocates and I do as well, one sees "how far our culture has descended on the monkey bars of intellectual discourse".  With arrogant, dumbass Trumpism now in the ascendant that discourse is right at the bottom rung.

Albrecht concedes that "freedom from religion" likely involves a bigger challenge for some Americans than others. This is because Americans are outliers in their belief vis-a-vis other western developed nations.. The graphic below shows this:
Showing successful societies in relation to degree of religious beliefs (from Free Inquiry, Vol. 29, No. 1 Jan. 2009). Basically, for  18 out of 19 of the most prosperous democracies,  the share of population reporting absolute belief in a god or gods ranges from between as little as a few percent to at most one-half. In some of these nations, mainly in western Europe, two-thirds proclaim to be either atheists or agnostics. Compare this to the outlier U.S. (U) where 83 percent express solid belief- and this is for the patriarchal, personal version of a hyper-engaged deity.

Albrecht argues, and I concur, that because of this excess religiosity and affiliation the U.S. "remains firmly a pre-scientific society, and the popular culture an anti-intellectual one."  This is seen in everything from rejection of current climate science (nearly 50 percent reject it) to Darwinian evolution - which "30 percent of Americans completely reject".  

By contrast, "Americans are willing to embrace supernatural explanations for reality".    Thus, the long, arduous and algorithmic process of evolution didn't produce the different species it was God making everything 6,000 years ago.

Nevertheless, Albrecht displays more optimism than I can summon, as when he writes (ibid.):

"I surmise that about half or more of Americans may be getting close to the emotional tipping point at which they can let go of the last traces of the religious stories and superstitions that were implanted in their brains as impressionable children.

As they reflect on the grandeur of the universe and come to peace with the idea that their own existence is a cosmic crapshoot, they can evolve to a new kind of faith. That is the faith of not knowing."

A bold statement, for sure, but I will be interested to see the replies of other Mensans in future issues of the Bulletin.


Bill Hicks said...

During my adult lifetime (I'm 52), I've slowly come to embrace all of Albrecht's freedoms, the last and most difficult being the "Freedom from Politics," which I finally completely embraced after the Obama betrayals of 2009-2010. It's quite a liberating state of mind, but I'll admit sometimes it can be quite lonely, such as during the 2016 election when my extreme loathing for both major party candidates made me feel like I was stuck in no man's land with rhetorical artillery shells whistling over my head from both directions.

One quibble I have to make with your essay is that I do not think denying the vote to the willfully ignorant who "vote blindly" will help at all. Cast them aside and what remains are mostly self-interested hyper partisans who know exactly what they want to extract from the system and exactly how to get it. In fact, not having to use the media to con the easily led (both conservative AND liberal) would actually make it much easier for them to maintain control.

The bottom line is that we who discuss and debate such issues are our own form of the 1%. The idea that we could ever turn a majority of the remaining 99% of ignorant, American Dream chasing hustlers to our way of thinking is a pipe dream.

Copernicus said...

You raise many good points. But I still maintain if a majority of Americans read and learned more, as advocated by Jefferson in his 'Notes on Virginia', we would have far fewer issues to deal with in the realm of fake news, woeful ignorance and predisposition to brainwashing. In other words, we'd have an electorate informed and intelligent enough to make optimum decisions consonant with the preservation of our constitutional principles - not that these align with a over class of 1 % elites But then, that may well be a "pipe dream" itself given the path to modernity we've taken and eschewed reading for electronic diversions. At least too many of us.