New Internationalist

Rumours of liberation

Perhaps it was an error to assemble twenty representatives of the world's people in London, since, instead of offering a reassuring spectacle of power (despite the presence of Barack The Beautiful, whose armoured motorcade was the modern equivalent of a medieval court, complete with chefs, physicians and bodyguards - was there a food-taster to ensure his viands were not poisoned?), their concentrated wisdom amounted to a fractious scattering of platitudes. The penitential rhetoric about reconstructing the global financial architecture and the sanctimonious talk of turning a crisis into an opportunity (for green growth ad infinitum) were vague and irresolute. The people - who figure in the clueless projects of the geomancers of globalism only as passive victims or beneficiaries of a system beyond control - have had enough of the walk-on part ascribed to them in the drama of globalism. This week's demonstrations are only a prelude to growing economic and political non-compliance.

We are at the dawn of a new movement of liberation. Like all such movements, its beginning may be ragged and fragmented. But this collective stirring has a precise target: it is against the tyranny of the economy, which sets its imperatives over and above us, has become a sacred entity into whose service people are pressed, as disposable labour in the oppressive sweat-shops, mines and plantations of the world, or as human sacrifice to the obscure insufficiencies of excess and the value-added misery that passes for privilege in the world.

If there is an unfamiliar murmur in the rich countries, this is perhaps the sound of quickening consciousness, a reflex of revolt and revulsion against the terms of the pact between industrial society and humanity, an understanding never negotiated but imposed: that our enjoyment of a growing choice of commodities in the global hypermarket depends upon a fatalistic acceptance of everything that goes with it - social dislocation and psychic disorder, all the sicknesses, social, emotional and spiritual, which are an inseparable part of the package.

Liberation always has to first define itself against the mulish common sense of those who believe that we live in the best of all possible worlds. The advantaged of injustice, the custodians of received ideas, the promoters into perpetuity of more of the same, will deploy all their moral and material power to ridicule or belittle /freedom-fighters/, and discredit them as mad or heretical.

The idea of freedom fighters in the lands of liberty is a strange paradox. But when the economy, servant of need, becomes master of human destinies, the belief that the monopolists of the wealth of the world must also of necessity be monopolists of its wisdom is no longer plausible. Significant social transformation rarely occurs as a consequence of revolutionary vanguardism: more usually it comes as a result of the perception of old realities in a new light. If London's demonstrators have the exultation of visionaries, this is because the meaningless mantras of 'change' are giving way to a cry for emancipation. They foresee a different future, in which the shuffling crowds in the mall turn their gaze from the displays which hold fast our confiscated desires and look instead, at one another, marvelling how much we can freely provide, give and create for each other; a future in which the sound of gunfire no longer echoes and the flash of knives are no longer seen on the streets; and the locks and bolts behind which the terrified elderly cower in their fortress homes lie rusting on scrap-heaps. They anticipate the scenes of jubilation when the mind-altering substances - both prescribed and proscribed - with which people in the sites of wealth make bearable their gilded captivity, are thrown onto celebratory bonfires; the rejoicing when the reservoirs of alcohol - indispensable fuel for human relationships as the petrol which drives their mobility - will be poured away into gutters and drains.

Imagine a society which looks with different eyes on the submissive surrender of its children to forces which, from the moment they open their eyes, ensnare them in the silken nets of commerce, instructing them in perpetual dissatisfaction and teaching the corrosive lesson that even the most abundant plenty can never be enough. Imagine a liberation that threw aside the sexual burka, the invisible but ubiquitous garment which determines a rigid hierarchy of desirability and glamour, so that the beauty of the wise, the kind, the merciful and the noble might appear once more through the shallow virtue of the skin-deep. Think of a society where voices of sobriety and wisdom are audible above the strident cries of the preachers of the market.

The hyperactivity of a manic entertainment industry will fade, and we will ask ourselves why we spent one-eighth of our life on earth gazing at other people's passions by the unearthly glow of a TV set, or why we sat for a year in traffic and stood uncounted hours in line waiting to relieve ourselves of the money we have earned. Why, people will ask, have we been both distracted from life and amused to death? Whatever happened to our ability to delight and enchant, to hold one another enthralled as we sang and celebrated our lives, rather than wept over the fate of shadows on screens, or vicariously lived the rise and fall of the famous, paying homage to their fabricated success?

These are some of the reflections of dissenters, called forth by the crisis of a system which, as well as delivering the palpable goods, has also handed out increasingly visible evils - drug and turf-wars, post-code gangs, blurred cc-tv pictures of the unwitnessed attack in the empty stairwell, the wasted youth on the streets, legless, rat-arsed or out of their head, the rancid racism and smell of violence on windswept estates, the dereliction of old age, the willed orphanings of our children, voluntary bereavements that mimic the death of those we love or thought we loved, the washed-up relationships we have dumped, with the rest of the garbage, in the poisonous landfills of tomorrow.

That will be the day, when the occupied territory of the heart and imagination is set free. Only there will be no army of liberation, no invading forces. We shall not stand in the streets throwing flowers at women and men in uniform. No external agent will come to deliver us from the bonded, conditional liberties of market-dependency. There is no vanguard, no proletariat, no army, and certainly no divine warriors or soldiery of the gods.

The desire for freedom is constant; and our liberty is threatened, less by external threats or by those who envy our way of life, but by the incoherence, injustice and chaos within. This week's iconoclastic carnival is only a beginning, with its exultant counterpoint to the vanity of leaders, who represent, not two-thirds of the world's people, but the loan sharks and moneylenders, the forgers and deceivers of a globalism that has nothing to do with internationalism.

Of course the outcome of such struggles cannot be foreseen. Who would have imagined that the decolonized of the European empires were destined for dictatorship, war and renewed subordination? Who in the Soviet empire foresaw a future dominated by inequality and the gangsterism of the rich? Who in the West thought the yearning for a modest prosperity and security would be substituted by an unstable consumerism? The consequences of such movements are not predictable, but the consciousness that informs them is irreversible; and it may be that this week's public display of contrition by the powerful is already too late.

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