Listening to transgressive Italian pop songs from the 1970s, the same songs that made the ‘counterculture’ mainstream, I am increasingly realising a rather daunting truth – well argued by French novelist Michelle Houellebecq in Atomised. Since the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, the world is rapidly moving from shaking off the chains of oppressive families and conservative states to the post-modern consumption of freedom as spectacle and indulgence.
Freedom as a lifestyle of thoughtless consumption, emptied out of any social meaning, opposed to any deep interaction with other people. Those who fought for freedom then, fought together, creating new social bonds and new communities in the attempt to replace institutions that were oppressive and unfair. Unfortunately the new communities rapidly dissolved, and the same ideology was quickly perverted to justify isolation from others, unchecked selfishness and a refusal to take responsibility for the plight of our fellow humans.
This frivolous void produced by a rather fictional freedom is horrifyingly used to justify the perpetuation of suffering and inequality, enforced by war if need be – from the killings of Palestinians in the name of Israelis’ ‘freedom’, to the justification via ‘free market’ arguments of entrenched economic and racial inequality in South Africa.
Freedom has eerily become the domain of big capital and technocratic warlords, leaving genuine liberals faced with a wave of a worryingly conservative popular reaction to the relentless advance of big capital, and the hypocritical liberalism of the very few who benefit from continued exploitation and deep inequality. “Freedom” at the expense of other people’s oppression, its devastating systemic effects covered up by a denial of all responsibility.