'Creating Freedom' seeks to reclaim the idea of 'freedom' from the status quo

Monday, September 25, 2017

Creating Freedom: Power, Control & the Fight for our Future
By Raoul Martinez
Cannongate Publishing, Edinburgh
2016, 496 pages

“Free markets, free trade, free elections, free media, free thought, free speech, free will. The language of freedom pervades our lives, framing the most urgent issues of our time and the deepest questions about who we are and wish to be.”

So argues author, activist and award-winning filmmaker Raoul Martinez in Creating Freedom. Martinez says that while freedom is a stirring ideal, it is one whose language has been twisted so as to justify maintaining the status quo that erodes democracy, justifies poverty and inequality, and legitimises barbaric punishment.

Martinez exposes how the “Lottery of Birth” places limits on our innate freedoms through a system rigged to favour those that are already in power. Martinez says the greater the proportion of a society’s people in jail, the more unequal it is, and that the systems of punishment under capitalism reinforce broader social injustice.

Martinez dismantles the myth that anyone can become rich and that those who do — even Donald Trump — deserve their money, while those who don’t have only themselves to blame. Such a warped belief justifies the idea that we have no obligation to help the poor, the disabled, refugees, the homeless or the unemployed, because they deserve their fates.

One of the perverted consequences of this belief can be seen in the fact none of those responsible for the 2008 Great Financial Crisis have been prosecuted. But the poor have lost homes, been driven further into debt and faced other punishments for a crisis made by “too big to fail” financial institutions.

Martinez explores the process through which democratic rights such as the vote have been undermined by corporate power. The idea that democracy can bring greater equality to people by overcoming the power of the markets has been gradually eroded by a combination of the rise of neoliberalism and the greater concentration of wealth and power in fewer hands.

Martinez details how the “logic of the market overwhelms the logic of democracy” and manipulates these institutions to justify the status quo. This state of affairs must be overcome if we truly want to achieve a meaningful form of freedom.

Having delved into such heavy topics, Martinez masterfully changes the tone of the book, switching to addressing possible alternatives to a miserable status quo.

In a few chapters, the author weaves in and out of discussions on philosophy, scientific knowledge and politics, and demonstrates how actions in each space can bring hope for the future.

Martinez is critical of the way the education systems in capitalist countries are geared towards exams and rewarding regurgitating facts over originality and independent thought. Students are given little say in their education. Schools are designed to prepare people for a life of obedience to capitalist ideology in the workplace and elsewhere in the wider world.

Martinez examines education systems such as the Finnish model and Columbia’s Escueal Nueva model. These systems are based on more egalitarian and democratic values, which give students a high degree of autonomy in their education.

He concludes with the idea that students should study subjects such as “War and Peace”, “Identity Formation”, “Empathy and Dehumanisation” and “Climate Change and Survival”.

The section on “Capitalism versus the climate” addresses the need to address the world’s climate crisis to save the planet and humanity. The author does not shy away from criticising the role of governments and bodies that are supposedly supportive of environmentalism, but operate within a neoliberal framework.

This section ends with case studies highlighting small-scale successes, and is topped off on a positive note with recommendations for grassroots movements.

Creating Freedom ends with Martinez emphasising the need for people to join the dots between war, mental health problems, climate change, racism and sexism and other common issues that require common solutions. Collective struggles have ended slavery, wars and corrupt regimes, and in the process it has expanded the liberties of millions of people.

Freedom is not merely a goal to attain once capitalism has been overthrown, but something that must be reclaimed from the ruling class, who have twisted its meaning to justify the status quo. Collectively, we can build a society that is geared towards people and the planet before profits. 

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