…”we must understand freedom in a very positive sense; it is the condition of initiating activity…mere freedom from interference is both trivial and in fact cannot be substantially protected. For even while persons feel themselves inviolate in their bodies, their rights, their families, etc., they are effectually hemmed in, imposed on, and their resources for action pre-empted. Soon, formally free, they are powerless and enslaved. (In my opinion we are hastening rapidly into an American fascism-of-the-majority of just this kind; a couple of bad reverses and the brutality of it will appear.)
“The justification for freedom is that initiation is essential for any high-grade human behavior. Only free action has grace and force….Our rights as juridical persons, that make society our own as citizens and give us dignity, must be continually fought for by free growing and initiation; otherwise they are empty.”
— Paul Goodman, Is Anarchism distinct from Liberalism?
It has puzzled me (more like astounded me) that my writings, so very “not belonging” among the highly informed, politically astute, globally conversant writers that appear on the CounterPunch website, have continued to be published there. Finally an answer has come to me, thanks to my reading of Emma Goldman’s autobiography which I just finished recently and which got me thinking about anarchism again. Whether I am correct in my surmise or not, the ‘anarchist spirit,’ as embodied in “EG,” is so precisely the spirit that can say to an obscure nobody scribbling away in Utica NY, (sorry if it sounds a bit cornball) “Do speak, express your own initiative and singular voice not because the editors agree necessarily with your position, but, because we are committed to a world in which each determined blade of grass has its voice and value.“
For so long have I been bamboozled and led astray thanks to the liberal notions of freedom and equality! When I left the professional ministry back in the late 1980s, I noticed a curious thing. As a Unitarian Universalist minister, my utterances among my congregation – those of a wet-behind-the-ears seminary graduate with no life experience – had tended to be deferred to as though they were inherently sagacious. After I left the clerical role, my words, even my best ones, now had to vie often unsuccessfully with everyone else’s, my talk no longer subject to automatic deference. Less surpisingly, during my sojourn among the Catholics a few years later, I was frustrated during discussions organized on interesting topics when the priest’s input – himself a sort of renegade peace and justice activist and the people in the group likewise liberal Catholics – invariably was granted more truth value than anyone else’s in the circle.
In this way I learned that listening, among the most “advanced” liberals, the manner of granting authority to what is heard, is hierarchically ordered, though this is denied by liberalism’s claims. This lie can be damning given the timorous nature of the soul’s expression particularly in a society dominated by perpetually vivacious mass media that seems to make one’s own handmade, patched together expression, by contrast, even less acceptable. Having chosen to leave the profession in which my words would automatically have weight, deserved or not, albeit in a limited circle and on topics limited by the prejudices of my congregation (which tended to be religiophobic in the way I’ve been defining it in previous CP articles), I was left to find out if there was some other way to say “Hey, its me, I’m here, let me have input to the conversation!” Years later, having gained experience, crossed some storm-tossed seas and come out the other end, my understanding came to be that that assumed and unadmitted hierarchy must be challenged by myself. That in fact, my right to “speak” was actually my duty to speak; thus speaking freely had this quality of opposition that my liberal upbringing had left me completely unprepared for. Increasingly, as I continued to exercise my right to free speech, to encounter the truth as it came through my writing, it became possible to see, as if I were a conjuror, beyond liberalism’s veil, outside its one reality, and in fact to see and to exist beyond it became pretty much my goal.
Over the course of many years of psychotherapy to address the neuroses I’d developed growing up in the soulless capitalist context of 1950’s America, I was happily re-connected consciously with my soul and well-functioning imagination and realized that these on-board faculties could serve my benefit rather than my self destruction. Therefore, I understood this duty to my writing as duty to my soul, a relationship that appeared to depend for its maintenance (at least to me at that time) upon either keeping at my writing – which stubbornly refused to nicely fit into an established form, such as novels or poetry – or staying in therapy the rest of my life! Difficult as that was initially, to trust that my own expression could replace the authority of the therapist, that in my expression was my inherent health and my inherent authority, that step, I now see, took me from lifelong membership in unconscious liberalism to something else. Since that time, buoyed by teachers like Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and James Hillman, and many poets and thinkers, I have developed a “gospel” of my own that delivers the message that individuals can be free insomuch as they practice an art religiously.
I will add only this to the point already made about creativity and health: A soulless context can only engender neurotic people. With no effective way to challenge our neuroses – many of which are easily hidden when everyone, for example, is addicted to screens (so what’s the harm?) and everyone wants to avoid toxic foods (so to be obsessively focused on self preservation makes sense), etc. – the ego, the first and perhaps most formidable of all tyrants to be reckoned with, remains sovereign in the soul. Neuroses, incredibly effective agents of repression, keep us in our heads, incapable of original thought or action, unable to see beyond the reassuring banalities of liberal commonplaces. In this way, the nearly universal religiophobia – that is, the phobic avoidance of any conscious dependence on knowledge other than “science-based” – one sees today among the secular progressive left serves to keep the ego in control and the upstart creative imagination on the margins, thus effectively stifling truly revolutionary thought.
Unchallenged liberalism enforces and feeds weakness and impotence because its meaning of freedom, limited to freedom from interference, as Paul Goodman pointed out, conveniently denies our strongest allies, imagination and non-empirical reality. Goodman may have had different “initiatives” in mind than my sort of writing to advocate for the soul. But I am quite sure the move toward taking my own authority, that is, the authority of my authorial voice, on as a sort of sacred duty (to the Great Mother, to Nature, to the Earth, to the spiritual reality driving my own passion to speak), had I been more accustomed to political thought, I would have known had moved me from nonthinking liberalism to imaginative anarchism.
The default liberal consciousness is well-nigh impossible to break away from if it is even vaguely working for you; moreso if one holds a job of ‘importance’ (i.e.,college instructor) in the corporate system (as I did until just 1 year ago); thus, the door marked anarchism was one I did not open. Long have I fought with my liberal context, against it, as the ugly duckling daughter, only dimly perceiving that the matter was as simple as that I was not a duck! I have thought of my writer self as the opinionated “other,’ distinct from my conventional every day, reserved and somewhat ingratiating “duck” self that keeps itself adapted to the liberal reality. If I did not write, I would not know this other – I would say better, certainly more interesting “me” – she who generates ideas which, though I like many of them very much, even admire them, I’d have hesitated before developing fully into words, sentences and statements unless I were pushed to it by “the writer.”
I am parsing this relationship between the two aspects in myself, duck and swan, conventional liberal and human-with-soul, non-writer and writer, in hopes that others will make the attempt to navigate their way out of the trackless swamp that is our liberal (neoliberal) context, despite the difficulty. That way, we might find the way back to our indigenous souls (the onboard “other” each individual has in his/her own being) that can distinguish not only Trump’s blundering lies, but the more subtle smiley-face, well spoken Hillary-Obama lies. Then, in turn, we might actually act upon what we indigenously know rather than on what our duck selves will dutifully keep doing right up through nuclear Armageddon or whatever tragic ends being prepared for the earth and its inhabitants by the forces of blind and insatiable greed. We will, as human beings who choose to be human, make a difference.
Frequently my husband and I despair over the never ending onslaught of challenges we face as owners of a small, determinedly human-scale local business, a coffee shop, in Utica NY. Despite the freely expressed admiration for what we’ve done for the unhip rustbelt city of Utica, despite the inordinate love for the Cafe that so many of our customers have, there are never quite enough of them to allow us to relax. Although economic prognosticators try to convince us otherwise, there is little chance that our situation will greatly change if people fail to find their way to a positive system of thought outside of neoliberalism. Liberal reality does not allow one to understand what it means to make human places in a dehumanized corporate reality because it does not provide the motivation for doing so oneself. Whereas fellow dreamers and heretics (comrades) can support one another in building the alternative reality to corporate capitalism, people who cannot dream, who refuse understanding of the duty to use one’s creative expression – the duty of delight, one might almost say – cannot share in the meaning of what the small local business is and thus that meaning cannot spread like a fire throughout the community. For it is not so much more customers we want (though that would be nice) but a community of people militantly committed to keeping commerce small, local and human-scaled; a transformational and completely interdependent prosperity.
Though its tentacles maintain their tenacious grip on the weltanschauung of our time, the failure of traditional liberalism is apparent, all that’s needed is a sword, a casket and the grave dug. In contrast, anarchism has never been more alive; and alone carries the banner of freedom in its positive sense. The caveat, however, since anarchism is cool and hip, is that anarchists too have to avoid the pitfall of religiophobia that has ensnared the secular left and robbed its vitality. Not a matter of words and intellectual ideas only; the initiative “essential for any high grade human behavior” is a matter of imagination, creativity, and conscious faith in nonmaterial reality. Those unprepared to engage, through conscious practice, with their own indigenous soul’s reality will not recover the lost vitality. Those barred at the threshhold of their inner selves by the unchallenged autocratic ego daring them to enter therein, will effectively remain captive in the neoliberal banal reality.