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hedda_foil's Journal
hedda_foil's Journal
May 15, 2021

Why Capitalism Didn't Free Americans -- It Exploited Them



It seems to me that Americans are becoming some of the least free people in the world. That will sound like a contentious, bewildering statement to many, especially Americans, so let’s examine it. Nobody — nobody — else in rich countries is trapped in barbaric decisions that essentially boil down to your money or your life, your life savings or your health, chemotherapy or little Johnny’s college fund. And yet it’s also the case that even many people in poorer countries, by now, don’t live perpetually hounded by debts they’ll struggle with their whole lives long, or having their kids shot at schools, or having to pay the equivalent of a middle-class career just to educate a child, and so on — the majority being poor in a poor society is a natural limitation, but the majority being poor in a rich one can only really be the outcome of socially normalized and culturally sanctioned mass exploitation.

Americans are free, largely, to choose between different flavours of capitalist exploitation — this form of poverty, that form of isolation, that kind of fear and anxiety. But they cannot choose, very much, lives free of those things to begin with. Which one is genuine freedom? They’re caught, like prey, in between capitalism’s pincers —because it pays them barely enough to subsist as producers, yet demands more from them as consumers, as borrowers, every year — and the result is a new kind of deprivation, poverty in a rich country, powerlessness in a powerful country, a wealthy land of the broke and hopeless. Hence, the majority of Americans, 80%, now live at the edge, perpetually — no matter what they do, how much they earn, however much they try to save, what they accomplish. But living at the edge of ruin every day of your life, no matter what you do, isn’t freedom. It’s something closer to peasantry.

So what is freedom? That’s the nub of the question. Now, American thought, which is a feeble and barely existent thing to begin with, frames freedom around the idea of “coercion.” Coercion is a child’s idea — or a patriarch’s — idea of freedom: “hey, bro, nobody’s holding a gun to your head!” Ah, but does someone have to hold a gun to your head to shrink away your freedom? Or can they do it without a gun? With threats, like taking away your means of making a living, or saving for the future, or obtaining medicine, that are every bit as powerful as a bullet? If they can, then “coercion” is a meaningless notion, and so a society built atop such a childish idea will never be a free one.
And yet we don’t have to think much further than a bully to see that a lack “coercion” isn’t a valid litmus test of freedom: I don’t need a gun to intimidate, bully, and make you do my bidding, if I can take away your livelihood, shelter, safety, make you watch your kids starve and your spouse suffer an illness. If I control your subsistence, in other words—and that way have power over your very survival — I will never a gun in the first place. That is why the American idea of freedom has failed — hence, Americans live something suspiciously like exploited neo-peasants, bullied by a new class of capitalist robber barons, and all that is said to be all that “freedom” is, the chance to choose between forms of exploitation . But no one in their right mind should accept such a upside-down definition of freedom, which is an abusers’ one to begin with, calling cruelty kindness.


American society is built upon an omnipresent, relentless, and constant form of compulsion — the loss of one’s subsistence. Underneath all the niceties and myths about America as the land of the “free”, there is the perpetual, looming threat of true disaster and catastrophe: that one might no longer be able to put bread on the table, afford medicine, have shelter, and so on. In short, American life is governed by the threat that one might lose the most basic elements of human subsistence altogether. And that threat never really wavers, or shrinks, much less vanishes. If anything, it seems to grow. American life is based upon society, culture, and the economy constantly threatening the survival of that very life.

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