How Individuality Has Become Divisible

In America, multiculturalism is only acceptable if it is bourgeois, and “bourgeois” is a credible term used in socio-economic and socio-political analysis.  It is not a age specific reference that has no more import or importance than the slang of your grandfather’s youth.  Our degraded college educations notwithstanding what we now deem in our ignorance, pretentious, multiculturalism is only acceptable if it is bourgeois and perhaps only less so, capitalist. Nonetheless, if it is bourgeois, this new multiculturalism, then its political body has been infected by the tapeworm of American Capitalism, a kind of American consumerist parasite internalized by all those from everywhere else in the world. Our worldwide influence everywhere pervasive becomes invasive.  Even in our academies of higher learning, as long as multiculturalism remains bourgeois liberal and Americanist, it stays acceptable; culture being no more than the dress you wear, the suit you put on, a fake or an artificially theatrical sense of authenticity.

Now, as long as the ledger book rules the minds of our universities, nothing organic in the way of cultural expression will ever be seen on our campuses.  We need truth, a good dose of it; but we have opted for, instead, a debilitating and overly formalized politeness, a sense of decorum and what we name professionalism that has placed muzzles on our mouths, manacles on our pens, and straight jackets on civil liberty.  There is no mid-level administrator today under forty that has a sense of liberty I had once taken for granted, and will not see his or her participation in the evaporation of the four freedoms, or how his or her actions have helped pave the way toward decreases in civil liberty. Even the left in America has become an enemy of Free Speech.  But then on the opposing side of my argument, at least in rhetorical counterpoint, Jim Crow never saw how his actions or his rhetoric contributed to a society, overall, less than free, thus a society in desperate need of fulfilling its promise to freedom, to its Constitutionally guaranteed four freedoms that it held up to the world as a torch to light a way of liberty through global darkness and oppression.

Very few in Selma in the Sixties saw Jim Crow as an impediment to the kind of society they touted to the world as the freest society in history. Big words, weren’t they? The tired and the poor did come here for freedom. We believed the words on the Statue in Upper New York Bay. We understood them, even when we did not always institutionally guarantee them.  We held them up like the pillars of freedom we were taught to be, to expect as an ever present need for each of us.  My father had taught me that freedom only ever exists between two people, and that if it is not there between two people now, then it it is nowhere for any of us, for all of us.

Individuality has not been respected for I can’t say how long; and the increase in disrespect for individuality, even coming from those who think they are expressing their individuality most pronouncedly, is part of the problem our freedoms face. The erosion of liberty is a problem for any society wishing to uphold anything like the Four Freedoms of the First Amendment;  the Patriot Act is a heinous call to fear, a succumbing to the basest instincts of our homo-sapiens’ nature, not much in the way of our humanity which must always remain humane.

The First Amendment is not for the the great social en-masse, if you permit me; it is firstly and lastly for you and for me, but also for him and for her, as it is for everyone, each and every single separate person regardless of race, of color, of ethnicity, of political or religious persuasion, often neither very different form the other.  Although, this unique freedom for everyone not exactly for all is just that, a conundrum; not exactly all because all is all, not everyone; everyone and all are distinct, grammatically, thus rhetorically, but also metaphysically. Politics has a metaphysics, as does freedom.

Now even if the difference is too subtle to grasp on first observation, it will become apparent on further examination: the latter is singular; the former is plural.  Now this plurality has a unique relationship to the individual in the metaphysics of freedom:  I am we the people as you are we the people as she is as he is as anyone must be otherwise we the people becomes meaningless.  If I am not we the people then no one is we the people; I am only because everyone else can be too, and is too, each to his own central position in any freedom at all.  If I am not we then we debase the freedoms of the Constitution and make of them something malleable; they become subjected to the rhetoric of numbers, all becomes numerically verifiable.  Our ethics and law become numerical, arithmetic, subject to the whims of addition and subtraction, which is a bourgeois bureaucrats paradise, but a nightmare for a people wanting to live free.

There will always be a sum without a total in the irreducible individual human being, therefore freedom, when subjected to this bureaucratically administered arithmetic, becomes an ever elusive freedom, something that cannot be summed or summarized. We the people is thus never realizable; thus it becomes managed by an oligarchy of economic and power elites as we have today in America, the land of the rich and powerful and millions of people willing to work for half of what anyone in such a country should work for.  We the people is real and tangible in me, but not in the minds of those who administer our livelihoods or our freedoms; freedom exists between you and me, but not in the public domain in practice.

We are fast becoming a democracy of silence.  Every you and I that happens to be interactive in the arena of freedom has found that that arena has no longer the spectators it once had, but remains a demonstrably prohibitive freedom.  Nonetheless, irrespective of institutional protection of my freedom, each one of us remains macrocosmic to any sum total of all the rest of us, no matter how many bureaucrats recite the hymns of state by heart, no matter how many of them rationalize to the contrary, or enact policies that put our civil liberties in jeopardy of being taken away by the state.

Individualism, to the contrary, has only increased its ismistic referencing in our rhetorical strategies concerning the package of individuality over the product of individuality, and all to the detriment of the people as an eternal force to counterbalance state.  Individuality has become an abstraction on an abstraction; thus the people have become one kind of public or another depending on what the social context demands.  We imagine our Facebook pages announcing our individuality but in fact work on eroding the individual for the a broader commonality found in most forms of collectivism, a tribal network, the most primitive of social networks in spite of the advances in technology. How can I or anyone hope to understand what individuality means when true political and social individuality is so countermanded by one pluralism after another, one determinism in assault against any or all notions of free-will, an assault backing up these pluralisms.

I had a supervisor at an ESOL program in Brooklyn say to me, directly:  There is no Truth; there are no truths, minor or smaller case; there is only what you and I think. This was a woman who confessed to have not read the books she was supposed to have read ion college, but only skimmed enough of them to say something in class, writing papers with the revised and paraphrased opinions of others. Nothing original came out of her mouth. No product; just package. How many students passing through freshman composition classes I taught were too numerous to count. Our pedagogy enforced this; I had PhDs giving me a hard time for actually believing I could teach them to write, having the highest pass rate on university wide assessment tests in every college I taught. We no longer value texts our culture and civilization once revered as possessing a unique power, a unique voice, a unique support for transformative effects on consciousness and individuality that literacy enhanced; instead, we have more temporally relevant texts, we imagine, more culturally relevant in the ways we subdivide marketplaces along the lines of ethnicity in order, firstly an lastly, to increase profits. We no longer read the “Bill of Rights” or The Federalist Papers because they are from another time, another age, another way of thinking, one not nearly as advanced intellectually as ours, we assume, because we mistakenly think history is progressive and that farther along in chronology means further along in mind and thoughts.

But back to our minds being part of the problem at the same time we imagine what we think is solving our problems, I knew my supervisor would never know that she was helping turn American values of justice in a swing toward the will to power; a human societal variation on survival of the fittest.  This will to power traced along lines of fitness will resemble either the strongest in force, whether brutal or otherwise; or strength as richness, richness as moneyed elites taking and exercising oligarchic power over our lives, pulling the strings of those who pull the strings of bureaucracy, but also legislators, even Presidents.

Obama, O bankers!  The Democrats are just as monied, just as powerful as are the Republicans.  When they stand on podiums to tell me they speak for the people, I guess I must be grateful for the lesser of two evils,  But the banks got right behind Obama; the same banks that almost plunged us into economic chaos were right there to support him.  But then in a Union dispute with the above mentioned supervisor’s agency, one arbitrated between her organization and my union, one for a violation of contract she had initiated and found backing for by management, cutting hours from my full-time schedule when it had become known  that I was making more money than she was because I had been there several more years than she, she lied and lied again, and again, under oath (but without fear of punishment for perjury) even fabricating memos I had never received, all in an effort to circumnavigate around a contractual agreement protecting workers against the arbitrary infringement from management on their livelihood and the number of hours they worked.

With Ms. N.E.’s adherence to her own solipsistic view of the world over any sense of Truth or objectivity, or even a factual sense of what is true, submitting falsified documents under oath was a breeze.  I did, however, win back my job, but I had already begun working elsewhere.  The Jewish Community House for which I worked had put saving money ahead of truth, but then we will say “whose truth.”  I was raised to believe that Jewish people and organizations had a commitment to Truth and to Justice, so to have faced the extent this organization and its management would go to falsify documents and lie was surprising. I don’t dispute that I had a slant, that I had a pov unique to the problem at hand, but every contention was not arbitrary in spite of it having been arbitrated; some matters were concrete.  Nonetheless, nevertheless, however which way the winds of fate may blow–is there a thing called fate?  If so, then there would be nemesis and furies and other kinds of mythological retribution and divinely spurred justice.  None was forthcoming, though, and hop-scotch with facts and truth was a game I could not play, but for which their particular enculturation let them able. This distasteful episode in my life aside, let me get back to our Great Leader, President Obama and how committed he is to spy on the American people.

All references to President Obama as less than we would like to see him, as less than others have hoped he would be, as may in America might still believe he is . . . any reference to him as less than his smooth oratory and ad-man slickness can sell to the contrary not withstanding, allow me to side step back  into the First Amendment, something along with the Fifth that the state has been tightening its grip on.  And I do not see Mr. President doing as much as could be to turn the tide of a state less friendly than it at least once pretended to be, at least believed it had to appear other than. Package, not product. How is it we think that advertising and the ledger book do not inform our ethics, our sense and expectations of and for public service and public servants? We are the crassest empire in history and the idea that we are the most free society is also ridiculous. I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean, most free. We are frequently confusing liberty for license, all the time talking beside the point in too many matters of our freedom. President Obama and Blankfein of Goldman Sachs have been punk-buddies Obama  O bankers! . . .  and I succumb to the alliterative impulses of my literary ear.  Didn’t Obama’s Treasury Secretary Geitner initially have as his four top aids from among former members of three of the biggest transgressors in our current economic debacle; weren’t they employed by Goldman Sachs, Bank America and HSB?  Am I mistaken?  I really have not come to bury Caesar . . . yet I keep seeing the pen in my hand turn into a shovel . . . sometimes I dream a pen in my hand turns into a dagger, et tu, publius, he says.

The State here in America only pays lips service to the exercise of freedom, at least the kind of freedom I had once believed was a birth right, had once taken for granted was always going to be present, that being both a little naiev then but something else entirely now.  I do believe we were freer at a time before Reagan and Bush and Iraq one and two, and certainly the post 9/11 world; which is not to say that Bush II was worse than Johnson; it’s just we were smarter, more literate, better educated and more willing to commit to social change in a tactile and tangible way.  We have come a long way from the old New Left, even further from the Old Left. You must miss the fact that some of the most potent attacks on our freedoms have come from the left. Freedom of Speech is something no one from the left believes in anymore, and like Capitalists who never believed in Free Trade and only ever agreed on the restraint of trade, the new-New Left only agrees that Freedom of Speech should be restrained and that the Bill of Rights needs more topical, temporal and immediate revision.

As far as lip service for freedom, this is for certain when it comes to the people practicing a religion freely. Now freedom of religion is essential to the practice of the other three freedoms in the First Amendment. However, this state, our L’Etat, does little other than market the idea of freedom of religion, setting in place one government advertising campaign or another where saying we have freedom of religion makes it so, and no one has the acumen to judge or to question the validity of the assertion.  We don’t even know how to judge where churches and synagogues abuse their civil liberty to express religious views, where the state and the religious begin and end–no, we do not.  We would need far greater literacy than we teach in our high schools or even at the undergraduate level, especially in the community colleges where most Community College professors are singers of their own praises, each one an academic Babbit of the Sinclair Lewis variety. Lewis’s Babbit is in the line of Dickens’s Mr. Gradgrind, whose determination to teach nothing but facts, facts and more facts, is right alongside everyone who disputes any of Darwin’s hypotheses, no longer hypotheses, and forgets that The Earth is flat was once a fact. What are we saying when we say what we say the way we do.

So much of our acumen is the acumen of the adolescent; but then, so much of Russian or European acumen is the acumen of the disgruntled old man.  There’s maturity in neither.  Who any of us are can only be answered in relation to a set of neo-stereotypes as facts, those verified and disseminated, again, by our mass media.  We used to think that the illiterate populations kneeling in the pews of the cathedrals of western Europe during the middle-ages were no better than bleating sheep; it was not that long ago that we were smug in our self-satisfaction that we were not only an advanced civilization, but that ours, here in this America, was certainly the best of all possible worlds.  This was especially true in the dogmas received in Public School from Old and New Left teachers in the sixties and the early seventies.  We never considered that any mental or physical malady we uncovered, recognized, found treatments for were maladies we had created by our civilization and its pervasive, if not insidious, mentality.  No!  We were treating sickness that humanity had always suffered from but was not advanced enough to cure.

We are evolving beyond the need for liberty. I once asked this as a question. It is no longer a question. It is no longer a question because it is obvious everywhere for anybody with any understanding that it has become fact.  It is what is for those of us who might even recognize the need for some liberty; the rest of us who are no longer able to understand what liberty is, how liberty should be defended, where liberty is threatened . . . we have ensured through one pedagogy of failure after another that we are unable to read with acumen necessary, at the level needed. to defend liberty adequately. We can’t imagine we read deeply enough. I have taught Freshman Composition classes where the “Bill of Rights” or King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” went over most students heads, had little to no resonance because they were raised to read only topically relevant works of literature that do not measure up to any standards of literacy or humanism I had been taught to love and respect and revere. We forget just how much literacy is bound to the advances in civilization and the development of our kind of democracy, even what is left of it.

We are quick to hand over control of our lives to the very people we say are too corrupt to do anything but mismanage our lives, the small part of those lives the State still pretends to be interested in. We must be convinced of this lack of necessity for liberty because we say things like the Second Amendment has no relevance today, that it is an antiquated remnant of an age that holds little validity for us as model or example, whose leaders have ceased in validity as mentors for anyone today. But wouldn’t that be the expected assertion from those members of the current status quo who do not or cannot see any relevance beyond their own contemporaneity?  We are horribly tempo-centric. The state and any institution of power or finance or bureaucratically administered state services will always see individuality as something divisible, but also without liberty for all these institutions will more easily encroach on our freedoms, curtail them even, and all with the support of the masses who are always the people become a public wearing its worst face. A mass media culture cannot serve individuals, only collectives, only masses, only monolithic publics. .


4 thoughts on “How Individuality Has Become Divisible”

  1. Unfortunately length is sometimes an impediment for many people, not that I insist this is a flaw. This is a brilliant essay. I just have a feeling about my culture’s need for the fix of immediate gratification, for its need to have a succession of sound bites as if it preferred living in a montage or a stream of cacophonous sounds clashing like shrill shrieking noise . . .

    1. You were right when you asserted elsewhere that we have little left to remind us just how much our freedom and how much Democracy itself is bound up with literacy practiced at an advanced level and not at the level the French call alphabetism.

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