Lest we forget
Free to be human
By Sam de Brito
November 24, 2020 "Information Clearing House" - "The Age" - November 30, 2011 - Been thinking about freedom lately, what with a quarter of the world fighting for it, another quarter screaming they don't have enough, a third quarter complaining theirs is being eroded and, then, the rest of us, who aren't even sure what it means.
I reckon you could put the vast majority of Australia into the last category; we work as wage slaves, bizarrely trying to earn our "freedom" through a life of indebtedness to banks, exhibiting "an amazing lack of realism for all that matters", to quote Eric Fromm.
"For the meaning of life and death, for happiness and suffering, for feeling and serious thought. [We have] covered up the whole reality of human existence and replaced it with this artificial, prettified picture of pseudo-reality, not too different from the 'savages' who lost their land and freedom for glittering glass beads," wrote Fromm.
No Advertising - No Government Grants - No Algorithm - This Is Independent Media
But let me back-track for a second.
Edwards is the co-editor of a fantastic website called Media Lens, which checks "the media's version of events against credible facts and opinion provided by journalists, academics and specialist researchers", hoping to show you and me how much government and big business propaganda gets reported as fact by mainstream media outlets.
(Anyone remember WMDs and Iraq? Well, it's happening again with Iran if we're to believe the sources cited by Media Lens, which include unpublished WikiLeaks cables.)
Anyway, it's fair to say Edwards writes to the beat of his own drum and his book reflects this ethos.
I like a bit of shit-stirring, so his ideas rang very true for me on a lot of subjects, such as: "Thought control in modern society doesn't rely on conspiratorial control; it depends on ensuring that the culture is swamped by certain types of facts, ideas and sources."
If you were gonna place any words under the Aussie coat of arms, I reckon "passive, conformist and uninformed" would fit the bill pretty well. I dunno what happened to our culture of anti-authoritarianism but it seems to have decreased in inverse proportion to average house prices and national body weight.
It's a theme I visited in my first novel, The Lost Boys:
We're propagandised by society to seek freedom in dependency.
"It's the dreamland here. It's a VB glow at sunset and a joint to make us think kooky but don't rock the boat, baby. We're full of prawns and fresh bread and cold beer so why even wonder what else could be? Why even think different when this is almost perfect? We're almost perfect? We're all on the edge of sleep, so fat and happy, the prawns are coming out of our arses intact, gleaming, untouched, because we're so full of fresh food, we don't need to digest it."
"Then there are wage slaves who are forced to sell their labour to pay for food, rent, mortgages, heating, and so on. Earlier dissidents understood that wage slavery really is a form of slavery. If you have no option but to sell your labour to survive, you can't be considered free.
"To work for a corporation is to be part of a system in which power flows strictly from the top down it's a totalitarian power structure. That's the lot of enormous numbers of people in the world. If you try to opt out in the UK [read, Australia], you are ordered to 'look for work', mostly different kinds of corporate bondage.
"If you refuse, you will be denied the means to live and can end up on the street, and then in jail. We all have this threat hanging over us all the time," Edwards writes.
The real giggle, argues the author, is that we've been so conditioned by "social manipulation" that most of us not only freely chose this bondage, but dream of it, then plan for it.
"This version of freedom chains us to external sources of reward and respect. If we believe we need high status and 'success' to be happy, we are chained to the people and organisations with the power to bestow these rewards. So we are trained to actually seek, to willingly embrace, a life of dependence," writes Edwards.
This is a notion that author Joan Didion touches on in her incredible essay On Self-respect when she says: "To have that sense of one's intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference.
"If we do not respect ourselves, we are on the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out since our self-image is untenable their false notion of us."
In other words, if you're constantly looking to others, or society to measure your worth, you're gonna live a pretty empty, sad life.
My industry - which is of course owned by rich elites and powerful business interests - bears much of the blame for this. Apart from being a money-making concern in its own right, media depends heavily on advertising (roughly 75 per cent of revenues) to survive, so in many ways we walk a line drawn by advertisers.
Says Edwards: "The advertisers' message is always the same: freedom can be experienced through high status consumption and production; benevolent corporations are offering a blizzard of wonderful, high-tech solutions to all our problems. We need not concern ourselves with anything beyond this corporate version of reality. The level of conformity is almost surreal.
"Under this extreme psychological bombardment, it is hardly surprising that so many people are unable to give serious thought to the extent to which they are free," he writes.
It was about this stage of reading I began to feel a bit ill and Edwards went even deeper, bringing in a number of arguments I learnt during my time practising Vipasana meditation.
"Closely watching an emotion creates a separation because we know the observer cannot be the same as the observed the eye cannot see itself. This separation through watchfulness disengages the 'clutch' of the mind from the 'engine' of emotions, giving us freedom."
I'm guessing this is where this argument is going to lose a lot of you, where you'll dismiss it as navel-gazing, hippie crud but its credibility is set in stone.
As far as I'm concerned if Buddha thunk it, I'm on board with it. To whit: "It is this identification with mind activity which is obsessed with the 'better' more 'special' future or the 'golden' past that prevents us from being present in the only time that really is: the now," writes Edwards.
"Obviously, happiness cannot exist in a future which does not yet exist, nor in a past that has disappeared. Happiness can only exist in the moment. Identifying with the mind means we are never here and now, and never experience happiness. Not only are we not free, we are in a very real sense not even awake, not even fully alive," he writes.
Sam de Brito has spent more than a decade writing for TV, film and newspapers. In his books, No Tattoos Before Youre Thirty and No Sex With Your Ex, he offers advice to his unborn children. In his offerings The Lost Boys and Hello Darkness, he takes the pulse of Aussie manhood.