Liberalism is about freedom, of course. Liber, in Latin, means free. The question is, freedom from what?
Used to be, it was all about freedom from the rule of capital. Utopic, idealistic, but there was a reference point outside of the self. There isn’t one any more. Today it’s all about the freedom to exercise the whims, the wishes, the choices of individual selves. And you can’t build a shared program of action out of that.
At a recent political gathering, somebody suggested collectively opposing deportations. That suggestion was shut down within minutes.
“I don’t care about immigrants,” one participant declared brusquely. “They chose to come here. I’m African American, my ancestors didn’t choose shit. Why should I care about immigrants?”
There is absolutely nothing you can say to this without appealing to things outside the self. And that’s precisely what you can no longer do.
Women tried to organize for “A Day Without Women”, but that initiative immediately collapsed into “I’m less privileged than you; you are XYZ different from me; my individual experience doesn’t 100% coincide with yours, so we are mortal enemies in the game of consumerist one-upmanship.”
There is nothing but endless fragmentation at the end of this road. All that can momentarily bring the desperately unique and mortally aggrieved individuals together is an outrage over somebody somewhere not being able to satisfy a whim. But that solidarity immediately collapses under the weight of suspicion, “Why are we discussing his thwarted whim right now and not mine?”
Politics is about figuring out the optimal way of being together. But if the very concept of togetherness has collapsed, you can’t do politics any more. And all that remains to do is ask, “How is it possible that I, me, myself, so wonderful and profound, keep losing to these empty, superficial, incompetent fools?”
The road back from this place of confusion lies through finding a point of reference outside the self. Let’s try to become free from the tyranny of the self.