The Spectacle Blog

Freedom Isn’t a Problem for the Poor

By on 6.27.11 | 12:18PM

Prof. Renata Salecl's new book "Choice" has been sampled in a video, attemping to explain that the downside of freedom is that choice produces greater anxieties among the masses. This limits the happiness of the population:

The problem is actually that today's ideology of choice-led capitalism, the idea that everyone is a maker of his or her life, which goes very much the reality of the social situation, actually pacifies people and makes us constantly turning criticism towards ourselves instead of organizing ourselves and making a critique of the society we live in.

But here's just one example she offers: A professor who is unhappy with his choices because he faces social pressures. Here's another: A person reading Cosmo doesn't feel that he is reaching the idealized romantic life, so he feels ashamed and keeps it to himself. That's right: Her critique of how choice undermines happiness is focused on the social pressures facing the bourgeousie. Or as Salecl puts it in the video:

Capitalism is actually creating some kind of subjectivity which starts in a way ruining him or herself.

Wait. So the fact that people have the ability to decide things for themselves, have opinions on things, ruins them? And thus it prevents them from making social change?

The trouble is that the professor never addresses the alternatives -- for instance, in Yugoslavia, people had to work longer hours because it was a national work camp for the socialist experiment. But even there, she claims that Tito and company never really believed in socialism, and in fact socialism was hardly observed, therefore it's not much of a counter-example.

This is pure myopia. You can't really argue that the artificial consciousness created by a sale at Target will distract people from starting the revolution that will end their days of working long shifts, because the reason they don't want to revolt is because they're more or less satisfied with the structure of their lives. And whatever you might say about the inflexibility of people's stations in life under capitalism, I can assure you that it's much easier to change jobs in 1983 America than it was in the 1983 USSR.

Watch the video and see for yourself:

Update:

Under a free market, those living in poverty are presented with greater, more empowering choices. Fine, perhaps an upper middle class soccer mom is benumbed by the possibilities of the car she wants to buy. Maybe it bothers her that she has to pick a color. But the fact that she has a choice means that the companies vying for her attention have to compete to present her with clearer choices. Safer cars, more fuel efficient ones. And because of the scale of the market, these options filter down to those who wouldn't otherwise afford these vehicles.

The question is not how the middle class is overburdened by choice. The question is how the poor are empowered. They can start their own business with an inexpensive laptop, a widely available Internet connection, and a cheap cell phone service. A Marxist might call it an opportunity for the proletariat to gain ownership over the means of production. But instead, they just call it "the downside of capitalism." You figure it out.

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