It’s not every day that the fascists accidentally make a strong case for your values. It’s not every day, either, that they – also quite by accident – pierce one of the most insidious of our American lies.
We tell ourselves a lie in the USA. Not the only lie, not the biggest lie, not even the most interesting lie – but it’s a lie we tell ourselves over and over again. We tell the lie so much that we think we’re the only ones who don’t believe it. We whisper to one another that, yes, you and I don’t believe the lie. But everyone else does, they’ll never believe us, they’ll think we’re crazy, better keep telling the lie.
The lie is this: that freedom can’t be shared. That freedom is selfish, alone, individualist.
Yesterday, the cave-dwelling reactionary hive mind, let’s call him Hentai Pepe (don’t google it). He said the lie in such a blatantly obvious way that the sheer force of our contempt pierced the bubble, and the lie collapsed before us. Hentai Pepe didn’t know what he was doing – he actually does believe the lie – but he took a break from photoshopping cartoon ponies doing the Hitlergrüß and posted an image that destroyed it.
The image was a photograph of two culturally distinctive women sitting next to each other on a subway train. Hentai Pepe’s keys clacked to life, agitating the ant colony that lives in his sticky keyboard. “This is the future,” he sputtered – flecks of mustard and mechanically separated meats spraying through the air to feed the unwitting symbiotes below – “that liberals want.”
Predictably, it became a hilarious meme. The future liberals want will be chaos. Red and green Power Rangers sitting next to each other. Harambe lying down with Cecil the Lion. Dogs and cats sharing a litter box. Pandemonium. Anarchy. Who will defend the West from people with different cultural identities sitting next to each other? “Nobody!” yelled everyone else, all at once. “There is nothing wrong with this at all!”
The meme makers were piercing a great American lie. One of the people depicted in the photo is a drag queen named Gilda Wabbit, who summarized why she thought the image struck such a chord. It’s simple – the photograph depicts freedom:
I’d like to see a future where it isn’t a big deal for a woman in full modesty garb to sit next to a drag queen in NYC. It’s become a bit of a sensation, but her and I were just existing. The freedom to simply be yourself in a sea of people who aren’t like you is a freedom we all deserve.
This doesn’t fit the lie. These two women are sitting next to one another on public transportation in a big city. If they were free (says the lie) they would be far away from one another, living in their own individual houses, driving their own individual cars, spending time with their own individual possessions. They would surround themselves with other individuals who were just like them, and conform. This, says the lie, is freedom. But the collective, subsidized, public transportation system these women share lets them be themselves in a sea of people, separated by eighteen inches.
This has been framed as a “liberal” cause, since Hentai Pepe used the word “liberal” just before emptying week-old bong water into his pet tarantula’s water dish. It’s true that liberals aspire to support this kind of freedom. But liberals still think they’re the only ones who don’t believe the voice in the back of their head that whispers the lie. “Freedom can’t be shared,” it lies, “the people sharing it wouldn’t be free.” They don’t quite believe this, but they think they’re alone. “Freedom can’t join a union,” it lies, “the bosses wouldn’t be free.” This lie makes some sense to them. Aren’t unions for old white guys in factories? Sensing doubt, the voice whispers again: “Freedom can’t educate poor children,” it lies, “the rich children wouldn’t be free.” Yes, they think, public schools aren’t very good. The voice whispers once more: “Freedom can’t have government healthcare,” it lies, “the patients wouldn’t be free.” And again: “freedom can’t pay higher taxes,” it lies, “the taxpayers wouldn’t be free.” This isn’t true, think the liberals. They know it’s a lie. But there are so many lies. How could there be so many lies if people don’t believe them? Isn’t it just easier just to go along and pretend?
Here is the great truth of socialism – democratic socialism, not the tyrannies of the twentieth century that called themselves socialist – socialism is the belief in freedom in a complex society. In a complex society, some people must at some times tell some others what to do. This is unavoidable – the only question is whether or not they reflect and reinforce oppressive social relationships. If they do, the only way to be a “rugged individualist” is to be the boss, the cop, or the crime lord. Conservatives and reactionaries embrace this, and side with bosses over workers and cops over communities, while liberals split the difference.
Real freedom takes socialism. To free our minds from backwardness, we need education. To free our bodies from illness, we need healthcare. To free ourselves from financial insecurity we need income. Conservatives and reactionaries want to send the rich children to the good schools and the poor children to the bad schools, and they call it “freedom.” Liberals listened to the lie and focused on getting a few poor children into the rich schools. Conservatives and reactionaries want to give the best healthcare to rich people and let insurance companies profit off the mediocre coverage they give working people, and they call it “freedom.” Liberals listened to the lie and focused on getting a few more working people into the mediocre coverage. Conservatives and reactionaries want bosses to make big profits and save money by paying their workers less, and they call it “freedom.” Liberals listened to the lie and focused on tax credits. Liberals want real freedom, but they’ve listened to the lies too much.The future liberals want is a future that will take socialists to build.
Socialists are liberals who stopped believing the lies. Socialists want all children to have a good, public education, so that they can all be free. Socialists want all people to have good, public healthcare, so that they can all be free. Socialists want all people to have good, public transportation, so that they can all be free. Sewer socialists are the nerds on the team who are interested in how best to run the trains, but for most people, here’s the story of the future socialists want: everyone, no matter their class, race, gender, or creed is free to sit down between a niqabi and a drag queen, and be themselves in a sea of people.