Dissecting “Being” in a Capitalist Democracy: Freireian lens!!!
Saying Yes to life even in its strangest and hardest problems, the will to life rejoicing over its own inexhaustibility even in the very sacrifice of its highest types—that is what I called Dionysian, that is what I guessed to be the bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet. Not in order to be liberated from terror and pity, not in order to purge oneself of a dangerous affect by its vehement discharge—Aristotle understood it that way—but in order to be oneself the eternal joy of becoming, beyond all terror and pity—that joy which included even joy in destroying.
In the above quotation, what strikes the most is Nietzsche’s resolution, which is not steeped in resignation to fate but in a disillusioned encounter of one’s reality and in a persistent recreation of oneself. The hallmark of a humanized and totalized freedom both in the Nietzschean sense and above all in a Freireian sense (as shall soon be demonstrated) rests in an un-premeditated engagement in-and-with the world anchored in unsullied reflection. Freire’s concept of Conscientização enshrines Freire’s understanding of genuine “Being” in the world (if such a reductionist view can be allowed). True consciousness that is steeped in analysis and praxis precedes the act of naming the world, which (this naming) is a categorical condition for the process of fully humanizing “Being.” A humanized “Being” is not an end goal but an ever-recurring process of the ones that are “Beings for themselves,” as far as Freire arguments holds. In the same vein, Albert Camus holds the following: “For everything begins with consciousness and nothing is worth anything except through it.”
In light of the foregoing paragraph which highlights Freire’s utmost emphasis on the reawakening of conscientização, it is therefore this paper’s primary interest to chart how “Being” is generally manifested especially in capitalist democracies, and how such false “Being” falls below the Freireian mark of genuine “Being” – and in so doing unearthing the limiting situations responsible for such inauthentic “Being” in capitalist democracies masquerading as true “Being.” The term “Being” refers to the ways in which and/or through which one comports oneself in and through the world. “Being for others” would imply a submission and/or surrender to prevailing powers of domination and exploitation.
In hopes of offering a snapshot abstract of the following essay, perhaps it shall suffice to delineate the three sub-titles outlined here, to aid the paper’s argument that aims to analyze and understand the underlying causes of the manifold manifestations of counterfeit “Being” as they present themselves in modern-day democracies – especially the capitalist variety as obviously exemplified by one of the world superpowers, the United States of America. The first part of this essay will tackle an exposition of what “Being” entails through Paulo Freire’s lens. The second part discusses the coercive, subtle and yet effective violence on authentic “Being.” The final part rests on the premise that the Freireian conceptualization of naming predates the revolutionary act of completing the process of humanizing beings so that they may be “Beings for themselves.” The final and concluding part of the essay will also contest the claim that those who cannot name (in the Freireian sense of the term) are not capable of fully achieving “Being for themselves.” In this light, this section will attempt to offer a conclusive argument in support of the role of education and reawakening conscientização for the liberation of mankind. Those who negatively tamper with the instruments that educate man, do indeed interfere with the process of humanizing human beings.
What is “Being”?
“The unconscious knows no negation.”
“Being” as a mode of accompanying oneself in this world can take various forms depending on the surrounding circumstances, but more importantly “Being” hinges on the internalized ideology that provides an inner impetus to relate to or with the world. Slavoj Žižek defines ideology as “an unconscious fantasy that structures reality.” In a more detailed way Žižek argues the following:
Ideology is not simply a “false consciousness”, an illusory representation of reality, it is rather this reality itself which is already to be conceived as “ideological” … Thus we have finally reached the dimension of the symptom, because one of its possible definitions would also be “a formation whose very consistency implies a certain non-knowledge on the part of the subject”: the subject can “enjoy his symptom” only in so far as its logic escapes him – the measure of the success of its interpretation is precisely its dissolution.
Internalized ideology operates almost unnoticed since it operates in the subconscious realm of the human psyche. Freire’s work dwelt on encountering these subconscious psycho-affective forces as a way both of understanding one’s potential for true “Being” and the socio-politico realities, since the outside realities and ideologies inform each other. Awakening conscientização is of primal importance in Freire’s work since the instruments that shape it (conscientização) also shape our “Being.”
Dualism and Indoctrination of the Oppressed: The primordial violence against authentic “Being”
We’re talking here of the violence inherent in a system: not only direct physical violence, but also the more subtle forms of coercion that sustain relations of domination and exploitation, including the threat of violence.
Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate human beings from their own decision-making is to change them into objects.
As we have attempted to argue in the foregoing paragraphs on the necessity of rekindling conscientização and that the concept of “Being” is an ever-going existential endeavor and not an a priori given privilege, perhaps we should now turn to how capitalism anchored in the capitalist democratic system of governance impinges on the possibility of realizing “Being.” The capitalist-inclined system of governance would be of particular interest to Paulo Freire, especially its forms through which this system inculcates coercive ideals and hampers the potential for human self-exploration especially as a subject in their specific social spaces.
In capitalist regimes, capital takes center stage in various forms. It is as Freire argues that there predominates a common faith in the habit of commodifying many (if not all) aspects of life and “money” becomes almost the sole measure of both quantity and quality. Many who verbally reject this excess tendency to commodify do yet participate without reservation in the very act. As Zizek would remind us again, internalized ideology often tends to be non-self-unconscious. They deny materialism but are in fact caught up in the pursuit of the very objects they deny. In this respect “Being” therefore becomes a matter of accumulation/possession. Freire juxtaposes this form of “Being” with the other authentic “Being.” For them (most often unaware of this implication), to be is to have and to be in the class of the “haves.” And in scaling up the economic ladder, these deluded personalities come to the belief that they are accumulating more “Being.” Thus it goes without saying that for individuals submerged in a capitalist system the first teaching that is internalized is the almost essentiality of capital as a tool that orchestrates the dynamisms of social and political relations. And hence even “…in the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have.”
One of the avenues that enable the effective internalization of the dogma that makes capital function like a demigod is the system of education curriculum, and excessive advertisement mechanisms that tend to appeal to individualized tastes. As Freire would put it, “Education is suffering from narration sickness.” The narrative is obviously about the subtle and yet effective coded messages, which are poured (or banked) on students (who act as storage vessels). As philosopher Noam Chomsky puts it, the banking mode of education system endeavors to produce beings who are passive, acquiescent, obedient and indoctrinated.
The education curriculum becomes a form of perverse education that does not stimulate students’ conscientização but rather tries to tame and domesticate them into law-abiding citizens. In so doing they eliminate a lot of resistance they would have had to reckon with had the students otherwise been empowered to be highly critical rather than manageable and predicable. The banking model therefore also plays a very significant role in aiding the internalization of consumerist tendencies, rigid conformity, and the highest esteem of possessions (capital) conducive to the flourishing of a capitalist system. Through the concerted efforts of the education curriculum and numerous other social media tools, individuals’ conscientização is thus subdued and conquered. And it is thus in these joint efforts that the compliance/conformity of the masses is created and established. As Chomsky confirms, “Corporate media, as profit-driven institutions, tend to serve and further the agendas of the interests of dominant, elite groups in the society.” And that these social media platforms “are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion.”
Besides the indoctrination inherent in education systems, the working atmosphere in these capitalist systems also consume a lot of energy in the name of “progress” which would otherwise have been channeled to the awakening of the conscientização. On the extreme edges of capitalism, wage-laborers have to temporarily rent themselves out so they can at least make ends meet (survive). Many live on the verge, one paycheck away from homelessness if not living smack in the middle of homelessness. Thus the working atmosphere becomes a near-perfect “limiting-situation” that debilitates efforts to kindle conscientização. Nietzsche calls these working class the impossible class and summarizes in this way:
And I would not know what better to say to the workers in factory slavery—provided they do not consider it altogether shameful to be used up as they are, like the gears of a machine, and in a sense as stopgaps of human inventiveness. Phew! to believe that higher pay could abolish the essence of their misery—I mean their impersonal serfdom! Phew! to be talked into thinking that an increase in this impersonality, within the machinelike workings of a new society, could transform the shame of slavery into a virtue! Phew! to have a price for which one remains a person no longer but becomes a gear! Are you co-conspirators in the current folly of nations, who want above all to produce as much as possible and to be as rich as possible? It would be your affair to present them with the counter-calculation: what vast sums of inner worth are thrown away for such an external goal. But where is your inner worth when you no longer know what it means to breathe freely? When you no longer have the slightest control over yourselves?
And thus most of the working class falls for this trap already inherent in the capitalist regime… As Percy Bysshe Shelley once wrote, they become soul slaves no matter how much material goods they could have accumulated: “Tis to be a slave in soul And to hold no strong control Over your own wills, but be All that others make of ye.”
Hence in these dire material conditions of their existence, the workers are always distracted from the present moments of their lives but are thus conditioned by the continual craze for either objects that could validate their economic security or/and multifarious forms of consumerism that could be outlets for them to vent their bottled up and often unconscious fears. Hence as Freire says they are merely visible but are not present, beings that have but not that are.
Presentness (being present in the strictest sense) is a condition for “being for oneself” and lack of this ability to be fully present implies a symptom of “being for others” (others here implies limiting situations, material objects of pursuit and internalized forms of domination and submission).
As Freire notes, being fully immersed and dwelling in the present (present realities) is a prerequisite of reawakening conscientização. Freire’s message echoes the famous Sufi mystic Rumi’s concept of living in Majesty: “Initiation and guidance come through the saints and keep the present moment dynamic and quivering with new growth. Majesty is that composite attention felt as a presence, dawn, a company of friends, a splendor that is prior to, and the source of, the universe.” Thus exploitive and arduous economic conditions give individuals merely the illusion of “life,” of participating in “life,” and not really the authentic act of “Being.” By successfully promoting these illusions and distracting workers from submerging themselves in present realities, capitalism functions like religion, though in a reverse manner. Unlike religion which promotes hope (i.e. in the afterlife etc.), capitalism harnesses the desperate state of the working class and hence becomes what Benjamin Walter put it, “the church of the prosecuted” (the constantly despairing and easily dispensable workers). “Capitalism is entirely without precedent, in that it is a religion which offers not the reform of existence but its complete destruction. It is the expansion of despair, until despair becomes a religious state of the world in the hope that this will lead to salvation.”
The “Being” that names: Naming as the inception and the first liberatory act – The antithesis of primordial violence… also referred to as “Those that cannot name cannot be “Being for themselves.”
If the above arguments can be granted as holding some plausibility, what can be done then against the backdrop of these limit-situations inherent in capitalist democracy? Authentic “Being” which announces Freedom is a trilogical relationship of the awakening of conscientização, of naming and of pure engagement, as Freire summarizes it. “To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Human beings are not built in silence, 3 but in word, in work, in action-reflection.” Let us expound on the interconnectedness and the synergistic effects of the awakened conscientização, authentic naming and submersion in unconstrained engagement as purely historical beings living submerged in “an overwhelming present.”
Living in the present is highly important for awakening conscientização. The mechanisms of indoctrination and miseducation in pseudo-ideals, and the illusions of having attained these objects, jointly act as distractors and at best make man an adaptable being instead of a transformative being. To “name” is to know authentically, without premeditation in the act of knowing by an external medium, the surrounding realities that one is submersed in and is a part of. The reawakening acts of conscientização are not final ends but do form new starting points or frontiers upon which a newer reawakening experience emerges and so forth, as it is an inherently dialectical process. The activity informs the thought, the thought informs the word, and the word in turn instills even newer aspirations to activity. In this sequence, the authentic naming act comes as almost the final and irrevocable herald of a fully blossoming conscientização.
The banking mode of education effectively impedes man’s full development through the overemphasis/exaggerated (whether explicitly or obliquely) of capital as the standard of measure and the detrimental working conditions that sap working-class energies that could otherwise have been allotted for pondering their surrounding realities. It is no wonder that consumerism as a lifestyle takes root in very strong capitalist environments, since the conditioned and dominated man (at least on the ideological/metaphysical levels) only finds a counterproductive quasi-freedom in satiation of both unconscious and conscious desires according to the instilled consumerist pattern that reinforces even more the belief in the supremacy of capital or/and in mistaking this quasi-consumerist freedom for authentic freedom.
The freedom of an un-premeditated “Being” is a creative force, while the pseudo-freedom of a limited/indoctrinated being answers to the internalized ideals that were instilled from a tender age. In the true “Being” everyone is their “own categorical imperative” in the Nietzschean sense:
A virtue must be our own invention, our most necessary self-expression and self-defense: any other kind of virtue is merely a danger. Whatever is not a condition of our life harms it: A virtue that is prompted solely by a feeling of respect for the concept of “virtue,” as Kant would have it, is harmful. “Virtue,”“duty,” the “good in itself,” the good which is impersonal and universally valid—chimeras and expressions of decline, of the final exhaustion of life, of the Chinese phase of Königsberg. The fundamental laws of self-preservation and growth demand the opposite—that everyone invent his own virtue, his own categorical imperative. A people perishes when it confuses its duty with duty in general. Nothing ruins us more profoundly, more intimately, than every “impersonal” duty, every sacrifice to the Moloch of abstraction. How could one fail to feel how Kant’s categorical imperative endangered life itself!
The main task of liberation would be to stimulate the process of reawakening conscientização. If the yet-to-be-conscientização-awakened persons were to perceive the widening economic gap between the few rich and the uncountable impoverished, they would try to adjust, accommodate or even rationalize (excuse) this reality. But contrary to this renunciation/adapting, liberation would be posing the question of how these economic disparities came to be in the first place. It would not try to adjust to the internal dynamics of such a system, for doing so (not disturbing the status quo) would be the works of a sleeping conscientização. The first attempt to “name” (that is, posing the problem of what is in reality or/and what constitutes the present) may at first inspire a kind of panic (or weariness) which Freire argues can positively stimulate critical thinking. As Albert Camus would add:
Thinking is learning all over again to see, to be attentive, to focus consciousness; it is turning every idea and every image, in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment… The return to consciousness, the escape from everyday sleep represent the first steps of absurd freedom.
As it is beyond the scope of this paper to postulate the alternatives to capitalist democracies, perhaps it is just worthwhile to mention that the arguments in their entirety (as offered in this paper) are not really an assault on the virtue of democracy. The arguments are rather calling the legitimacy of capitalism into question, as it is almost confused as a synonym for democracy, if not democracy itself – by exposing, especially through the guiding insights provoked by Freire, the illusion and coercion and limiting mechanisms inherent in capitalism that have to a great extent impeded the full and unpremeditated development of human potential.
The first and subtle violence of capitalism is through its alteration of genuine education, especially from an earlier and tender age via both the educational curriculum and multiple social media platforms. As Rudolf Rocker would contend, true freedom or authentic “Being” would be when such interference was eliminated.
For the Anarchist, freedom is not an abstract philosophical concept, but the vital concrete possibility for every human being to bring to full development all the powers, capacities and talents with which nature has endowed him, and turn them to social account. The less this natural development of man is influenced by ecclesiastical or political guardianship, the more efficient and harmonious will human personality become, the more will it become the measure of the society in which it has grown.
For one to think freely and make truly authentic choices (be a master of their own lives), one has to be free of the violence that puts conscientização to sleep; one has to have the ability to authentically “name” and to “be” as they genuinely realize their potential, in lieu of beings that simply “have” (in the Freireian sense) as is commonly prevalent in a capitalist-inclined atmosphere. But when the material conditions of beings are so detrimental, true “Being” becomes almost an impossible undertaking, if not an utter impossibility. “Being for oneself” though, is not an egoistical and selfish act; it is rather anchored in an accurate and unadulterated knowledge of one’s surrounding realities and one’s potential as an historical being.
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 The term Conscientização refers to learning to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions, and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality. Freire, Paulo (2014-08-18). Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 30th Anniversary Edition (Kindle Locations 511-512). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
 But human activity consists of action and reflection: it is praxis; it is transformation of the world. Freire, Paulo (2014-08-18). Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 30th Anniversary Edition (Kindle Locations 1906-1907). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
 Camus, Albert (2012-10-31). The Myth of Sisyphus: And Other Essays (Vintage International) (p. 13). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Žižek, Slavoj (2008-07-22). Violence (BIG IDEAS//small books) (p. 101). Picador. Kindle Edition.
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 Freire, Paulo (2014-08-18). Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 30th Anniversary Edition (Kindle Locations 1210-1212). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
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 Nietzsche, Friedrich; Kaufmann, Walter (1977-01-27). The Portable Nietzsche (Portable Library) (p. 577). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.
 Camus, Albert (2012-10-31). The Myth of Sisyphus: And Other Essays (Vintage International) (p. 59). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.