First of all, I have just learned about Angela Davis, and I find this piece fascinating. Therefore, I would like for the conversation to focus solely on what she is saying here instead of her beliefs and how radical she may be and whether or not she was really framed, yada yada yada. This post is about my reaction to this literary piece and my own interpretations of it.
“One of the striking paradoxes of the bourgeois ideological tradition resides in an enduring philosophical emphasis on the idea of freedom alongside an equally pervasive failure to acknowledge the denial of freedom to entire categories of real, social human beings.”
The paradox here that Davis starts the piece with is about how society is so dedicated to the idea of freedom when at the same time there are institutions put in place to prevent groups of people from their freedom (based on gender, race, sexual orientation, class, education level, etc). I find this point to be very striking after the Occupy Wall Street movement, contreception controversy, Personhood amendments, PRENDA proposal, etc. It’s amazing how current day politics could be summed up in a single sentence. Freedom is power, and there will be people that try to stop others that aren’t like themselves from attaining full freedom because they want to stay in power for as long as possible. Humans are inherently greedy for power and highly ambitious.
“Are human beings free or are they not? Ought they be free or ought they not be free?”
This question opens up a new method in which Davis structures her lecture. If we decide that humans are not free, then that implies a different set of questions. If we decide that they should not be free, then what exactly would that imply? Davis follows this up with another set of questions:
“First of all, is freedom an essentially subjective experience? Is it essentially objective? Or is it rather a synthesis of both these poles? In other words, should freedom be conceived as an inherent characteristic of the human mind, whose expression is primarily inward? Or is it a goal to be realized through human action in the real, objective world? Freedom of thought? Freedom of action? Freedom as practical realization? Freedom of the individual? Freedom of the collective?”
I love these questions because they really delve into what freedom means. We all say it all of the time, from “oh we’re free tomorrow night” to “_______ country’s people are not completely free”, but we never realize what it fundamentally means. I believe it’s both objective and subjective, because nothing from an individual’s experience can ever be completely objective and the same with laws. There will always be subjectivity around because that’s also inherently human.
“The slave could thus become conscious of the fact that freedom is not a static quality, a given, but rather is the goal of an active process, something to be fought for, something to be gained in and through the process of struggle.” — relating to a story from Frederick Douglass about a slave standing up to to his master.
Is freedom inherent? We all like to think so. Jefferson said that “we hold these truths to be self evident” after all. Are they even self-evident? If they are, then why are we still struggling for freedom? Why are there groups of people that would like to make sure that some other groups will never know the full taste of freedom? Power. Because humans are power hungry. They want to stay in power so they will do what it takes to keep it. That’s why it took a civil war to abolish slavery; that’s why it took US about 150 years to give women the right to vote; that’s why it took the Civil Rights Act to abolish segregation; that’s why it’s taking one state at a time to grant homosexual couples the right to marriage. Power is a very dangerous tool, yet we all aspire for some sort of power.
“Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand to their real happiness. The call to abandon their illusions about their condition is a call to abandon a position which requires illusions.” — actually a quote from Marx that Davis uses to talk about the role of Christianity in slavery.
I think the most striking paradox in modern day society is religion. Each and every religion calls for loving each other and respecting each other. But they all bicker over which religion is better and which one will actually take you to to the “true Heaven”. Yes, there are pros and cons to faith. But I think the cons outweigh the pros; if each religion is fundamentally hypocritical, then what’s the point of believing in one in the first place? Does believing in one make us even more hypocritical? Does the illusion of salvation outweigh the ethical reality of religion at its fundamental roots?
I don’t have the answers to all of these questions, and I’m pretty sure no one does. But I think asking the questions is most important. Because that opens up new trains of thought and ideas and perspectives. After all, the differences in those things are what makes us human.