Freedom of speech, the freedom to pursue happiness and opportunity, or the freedom of worship.
We are accustomed to regarding freedom as primarily positive.
But now the situation is shifting. Especially in the current economic and political crisis, the flip side of liberal ideas of freedom—namely, the freedom of corporations from any form of regulation, as well as the freedom to relentlessly pursue one’s own interest at the expense of everyone else’s—has become the only form of universal freedom that exists: the freedom from social bonds, freedom from solidarity, freedom from certainty or predictability, freedom from employment or labor, freedom from culture, public transport, education, or anything public at all.
These are the only freedoms that we share around the globe nowadays. They do not apply equally to everybody, but depend on one’s economic and political situation. They are negative freedoms, and they apply across a carefully constructed and exaggerated cultural alterity that promotes: the freedom from social security, the freedom from the means of making a living, the freedom from accountability and sustainability, the freedom from free education, healthcare, pensions and public culture, the loss of standards of public responsibility, and in many places, the freedom from the rule of law.
Contemporary freedom is not primarily the enjoyment of civil liberties, as the traditional liberal view has it, but rather like the freedom of free fall, experienced by many who are thrown into an uncertain and unpredictable future.
These negative freedoms are also those that propel the very diverse protest movements that have emerged around the world—movements that have no positive focal point or clearly articulated demands, because they express the conditions of negative freedom. They articulate the loss of the common as such.
In our dystopia of negative freedom—in our atomized nightmares—nobody belongs to anybody (except banks). We don’t even belong to ourselves. Not even in this situation will I give you up. Will I let you down. Have some faith in the sound. It’s the only good thing we got.
Just like Kurosawa’s free lancers and mercenaries in Yojimbo (1961), who form bonds of mutual support in situations of Hobbesian warfare, feudalism, and warlordism, there is something we are free to do, when we are free of everything.
The new freedom: you’ve got to give for what you take.
— Hito Steyerl