The “Lived Experience” and the Paralysis of Liberty

The problem with the notion that only you can know your truth—this woke leftwing “lived experience” narrative—and therefore nobody can speak for you or your situation except perhaps some moral entrepreneur who looks like you (or maybe some ally who claims to know your pain) is that really there is only one truth and it lies outside of you and your situation and billions of other people live in that truth with you. Moreover, the “lived experience” jive precludes the reality that some people understand your situation better than you do. It’s a dumb subjectivity they’ve created for you. They teach this to keep you ignorant. Or because they are.

Among other things, C. Wright Mills taught us in the Sociological Imagination, that, on the one hand, there are personal troubles, i.e. the local, immediate, phenomenological experience of your situation, while, on the other hand, there are public issues, the objective structures that surround you—the economic, legal, and political systems that shape the former—and that shape even your subjectivity. You have to grasp the latter to understand the former. You have to locate your biography in that one and only reality. It’s not that your life experiences are irrelevant. Biography matters. But biography is a result of a constellation of social, psychological, and other forces that bind many biographies together into a society. You are never really alone.

For example, if you are jobless, you may blame your motivation or your skill level or your personality. Maybe there is something to one or more of these. Get motivated. Develop your skills. Work on yourself. But maybe what is also going on is a business recession and there are millions of your fellow citizens thrown out of work on account of that. You are among them because you belong to that same social class. Or maybe your government has thrown open the borders to cheap foreign labor and there are noncitizens working the jobs you used to do. Or maybe the government has facilitated the offshoring of your job, so now foreign workers do the job you used to do in some other country that you tax dollars go to in foreign aid. Or maybe government policy and big corporate power has ruined your small business. Whatever it is, you won’t be able to confront it with a “lived experience.”

In the final analysis (if you do the analysis), you are going to need to join with others who share an objective situation with you, find solidarity with them, become politically conscious, become politically organized, and rise up against the forces that are screwing you over.

Withdrawing into ethnic and racial categories while failing to grasp your relationship to others beyond those limiting categories is a failure to grasp your species-being, that is the fact that you and everybody else are the same animal but that some of your brothers and sisters, perhaps even you, have been thrown into cages, made ignorant, trapped in your own constrained subjectivity. The “lived experience” angle is designed to get you to define your biography in terms of race or other limiting identities and subjectivities. It teaches you to deny your species-being and see yourself as a category. You are alienated from yourself and others.

This is problem the founders of the American republic confronted when they established the truism that we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with inalienable rights, among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is the point of a free republic: a constellation of public institutions that articulate, defend, and advance the common interest—which includes individual liberty and rights—over against the narrow interests of business and the like. It’s the way we collectively preserve our individuality. This is why it is so important to be a nationalist: to understand that a common language and culture and creed constitute the essential basis for preserving the political-legal machinery that protects your essential liberties and rights—a machinery you can affect through rational deliberation and democratic engagement.

Those who want to keep you in racial and other boxes tell you nationalism is racist. The truth is the opposite of this claim. It is antiracism and multiculturalism that fracture humanity. And the powers-that-be want humanity fractured to control people.

The freedoms made possible by republicanism cannot exist under global corporate governance. Big banking and corporate power is private tyranny. Even the public sphere is captured by this power under the terms of corporate governance. Your taxes pay for your own subjection. State monopoly capitalism is asking you to allow them to dictate your life. They want you to vote for living, not work for a living. They want you to think like a serf. That’s what the welfare state is all about. That’s the point of a guaranteed income. They control your finances, they control you. What working people need are jobs, and the only way they can have jobs—and decent paying jobs—is to stop corporations from shipping our jobs overseas and importing cheap foreign labor.

Those who seek to dismantle the nation-state and reorganize our society into racial categories and ethnic enclaves, the disuniting ideologies and practices of antiracism and of cultural pluralism (or multiculturalism), mean to control people by circumscribing consciousness and narrowing horizons. It’s a plantation life.

We are meant to be citizens of a republic. Corporate power is turning us into the neoliberal subjects of quasi-private estates—estates controlled by transnational corporate power. This ideology and the transnational project that underpins work to prepare the masses for integration in a global neo-feudalist order. You are being prepared for serfdom. And the “lived experience” narrative is big piece of that preparation.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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