📰 Friendship Is a Root of Freedom
Full Title: Friendship Is a Root of Freedom
When peasants were ‘freed,’ during Hobbes’ time, it often meant that they had been forced from their lands and their means of subsistence, leaving them free to sell their labor for a wage, or starve. It is no coincidence that this lonely conception of freedom arose at the same time as the European witch trials, the enclosure of common lands, the rise of the transatlantic slave trade, and the colonization and genocide of the Americas. At the same time as the meaning of freedom was divorced from friendship and interdependence, the lived connections between people and places were being dismembered.
Over centuries, kinship would be enclosed within the nuclear Family, freedom within the individual, and values within morality and law. Together, these enclosures carve out a void for the ‘free individual’ of modern capitalism: a sad and lonely fiction, walled-in by self-interest, and based on the ideal of a healthy, patriarchal, white, rational, property-owning man. This uprooted being sees his rootlessness—his very incapacity to make and sustain transformative connections—as a feat of excellence.
If capitalism works by dismembering transformative relationships, can friendship be revalued as a radical, transformative form of kinship?
Intersecting currents of disability justice, youth liberation, queer movements, feminism, ecology, anarchism, Indigenous resurgence, and Black liberation have all emphasized the centrality of nurturing strong relationships while destroying toxic ones.
Centuries ago, some Europeans had a more relational conception of freedom, which wasn’t just about the absence of external constraints, but also about our immersion in the relationships that sustain us and make us thrive.
Being free and having ties was one and the same thing. I am free because I have ties, because I am linked to a reality greater than me
For Spinoza, bodies are not defined by what they are, but by what they do: how they affect and are affected by the forces of the world. In this way, capabilities are not fixed, but constantly shifting. This is a fundamental departure from the inherently ableist and ageist perspective that measures all bodies in relation to the norm of a ‘healthy,’ ‘mature’ or ‘able’ body. It runs against dominant strands of both Western knowledge and morality
Affect begins in the middle: amidst our situations, in our neighborhoods, with our own penchants, habits, loves, complicities and connections. There is no individual that comes before the dense network of relations we’re enmeshed in.
By creating relational webs that reinforce the values we aspire to, relationships can help undo violent or depleting patterns ingrained by capitalism and other forces of oppression.