An impassioned social and political critique with glimmers of hope for change.
British artist and documentarian Martinez makes his literary debut writing on a theme taken up recently by writers such as economists Thomas Piketty and Joseph Stiglitz, journalist Bob Herbert, and activist Ralph Nader: inequality, injustice, greed, and entrenched power have undermined democracy and threaten the common good and the future of our planet. Because the forces that shape identity act so insidiously, individuals may feel they have freedom of choice; however, as the author insists, freedom is a delusion. In reality, we are manipulated by capitalism, which indoctrinates us to be consumers; the media, controlled by wealthy owners who make sure their own self-serving views are promoted; an electoral system hijacked by big donors and lobbyists; and an economy that benefits the wealthy with access to better education and resources. Our idea of freedom, Martinez argues, has been “expertly moulded to suit the interests of those with the power to shape it.” He devotes a third of the book to examining limits on “innate freedom,” which include the economic and social conditions into which a child is born, early nurturing and education, and “variations in genes and experience.” In Part 2, “The Illusion of Consent,” Martinez examines limits on political freedom from government institutions and policies, economic theories that endorse capitalism, and media that have spun “webs of deceit and secrecy” throughout society. To the author, “free market” is an oxymoron. His final section proposes ways “to change the game.” The arts, he says, can help us imagine a better future; equally important are individual “acts of courage, generosity and compassion.” Drawing on a wide range of sources, including political theory, philosophy, and the social sciences, Martinez argues earnestly and densely for an alternative to our “impoverished vision of humanity.” The choir to which he preaches, though, is likely to want more than a well-intentioned manifesto of familiar ideas; it will also want concrete suggestions for change.
An intelligent, rigorous manifesto that could use more direction for action.