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February 15, 2017

Book Notes - Raoul Martinez "Creating Freedom: The Lottery of Birth, the Illusion of Consent, and the Fight for Our Future"

Creating Freedom: The Lottery of Birth, the Illusion of Consent, and the Fight for Our Future

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Raoul Martinez's book Creating Freedom is an insightful and challenging manifesto for our times.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"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….An intelligent, rigorous manifesto."

In his own words, here is Raoul Martinez's Book Notes music playlist for his book Creating Freedom: The Lottery of Birth, the Illusion of Consent, and the Fight for Our Future:

Free markets, free elections, free media, free thought, free speech, free will — the language of freedom pervades our lives, framing the most urgent issues of our time and the deepest questions about who we are and who we want to be. It is a foundational concept at the heart of our civilization, but it has long been distorted to justify its opposite: soaring inequality, the erosion of democracy, an irrational criminal justice system, and a dehumanizing foreign policy. In Creating Freedom I argue that the more we understand the limits on our freedom, the better placed we are to transcend them. Drawing together findings and ideas from neuroscience, criminology, psychology, politics, climate science, economics, and philosophy, it's a wide-ranging analysis of power, control, and freedom, which asks us to question our inherited identity, question our society, and turn the power to choose into the freedom to create.

In the struggle for freedom, music has always played a powerful role, both as a unifying, inspiring force and as a means of creative expression. In the struggle to write about freedom, music proved to be a trusted ally, accompanying me through an often arduous process.

Here are the ten pieces that in various ways connect with Creating Freedom.

'I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free' by Nina Simone
One of the greatest obstacles to freedom comes from internalising the myths which lie at the heart of our culture — myths surrounding everything from free markets to free will. Rejecting these myths can be disorienting, but in doing so we create the space to imagine what it means to be truly free. To create freedom, we must yearn for it, and to yearn for it we must confront how little of it we have. This song is all about that yearning, and it works on a number of levels. Lyrics such as 'I wish I could break all the chains holding me' have a clear literal interpretation but, to varying degrees, whether we are aware of them or not, we all have metaphorical chains inhibiting our liberty. Perceiving these chains is often a challenge. As Rosa Luxembourg is reported to have said: 'Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.'

'A Change Is Gonna Come' by Sam Cooke
For me this a song about hope: the remarkable capacity of human beings to imagine and fight for a reality which has long been denied them. There are those we call 'realists' because their vision of the future deviates little from their understanding of the present. History teaches us that it has always taken 'dreamers' to change society for the better, whether by abolishing slavery, expanding democracy, or winning rights for women, people of colour, and other oppressed groups. Hope creates the possibility of change, whereas cynicism guarantees failure. Whenever I think of hope, I'm reminded of Howard Zinn's lines about holding on to hope in dark times: 'to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory'.

'Way Down in the Hole' by Tom Waits
I first heard this song watching the television series The Wire. I grew to love the song and the show. In particular, I admired how it exposed the double standards, brutality and injustice of our police, courts and prisons. In my research for Creating Freedom, I found that the modern criminal justice system is, on the whole, cruel, ineffective and irrational: a cause of injustice rather than an antidote to it. As decades of criminological research demonstrates, the punitive norms of our culture do not necessarily make us safer – there is evidence to suggest that they have a brutalising effect on the wider society, increasing rather than reducing societal violence. To understand that we make choices with a brain that we didn't choose, one shaped and reshaped from the moment of our birth by countless forces beyond our control, is to understand the need to reassess how we think about punishment and reward.

'Cello Suites' by Johann Sebastian Bach
I can't write while listening to music with lyrics, but I will often listen to classical music or jazz as I edit my work. Again and again I return to Bach's cello suites, which I find timelessly beautiful. There's a fluidity, an openness, a depth to the music which I feel mirrors the unifying ideal of freedom that runs through my book.

'Hermanos' by Atahualpa Yupanqui
A friend recently recommended this song to me. It's incredibly soulful, and the lyrics speak to some of the central ideals of Creating Freedom: solidarity, empathy and liberty. In a world riddled with division — division which too often cuts through the very movements intended to change it — the language of brotherhood, sisterhood, and the human family is extremely valuable.

'What Did You Learn In School Today?' by Pete Seeger
I wanted to include this song in the first Creating Freedom documentary 'The Lottery of Birth', but obtaining the rights proved too expensive. I still enjoy hearing its lyrics exposing how, much of the time, schooling aims not to educate, but socialise, not to liberate, but control. Formal education has always been, and remains today, a powerful mechanism of social control — a means of cultivating beliefs and dispositions that prepare the majority of us for lives of conformity, obedience and conditions of subordination.

'So What?' by Miles Davis
This is the opening track on perhaps the most famous jazz album of all time, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. The evolution of jazz as an art form exemplifies a clear pattern in human creativity. Composers, musicians, poets, novelists, and painters have, throughout history, sought to escape the fetters of convention, push back boundaries and break (and then create new) rules. In the arts, jazz musicians turned improvisation into an art form, challenging centuries of musical tradition. Analogously, in the moral worlds we inhabit, to stay true to our deepest values we must always be prepared to question, challenge and reinvent the rules our parents, teachers, prophets and governments expect us to follow.

'Sodade' by Cesaria Evora
Not only does Cesaria Evora have an incredibly beautiful voice, but the concept of sodade (or 'saudade') is, in my view, bound up with the pursuit of freedom. 'Sodade' refers to a profound sense of loss and longing mixed up with feelings of nostalgia. The concept resonates because the inescapable truth is that the path to freedom has always demanded sacrifice and loss. All the liberties we enjoy today, under attack as they may be, were won on the back of struggle, courage and sacrifice. The fight for freedom requires opening up to the suffering and injustice that scars the world, and not turning away from the beauty, innocence and life which every day is destroyed by the broken systems that dominate our lives.

'The Rape of the World' by Tracy Chapman
Humanity's destruction of the conditions for life on earth is, as Tracy Chapman sings, 'the beginning of the end... the most heinous of crimes... the deadliest of sins... the greatest violation of all time'. In fact, it's misleading to place the blame on all of 'humanity'. Looking at emissions, for instance, the richest nations, comprising about 20 percent of the global population, are responsible for releasing about 70 percent of the greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere. An economic system with a growth imperative at its heart, bound up with a value system that worships consumption and greed, is incompatible with the long-term survival of our species. In our highly indoctrinated society, it seems that people are more ready to accept the end of the world than question capitalism. I'm not religious, but if anything is sacred, worthy of our worship and protection, it is the soil and forests, the oceans and the air that sustain us all — the source of all our freedom.

'Gracias a La Vida' by Violeta Parra
With all its imperfections, injustices, and struggles, it's essential to remain connected to the beauty of life. To lose touch with the beauty in ourselves, each other and the natural world is to succumb to life's oppressive forces and risk cultivating cynicism and bitterness where once we nurtured dreams and hope. Sung in the haunting voice of Violete Parra, the lyrics of this song articulate a deep appreciation of being alive, of experiencing, feeling, and creating. The last lines of the song express the sense of interconnectedness I try to explore in the book: a sense that emerges when we see our identities as products of forces beyond our control and understand that who we are depends on who everyone else is. 'Thanks to life, which has given me so much. It gave me laughter and it gave me longing. With them I distinguish happiness and pain—The two materials from which my songs are formed, And your song, as well, which is the same song. And everyone's song, which is my very song.'

Raoul Martinez and Creating Freedom: The Lottery of Birth, the Illusion of Consent, and the Fight for Our Future links:

the book's website

Kirkus Reviews review

Guardian profile of the author
Little Atoms interview with the author
TEDx talk by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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