5.16.2015

What is Bourgeois?

In today's San Francisco, where ostentatious wealth abounds in the form of multi-million dollar lofts and Porsches, not to mention the endless parade of new pricey ass restaurants, one hears the word "bougie" bandied about. And, for the most part, these things are bourgeois — but not because they're expensive or indulgent. It's because they're not quite that expensive or indulgent; it's because they're all about comfort, safety, and appearance — and because they fit neatly into the cycle of creation, exploitation, consumption.

The French Revolution was a bourgeois revolution. So was the ill-named American Revolution which wasn't a revolution at all but a war of independence from aristocratic taxation. In both instances, business and new land owners wanted power — and to stop paying taxes to an aristocracy that had done nothing to earn its position other than be born into it. These were not revolutions of "the people" per se. They were revolutions of those who'd earned their wealth and were pissed off at those who'd inherited it. The bourgeois were busting there asses and wanted a piece of the pie.

Aristocrats flourish outside the fray of business squabbles and everyday demands such as traffic, parking tickets, home upkeep, screaming babies, and the demand for the newest stroller. There is, at least in principle, a certain decadence to the aristocracy. They play and frolic and fornicate without consequence. They're not hampered by glances of neighbors peering through their shades; they don't have to keep up with the Joneses. They are free to come and go and do as they please. And, for the most part, they don't care about anyone else — as long as they can continue to get their way.

The bourgeois revolution ushered in a new age — one of control, of being counted, of a work ethic and, worse, the demand for a work ethic. And being beholden to an employer, to a corporation, for your livelihood. Which, in turn, ushered in an age of fear and indebtedness, of being counted and accounted for. No more hiding in the shadows as a poor drunk; now everyone has to be accounted for, to be productive, to be part of the capitalist engine, one way or another.

If the aristocracy feels beholden to no one — carries no debt — the bourgeoisie is an indentured servant, owing time and energy to the banks, to the company, to the will and laws of capital. Whatever is not productive needs to be folded into the fray, into the engine of production-consumption. They even turned poverty and criminality into an industry, a way to make money. This is how the bourgeois care about the poor — as so much fodder to make more money, as commodities to be exchanged through a juridical system.

To be bourgeois is to be hampered by the everyday and its petty concerns. It's to adhere to the laws and rituals of the corporate state (quite different than the regal state) which decrees: You must go to college — and take loans to do it! You must get a job that accounts for your time and soul and you must be thankful for it! Then you must try to pair up with another — it used to be strictly heterosexual but homosexuality, which once stood for a non-bourgeois life, has been folded into the bourgeois fray (feminism, too, was folded into the fray: why aren't women making things as well as consuming them! Put them to work!). Then, you must buy a house — and take loans, huge, long lasting loans which keep you tethered to your job until you die. Then you breed which, in turn, makes your need for a job greater and your indebtedness to your boss more exhausting, more totalizing, more absolute. It becomes the norm, just what you do — even if you hate it, even if it's crushing your soul and libido and intestines day in and day out. No worries: we have a drug for that.

The aristocracy knows no such things. Sure, it has laws and rituals and, yes, they often had to marry folks they didn't like. But they were not indebted to a boss who owned their time and energy and productivity. There is no aristocratic productivity. That is a bourgeois concern — a concern that mines every corner of life, every moment of waking time, of human energy in order to produce more capital.

To be bourgeois is to be enmeshed within the moral codes of the corporate state, of corporate power. It's to work as much as possible, be thankful for it, then spend your earnings on things the corporate state produces. You become a literal cog within the production of capital: the hands and minds that create, the body that buys and consumes. These things keep you distracted from the misery of your life — from your exhaustion and constipation and gas and kvetching spouse and whining kids and asshole boss. You choose the comfort of your couch to the possible discomfort of not knowing how you'll pay your rent.

To be bourgeois is not to be wealthy: it's to be beholden, of your own will, to the rules of capital: earn money then spend it, and more, thanks to loans. It's a little life the bourgeois lead, never looking up to the infinite sky which shatters all structures, all codes, all pretenses.

I believe what confuses people these days is that the monied bourgeois act like entitled aristocrats. But that's just a facade. Because, in the morning, they know they need to wake up and earn their keep, pay their debts, absolve their guilt —  and fuck you if you don't!

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