What Do We Do?

I found this in my archives from 2009 and don't think I ever published it. I kinda like it, even tough its not quite clear what I mean by "capitalism." I like the ranting tone. It's always a strange ambivalent pleasure encountering one's older selves — especially one's ranting, pissed off former selves.

What the fuck are we to do? The cards are stacked against us, at every turn, in so many insidious ways. Because capitalism is not just an economic system. It is a justice system, a military system, a police system and what makes it so hard to fight, it’s a discursive engine.  It puts words in our mouth, ideas in our head, dictates how to think, speak, feel. It runs the newspapers and the networks and the movies. Bourgeois bullshit abounds so thoroughly there is no respite from its excruciating, humiliating fray.

And yet capitalism is not an “it.” There is no cabal of evil men lurking in the back room. Well, there is but these men are not the source but a symptom. There is no enemy per se to vanquish once and for all. Changing the president changes nothing, not really. That is not where power resides. It does not stream down from the top. While there is certainly a vicious power in the club of a cop, that is not the only or even dominant way power works. As Foucault has so deftly argued, power comes from everywhere. It runs through the very terms we use to think about who we are, what’s possible, how we relate to each other. 

When I say capitalism, I am not referring to an economic system we have chosen. That is one of the insidious claims it makes about itself, one of those facts we assume that we have to move past: we do not choose how to be from a set of options, as in, “Capitalism is the only system that works.”

No, when I say capitalism I am referring to a complex set of behaviors, an entire ecology of desire. Capitalism is how we stand towards each other, the assumptions we make about our days, our lives, our loves. It is how we stand towards ourselves, alone at night and shaking in our Ambien riddled daze. It is the set of terms we use to discuss this life, who we are and what we care about. It is the films that numb and beat us in our theaters, the television programs that embarrass and shame us, the deployment of predator drones, bombs, and soldiers.

Capitalism is us.

And what’s so annoying, so defeating, so exhausting is that when we feel differently than has been dictated — when we’re not convinced a presidential election matters in the least or that nearly every film out of Hollywood is an assault on decency or that the conditions of work are grotesque, untenable, and sick — we feel the need to justify it. These most obvious thoughts and sentiments become contaminated with defensiveness. Even in our thoughts, we’re hung out to dry.

And what’s so terrifying, why I feel so thoroughly fucked, is that all the terms of resistance are folded into the Spectacle, this Matrix, and at such downright alarming speed it’s hard to fathom. What, prey tell, is a green car? How did slow food become the latest trend in unaffordable food? How the fuck can Whole Foods declare “buy local” and keep a straight face? 

If only there were some evil madman laughing maniacally in the back room. Instead we get a self-righteous Prius driver shopping for overpriced arugula — and thinking, deep down, that that makes him a good person! And not just a good person — but someone who is helping change things! Jesus fucking Christ. 

It’s unbridled madness masked as righteousness — which makes it all the madder!  And somehow I’m the one who feels like an asshole for saying all this.  “What’s wrong with him? I like Whole Foods.” 

And, oh, somehow these deluded sanctimonious pricks have not just taken up the mantle of change — which is insane in its own right — but they’ve taken up the cause of pleasure.  “Whole Foods is yummy.” Yummy! They don’t know what yummy is. ecause yummy is not just what you eat but how you eat. How you live. How you enjoy, delectate, indulge.   

What are we to do?  What?


Anonymous said...

How about after a few centuries of industrial life proles are so completely domesticated that overthrowing the farmer and opening the farm gates terrifies us. We stand there, mooing or going into debt, incapable of even imagining a life outside the farm.

Because we have enormous brains we tell ourselves that the slop we're eating is yummy, which it is as we've lost the palette to even recognize real food.

We're so far gone that we can't even acknowledge our own biological/physicality and now live based on the lowest number (exchange value) rather than what's life sustaining for the organism.

I barely finished high school, but isn't what you're writing of a dark age? We're in a Dark Age, no?

Cuyler Ballenger said...

"And what’s so annoying, so defeating, so exhausting is that when we feel differently than has been dictated, we feel the need to justify it.”

I’m 29. Most of my friends are something around there as well. We got wild in our twenties and before. Now most of us are pulling the brake slowly to the top (I drive a manual transmission). I’m cool with that. I get it. It’s about hangovers and wives and kids and jobs and really all the things they've got to wake up for that they didn’t before. But they add on a justification for this behavior masked as desire: desire for stability.

But stability for them doesn’t play out as simply as mellowing on partying. It plays out as a general malaise draped over the everyday. The energy amongst my poor friends in this “transition” is shed like a basketball jersey. Yet they have something in return right? A job with steady income, a girlfriend with steady sex and a house with steady dinner parties. They can see the merits of stability right in front of them - in the form of wine, iPads and bed sheets. Those things aren’t bad, right?

I don’t really want them though. I feel differently. Though I have some of those things and at times, all of those things, I don’t desire the concept of stability. It’s the opposite really. I want things new and coming at me from different angles all the time. And more now than ever. The reason is quite simple: I feel, going into thirty, pretty good. I feel a little smart, a little experienced, a little strong - I know better what I like, what I don’t and can anticipate situations based on past experiences that I’ve learned from. Not to say mistakes aren't being made or new things aren’t coming in or that I’ve become a stubborn mom. Not that like that all, just that when the world offers something up, I am present. Decisions (be them made within a relatively easy life) are mostly being made with consideration.

So I want more decisions to make! As someone trying to swim through without a 9-5, I take a certain pride in my desire for instability. For the freelancer (whatever that means), instability can be good. It keeps me sharp, both anticipating what comes next and sort of making that happen myself. And sometimes, I do nothing! 0. Just sit and read or stare or watch youtube. I love it.

And the worst part for me is, finally getting to your point above, I have to justify this behavior almost all the time now. When I meet a new person, if it’s brought up, the way I live takes hold of the conversation. The stable ones so easily explain their lives. The question is so perfectly set up for them. What do you do? I’m a ______. That’s it, done! But if the answer to that question takes any more explanation than that, it not only is exhausting to explain, but they seem exhausted listening.

I’d think, that in this capitalist economy, so focused on work and jobs, that the awareness of alternative ways of working would be highlighted. That finding a way through uncharted territory would in fact be the ultimate capitalist goal. That at a time in my and my peers’ lives, when we have all this potential for lovely instability, we would be striving for that. We would be saying no to the major studio jobs, no to the Twitter jobs, no to the Saatchi jobs, no to the marketing jobs while we still have the energy of young bucks mixed with some savvy of the elders. This is a perfect time for instability. Instead I see active attempts at finding malaise. I see malaise being rewarded by the others, and it makes me very tired.

Daniel Coffeen said...

dg: Your wisdom exceeds your years, methinks. One thing I wonder is whether we've always existed in a dark age. That is, I wonder if in all times, idiocy reigns in one form or another. This, alas, happens to be our form of darkness.

CB: Always a pleasure to see you here. And, well, fuckin' a: the relentless qualifications and defenses demanded from even the most obvious or simple of presumed deviations is exhausting. As you know, we live similar life styles. I have 15 years on you and what's happened to me is, over the years, I've simply withdrawn myself from social company. I spend my days and nights home; when I go out, I go out alone. To paraphrase Nietzsche, I want to be in a position where I say Yes as much as possible, No as little as possible.

Of course, as a parent and a horny guy, utter solitude is not an option. Negotiating the parenting mafia and its elaborate apparatus of guilt has nearly drained me. Even my boy — perhaps especially my boy — is deeply suspicious of me.

I wonder if the better way is to dissimulate, something I was always terrible at. Just talk about the right things in company; when people ask what you do, say, "I have my own company; I'm an entrepreneur." That awful world will buy you respect and distance on the cheap. And avoid discussions of most things, especially films.

Dissimulation may be the last vestige of freedom. Or at least the best tactic for energy conservation.

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