Today begins Generation Bubble’s holiday hiatus. We’d like to thank our readers for helping GenBub grow by leaps and bounds in the months since its inception.
Look for posts to resume after shortly after January 1, when we’ll return refreshed and ready for what promises to be a tumultuous 2010.
Until such time, we invite newer readers to peruse our back pages. They offer, we think, a unique chronicle of the events of the past nine months or so.
How do we develop necessary fortitude in the face of casual immorality and greed whose taproot President Ronald Reagan planted, and which drew sustenance from the very glue that bound families and institutions? The seven-year itch gave way to the such prodigies as key parties and the “zipperless f*ck,” the midlife crisis, which in turn engendered the marvels we see today — “sexting,” “booty calls,” “cougars,” “MILFs,” “friends with benefits” — the wreckage of population whipped into depressingly predictable ecstasy by thousands of hours of advertising and equally predictable television programming. The American people found outsourcing solutions for their imaginations, and in so doing surrendered the only thing that distinguishes them from the beasts. Then, as the tide of real production went slack, these hapless sybarites were seduced into taking on thousands of dollars of debt by money-hungry universities only to be excreted four or so years later into the postindustrial dung heap the United States has been since the 1980s. I’m afraid Nietzsche was correct far more than he realized. Humans (at least those residing in the U.S.) from the point of view of other creatures had lost their “animal common sense” in a very fundamental way. They had lost the instinct of self-preservation.
The networked information economy reinforces the idea that class is an outdated concept, and that we are all individual, atomized owners of our own mini-means of production. We thereby become bite-sized capitalists, manufacturing our own identity as our flagship product, supporting the social order that relies on such subjectivity. Marcuse had pointed out that society’s “supreme promise is an ever-more-comfortable life for an ever-growing number of people who, in a strict sense, cannot imagine a qualitatively different universe of discourse and action, for the capacity to contain and manipulate subversive imagination is an integral part of the given society.” That is to say, society manipulates our very concept of subversion, makes it seem a matter of personal style. The extension of the means of media production to the masses accelerates that development, giving individuals an ever-larger stake in the development of a self-image, and embedding that pursuit into the heart of production processes.
Weblogs, Twitter and Facebook become much more than communication devices; they become the very means by which people secure an effective ontology: “I tweet, therefore I am.” The daily output of one’s tweets or of one’s Facebook updates becomes the stuff of the first-person-corporate novel, which seduces one into thinking she is the hero of, while positioning her as merely one of many others in an anonymous collective, meeting over virtual conveyor belt of successive tweets or updates that get pushed down the screen.
Like the British imperialists of a century ago, we Americans find ourselves stuck with, as leading Peak-Oil doomsayer James Howard Kunstler puts it, “a country not worth fighting for” thanks to years of financial speculation and globalized commerce run wild. And we’re saddled with an army that couldn’t fight for for this country even if they wanted to. The very stuff of health and tradition has been turned, like so many things in this profit-mad country, into a vehicle for making the rich richer.
Consumption is not a process of using something up but instead is an act of communication, a kind of immaterial production enhancing the meaning of goods, provided we are confident that our gestures are being received by an audience that recognizes and comprehends them. This immaterial production, and not the consumption of the goods themselves, provides us with satisfaction, such as it is, particularly when the code of signs is richly elaborated, as it is in consumer societies. That is, the various sensual satisfactions that goods might supply have all been supplanted by the overarching satisfaction of having our identity, as expressed through a particular consumption act, recognized and validated. Then we know it mattered, that it meant something. Without that recognition, it becomes harder to consume at all.
If the current recession has offered people any lesson, it has shown to what degree parallactic antinomies rule their lives. They must somehow hold in their mind rather massive contradictions. They must recognize, for instance, that from one point of view, that of most Establishment economists, capitalism, though imperfect, offers the best system for allocating scarce resources, thus bringing the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. And they must also recognize that capitalism immiserates untold numbers of people, subordinating them to a regime which cheats them of the fair value of their labor. (What, after all, does the perma-intern model accomplish beyond the outright theft of interns’ time and effort?) From one point of view, the former appears valid; from another, the latter. And they appear so because they are so — equally incontrovertibly, yet equally irresolvable in terms of the other.
Though I hardly believe the Chinese industrialists have much to teach us, save that the business practices of the nineteenth century should have never been revived, the continuing lack of interest as to how exactly they produce those robotic hamsters, suspiciously inexpensive fillets of salmon, or plasma screen television seems indicative of the worst sort of naricissism, as though we weren’t complicit in how their poisonous crap finds its way to our shores by demanding goods below a certain price point. The average consumer, too busy gazing at her own image as reflected through the eyes of her Zhu Zhu hamster, never stops for a moment to consider all those eyes gazing at her from across the Pacific, eyes that are probably tired, hungry and filled with disdain, but most likely satisfied that they made her what she asked for.
For the last forty years, democrats and republicans alike have destroyed the social infrastructure that was meant to deal with the problems associated with the urban poor.
You’ll count heap big coup with your tent-city neighbors when they see you packin’ pelts and poles instead of tarps and old hoardings. Whatever the campsite equivalent of curb appeal is, you’ll have it with your very own teepee.