Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Letting Go of Individualism

We live in a world where the woke think that - no, the woke know that the task is to raise the consciousness of the masses so that the masses overthrow the corrupt system. That feels more hopeless now than ever.

Why? Or should I ask why must reaction set in before the amelioration? Why must the imaginaries of national borders be hardened, and nativism, the newspeak for racist anti-nativism, be hardened even more? Why must leadership become caricature, and why must starlets display pornographic narcissism to be discovered while crude invention rules the world? Why?

I'm reading, or maybe I'm re-reading, Marcuse' One Dimensional Man, which is really hard to read. If I can't read it, then how are the uneducated to read it. Does reading mean remembering? I lack the taxonomic gene. But wait, education is mostly about programming people into the system as it is, so education can't be any advantage. Even Marcuse has been adopted by the Academy, so why would we think there can be answers there? 

Why wouldn't we think he would be forgotten. Forgotten is defined by being too far outside the mainstream of thought, even though the book remains as relevant as it was before our current cybernetic digital dystopia. It is as he envisioned and imagined it. Frankenstein's monster shall always be the face of merit. Made up pretty.

I like to imagine that science is a better way forward than ideology can ever be. I still imagine that it is, even though so many people now deny the reality of even the most obvious scientific truths. You can't raise someone's consciousness if you can't even convince them of the basic difference between truth and illusion.

But along with the crazies, I believe that science is artificially stuck in an obsolete paradigm. And so I read Marcuse to find out if he, too, is still embedded in the false consciousness of individualism. 

Marcuse still seems to depend on the moral imperative to provide to each according to their needs, rather than what I would consider to be the more scientific realization that we are not fundamentally separate from our fellow humans. Is the end of oppression also the plain end of humanity? It is certainly the end of gangs of besouled individuals defining it.

Marcuse remains too hard for me to read for me to be able to call him out. I'm hoping he is translatable, according to what might actually be in the process, finally, of shifting out from that godawful paradigm that took us through the twentieth century. The jury is still way out. 

It's very hard to imagine not being able to jump in my car and go where I wish, in comfort. It's harder still to imagine not having my private space where I can enjoy surroundings arranged the way I like them, within the limits of my means, of course.  A private jet is simply not part of my imaginary, nor is a yacht bigger than a dinghy. I find these things to be self-evidently foul.

I am, in other words, fully integrated into our modern system of human oppression for the sake of wealth and power concentration.

It's harder still to imagine wanting to move into the multi-level care facility that my parents chose for their dotage. It's a brilliant scheme and brilliantly regulated here in New York State. You have to be of sound mind and body when you move in, and then a kind of structured insurance program guarantees that your monthly fees won't go up no matter the level of care that you require. 

The whole arrangement is a pretty good metaphor for how we do live, and yet your life is essentially over once you enter this arrangement. For a brief while the living is very good. You don't have to cook if you don't feel like it, and you have the company of good friends each evening. But you eventually have to relinquish your car, just slightly before you have to relinquish your independence and move into an assisted living space. 

The kitchen becomes attenuated, the TV preprogrammed, and while you can still retain your sense of style, the only private separation is between living space and bathroom. The kids no longer want to visit when you don't do the cooking.

And then. 

It's a gift, really, to your children, because if you do have any sort of estimable estate, it will be preserved for your children; your trustees and assigns. Some ninety percent of the principal is returned to the estate at death. I suppose there are other quasi-legal ways to do that, but this one seems very humane and elegant.

Seeming may not make it so.

I thank the gods that my own retirement funds won't afford me that choice. Like most of my generation, I would rather die. So far, that's not an option between independence and assisted living. No one would take it anyhow if it were. It's only nice to think about in the abstract.

I wonder if community will ever return.

I've lived in a hotel room in Shanghai, so I actually can imagine living in a humane city where cars are not required. By a painless combination of walking and subways, I could get most literally anywhere without any thought at all of cost. Riding in a car, though preferred by most denizens of Shanghai, was pure frustration for me. That's up against the remembered car-nirvana of the United States. Cars in China were dystopia from day one. I never had the slightest inclination to do it, though I did it plenty, riding in cars. But at least Shanghai imposes limits when the traffic grows out of proportion. At least the cars are imagined as temporary. For the sake of economic stimulation only, Up against the West.

Here and right now, living quite affordably in Buffalo, NY, where the public transportation is both absurd and for shit, I do have to calculate the cost of gas against spontaneous desire. Skiing every day is out of the economic question, even if I could afford the slope fees.

And then there's the neighbor problem. Increasingly across my long-enough life I have ceased to know my neighbors. Now I live in a very mixed, economically, socially, racially and gender preference-wise small apartment building. I know my neighbors better, but it's still hard to imagine how to organize a building party. We do care for one another, but we also all do enjoy our privacy. I think we really don't wish to know one another any better than we already do. My home is as imaginary as our nation is and always was.

Zizek defines neighbors as people who smell. Visitors tell me that my hallway smells. I've grown insensitive. The building is very old.

I did also live in Shanghai in a somewhat posh apartment building. My stay was lengthened, and its cost - despite two bedrooms, included fiber-optic Internet and two ginormous flat screens and a full kitchen including washer/dryer (a new concept for me - all-in-one) - was still below the cost of my cheap hotel, when it was for a longer haul.

I liked the hotel better, just simply because there was social time at breakfast. But I also really enjoyed the freedom to invite my daughter for a visit to my apartment when the round-trip ticket was an incredible $800. We had a blast together.

Meanwhile, I'm glad my academic China project failed, since COVID would have ruined it anyhow. Not to mention global politics. In any case I had no way to connect our ambitions to grounded reality. Typical spot in the middle, without proper authority.

Even harder for me to imagine than living without my car and without privacy and not among people just like me (which would feel as boring as the suburbs do) is to imagine a world without the intellectual freedom that we still enjoy in these United States.

China meanwhile churns away like the responsible adult on the planet, suppressing dissent and enforcing conformity to a social order which has decreed that there will be a day when they can open the doors post-COVID. I don't think that COVID very much agrees with that plan, and so I'm glad I'm still here, despite the crazies that we harbor. 

I mean at least Trump smoked them all out so that we can easily identify who doesn't give a flying fuck for their fellow humankind. We know who cares only for power and for the meritocratic apologies for living the hyper good hyper individualistic life.

Well, honestly, I don't crave to live with or like Gwyneth does, thank you very much. I'd rather live where Mom does, which is the same, I suppose, as saying I'd rather die. Department of redundancy department. In any case, while whatever on-screen sex has in real life, it must bear the same resemblance to actual life as does a newscaster's presented elocution to how actual people actually speak.

About half our population seems to have built castles in the sky, and have powered their pickup trucks to move into them. Good riddance? Don't think so. They rule us internally if not ostensively. Money seems to want them to. Can you even imagine living up to those production values for your daily bread?

I'm really not so very certain that I understand the differences among cancel culture, Fox News culture, and the culture of contemporary China. They're all destructive of the main thing that I hold dear. And I'm not talking about my private right to believe any fucking thing that I wish. I'm talking about the demise of the social, where we get to work out our beliefs together. Where we get to work out reality together. Where we aren't just blindly following some leader or some leadership. Lemmings to the seas, which ascend to meet us.

We're done here in America if we don't figure out how to live without our cars and pickups, electric or gas. We're done if we don't figure out how to get to know our neighbors. At least the Trumpers have that part right, though they've pretty much done it to the exclusion of reality altogether.

China, meanwhile, has wisely banned both the Ponzi-scheme of bitcoin and the cheeky incursion into humanity of yet another predictable virus. Theirs is a trap we won't enter. Nor will we allow the government to balance its accounts by way of traceable digital currency, the way toard which China is wisely moving.

On the other hand . . . I have no idea why Zhang Yimou needs so badly to provoke Western paranoia. He did it with hordes in 2008, and now he does it with a ginormous flatscreen. Concentrated hoards of another sort, that the West can't or won't or in any case doesn't produce anymore. We like to watch, Chauncey Gardner, we like to watch.

Our fever dreams about how Web3.0 will decentralize power and authority is as deadly a dream as has ever been imagined. The promise of NFTs and the semantic web is deadly too, until we get rid of the individualistic libertarianism which is baked in to what blockchain even means. We don't need to trust our neighbor, because the blockchain will take care of that for us. The blockchain will calibrate our drugs and paper over our sins.

We don't need to trust our uber driver, our airbnb host, our tinder date. The social network does that for us. Meanwhile, who gets paid as money concentrates gig by gig? Not you and me, that's for certain.

We are not rational actors in the economy. Bitcoin and the rest rob us of social choices just as social networking is robbing us of government. Why would the Russians try to hack our actual physical networks, when it's so trivial to socially hack us? The social network is our grandest liability, right up there next to our denial of the merit-erasing trauma of poverty. Bootstrapping works with computers, not with people. No matter what our folklore tells you. You can't bootstrap your way out of prison.

Viruses, artificial intelligence, machine-based reality are all the same thing. They're all detached from life. They mimic life, but they aren't life.

All that we need to do is to gauge the humanity of those who champion bitcoin, say. Do they really care about you and me or only about how rich that they can become? Individually! They all look like individualistic sociopaths from here. No different from any of the workers in the financial industry who will game whatever system that confronts them. And we'll always bail them out. Because they rule us. They'll always bail themselves out.

Will you trust a semantic web that doesn't incorporate human intelligence? Really? I've got a bridge to sell you.

Anyhow the contest is on. I mean I cry watching the Olympics, especially when there is that rare bird who got there despite poor circumstances. So many times, the victors represent only privilege. But the drama is gone for a Buffalo boy who has grown tired of his home team coming so very close, only to be destroyed by the fates and then followed by endless post-mortems which read almost as well as the automotive press (have you ever noticed how brilliant the prose of the automotive press is?).

What's the point anymore to invest hope in someone in some sport when you have to master the search process to understand how to watch it? People my age long for the virtual community of just three networks plus PBS. You would cry and cheer together. And the politics were simple too; commie fascism versus independence. Fair and honest reporting was actually legislated! Those were the days!

We have brought the fascists inside the tent now by anti-communist rhetoric in just the way that what used to be called the "third world" has pitched their native tents within our boundaries. And we thought our boundaries were meant to keep out immigrants. What???? As if slavery has been eradicated from our lilly-white blood. We just don't want their kind.

May the best form of governance win! Or have we already lost, because we've lost our humanity and then because we find that to be a cause for celebration? I mean, what has Christianity come to mean anymore? Can't we even tell the difference between hate and love?

Here's a compromise: Say I decide to ski and order up a car to my door, preferring to share it and save money if someone in some car-pod is passing by. That car joins a train of such cars, and maybe - again by economic stimulation which is inversely proportional to speed of overall travel - I move my human power into an attached car which is going nearest to where I'm headed. The tech for this is trivial, especially as compared to the brain-dead waste of mining bitcoin. Lots more fun to program. Works just like the Internet.

Maybe there's a sizeable pod of cars at the ski slopes, and maybe it's algorithmically set to leave enough for how many people remain (who haven't signaled overnight arrangements), and maybe I want to ski late. Maybe I'll experience a little economic pressure to join the earlier crowd. Maybe I'll have more fun that way than to stay behind and go home alone!

So maybe we don't have to outlaw cars. We only have to outlaw private cars. I mean we really do have to do that if we wish to survive as a species. Bad behavior should keep you off the bus, not off the streets. Solve the economy and you solve the streets. Especially when they're free of private cars. Without cars, biking and walking are not likely to be so dangerous. Without guns, the streets are not likely to be so dangerous. Without the insurance industrial complex, drugs are not likely to be so dangerous.

Won't we have gained more than we have lost? Especially if we transfer the economy of the automobile into the far more productive economy of education. Universal healthcare. And what if we were to do the with the whole damned military-industrial complex? Wow. Just wow.

They all want us to think that the economy would collapse. But the timeline sure is a lot better than the timeline for how the ecology of the planet will collapse if we don't.

Sure, right now lots of people require the incentive of outsized prizes. Lots of people work hard for the sake of yachts and mega-mansions and private jets. But are those the people we want to celebrate? Really? I mean Bill Gates' whole life describes the psychology of a five-year old.

Those are the people who actually believe that they are the real individuals. And we support them in that delusion. They are nothing without us. They are the constructed beautiful parasites on the body politic. The extreme horrors of poverty and meat production are conjoined to the celebration of wealth. Reduce that minuscule population of the hyper rich and the rest can and will self-regulate.

All that it would take is to limit the scope of private property. The whole earth depends on us to accomplish that.

Fact is that my mind is not my own. And as an individual, I incorporate many often-competing selves. Holding it together in the form of character is hard work, and maybe my rewards should be as simple as the right to enjoy without fret what I finally get to enjoy now that I'm retired and not working for the man. 

We don't need to destroy the incentives of a market economy. We need to diminish the rewards of greed.

Maybe everyone should get to enjoy not working for the man before they're done working. Maybe none of us should work for the man. Maybe we should get money out of politics and reclaim our democracy. Just sayin'

What was that song from the '90s? I think I'm turning Chinese, I really think so . . . just punk rhythms that shouldn't threaten anyone any more than the super bowl half-time show should. When taken with a dose of proper irony. I like China fine. I just like us better. Nothing to be bitter about.