Tag Archive: alienation


I don’t believe nature owes me anything, but I believe society does. Nature does not act with purpose; it just is. We perceive purpose in its actions, but it doesn’t. If the world ended tomorrow, nature wouldn’t care. It would just go on in a different form.

Nature is merely the means by which I am conceived and born. But society, in its various manifestations (parents, family, community, country, culture) is the cause, and society acts very much with purpose. No one asks to be born into this sniveling, pathetic excuse for a world filled with war, murder, racism, oppression, lifelong exploitation, childhood trauma, loss, sadness, disillusionment, confusion, and ultimately inevitable terrifying death. Rather, society asks that we be born, whether “society” means our parents who want to populate their lives with meaning, or whether it refers to culture, which tells our parents where meaning originates, or to our political system, which wants to prolong its “life” with a steady source of consumers and workers who all buy into that meaning. Society creates each individual person for these purposes which are alien to him or her; meanwhile, it creates or is complicit in all of its injustices and horrors.

In this way, while society brings us into existence, it presents us with very little besides the myriad reasons why we should regard that existence as a curse. The absolute and essential need for full-time employment makes alienated puppets of us all, contorting ourselves into our desk chairs or lifting and swinging hammers into concrete, turning our bodies into twisted, broken prisons consisting of one or another pain or preventable disease, and our minds into clenched fists of chronic stress that beat us into submission with refrains of “never enough time/money/status/possessions.”

“That’s life,” they tell us, as they were told.

Society wants to punish you for being born. It is completely ill-equipped to do anything else. Perhaps childhoods can be idyllic for some, but when “real life” takes hold, each person realizes what life has to offer, and uses what means are at his or her disposal to ignore this fact. Among the most common means for achieving this are drugs, alcohol, television, religion, unhealthy food, and expensive consumer goods at best; racism, xenophobia, patriotism, sexism, and imperialism at worst.

In essence, society brings us into this world and then gives us the means to kill ourselves, our hopes and dreams and aspirations for a better world. Rather than hand us a gun and have us blow our lives away, it prefers that we consume as much as possible before doing so, not because it eases any actual pain but because it enriches the people who benefit from society as it is. Mass infirmity, just like mass ignorance, makes those elements of society richer.

If we want to see any changes, however, we must not simply expect society to start giving us what it owes us. We must alter it as a whole. We must change its mechanism and purpose, from one that takes as much as it can from each citizen, to one that gives each citizen as much to live for—as much freedom, as much expression, as much value and worth, as much warmth and love and happiness, as much ethical fulfillment and consistency, as much support and solidarity, as much understanding—as possible.

That must be our goal. When we have accomplished it for everyone, we will have started to pay back the children of the world, and they will thank us, and then we can sleep peacefully, knowing they are safe.

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There is an epidemic of mental illness splashed across my generation like a heart-shaped bloodstain. Why is that? Is it that doctors are too prescription-happy and get kickbacks from drug companies? Is it that all humans are, in some way or another, intrinsically damaged simply by existence? Is it that young people are insecure and simply grasp at any convenient sign of their own identity, and any pill to go with it, anything to make them feel more entitled to the benefits of being “normal”?

We like to forget that society produces the mentally ill people upon whom it imposes the many designations of mental illness it also produced. It created these designations to seemingly address the problem of mental illness. But before mental illness was categorized, it certainly existed, and now that it is categorized with as much gradient variation as geology, meteorology or any other science, it still exists. It even thrives, such that every deviation from the norm—overt anxiety, overt sensitivity, overt awareness, overt fear, overt particularity—can now be categorized, diagnosed, catalogued, and panoptically scrutinized by a chorus of licensed professionals.

Notice my use of the word “overt.” If these traits are not overt, if they are kept inside, they are not visible to other people and hence the need to categorize them diminishes until such times when the subject commits murder or pedophilia, to the extreme surprise of his or her familiars to whom he or she was “such a nice quiet person. I never would have thought…Sometimes you just never know.”

How could you “know,” how could you “have a thought” about something you ignore? Of course we are told to ignore the hateful and embrace the lovely, and of course we are taught to espouse it as well.  Even while we over-diagnose, over-medicate, over-scrutinize, we ignore and remain silent on the hateful aforementioned truth: that society creates its many segments, including the murderers, rapists, and corrupt politicians, because it thrives as it is through them. We are not taught to understand why a person commits murder or other crimes, except that they are aberrations, anomalies, and outliers, statistically insignificant, not signifying any greater message besides humanity’s ineluctable “dark side.”

Society puts dark ideas into our heads, ideas like “what is different is bad, what is the same is good,” or, “to dominate is to be right,” or “life sucks, get over it.” In the manicheistic pursuit of happiness, positivity, and self-interest, most of us tuck these lessons away to fall back on in the event of indecision. When we are not sure what to do with our lives, we can always rely on imitating the herd, the will to dominate (or, more likely, to be dominated, assuming its inherent virtue), and excusing the inequities and failures of life to steer us in the right and safe direction. This is what is considered “good mental health.”

But for the mentally ill, there are two other reactions to these adages. The first is total commitment i.e. taking it too far. These are murderers, rapists, pedophiles, the senselessly violent, hurting the innocent or defenseless, attacking minorities, preying on those they perceive as weak or different, and resolving any moral qualms with some variation of “life sucks, they’ll get over it. Life has winners and life has losers.”

The second reaction is emotional resistance. This puts the young woman or man in a state of anxiety while taking a test comprised of arbitrary criteria, depression when life appears worthless, anger upon learning about the state of the world, and (antisocial) alienation while struggling in that harsh “real world.” Pundits would have us perceive ourselves as “soft” and “weak.” “Sometimes life is sad, get over it.” “Sometimes life is anxious, get over it.” “Angry? You should be grateful!” “If you act like a weirdo, you get what you deserve.” Notice the similarity to the refrains of the killers.

For the emotionally resistant, the body is willing, though only under duress, and the mind is not. The mind is unwilling to accept the terms of engagement that have been thrust upon it, coercively, not as a request but as a requirement, if she should hope to succeed, to live safely and well, and to remain safe from the social stigmas of “failure,” having “never quite made it,” “never quite fitting in,” being “uncooperative,” “immature,” “ungrateful,” “underachieving,” having had “all the chances in the world to get ahead and missing or messing up all of them.”

Perhaps there is some compassion, some understanding that one aspect or another of society failed, not the emotionally resistant individual. This sense of shame and of self-disgust, of non-acceptance of the self, is laid at her feet for her to voluntarily take unto herself—as though she was being told to climb into her own grave—in the form of social stigma and mediocrity, to exculpate the society as the ultimate robber of this person’s “success” (a hopelessly twisted and obscure concept) to whom it never gave a chance, and place the blame right where it belongs: on the shoulders of the prisoner who hates her prison, her prison-guards, her prison-owners, no matter how beautiful a cell is promised or delivered, no matter how wonderful a meal is reserved for those who really “work hard” at deserving it, at fitting in.

She remains diagnosed as “her own worst enemy,” unsafe alone, unsafe with others, generally too sick to be around. Keep her alone, and silenced, and unloved, because her anger, her revulsion, her rejection of what is baldly wrong and unjust, of what completely fails to live up to the potential she sees in her daydreams—where hope is unneeded and fears are acted upon, where nature thrives and justice prevails, where the eye looks where it will and not where it is directed, where people are free—might rub off onto you.

And then you would be to blame.

Do not betray your dreams or your goals, for to do so is to betray yourself, to deny the value of your own life. It is true that “you only live once,” but that is not the whole story. Not only do you only live your life once, but you also only live each moment once, and then it is gone. Each moment not spent in the pursuit of something more should be a moment used to recharge from all of the other moments spent in this manner. Make every moment count, and let every feeling be tied to a dream.

No matter how crazy your dreams may seem, never let their craziness stand in their own way. Don’t let anything or anyone stand in their way, especially you. No matter how possible or impossible…if it is possible, do it. If it is impossible, fight to make it possible, not just for you but for everyone.

It may take time, it may take failure, it may take heartache, it may take risk, but your parents took a risk by bringing you into this world. For whatever reason, they took the risk of creating a human life, someone who can hurt, and suffer, but who can accomplish things that might give the suffering a purpose.

Never believe that it is too late, but remember that your time is limited. You might have to refine your dreams as you go along, or pause on them as you take care of other things. You might make mistakes that can seem to take the dream away from you. This is why you must be careful, to guard your freedom, your avenues, your alliances, your friendships, the ones that cheer you on and believe in you, and not give in to the voices of doubt and infirmity that so many other people listen to and that are screamed at them from every turret.

You can stand above those voices, as a yes-voice, a voice that can say to others, “I believed in myself, in my dream, and I made it happen. I didn’t listen to the sad, the beaten, the destroyed, the cynical, even though I felt this way sometimes. I listened to my faith in my dream, to my confidence in my own desires, to my heart and my head working in perfect harmony towards what I knew had a chance of making me happy. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t short, perhaps it didn’t even turn out exactly the way I thought it would. And I’ll never be truly happy, never be truly content, or finished. But I didn’t use that as an excuse. I didn’t fall back on the safe and secure, on what was provided for me. I struggled for what I believe in, and saw it through, from one part of my life to the next: from a dream to a reality.”

Reality is beautiful, but it is in the minority. It is rare, endangered, and sought-after, not to be distributed far and wide, or beheld in all its beauty, but to be hoarded away by misers or crushed by misanthropes. If you want reality, you’re going to have to fight for it. But whatever it is, keep this in the back of your mind: your dream, much like your life, much like the world we live in, is always worth saving, improving, and fighting for. Feel pity for anyone who says otherwise, and rage at the voices that convinced them.

This is not meant to glorify mental affliction, but rather to explore what it is, where it comes from, and its function. It is not inherently linked to revolutionary inclination or consciousness; rather, some of it is the result of a society which demands the compromise of one’s conscience in exchange for the ability to “function” normally in that society—and for the greater ability to benefit from that compromise—and some natural psychological response patterns represent the capacity, the inclination, and the desire to resist these demands.

It is easy to see our mental symptoms as signs of weakness, as disgraceful and unseemly symbols of our own softness of character. From one perspective, they do weaken us to the onslaughts of daily life, the type which demands total complicity in an unfolding future to which we would rather not give our consent.

If only there was some pill to take that made us “just do it,” “just say yes,” or just ask “how high” whenever we are told to jump. But there are too many barriers, those which connote a sensitive nature, between our wills and the aims of our demanders.

Too many of us were raised with levels of privilege sufficient to grant access to the question why: why is what is “required,” required? Why are we being forced into this way of life in whose creation and shape we had no influence, but to which we are expected to either conform, or if we would not have it thus, to change entirely on our own when all the wise and wizened voices are entrenched against us, or to leave altogether if we don’t like it (and some of us do, for pity)?

Why does this seem such a simple demand, yet it quakes our bellies to contemplate fulfilling it? Why is it being demanded of me, when it only benefits those whose interests are as invisible as they are, yet their influence is as palpable and seemingly ubiquitous as snow in a blizzard?

Our “infirmities,” shaped by our chemistry, our upbringing, or our observations, are saying no on our behalf. They are telling us not to deal with “reality,” that we are not able to handle, to cope, to function. We are not able to accept and move on, to stay calm, to swallow. Our stomachs are upside-down for a reason.

This land, this language, these laws do not inspire insouciance. Or gross obedience. Our smile is reserved for ourselves when, for a brief moment, we feel at peace or a memory of peace or an idea of peace or of truly “living.” Meanwhile, we are required not only to compromise our hearts and minds, but also take up arms against them, to ravage them, to bury them, as we would the native enemy. We are required to conform, to consent, to forget there ever was a conflict between “what is” and “what should be.” The power of all of the forces beyond our control—the repressive and the ideological—are organized against us and that power is growing every day, commensurate with the growing level of powerlessness, incompetence, impotence, failure, and apparent halfheartedness of any organization of resistance that existed before or since. It seems there used to be outlets for people who dissented; there used to be an active community of antiestablishment freaks, for better or for worse.

Now, almost all such organizations demand first that we compromise, the type of compromise that created the situation in which we find ourselves. The only mechanism that works correctly is our conscience, scooting between the fragments of our thoughts as vague detachment, observant melancholy, itching fear, or the prospect of total paralysis in the face of a world that doesn’t care if you die—that didn’t care if you ever lived—but only that you succeed at the role to which you’ve been assigned: fool, simpleton, idiot, puppet, charlatan, traitor, taker, navel-gazer. And in our hearts we refuse to play these roles, even as we don the costumes and makeup and inquire as to the rate of pay.

It is a sad but liberating truth that part of our strength lies in our fears, angers, depressions, and anxieties, and only when we can listen to ourselves and to each other, no matter how much our hands and voices shake, and direct our feelings and thoughts at the society which produced them—as it produces so many criminals, addicts, indigents, and indolents that it would rather never acknowledge, address, or redeem—can we hope to wrestle the definition of progress away from “well-adjusted” people and derail their legacy: a perpetual shuffle in lockstep of our people, our planet, our potential, towards irrevocable doom, not psychic, not of the self, but of the thing itself. Suicide, seemingly originating from within so that the victim and her lack of strength can be blamed, in the face of mounting fear.

Our hope rests on moving the fight from the homefront to the enemy’s doorstep, from within against ourselves to without against “reality,” which is not a fixed and eternal concept just as we are not. Reality can be made just, just as our feelings of disgust can be justified, just as they can be clarified, directed, distilled down to their essence, and turned into weapons against those whose only weapon is coerced compromise, whose only refrain is “life is unfair, get used to it,” all while they make the rules, or got used to them long ago. They compromised their conscience, and look where it got them: doing the masters’ work for them, criticizing and crushing the hearts and minds of children, and making us brace ourselves to go silently through the meat-grinder, only because they can’t bear to hear us scream.

(disclaimer: I’m not trying to put ALL Baby Boomers into one category by what I write about here. I’ve spoken to a number of Boomers who don’t espouse the views that I describe below; I’m just trying to respond to the loudest description of my generation that I keep hearing repeated over and over by folks who are a generation older than me, and whose standpoints pervade the media, but whom I try to remember aren’t representative of everyone, just as a few of any large group shouldn’t be construed as representative of the entire population.)

I’m getting really tired of hearing folks talk about how my Millennial generation “doesn’t want to work” and “wants everything given to us for free.” Let’s just say there was any truth to that whatsoever.

WHO THE FUCK RAISED US? YOU DID!

So now that that’s clear, let’s discuss some of our supposed values. Millennials apparently don’t seem to want to follow the whole “go to college, get a job, get married, have kids” routine as much as our parents did. Why do you suppose that is?

95% OF YOU ARE DIVORCED.

and

DOING WHAT SOCIETY TOLD YOU TO DO WORKED OUT GREAT FOR YOU, DIDN’T IT?

I’m going to come back to this whole job-hating standpoint that is attached to us. Old fogies are saying their sons and daughters are too lazy to go out and “find a job” by “knocking down doors.”

These older people tell us that trying to do the things that we’re passionate about is “not good enough” and a “waste of time” and “no one makes real money on the internet.”

First off,

THE WORLD IS DIFFERENT NOW, GRANDPA. GET OVER IT. “APPLY ONLINE” IS NOT A REQUEST.

And secondly:

WHERE ARE THE JOBS? YOU PUT A BUNCH OF SCUMBAG PRIVATIZERS AND NEOLIBERALS (DEMS AND GOP) IN POWER WHO OUTSOURCED ALL THE JOBS, MADE BILLIONAIRES RICHER, AND CRUSHED ALL THE UNIONS.

We want things handed to us on a silver platter, without having to work for them.

YOU’RE THE ONES WHO BROUGHT US UP WITH PSEUDO-AFFLUENT CREDIT-BASED MIDDLE-CLASS VALUES THAT SEEMED TO PROVIDE YOU WITH GERMAN CARS AND MARGARITA-MAKERS EVEN THOUGH YOU WERE STILL CONSTANTLY WORRYING ABOUT MONEY AND WHICH WAS ALL A BANK-DESIGNED FARCE AND ULTIMATELY BIT YOU IN THE ASS.

They want to make us feel bad for having no values, goals, or passions, for “never playing outside anymore,” for being soft and flighty and fickle and over-medicated. Never mind that they’re the ones who medicated us, who bought us a million types of screens (on credit) just to distract us. A bigger point is this:

IF YOUR HIPPIE MOVEMENT HADN’T COMPLETELY FAILED TO ACHIEVE CHANGE AND YOU HADN’T ALL SOLD OUT TO THE SYSTEM, MAYBE WE WOULDN’T BE DISENCHANTED AND NIHILISTIC, OR MAYBE WE (AND OUR SPOUSES) WOULDN’T NEED TO COMPROMISE WHAT WE DO BELIEVE IN AND THROW ANY ACTUAL PASSIONS WE DO HAVE DOWN THE TOILET IN ORDER TO GET SOME FULL-TIME SOUL-SUCKING JOB JUST FOR BASIC NECESSITIES (LIKE YOU DID).

As I just hinted, or rather said outright, they want us to get business degrees and other credentials that completely negate our actual interests so that we can “follow in their footsteps.” Well where do those footsteps lead?

CORPORATE MISERY, DIVORCE, WORRYING ABOUT MONEY, HAVING A BIGASS MORTGAGE, STRESS- AND LIFESTYLE-INDUCED ILLNESS, AND FEWER SAFETY NETS SO THEY’LL BE EVEN MORE DEPENDENT ON US.

They think we’re ignorant.

WHO ALLOWED SCHOOLS TO BE DEFUNDED AND PRIVATIZED?

What kind of a world did they create for us?

POOR, POLLUTED, WAR-TORN, VIOLENT, AND RUN BY IGNORANT RACIST PSYCHOPATHS WHO ARE PART OF *THEIR* GENERATION.

So what the fuck are they blaming us for? Where’s the humility? Where’s the shame? I’d like to hear one, JUST ONE, Baby Boomer say something along the lines of, “Gee, ya’ll got kinda fucked over by us.”

So you’re angry with us? You’re disappointed with us?

BIG FUCKIN’ DEAL. I’M A DAMNED ADULT NOW AND YOUR ANGER DOESN’T MEAN SHIT. I’M ANGRY TOO, LESS ABOUT YOUR STUPID MINDSET AND MORE ABOUT HOW FUCKED UP THIS WORLD IS, AND SOON MY GENERATION WILL CONTROL THE ENTIRE COUNTRY, LIKE IT OR NOT.

If that scares the shit out of you, you might try changing how you interact with us.

And no I’m not “playing the victim.”

I’M TRYING TO HAVE MY STANDPOINT UNDERSTOOD AND ACKNOWLEDGED SO THAT I CAN MOVE PAST MY PERSONAL BULLSHIT AND START CLEANING UP THIS CLUSTERFUCK THAT YOU CREATED AND TAKE NO FUCKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR!!!!!

Is that so much to ask? You better be nicer to us. We’re getting sick of hearing about it.

This is a short position paper I wrote for my Pursuits of English class at Montclair State University. It critiques Roland Barthes’ extreme fixation on the audience in his classic essay, “Death of the Author.” I hope it is clear enough.

Barthes: Enabling Market Architecture

Roland Barthes’ anti-author stance enables a view of the reader as the ultimate arbiter of  the use-value of any text. While perhaps successfully attempting to counter capitalism’s emphasis on the author and the commodification (i.e. private ownership) of ideas, Barthes’ monomaniacal focus on the demand (as in supply and demand) of the reader creates a mirror image of the original capitalism problem. Instead of the author-as-individual articulating the needs of society through artistic critique–in order that those needs be addressed through discourse–the owners of the means of production (media magnates who control scores of publishing houses, film production companies, television stations, et cetera) are empowered to entice “society” to articulate the “needs” of the “author-as-machine,” in order for that author to not starve to death, impoverished. Of course, the author’s starvation is the last concern of the magnate, for it is the fulfillment of society’s demand–and the customer is always right–that maintains a steady stream of capital.

“The customer is always right,” is exactly the attitude that Barthes espouses in passages such as, “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination. Yet this destination cannot any longer be personal: the reader is without history, biography, psychology; he is simply that someone who holds together in a single field all the traces by which the written text is constituted.” The “reader” has no specific identity; the “reader” is both anyone and no one. It falls to the im-”personal” imperatives of the marketer, then, to determine who the readers are and what they want. And what they are determined to want decides not only the task of the author but the tenability of the author’s employment as an author.

The “unity” of a text, a quality which I take as synonymous with and inclusive of “cogency,” “relatability,” “coherence,” and ultimately, “value,” is dependent on the tastes of the reader, and without these qualifiers–all of which are dependent on cultural conventions–the text lacks “unity,” and therefore lacks “value” from either an artistic or capitalist standpoint.

This is the basis of consumerism: a culture of broad-based marketing to as many people as possible, starting with financially privileged white males, ages 18-39, but ultimately fulfilling the cultural expectations of whatever strata of society have proven themselves commercially exploitable. For example, by reflecting the conventionalized expectations of African-American audiences, Black Entertainment Television (BET) maintains a steady market for products aimed at African-American audiences. Such marketing to a specific segment of society only becomes a viable and worthwhile investment when members of that segment prove themselves a financially capable target market (often made so with myriad predatory banking practices, among other exploitation, prior to any demonstrable entrance into the middle classes).

This step in capitalism is the only point at which a racial minority or other marginalized group is recognized in the Hegelian sense as a true segment of Human Society. The mentality is, “Yay, I’m a genuine human being now because I’m being marketed to and can make a bunch of white rich people richer.” Yet such demand is only maintained by meeting the conventionalized expectations of the assumed readers of that segment, or put differently, by identifying a stereotype that favors the existing power structures–racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious, and above all, consumerist, upon which the power of the owners of the means of production is based–refining and rearticulating the characteristics of that stereotype over time, and succeeding in marketing it to the newly recognized, financially viable target market.

In other words, overemphasis on the reader reduces human freedom to the right to be on a focus group, reduces ideas to commodities owned and manipulated by corporations, and reduces the artist herself to another monopolized component of the means of production (artist-as-machine).

The Unburdened Life

There’s room in my life
I’m not crowded in
I move around freely
I always win

I have lots of time
I have lots of space
I have lots of stuff
I set my own pace

I have all my words
And my pictures too
I have rooms for music
And for my purview

There’s light and there’s heat
A tap, cold and hot,
That run like the wind
Something I do not

I have a big bed
Hi-fi and the tube
Two chairs and a sofa
Inside of my cube

No one to bug me
No sound in my sight
I’m never unhappy
I don’t have the right

Despite all my havings
It isn’t enough
In my mind or body
Like I have it rough

But my life is gravy
When it all satisfies
Beholden to no one
On me no one relies

Could it be too easy?
Could life be a waste?
Without any problems
Or none that I faced

I know I’ll continue
To go, drive, and read,
To see the world beside me
With everything I need

Everything I need all right
Everything I need
To see the world beside me
Happy if unsightly
To whom as well I might be
Growing like a weed.