Tag Archive: ideology

Balance as an Ideology

A misunderstanding about the concept of balance prevails in our society. Society would have us believe that balance is somehow a natural phenomenon: rain falls, plants grow. A person dies, a person is born. And so on.

In the same vein, a percentage of the population that is poor is balanced out by the percentage that is rich, and that combined percentage is somehow balanced out by the percentage of people who are somewhere in the middle.

This is a naturalistic fallacy, however. We “see” balance in nature because we want to see it; we believe, with reason, that our lives depend upon it. However, conflict is the rule, and balance is less than the exception. In nature and in all human endeavor, balance is neither a natural state nor a natural phenomenon. Rather, in any form, it is fought for, whether against society as a whole or against elements of it, in light of the fact that everything that exists resists balance, rather than hastening it. 

Development as a human being is generally considered to require some element of balance. If a person is personally “imbalanced”—for example, living a turbulent or unstable homelife, constantly in financial straits, plagued by mental illness, or generally ruled overmuch by emotion while remaining estranged from intellect or vice versa—that person will most likely not excel outside of her particular sphere. This is by way of saying that the idea of balance has value in our society.

Those who are able to balance emotions such as desire, ambition, and pride with intellectual qualities such as inquisitiveness, observation, and deduction, possess the potential to excel where “imbalanced” individuals would falter. Moreover, those who are further able to overrule any remnants of ethical consideration, conscience, or dissent they may have gathered incidentally along the way—shedding them as a snake sheds its skin—are encouraged to make the most of their potential in any direction they choose, as long as that direction preserves society’s overall status quo—rich, poor, and in-between—rather than endeavoring to alter its fundamental nature. 

Such balance as is produced by this tacit agreement is dependent on a certain level of self-awareness on the part of the individual, and a desire to “go outside her comfort zones:” to be challenged and pushed towards areas of achievement that are new to her and that put her skills and balance to use.

So, in order to obtain personal balance, these individuals actually create types of imbalances against society. Or put differently, they actively further imbalances that already exist. They are not concerned with finding or creating actual balance—in which anything is equal or any actual calm exists—within society.

This is not because they don’t want true balance in society (although they would not), but rather because they believe that the current state of society, which demonstrates the exact opposite of actual balance, is, in fact, balanced, and in such a perfect way as to allow exceptional individuals such as themselves to succeed. This success comes by nature of being able to strive for an internal type of balance: balance between what they want out of life and what they actually get out of it, regardless of “what people think” or indeed what they themselves think.

In this way, anyone overly preoccupied with “maintaining balance” by not pushing themselves or pushing against the prevailing idea of “balance”—i.e. passive acceptance of “what is meant to be” coupled with the ethical inhibitions of common morality—is limiting their ability to actually achieve any sort of balance, whether with a society in which true balance does not exist, or with themselves. They are resigning themselves to be always at the mercy of the demands of that society, such that their own desires are held as secondary to those demands.

Without some component of self-fulfillment and self-realization along these lines, balance in any form is a totally impossible ideal, reserved only for those who seem to have “the time and the money” to act on what they know will give them a sense of balance: feelings of freedom manifested in the realization of desires.

It is true that an increased level of financial and temporal freedom lends itself to the fulfillment of personal desires to some extent. However, this state of affairs is reinforced if not created and recreated by the unwillingness of “ordinary people” to place their goals, dreams, desires, and ambitions—whether societally implanted or not—on the “front burner” of their lives and to instead focus on what society expects of them: resignation and acceptance that endless deferral, struggle, loss, and insecurity are “just the way life is.”

If the destruction and reshaping of this state of affairs were to become somehow a priority in the mind of those who generally cling to “balance” as an ideology, perhaps after a long and costly battle we would see some true elements of balance enter into our societal sphere, i.e. more people positively engaged in their lives, less poverty, less crime, less mental illness, fewer suicides, fewer wars, less time spent on addictive behaviors, etc.

As it is, the “balance” between those who excel and those with mediocre and unfulfilled lives continues to justify the self-absorption of people with “the time and the money” to dedicate to personal fulfillment. In the shadow of their taut (and taught) disdain for “everyone else” who does not seem able or of adequate character to excel, the rest of us continue to wait and hope for balance to prevail “as it always has” (read: as it never has) without fighting for it, while beginning to actually take comfort in the belief that the disdain of our betters is warranted—that we are in fact lazy, unambitious, and undeserving of anything resembling emotional and personal fulfillment in this life—and in the hope that some conveniently eternal spirit will succeed where our mind and body failed.

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.

The Pleasure Dome

There was a time when I believed that everything had meaning, and that that meaning was somehow objective, and that life consisted of being moved, literally and figuratively, from one meaning to another. Being divested of that belief was hard. It consisted of realizing that the meaning was only there because I saw and felt it. It would be just as easy to perceive no meaning to anything, and many people in the world—the ones whose lives consist of more suffering than comfort, more upheaval than stability, more hate than love—perceived it as just that: devoid of meaning, or of any meaning besides pain.

They were not wrong. I was wrong.

This was part of my experience that I describe as being in “the pleasure dome,” a time in which we juvenilely believe that there is anything intrinsic to life, to reality; that is, that life or reality have any intrinsic qualities: that they are good or pleasant or meaningful or valuable, that there is a “sense” or “intelligence” to either one (besides human intelligence), that they work out in a certain way because “nature does not act without reason,” as Aristotle teaches us, whether favorably because “nature has a plan,” or unfavorably because “that’s life.”

Some of us also hew to the misguided and self-serving (but also ultimately self- and world-depriving) belief that thoughts and feelings have value in any capacity beyond themselves (outside of the actions that result from them). The harsh, brutish, and uncaring world which actually exists in a material sense is somehow false because it is inferior to “real” reality, the reality of the internal or emotionalized, the idealized world of creativity, and artistry and “vision” are means by which to perceive and cultivate “real” reality and to leave “fake” reality behind.

It is not that internal life does not, in some significant sense, constitute a type of reality, importance, or urgency. It is more the patent falsehood that internality affects externality in any way on its own, without action as its mediator, or that it somehow outweighs it or constitutes reality in any sense because it is more pleasant, more agreeable, more manageable, more understandable.

Just the opposite: what is less pleasant, less agreeable, less manageable, less understandable, is in fact, what is real, and all of the opposites that we perceive in our minds are, at best, what should be real. Were we to act on them, were we to put them into reality in a material form, perhaps they would take root and persist in material reality as a material change, rather than letting them sprout, flower, and die in our minds, in miserly jealousy and fear that they would be denigrated and crushed under less sensitive feet.

And perhaps they would, but they might inspire someone else to speak their mind, to act on it, to do it, to live and exist in the material world, outside the quilted confines of the pleasure dome.

By “to aestheticize,” I mean “to turn into an object of expression,” or “to depict in an artistic way.”

By “text,” I mean any creative output, such as writing, film, photography, painting, design, architecture, or sculpture.

Who am I to say what is oppressive? I am a self-proclaimed theorist of ideology and culture, and I try to understand where oppression comes from in terms of commonplace ideas and the entities that perpetuate those ideas. I refer to these ideas as ideologies. What ideologies are used to justify war, prisons, police states, regressive taxes, laws against poverty and union organizing, and who espouses them? This is what fascinates me: the necessity of these ideologies to maintain the status quo, and who profits from that status quo, first and foremost.

When is it necessary to aestheticize oppression, specifically the oppression of women? Is it when an author wants to depict something that exists “in real life” and not gloss over the existence of such phenomena? Is the purpose of doing so to shock the viewer, to enlighten her, to educate her? Or is it to do the opposite of shock: to cushion, to carry, to create an affinity, a kinship? In short, to provide something that exists in reality, not for the reader to condemn as an oppression, but rather as a reminder of “the way it is,” for her to relate to, whether with the same jarring and helpless resignation she might feel if she were actually being targeted, or with the celebratory embrace of knowing one’s place and accepting it?

Of course, it can depend on the identity of the reader. If a person with a higher level of privilege, to whom the depicted oppressions do not apply or apply to a far lesser degree insofar as being the target of them, views the text in which the oppression is depicted, he may feel reinforced. He may feel that his place in society, which is not in the position of “oppressed,” is not only desirable but just.  At worst he will believe the oppressions which exist are necessary for the perpetuation of society as we know it, which is a desirable end because our society is a great and wonderful thing. He wishes to stand in for the author, as the author’s proxy, and enforce what he believes is the author’s will, putting him in a position of authority. And authority makes him feel strong, which makes him feel like a real man.

At best, much of the time, this privileged viewer will seem to acknowledge to himself society’s failings and the existence of the oppression, and he will thank himself for not being a contributor to it. Better to ascribe all the blame to society itself—the institutions, the media, the relations between men and women that have been passed down since time immemorial—than to feel responsible for an institutional ill, over which the mere individual has no control. At this point, he has bought into it, not even become inured to it but has come to “believe” in oppression, and when he views it in an aesthetic context, he will relate to it just as much as the individual described in the above paragraph, who essentially cannot envision a society without the oppressions, just as this “well-intentioned” fellow can’t imagine himself doing anything to change or remove them, for to do so would make him less comfortable. He remains comfortably silent and willing.

If the oppressed person views the text that depicts oppression, she may also relate, but in a different way. Rather than identifying with being in a position of power, she identifies with the opposite. She may feel understood by the author, insofar as she understands herself as a target of whatever inequity–violence, rape, or unfairness–constitutes the oppression. However, she may not categorize it as an oppression, because in identifying with a depiction of it in a text, she may feel empowered to embrace her role, her place, as a symbol and seemingly a positive one of her identity, for the alternative is to bemoan the preordained, the “given,” “the way it is,” and to do so would be negative and cloying. As Ralph Cintron describes in “Angel Town” in the context of inner city Latino youth, in an environment where respect doesn’t exist, one must create respect. Perhaps her acceptance, her seizure and attempts at ownership of her own oppression are necessary, not a necessary evil or a necessary good. A necessary act, simply for survival. And were these depictions to suddenly disappear, a certain comfort level of her own might vanish with them.

Is relateability, perhaps, the main reason for aestheticizing oppression, and in so doing, popularizing it? Whether to bolster its benefactors, or subjugate its sufferers? Where would popular culture be if it wasn’t for popular biases? Where would society be if it was based on contradiction and conflict and a constant search for more and better knowledge, rather than on a tight-knit, clear, and set understanding of who is supposed to do what and to whom and when? If men didn’t “know” that women are sexual objects that exist to please us, how would we know to pursue them? If women didn’t know that men are the powerful “doers” of society, how would they know to stand around and wait for us to “rescue” them from the dull, stigma-ridden state of being manless and impoverished?

The manufacturers of mass media want us to believe that we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves without the influence of the culture industry. People would stop working, men would stop fucking, women would stop producing babies, children would stop paying attention in school, and no one would vote, opting to “do politics” in other manners if at all. The funny thing is, they’re right, to some extent. If people were awakened to the oppressions reproduced endlessly in popular culture, whether by the complicit oppressor (whether he be the silent and willing, or the author’s proxy) or the “empowered” oppressed (without whose oppression she would have no identity), we might notice the injustices inherent to other societal systems—the workplace, the bedroom, the classroom, the government—and act on them. Some of us would work to end them, while others would work to maintain them, to hold onto their positions of privilege, to their dreams of absolute authority, with all the power of the political establishment at their backs.

This, however, is the picture of true progress: a struggle between the profiteers and the exploited. All depictions of oppression should be aimed at challenging the viewer to resist that oppression, and challenge the understandings of where such top-down oppression originates. I say “top-down” because, in the context of the oppression of women but it applies to all structures of oppression, if our society is controlled by men, and so many texts of female oppression and marginalization exist and are circulated, it could be posited that the male authorities which control our society sanction and allow these texts to be circulated, and in fact encourage it, and in fact profit from it, because the centrally-targeted white heterosexual male market is best exploited by being told they have power over and are superior to women, to minorities, to LGBTers, ergo what a wonderful and great society in which we live. And so the oppressions are perpetuated in the same way that the male pursuit of pussy perpetuates the existence of our species: ravenously, and with love only for the status quo which makes us entitled to it.

My Life is a First Draft

“Someday I will do something noble, to give value to my life. My strength in ideas will crystallize to equal great action. I will be free from fear or lack of confidence. I will overcome the adversity of not having anticipated and dreaded it. I will stand for what I am and what I know, which I will know with conviction.”

I wrote these words a few weeks ago, on the train to work. They struck me as significant; what are they saying? That I will only accomplish what is in my heart when I am older, and that my fear will be with me until then. Only then will my actions not be hampered by fear and incredulity. The struggling chaos of my everyday life will be replaced with clarity, calm, and efficiency. Until then, grandiose plans of artistic expression and world-changing action will remain just that: plans, a soul without a body.

Why? There are few things I value more than my freedom of thought. I acceptingly witness the oppressive structures of society, its economically exploitative nature, the various contradictions and conflicts that make it the neurosis-inducing thing that it is. I read and absorb as many of its resistors as possible, and become familiar with the tactics of its preservers. I see each phenomenon around me as being for freedom or against it, and most are against.

And yet I participate in it. I have not found a way to break free, in act or in spirit enough to lead to the act. My dreams of artistic grandeur were based on images in the media and in popular culture: genius, coolness, popularity, acceptance, immortality, “freedom” as the reward for success. I thought I could enter it and maintain my character, perhaps even being a force for positive change within it. But the freedom comes in the form of money and prestige, both of which are dependent upon not changing anything, and neither of which demand high character.

In the same way that I saw myself as unique back then, I see my character as very high now. I would fight for anyone, give to anyone, see anyone else’s point of view, defend the undefended and attack the comfortable….I would kill a king to save a subject, and kill myself if it would empower that subject. I refrain from many things: meat, marijuana, recently pornography. These are vices that deplete my spirit, that hurt my vision and my sense of self.

So I imagine great self-sacrifice, yet engage in very little of it besides sacrificing that which I am against: eating dead animals, brain pollution, and the commodification of sex in our manipulative, Master/Slave-obsessed society. I sacrifice nothing that makes me comfortable, and actively, positively *do* almost nothing that meets my own expectations of my character. I am detached, disrupted, distraught…

Because of this (emphasis added)

Right now, rather than as a novelist, drummer, activist, artist, I work as a personal trainer at a corporate-owned gym in the most affluent county in New Jersey. I train good-looking people in ways to become better-looking. And it allows me to justify being preoccupied with my own appearance. It occurs to me to wonder, in a common way, “what sense does that make?” I’m not the only one apparently who wonders, even among those at my workplace…

Woflson comment

…In addition to the people who know me as a person of principle and great disdain for society, not just colleagues but comrades…

Woflson comment contd

But will I? Will I ever work for the greater good? In politics or art? I see now that there is value within both, although artists and creative people generally have to accept a dehumanizing machine controlling their every word and action. Activists often choose to compromise too, by working with Democrats or ideological adversaries. Unless one can embrace extremism or avant-gardism (which I sometimes think/thought I could), compromise is the nature of everything, I guess. Failure. Downgrading. Losing. Ideals that die like extinct animals. Such is the nature of the dialectic. Why should I be any different?

And what do the opinions of others really matter? They matter when they reflect an opinion of oneself. Where do the dreams go, the purity once thought to exist? There is a question I must ask:

Appearances, Nature

“Is it that certain things just did not work out, or is that they were never worked?”

Ideals are the enemy of action, perhaps. Fear of failure derives from the desire for “success,” when success is such a specific and exclusive thing as to not truly relate to reality. That is the type of “success” the dehumanizing machine wants us to seek. The need to create “revolution, and nothing less” can lead a person to do nothing, thinking herself a failure, when she didn’t really try because she knew she could not succeed fully in her lifetime, and be recognized for it. Perhaps it is bourgeois to seek perfection, based on an indecisiveness that replaces urgency because one is in a position of privilege, not of urgent oppression or even danger.

Yes, personal trainers are exploited, just like anyone else. A session with me will cost you 100 dollars, of which I will receive 30. So what am I doing about it? Organizing, Agitating, Occupying? Not quite. I’m doing a good job, a damn good job, working hard for the client and for the company, because of my “high character.” Am I waiting for the time to become perfect before I act? Am I trying to secure the self-confidence first? What is the answer? I watched a Bergman movie last night, “The Magician,” so it is quite apropos that an answer derives from him:


I know I am probably being too hard on myself; my bipolar nature is having a field day with finding more reasons to be pessimistic, to give up, to do exactly what the machine wants me to do, to admit that I won’t make a positive impact in my lifetime, for the only sufficient positive impact is the kind that results in fame and fortune and immortality. So many fighters who died for freedom will never be honored with a memorial, or even on Facebook by those whose lives they touched. I still believe, even if I can’t do all I want right now in full, that I may still do great things before I die, or at least a piece of them, or at least try them. Great, meaning lasting.

I must simply maintain my self-awareness until then, and hold on, and not view the minimal as trivial, or the imperfect as bad. How will I achieve the maximal if I don’t achieve the minimal first? How will I get perfection done if imperfection is never addressed? How will I love what I do, and the people for whom I do it, if I never love myself?

I work at a gym and recently a young man came in wearing this t-shirt:

nike unfair shirt


Thinking that perhaps I had encountered another member of the anti-sweatshop labor community (though being also confused by the shirt), I asked him, “Hey brother, what’s the deal with that shirt?” He said, “What do you mean?” I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “Mark, it’s your first week working here. Do you really want to bust out labor politics to a customer at your workplace?” So what I said was, “I thought it may have something to do with Nike using sweatshop labor.” I guess my answer to myself was “sure.”

He said, “Um, well as far as I know, it’s like some people are so good at their sport that they have an unfair advantage, that’s what it’s talking about.” I said, “oh, that’s very interesting, I can see that being a good marketing angle.” A little restraint never killed anyone. “Fantastic,” I continued. “My name’s Mark, by the way.” “Kevin,” he replied. “Good to meet you, Kevin. You have a great workout, aight?”

He nodded and scurried off, his brow furrowed but a little smile on his face, as if to say, “as long as I can walk away right now, we’re all good here.”

It seemed odd to have the word “unfair” written on a shirt made by a company so increasingly reputed to abuse its workers. So I did a little research. One of the first and only hits on Google to come up when I searched for “nike unfair shirt” was a tweet by Playfair2012, evidently a UK-based workers’ rights group concerned with the London Games, that read,

#Nike “UNFAIR” branded t-shirts tell the truth about how garment workers are treated. It’s time for Nike to play fair.

It featured the same photo I have provided above. The weirdest thing about it is that it serves as an ad for Nike almost as much as a criticism; was PlayFair actually saying Nike’s intention with the shirt was to acknowledge “the truth”? Probably not, of course. But the rhetoric of the tweet suggests the following: that Nike knows it behaves unfairly towards it workers, and now it’s time for them to act on that awareness.

Rather than the unfairness of its work conditions, what is Nike trying to imply by its use of “Unfair”? As Kevin mentioned above, the idea is that some people are better at things—in this case, sports—than others. Nike wants its potential customers to ask themselves this question: “*Are* some people better than others? Or is it just that they *believe* they are better? Is betterness determined by believing in yourself?” The answer, being yes, then is intended to lead that person to the “how” of the equation. “So *how* do I believe in myself more?”

It’s a good question: how *do* we demonstrate belief in ourselves? By being confident! By showing everyone else that we don’t care what they think of us, by working hard and “faking it til we make it,” and then once we have it, flaunting it.

And what demonstrates confidence? “The apparel doth make the man”! Of course, the jump that Nike wants you to make is that owning a Nike shirt might in some way symbolize your belief in yourself. And then, BECAUSE I believe in myself—of which ownership of this shirt is an expression—I can BECOME one of the “better” people who make life/sports unfair for everyone else! Soon, the word “unfair” will refer to how wearing Nike clothing—and the insane uptick in personal confidence and initiative it creates—gives the wearer an Unfair Advantage in the same way that being bigger, stronger, faster, or leaner can give you an advantage in sports (even though strength is cultivated over years of work and a shirt is purchased in a single afternoon).

Naturally, none of the thought processes I describe above are meant to taken literally as cognizant thoughts. For most of us, purchasing comes down to two things:

A) Does it function the way I want it to?

B) Do I like it (in terms of style/appearance)?

As for A), Nike is a well-known brand of fitness apparel with a huge list of professional sports endorsees and one of the most recognized logos in history. Obviously, the functionality of their products is a given based on their reputation; otherwise, they would not be so successful. Right? (I am, of course, speaking in the reasonable voice of the average thinker). And B)? Well, Nike simply wants you to think, “Yes, I like it,” and to buy the shirt. But what is it you like? What is the “style” they are selling you? The style is the idea that, by getting you to admit that life is unfair, and that unfairness is the result of not believing in yourself, Nike is nice enough as a company to provide you with the means of demonstrating belief in yourself  to such an extent that you have an unfair advantage, and now you yourself must be labeled “Unfair.”

In a 2001 article for CorpWatch, Alicia Rebensdorf describes how companies like Nike and others attempt, with some success, to repurpose the rhetoric of social justice movements aimed at them, to redirect the attention of the consumer away from the claims of a marginal and mercurial anti-corporate minority and towards the entrenched corporate authority figure. As FairPlay2012 above seems to suggest, companies such as Nike can win back their consumers’ credibility by appearing to “own” their shortcomings.

But the real purpose, bigger than asserting “ownership” over claims of foul play (and in part, conceding their validity), is valuable enough to justify any hypothetical cost. Such companies hope to undermine and co-opt the entire idea of social justice, to tie it to the oh-so-marketable state of “coolness,” and to then market themselves as “coolness you can buy,” which engenders buying the product and actively *consuming* it, and deriving a positive feeling and effect from doing so. The idea that it is somehow cooler to eschew the corporate exploiters, to *deprive* yourself of material pleasures, and to say and do negative things about corporations and society, are suddenly cast in a light of ridicule.

In the case of “Unfair,” not only is it “coolness you can buy,” but ability, talent, and hard work, to make yourself “unfair” to play against. The irony is that America possesses so much financial power throughout the world in part because of the neoimperialistic practices—such as worker exploitation—that Nike uses to keep costs down. In having corporations who do business like Nike, America *does*, in fact, make it unfair for much of the rest of the world, who, through poor work conditions and bad pay, are denied the freedom to ever believe in themselves. If they did, it would only be a matter of time before these workers forcibly removed the elite members of their often impoverished societies from power, who allow them, time and time again, to be exploited for the benefit of the richest country on earth, only to be told that “life is unfair, get used to it.”

Although he didn't actually say this. But it's interesting that we would falsely attribute something so defensive of the status quo to the richest man on earth.

Although he didn’t actually say this. But it’s interesting that we would falsely attribute something so defensive of the status quo to the richest man on earth.

I just remember, and still know, the feeling of thinking, “If I could just make a film, my genius would finally get out,” as though my distinct vision is so bold and vivid and demanding that it requires film—“the liveliest art”—to be fully realized. My first screenplay, “Paranoia,” was like that; brash and distinct, violently individualistic in its intentions, it was written in such a way that the camera would intentionally be visible in every shot, shockingly, invasively, capturing the horror of the life in which we live. Although I did sign up a director and a cinematographer, “Paranoia” was never shot, mainly because shooting movies is difficult.

But getting back to these days: recently I’ve been hooked on this Bjork song “Bachelorette” from the album Homogenic. It is a brilliant, immersive “emotional landscape,” to use Bjork’s words from another song, caked in briny, swirling orchestration like a magnificent whirlpool, dragging its victims down towards a dark ocean floor. Yet, it is a “song” like any other, short and structured and one of many. Only “eccentricity” can capture the ideas of some well-known visionaries, true, but not the outright mania required to avoid “songs” altogether and seek some completely new structure, some new system. It would seem manic indeed—quite irrational—to do so, because no one [but the avant-garde] would listen, understand, and buy. Although merely “eschewing the conventional” isn’t adequate for an unconventional and “unique” soul like Bjork, a complete and vast break with the extant systems and methods of expression would be too far.

Why must such “genius” cleave to “music” or “film” at all? True expression along these lines of originality—a “visionary” line—should reject all prevalent forms of expression and stop trying to “innovate” in such realms as painting and film where “everything has been done.” Even if the “new” field is somewhat derivative—like writing a novel on a stretched canvas and calling it a work of visual art—it is logical to assume that true originality, and therefore greater expressive fulfillment, would be more possible within such invented fields rather than the ones we see everywhere and from which most modern advertising techniques derive (see French New Wave). But most artists possess a desire to connect, to exercise their social instinct, to be seen and “recognized” in the Hegelian sense, i.e. that unless and until you recognize me and what I am doing, I have no personhood. And without that recognition, there would be a loss of feeling, for it is believed by these artists that art is based on feelings, and feelings exist for other people and cannot be only beheld by the emoter. To attempt to do so would create mental instability, whether from lack of recognition or just from being “bottled up,” and remaining unexpressed (same thing?).

So it is our society of affirmation and social validation (i.e. self-affirmation is impossible; teachers, bosses, friends and families exist to affirm our existence and performance: “Remember, George, no man is a failure who has friends” says Capra, admittedly) that creates this aspect of genius. Or that emphasizes it. It is believed that genius is original; but Edison- or Jobs-style genius is originality based on human need, which is not original; it is derived.

Is Bjork a genius? Or rather, sticking with our subject, am/was I?

There was a time when it seemed liked if I could simply harness the “total” or “complete” expression of my artistic vision, then “success” would be essentially guaranteed based on that vision’s ability to “change the world.” “Changing the world” is what people get recognized for, a lot. My mistake, perhaps, has been reliance on conventional forms of expression, and on a conventional idea of success. The obvious solution would have been to incorporate some aspects of human need fulfillment into the conventional art forms that I clung to. My third and yet unfinished novel, “Mere Love,” was going to be that. Instead of being exploratory, it would be linear. Instead of depicting deeply flawed characters who never learned and never progressed, its character would learn and change and mature. Instead of having an indeterminate number of “acts,” it would have three acts. I learned about all of these conventions from books and classes that teach people “how to write” and how to “succeed” at it. You have to give the people what they need in order for them to purchase something.

Instead of a having a spiritual or philosophical crisis, the main character would have material one, an “event,” that he has to deal with. That event was the death of his father, which I based on the long, slow death of my own, and is the reason I never finished “Mere Love.” Maybe I couldn’t handle “reality” enough to write about it; readers want true-to-life struggles, something they can relate to. Who can’t empathize with the concept of the loss of a parent? It’s practically universal. And universality is needed. But I couldn’t “hack” it, so I did not succeed. I couldn’t give the people what they need.

All art that is allowed to be commercially successful does so because it fulfills “established” human needs; it is unoriginal in form and essential content and caters to the same themes (love, death, war, self-sacrifice, family values, other ideologies), and forges a “human condition,” which is merely the “universally” dominant (i.e. repeating) themes in popular art that appear again and again because they are perceived to fulfill some human need, some basic human emotion, and in effect, to “recognize” it and with it the consumer. This is the comfort of popular art forms and their dominant ideological content: to validate and legitimize the needs of the consumer, and to tell that consumer, “it’s okay you feel that way,” whether about the ache of a broken heart, the importance of war, the desire to be and look “cool” like in hip action comedy films, or the desire to kill someone who gets in your way as you exercise your “individuality.”

{Aside: I am not completely contemptuous of the concept of “the human condition,” because I realize that there are experiences we all share to some extent. It would be inhumane to deny that all people are susceptible to suffering, loss, misery, et cetera, or that these experiences don’t “unite” us in some form. The distinction I am trying to make is similar to that which exists between the two types of nationalism: one type is the “nationalism” in the sense of Che Guevara’s call, “Patria ou Muerte,” where one believes that the attributes of one’s country are essential to it, outside of the authority of any oppressive state apparatus or another, and in fact those apparatuses are to be overthrown in order to restore those essential attributes that they have eroded. Whereas the “human condition” I describe above is akin to the other form of nationalism, the proto-fascist type, where a preconceived notion of a nation is perpetuated to justify certain oppressive conditions such as war abroad, racist policy at home, and the general destruction of civil liberties in the name of “national security.” The good forms of both “the human condition” and “nationalism” derive from the individual and shared experiences of human beings and in so doing preserve both individuality and community consciousness; the bad forms of “the human condition” and “nationalism” are manufactured and sold by authority figures (the media, and the state, respectively), and attempt to repress these tendencies.}

“True artists” who hope to change the artistic landscape are lost within this cultural dynamic, where art must fulfill some perceived human need—possess some use-value—just like any other commodity. And these artists are tricked into using conventional means of expression—writing, painting, drawing, filmmaking, photography, sculpture, music, dance, et cetera—to try to “change the world,” when in reality the last thing people want—and will pay money for—is to have their world changed. On the whole, they want their world reinforced, recognized, “related to.” And these “true artists” grow frustrated with themselves and believe themselves a failure, as I did and do.

The alienation of the true artists who seek to change the world with art results in the state of art under capitalism whereby, to paraphrase Adorno, the media, the press, and the other instruments and venues of communication—by which the arts are proliferated and made “successful”—are indeed just another business, which is used as justification for the “commercial” rubbish they deliberately produce. Anyone aiming to disassemble, deplete, or destroy the current social order—i.e. to “change the world”—has no hope of doing so in the popular arts if fame (i.e. mass recognition) and a decent paycheck are to be the ends. Foreseeing “failure” as an artist results in art being forsaken as a career and replaced with a dayjob or something peripheral to the arts themselves, e.g. a writer becomes a book editor, a painter becomes a gallery manager, a filmmaker becomes a camera operator, a dancer becomes a dance teacher, and so on. And the arts stay more or less the same, more “true artists” being born every day, who perceive that the world needs to be changed, and who will try to do it with artistic weapons that remain perpetually pointed at themselves, having been engineered that way.

The solution, then, is not for artists to withdraw into the world of feelings, but to learn about and attack those attributes of the world that make it in need of change, and to do so with all means at our disposal: high arts, low arts, new arts, old arts. Movies, TV, radio, visual arts, music, dance, drama, and everything in between. Make art as I described above, completely devoid of any connection to “accepted” media that defies and rejects all demands of fulfilling human need, to the best of your ability. OR, use conventional means, and specifically cultivate humanity’s unmet need to do something, to fight for good. Use that as the cardinal need that your work fulfills. Depict the world alternatively as it is—unjust, war torn, in the midst of inexorable change—and as it should be. Choose a target and blast it out of the water as best you can, in the voice that is the target of YOUR target. Want to end racism, sexism, homophobia, oppression and consumerism? Learn about and try to speak in the voice of the oppressed, and empower others to do so (but don’t culturally appropriate or resort to stereotypes. That’s bad). Don’t do it for money, don’t do it to be loved by everyone (but expect appreciation from the people you give voice to, assuming you do it well); do it because the world needs it. It doesn’t need you; it needs change. That is the role of the arts: not the celebration of the individual genius and the successful commoditization of her art, but of our ability to recognize injustice and attack it, and to validate people’s need to attack it also.

Be Somebody!

Movies, TV shows, and popular music all inspire us to want to “be somebody,” but in order to “be somebody” on that scale—in order to be a fast-talking Austin Powers government spy, Jack Bauer-type cop agent, or Beck/Bjork-style rock star—we have to accept society as it is and become its agent, an agent of society as it is, of the status quo. We must reflect its values, whitewash its failings, and invigorate its masses with more of the same.

To suggest that fighting comedic villains, countering “terrorism,” or acting cool and artsy is not enough for a public cultural figure to do, and rather she should be protesting some unjust aspect of society, is to expose oneself to criticisms like, “not EVERYTHING needs to be about politics!” The implication of this critique is that the figure in question would not herself be famous if she fixated on political issues or opined openly about injustice. Rather, she must remain focused on the key issues that drive sales: love, conquering bad guys, and “carrying on” in the face of how tough life is.

Life is tough, no questions there. But is it enough for artists to tell people to just put their heads down and power through it—look for love, hope for wealth and prosperity, and “fuck b****es”—rather than to try to spread some awareness of how things became “tough”? Once in a blue moon, in an Oscar acceptance speech for example, a famous person of color will speak openly about the struggles that she faced on her way to success. Yet, she works for the American film industry, the greatest propaganda machine in the world, that gave us Mickey Rooney’s character in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” countless African-American and Native American stereotypes, “sissy” targets of homophobic ridicule, evil Arabs in “Aladdin,” “Rules of Engagement,” and “True Lies,” racist whitewashing in “The Help,” religious fundamentalism in “Passion of the Christ,” consent-manufacturing for war “Casablanca” and “Hunt for Red October,” violence against women in countless action movies, and innumerable other messages and agendas that pertain to the reason an African-American winning an Oscar in America is such a triumph and such an innovation.

Is it, then, the purpose of “being somebody,” once one reaches a place of cultural influence, to *then* point out the inequities of that culture in such a way as to affect them? So let me get this straight: I’m supposed to use any and all connections with agents, friends-of-friends, and behind-the-scenes folks I can conjure in order to break into showbiz, to start in TV commercials or soap operas or jingles or to appear on commercial radio, to create a publicity blitz among press connections big and small, to pay a horde of people—agents, recording engineers, publicists, plastic surgeons, photographers, personal trainers, relaxation experts, clothing retail outlets, et cetera—a lot of money, and attract and maintain lucrative contracts from studios and record companies, ONLY to eventually come out and say that all of those mechanisms of achieving success are corrupt and morally bankrupt? If I’m going to do that and be cast out of the conformist inner circle, then what was all the work for? You can’t essentially model yourself after the oppressors if you hope to overthrow them.

Granted, if all famous people did it, things might change. But the stakes on achieving success on the scale of a Russell Brand (who is not exactly Tom Cruise in terms of household nameyness) are too great to expect people who have ultimately benefited greatly from that system to publicly come out against it. “I worked TOO LONG and TOO HARD to say that what I did either took TOO LONG or was TOO HARD!” If it was easy for the individual to possess a voice with the power of Hollywood, no one would do it. But that would mean something much bigger. In such a society, people would possess the power to be heard and affect culture without the billions of dollars that fund Hollywood and showbiz in general. The means of mass communication would be controlled, not by “the mass media,” but by the people. Everyone could “be somebody,” by virtue of being part of a society that values everybody, not just those who allow the system to suck them dry.

Since the way one lives is defined in large part by one’s governmental system, it follows that the presence of government is in every expression of how one lives. What one can do or is not allowed to do is demonstrated in actions such as walking in public, sleeping soundly at night, ordering something online, going to a restaurant, and giving money to charity. The more one defines one’s way of living by means that conform to the prevalent governmental system, the greater is the government aware of how a person lives. Freedoms under a certain form of government, therefore, serve the purpose of shaping the lifestyles of those who live under that government, and the purpose of those lifestyles is to inform the government which freedoms those who live under it choose to utilize.

The freedoms, and the corresponding expression to which they are put to use, allow the government to know how people are living, and it is the choices of government that inform those lifestyles: whether they are introduced or discontinued, narrowed or expanded. So the more freedoms we are allowed, the fewer forms of authentic revolt (i.e. freedom against authority) exist. Or rather, the way that freedoms are allowed is to limit and calculate the power of the individual or group to self-determine, outside of accepted norms of freedom.

Put yet another way, when freedom is “allowed,” it is inauthenticated.

For example, we are allowed the freedoms to marry, to work, and to be secure from harm. However, if we choose to exercise our freedom to marry outside of government’s definition of marriage, to set our own terms for our work, or to secure ourselves from harm by way of self-defense measures, certain elements of these “unconventional” lifestyle choices inform the government that we are attempting to self-determine the ways in which these freedoms are manifested. By extension, a lack of unconventionality (a subjective term, of course) in our choices informs the government that we accept the definitions of freedom that have been presented to us.

In effect, this acceptance constitutes acceptance of the entire governmental system. By contrast, those who take issue with marriage laws, labor laws, and gun laws are often at variance with one or another fundamental way that that entire government functions, whether they are aware of it or not. In a democracy, they are against the attitudes of those political demographics that contradict their beliefs. Those who make no distinction between bourgeois and proletarian democracy conceptualize democracy’s main failing as that element of it that allows for a plurality of voices. Those who DO make that distinction will blame their grievance on the failings of whatever group controls the democracy: bourgeoisie or proletariat.

In a totalitarian state as opposed to a democratic one, such unconventional folks as described above are against the individuals who shape public policy; therefore they resent the concept of a government based on a tiny group that controls the freedoms of an entire population. Apt propaganda models necessary for the maintenance of that totalitarian state may succeed in redirecting that individual’s resentment toward herself and at her desire for change, sometimes manifested in the promotion of victim-blaming that characterizes highly hierarchical societies, along with a “that’s just the way it is” and a “strength is acceptance” mentality. That is part of this subject, but worthy of entirely separate discussion.

In a hybrid of democratic and totalitarian, unconventional folks are against both the majority and individuals “at the top.” They are in one way or another against the demographics who accept the state as it is, who assent to it, and who continue to democratically return it to power. And, they are against the small group of individuals who control the government, from within and/or from without.

The demographics who assent to it, however, are always of greater number and constitute “the majority,” otherwise, the system of government as it is or the contentious tenets of it would come to an end. Assent and acceptance manifests itself in every prevailing function of that society: cost and price, culture, work schedules, tax rates, legal systems, social services, labor laws, regulations, education systems, public transportation systems, prison systems, defense spending, all forms of legislation, et cetera. That is to say, if a bus runs late, a prison is overfilled, or a war is being fought abroad, it is because the majority of the population has consented to it or allowed it to reach its current state of function or malfunction. And the voluntary use of any function of that society–as part of one’s lifestyle–represents tacit endorsement of that function.

This applies to elements of society at every level of functionality. Societal elements functioning at a high level, such as America’s system of obtaining lines of credit, its friendliness to business big and small, and its preponderance of low-cost luxury goods, possess an equal level of public consent as those societal elements that function at a low level, such as its “broken” healthcare system, debt-ridden public education system, and police-instigated violence. Efforts to legally reform these elements are welcomed as exercises in democracy; however, attempting to correct these issues in unconventional ways–for example, practicing lay medicine, self-educating or providing education for free, or forming a people’s police force “to police the police”–are widely seen as invalid means of correcting the problem. In fact, they are often viewed as self-serving and counterproductive by those who hold the actions of politicians, not the actions of the people (beyond voting), as the deciding force in the formation of society itself.

The freedoms, then, are aimed at those segments of society that fully accept the governmental system. Altering, expanding, or self-determining freedom (including but not limited to a criminal sense) constitutes rejection of the system. That is the purpose of these freedoms and their use: to demonstrate to what extent each individual consents to her governmental system, and to what extent she disagrees with it, based on her use of them and on which freedoms she uses without compromising either the letter or spirit of their legality.

Those with limited access to freedoms, therefore, are immediately assumed to be less consenting to the governmental system because they use fewer of its freedoms. In truth, some element of “against society-ness” is intrinsic to a person’s ability to take advantage of the benefits of that society. Put in plain English, if a person cannot enjoy the freedoms of a society, that person is against it, either consciously or unconsciously. And the society is against that person. To use a controversial example, a transgender woman of color who lacks the social resources and personal security seemingly reserved for a cisgender white male will necessarily be against those aspects of the society (laws, prejudices, cultural artifacts, et cetera) that create the conditions in which she is deprived of those resources and security.

To draw on our totalitarian example above, it falls on the shoulders of the government to create the ideological conditions by which she blames herself rather than her governmental system. By this means, it can maintain both her inability to access freedom (because it is never demanded) and her status as an aberration or “other” within “mainstream” society.

In countries with absent, inefficient, or in-transition governments, the way people live is determined by the prevalent conflicts of the time. Inaccessibility to public services informs the individual’s “decision” to tighten her financial belt, while street violence in the midst of armed conflict informs her “decision” to keep her children home from school. In this way, it is the form of government (a government of austerity, or a lack of government entirely) that defines (read: controls) her lifestyle choices.

Armed conflict is the conflict between two groups or forces of the populace, whether advocating for the liberation of one segment of society or death to another (Left-wing or Right-wing). Both sides believe “their way” (which is really the way of the leaders and firstly of the ideology itself) is better and more just, or will lead to more power, influence, and personal security, or a confluence of these two motivating factors.

To get back to our original idea: to notice what’s not there is to feel aware of the presence of government in a purchase, an object, a decision, a piece of culture, an outlook, an alliance, a prejudice, or a hope/despair–in a freedom–and though that presence can’t be proven or seen to be an objective force, to know that it wouldn’t have been made or exist without the influence and contrivances of government, and that the government knows about it because if couldn’t know about it, it would not allow it.

As a hermeneutic device, this noticing provides us with the ability to identify by counterexample those aspects of our ideas, possessions, and behaviors that are self-manifested and that challenge the intended definitions of freedom, constituting a self-manifested freedom, existing outside the view of the government, until the noun reaches that point when no governmental presence can be noticed by looking at it or experiencing it. And then we will know we have a true freedom transcending all possible rules of allowance by any governmental system or any aspiring one. We must be ready to defend it immediately from the government and its civilian agents, whatever its form or forum, for it is at this point that the communication runs in the opposite direction, and in the direction it must run: instead of the government dictating to us the ways in which we can live our lives to the end, WE will be dictating to THEM the manner in which their rule will come to an end. The only type of freedom that can destroy both the totalitarian oligarchy and the chokehold of manufactured majoritarian consent and create the world we want—where the purpose of government is to protect our ability to self-manifest our freedoms and concomitant lifestyles—is that which is not an allowance on the part of the government, but a demand on the part of the people for freedoms that are their own ends, not means by which to control us, unnoticed.

But, you say, they’ll just go to another country. Well, the answer is not simple at all, but it is an answer (unsettlingly bordering quite close to ideology): we must work to foment socialist revolutions in the wealthiest countries, and to eradicate the profitability of exploitation the world over. Additionally, all tax havens will be encouraged–later urged, and finally coerced–to stop providing methods of tax avoidance to the rich, in exchange for continuing to maintain the presence of our onshore investment in their country. So that instead of profiting from American rich people not paying taxes, we can both mutually benefit, since all foreign investment will, at this point, be nationalized.
Okay, I’m still working out that last part.