Second after second.
Minute after minute.
Hour after hour.
Day after day.
Week after week.
Month after month.
Year after year.
At some point, it started to creep up on me. Not my age; age can be managed, can be minimized, can be utilized, alchemized into progress and experience and skill. And not the accelerating passage of the time itself, either; that, too, can be managed and mitigated and used. No, it’s something else, something nebulous and elusive and insidious that I’ve had trouble nailing down, putting the screws on, forcing up against the wall and feeling its heat against me, despite my overabundance of time for reflection and retrospection and rumination. And perhaps I’m late to the game here, and total awareness of this something is saturated and longstanding and blindingly obvious, and that my age-old friendly foes of isolation and seclusion and dissociation have banded together yet again to get the better of me and have me get bent over the table by yet another abrupt and nakedly horrible realization that’d make even a broken Lovecraftian hero proud, but… I just can’t anymore. I have to get this out of me, to sate for a time the dissatisfied and writhing and voracious tangle of darkness thrashing its tail to and fro as it glares with its gleaming phosphorescent eyes up at me out of my subconscious, even if this never amounts to anything more than me talking to myself like usual.
It’s all the same.
It’s all been commodified, all broken down into its atomic parts with remarkable and frightening and nauseating exactitude, all bottled and homogenized and pasteurized and conspicuously free of artificial growth hormones. For a while, I could laugh at it with a degree of genuine mirth, thinking assuredly to myself that this phenomenon was limited only to simple things like clothes and cars and foods, a harmless symptom of short-term capitalist profiteering to be snickered at through such beloved pastimes as replacing an “s” in the company’s name with a dollar sign. But then it evolved, or some bright and cunning and well-connected marketer had a breakthrough, or time blurred past me faster than I noticed in my dissociative haze, and suddenly this hyper-reductionist frenzy had metastasized into television and movies and music, had cornered and pinned and fucked the bigger traditional cultural fixtures as well, such as they are. Still, I could laugh, if colder and derisive and dry, and laugh I did with vanishing enthusiasm as it spread further and further and further, until my warm puddle of mirth, evaporating as it was under the fierce, unblinking eye of my burgeoning awareness, ran dry.
There was, of course, a tipping point.
The exact moment where it happened, where the curve turned exponential, where this metastasis went from mailing me letters to knocking on my window to sliding its slick tendrils up and down and all across my body is all but impossible to place for sure, as it is with all cultural upheavals of this magnitude, and perhaps it is likewise ultimately irrelevant. Still, I... when this philosophy of atomization became the fundamental founding principle of the next generation of social media; and when said new social media dealt a powerful and resounding and crippling blow to the deflowered traditional cultural fixtures, and in so doing dethroned them; and when the conflux of pocket-sized internet-enabled technology spreading like wildfire, the steady withering and bleed-out of familial face-to-face communities, and the digitization of nearly all major and popular forms of consumer content came together and crystallized within this new social media, it all went to hell.
Granted, there’s more to it than just that.
There’s always more to it, always another overlapping layer of cause and effect, always a fractal chaos growing off of the edges and within the holes, not that any of that shit is ever taken into due consideration. That is, even the greatest minds of our generation, gently kissed on the forehead and lovingly tucked in within the talent pools and industry disruption and bottomless venture capital funding of golden age Silicon Valley, couldn’t possibly hope to create a virtual social platform that would fulfill all of the same unseen and unstated and unappreciated psychological and sociological roles that actual physical communities did, couldn’t possibly hope to predict that mass anonymization and mass social atomization and mass digital media (or a distrust thereof, specifically, whether political or otherwise) would terrifically magnify the worst aspects of humanity and make everyone miserable along the way. Then again, who could?
The damage, however, is already done.
The next generation of humanity, reared and shaped and groomed by the aforesaid next generation of social media in the absence of their beleaguered parents who were outwitted and outmaneuvered and outlasted by the unstoppable contagion of hyper-reductionist commodification that left not even the ideals and sociology of the atomic family unmarred, has come of age. The awful machine, in a very real sense, has taken on a life of its own; has become self-sustaining as those who were steeped in it have, more than ever before, become the hands that feed it and promote it and power it; has blossomed into a great towering cancerous Rafflesia that none of its countless nameless faceless mothers and fathers would ever have imagined possible in even the most lurid and bizarre of their nightmares.
Very nearly everything has been stripped clean of its humanity.
No longer does politics entertain even a shallow facsimile of thoughtful dialogue on long-term public policy, having fully eschewed its long-estranged etymological brother alongside the concepts of camaraderie and cooperation and careful deliberation. No, now each election is a transaction, wherein a typical buyer of any political stripe believes they have been stiffed of the services they purchased should they not receive all of the changes they demanded from those empowered within a single term, howsoever drastic and impractical and myopic said changes may be.
No longer does education carry a pretense of nurturing and enriching the bodies and minds and intellects of the students who are entrusted to it, having disavowed its founding tenets in its priorities and actions if not yet in its words. No, now it stands as a wretched hybrid of daycare and obligatory occupational training, wherein the buyer can rest assured that their child will be kept out of trouble and made to pass all of the required standardized tests—or that the buyer, in exchange for heaping piles of borrowed money far in excess of their net worth, will receive all the skills and qualifications necessary to compete in the increasingly competitive job market of today—and wherein the fault for any failures of the child to perform or the degree to employ lies solely at the feet of the educators.
No longer are artistic projects the noble and profound and insightful endeavors they profess themselves to be, having all but abandoned their lofty ambitions of standing tall as a testament to the powers of emotional expression and human passion and creative industry. No, now all that remains of it is a specter of the creative industry, but with its meaning cruelly twisted, rendered instead into industrialized creativity: The artistic commodity is born not of passion or vented spleen, but of cold calculation and careful analysis; its merit measured not by its beauty or evocativeness, but by its profitability or user engagement; its objective not to question or to challenge, but to fill seats and to force upward a numeric counter of one kind or another.
No longer are the outwardly-visible hallmarks of adulthood and coming of age any reliable indicator of an individual’s actual physical or financial or social maturity, having been made all but obsolete by the omnipresence of credit. No, they’ve been institutionalized and ritualized and stereotyped almost beyond all meaning and recognition, leaving behind only the porous skeleton of what was once enshrined as the one true dream that all could attain, a series of hoops through which to jump and on which to spend lavishly (affordability be damned!) and which all must be painstakingly documented in the public eye, lest they fall short of the illusory successes of their peers.
No longer does organized religion serve as the last stronghold of faith and purity and holiness it purports to be, its leaders having lost sight of its guiding light amid the endless roiling tides of sectarian conflict and the thick intoxicating fog of scientific reductionism. No, now its messages of hope and grace and love, even when not being transparently and blasphemously and enthusiastically defiled by clergymen and practitioners and nonbelievers in turn, are drowned amid a cacophony of literalism and projection and self-righteousness, both shepherd and sheep alike now blind to the bliss of salvation out of fear of the agony of damnation.
And least of all is science—along with its ill-begotten child technology, whose bloodied hands are even now clutched tightly around my throat—the beacon of light and knowledge and progress that its more zealous adherents would claim, having long since had its belly clawed open and its entrails slurped up greedily by those hailed as its greatest proponents. No, the willingness of those working in its name to prostitute themselves and offer up statistical lies with a veneer of legitimacy for deep-pocketed buyers has now irremediably tarnished it, so that science now sparks unease and distrust and contempt among many who might otherwise have been saved by it; and the vile stitching-together of technology with psychology and marketing and social engineering into systems that warp human beings into reliable sources of purchases and clicks and votes and little else is, in all likelihood, the proverbial genetic mutation that kicked off the metastatic firestorm that’s now having its way with every last one of us.
We can’t do anything about it.
Perhaps it’s selfish to write such a long and frustrated and vitriolic essay attacking the dry rot of oversimplification in so many darling institutions directly and so many others indirectly, only to pronounce in the end that no solution is available, not even one that’s unrealistic yet theoretically possible. Then again, at no point did I claim or even imagine that this polemic would change anything. I’m writing this because I have to; because I’m trapped in this dying place, desperately struggling for air as the atmospheric pressure plummets; because I can’t bring myself to sit quietly anymore as everywhere and everything and everyone gaslights me time and time and time again that it’s all still okay, that I’m exaggerating or being elitist, that it’s not that bad, that these monstrous things sewn together and animated with lightning are and always have been good and important and fulfilling. No matter how tenderly they whisper it all into my ear, ever so lightly running their fingers up and down my spine, I can’t bring myself to believe them, can’t ignore the dark churning waters of disgust and revulsion and dissatisfaction welling up out of my subconscious and swirling around my ankles, my knees, my waist now.
There’s still some meaning left, though.
For a time, I had nothing more than my resolution to work alone on particular personal projects, to strive to bring something meaningful and substantial and alive into my tiny crevasse of the world at least by my own hand, no matter how much further inflamed my isolation might become from turning my once-incidental straying from the well-trodden path into a deliberate perpendicular stride. Then, to my surprise and delight and relief, I slowly began to find others like me, others bringing forth creations outside of the machinations of the awful hyper-reductionist Rafflesia, others working not for profit or popularity or prizes but from passion, from inspiration, from love. These oddball creators and their murky outsider art fill me with hope, far more so than anything else I’ve come across to date. And with that in mind, here’s my parting message to you, to whomever has entertained this dismal tirade long enough to reach its conclusion:
That restless muttering in the back of your head that you normally snuff out?
That smoldering question of if there’s more to life than just this endless hollow routine?
That itch to tear your way out of the filmy skin of stagnation and repression and emptiness that grows ever thicker around you second by second by second so long as you sit idle?
Scratch it until you draw blood, until your fingernails are torn from your hands, until you’ve dug so deep that the light from above grows too faint to see, until you lose all sense of direction and all sense of self other than reaching the very root of that itch.
And when you get there, feel free to let me know, as I’d love to hear all about it.
I’ll be waiting.