Tuesday, October 4, 2011

the resentment machine

Note: the post appears, in a somewhat updated form, at The New Inquiry.

The popular adoption of the Internet brought with it great changes. Communication, commerce, media, and government had already each been impacted by the earlier Internet and proto-Internet technologies that were developed as early as the 1960s. But these were truly transformed, often quite radically and in relatively short order, following the broadening of access and sudden media attention of the mid-1990s.

Many of these changes-- reported accurately, greatly exaggerated, or outright invented-- have been recounted by those who have embraced the Internet most fully. One of the peculiar aspects of this particular technological revolution is that it has been historicized in real time. In a strange type of autoethnography, those most taken with the popular Internet of the late 90's and early 2000's spent a considerable amount of their time online talking about what it meant that they were online. As impressive as the various changes wrought by the exponential growth of Internet users were, they never seemed quite impressive enough for those who trumpeted them. In straightforwardly self-aggrandizing narratives, the most dedicated and involved Internet users began crafting a pocket mythology of the new reality. Rather than regarding themselves as consumers of a unique set of interesting and productive technologies, the most dedicated Internet users spoke instead of revolution. Vast, life altering consequences were predicted for these rising technologies. In much the same way that those speaking about the importance of New York are often actually speaking about the importance of themselves, so those who crafted the oral history of the Internet were often really talking about their own revolutionary potential. Not that this was without benefits; self-obsession became a vehicle for an intricate literature on emergent online technology.

Yet for all of the endless consideration of the rise of the digitally connected human species, the sociology in real time that has documented and dissected every minute evolution of the Web, one of the most important aspects of Internet culture has gone almost entirely unnoticed.

The Internet has provided tremendous functionality in a variety of contexts. But for a comparatively small but vastly influential group of its most dedicated users, its most important feature, the killer app, is its power as an all purpose sorting mechanism, one that separates the worthy from the unworthy-- and, in doing so, gives some meager semblance of purpose to generations whose lives are largely defined by purposelessness. For the post-collegiate, culturally savvy taste makers who exert such disproportionate influence on the Internet as it is experienced, the online world is above and beyond all else a resentment machine.

The vehicle of modern American achievement  prepares thousands of upwardly mobile young strivers for everything but the life they will actually encounter. The endlessly grinding wheel of American "success" indoctrinates a competitive vision in our young people that most of them never seem to escape. The numbing and frenetic socioacademic sorting mechanism compels most of the best and the brightest adolescents in our middle and upper class to compete for various laurels from puberty to adulthood. Every aspect of young adult life is transformed into a status game, as academics, athletics, music and the arts, travel, hobbies, and philanthropy are all reduced to fodder for college applications. This instrumentalizing of all of the best things in life teach teenagers the unmistakable lesson that nothing is to be enjoyed, nothing experienced purely, but rather that each and every part of human life is ultimately fodder for what is less human. The eventual eats the immediate. No achievement, no effort, no relationship is to exist as an end itself. Each must be ground into chum to attract those who confer status and success. As has been documented endlessly, this process starts earlier and earlier. Far less attention has been paid to what comes next.

It is of course possible to keep running on the wheel indefinitely. There are those professions (think: finance) that extend the status contests of childhood and adolescence into the gray years, and to one degree or the other, most people play some version for most of their lives. But for a large chunk of the striving class, this kind of naked careerism and straightforward neediness won't do. They have been raised to compete, and endlessly conditioned to measure themselves against their peers, but they have done so in an environment that denies this reality while it creates it. Many of them were raised by self-consciously creative parents who wished for children who were similarly creative in ethos if not in production. These parents operated in a context that told them to nurture beautiful unique butterflies while simultaneously reminding them, in that incessant subconscious way that is the secret strength of capitalism, that their job as parents is to raise their children to win.

It is no surprise that the urge to rear winners trumps the urge to raise artists. But the nagging drive to preach the value of culture does not go unnoticed. The urge to create, and to live with an aesthetic sense, is admirable, and if inculcated genuinely-- which is to say, in defiant opposition to the competitive urge, rather than as an uneasy partner to it-- this romantic artistic vision of life remains the best hope for humanity against the deadening drift of late capitalism. In the context in which this cheery and false vision of the artistic life is actually experienced, self-conscious creativity becomes sublimated into the competitive project and becomes twisted. Those raised with such contradictory impulses are left unable to contemplate the stocks and suspenders lifestyle that is the purest manifestation of the competitive instinct, but they are equally unable to cast off the social climbing aspirations that this lifestyle represents. They are trapped between their rejection of the means and an unchosen but deep hunger for the ends.

Momentum can be a cruel thing. High school culminates in college acceptance. This temporary victory can often be hollow, but the fast pace of life quickly leads that emptiness in the dust. Students at college enjoy a variety of tools to manage the competitive urge. Some find, in the exclusive activities, clubs, and societies of elite colleges, an acceptable proxy for high school competition. Some attack collegiate academics with the zeal that they once applied to high school. Some pursue medical school, law school, an MBA, or (for the truly damned) a Phd. Most dull the urge by persisting in a four or five year fugue of alcohol, friendship, and rarefied living. But all that survive eventually emerge from college and find a disordered world.

As dehumanizing and vulgar as the high school glass bead game is, it certainly provides to adolescents a kind of order. That the system is inherently biased and riotously unfair is ultimately besides the point. In the many explicit ways in which high school students are ranked emerges a broad consensus: there is an order to life, that order indicates value, and there are winners and losers. The end of college brings an end to that order, and for many, this is bewildering. Educated but broadly ignorant of suffering, scattershot in their passions, possessed of verbal dexterity but bereft of the experience that might give their words meaning, 20-something culture bunnies wander into a world that is supposed to be made for them and find it inhospitable. Without the rigid ordering that grades, class rank, leadership and office provide, the incessant and unnamed urge to compete cannot be easily addressed. The vague cultural liberalism that surrounds their lives like a haze makes the careers that promise similar sorting unpalatable. The economic resentment and petty greed that they have had bred into them by the sputtering machine of American capitalism makes lower class life unthinkable.

Driven by the primacy of the competitive urge, and convinced that they need far more material goods than they do to live a comfortable life, they get jobs. Most of them will find some gainful employment without great difficulty. Perhaps this is changing, as the tires on the Trans Am that is America go bald, and the entitlement that attends their horror at a poor job market tells you more than anything, but the numbers indicate that most still find their way into jobs that become careers. Many or most will have periods of arty unemployed urbanism, but after awhile the gremlin begins whispering "you are a loser," and suddenly, they're placing that call to Joel from Sociology 205 who's got that connection at that office. Often, these office jobs will enjoy the cover of orbiting in some vaguely creative endeavor like advertising. One way or the other, these jobs become careers in the loaded sense. In these careers, the find themselves in precisely the position that they long insisted they would never contemplate.

The competitive urge still pulses. It has to; the culture in which they have been raised has denied them any other framework with which to draw meaning. The world has assimilated the rejection of religion, tradition, and other determinants of virtue that attended the 1960s and wedded it to a vicious contempt for the political commitments that replaced them in that context. Culture convinces our young adults, or rather preempts the kind of conscious understanding that attends to conviction, that all traditional designations of meaning are uncool. If straightforward discussion of virtue and righteousness is socially unpalatable, straightforward political engagement is worse still. Pushed by an advertising industry that embraces tropes of meaning just long enough to render them meaningless (Budweiser clydesdales saluting fallen towers), and buffeted by arbiters of hipness that declare any unapologetic embrace of political ideology horribly cliche, a fussy specificity envelops every definition of the self. Conventional accounts of the kids these days revert to tired tropes about disaffection and irony. The reality is sadder: they are not passionless but rather have invested their passion in a shared cultural knowledge that denies the value of any other endeavor worthy of personal investment.

Without the traditional tools with which the self is defined, they turn towards the technology that they have been assured holds the key to all futures.

Where else would people who believe in the artistry of their young lives but lack the ability to create turn but the Internet? There have been many brilliant and despicable turns by the anonymous architects of late capitalism, but none is more effective or pernicious than the rise of the self-as-consumer. Contemporary strivers lack the tools through which people in the past have differentiated themselves from their peers: they live in a post-virtue, post-religion, post-aristocracy age; they lack the skills or inspiration to create something of genuine worth; they have been conditioned to find all but the most conventional and compromised politics worthy of contempt; they even are denied the cold comfort of identification with career, as they cope with the deadening tedium and meaninglessness of work by calling attention to it over and over again, as if acknowledging it somehow elevates them above it.

Into this vacuum comes a relief that is profoundly rational in context: the self as consumer and critic.

Part of the cruel genius of capitalism lies in its ability to make all activity within it seem natural and inevitable. What we describe as "consumption" can be seen from orbit as an incredibly complicated interchange, created by elite institutions, enforced quite literally with the threat of violence, propped up by states and coercive governments, and generally as far from a state of nature as is possible. Yet the steady accumulation of monetary exchanges over the course of life conditions each of us to see consumption as an inextricable part of our being.

Given the emptiness of the material conditions of their lives, the formerly manic competitors must come to invest the cultural goods they consume with great meaning. Meaning must be made somewhere; no one will countenance standing for nothing. So the poor proxy of media and cultural consumption comes to define the individual. In many ways, cultural products such as movies, music, clothes, and media are the perfect vehicle for the endless division of people into strata of knowingness, savvy, and cultural value. These cultural products have no quantifiable values, yet their relative value is fiercely debated as if some such quantifiable understanding could be reached. They are easily mined for ancillary content, the TV recaps and record reviews and endless fulminating in comments and forums that spread like weeds. (Does anyone who watches Mad Men-- I'm a fan-- not blog about it?) They are bound up with celebrity, both real and petty. They can inspire and so trick us into believing that our reactions are similarly worthy of inspiration. And they are complex and varied enough that there is always more to know and more rarefied territory to reach, the better to climb the ladder one rung higher than the person the next desk over.

There is a problem, though. The value-through-what-is-consumed is entirely illusory. There is no there there. This is what you can really learn about a person by understanding his or her cultural consumption, the movies, music, fashion, media, and assorted other socially inflected ephemera: nothing. Absolutely nothing. The Internet writ large is desperately invested in the idea that liking, say, the Wire says something of depth and importance about the liker, and certainly that the preference for this show to CSI tells everything. Likewise the Internet exists to perpetuate the idea that there is some meaningful difference between fans of this band or that, or Android and Apple, or that there is a Slate lifestyle and a This Recording lifestyle and one for Gawker or the Hairpin or wherever. Not a word of it is true. There are no Apple people. Buying an iPad does nothing to delineate you from anyone else. Nothing separates a Budweiser man from a microbrew guy. That our society insists that there are differences here is only our longest con.

This endless posturing, pregnant with anxiety and roiling with class resentment, ultimately pleases no one. There are a vast number of websites and blogs devoted to media, culture, and fashion. When was the last time that you read one and emerged refreshed by the joy and authenticity of expression that you encountered? How many pieces do you have to read before you accumulate the satisfaction necessary for a single genuine smile? Yet this emptiness doesn't compel people to turn away from the sorting mechanism. Instead, it seduces them into drawing further and further in.

This is why the resentment machine is concerned with resentment. The bitterness that surrounds these distinctions is a product of their inability to actually make us distinct. Nothing is so endlessly provoking to us as those who are most like us, and the reality is that there is little to separate the cultural signifiers of postcollegiate middle class upwardly-oriented-if-not-upwardly-mobile Americans. But, again, people feel there is nowhere else to turn, so they invest more and more of themselves in what they consume. Faced with the failure of their cultural affinities to define an authentic and fulfilling self, they double down on the importance of those affinities, and confront the continued failure with a formless resentment.

The savviest of the media and culture websites tap into this resentment as directly as they dare. They write endlessly about what is overrated. They assign specific and damning personality traits to the fan bases of unworthy cultural objects. They invite comments that tediously parse microscopic distinctions in cultural consumption. They engage in criticism as a kind of preemptive strike against those who actually create. They glamorize pettiness in aesthetic taste. The few artistic works they lionize are praised to the point of absurdity, as various acolytes try to outdo each other in hyperbole. They relentlessly push the central narrative that their readers crave, that consumption is achievement and that creators are to be distrusted and "put in their place." They deny the frequently sad but inescapable reality that consumption is not creation and that only the genuinely creative act can reveal the self.

This, then, is the role of the resentment machine: to amplify meaningless differences and assign to them vast importance for the quality of individuals. For those who are writing the most prominent parts of the Internet-- the bloggers, the trendsetters, the uber-Tweeters, the tastemakers, the linkers, the creators of memes and online norms-- online life is taking the place of the creation of the self, and doing so poorly.

This all sounds quite critical, I'm sure, and there is criticism to go around. But ultimately, this is a critique I include myself in, or nearly enough. More to the point, for this to approach real criticism I would have to offer an alternative to those trapped in the idea of the consumer as self. I haven't got one. Our system has relentlessly denied the role of any human practice that cannot be monetized. The capitalist apparatus has worked tirelessly to commercialize everything, to reduce every aspect of human life to currency exchange. In such a context, there is no hope for the survival of the fully realized self.

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't like Nick Denton either!

jcapan said...

"Our system has relentlessly denied the role of any human practice that cannot be monetized. The capitalist apparatus has worked tirelessly to commercialize everything, to reduce every aspect of human life to currency exchange. In such a context, there is no hope for the survival of the fully realized self."

... or the species I would add. The alternative is/must be to blow up the apparatus and begin anew.

And I disagree--this is valuable criticism with/out solutions.

Rob said...

*genuinely smiles*

Ethan Gach said...

Excellent.

You've articulated my own sentiments and empty feelings perfectly.

For me this intersects with patten oswald's comments on how the internet threatens creativity as well as capitalism's recent failures (the past 3 to 4 decades) and the fracturing of communities and meaningful human relationships.

Anonymous said...

Damn, Freddie, this is really well-done, a distillation of some of the most important phenomena you've grappled with in this space. Keep up the good work. This stuff needs to be discussed in order to clear enough space for something different. Thanks. --Patrick

Paul said...

Brilliant. Thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

This piece is the rarity. Time well spent on the Internet. It leaves a lasting impression, and an urge to consider, rather than a snarky agreement with a predigested assumption. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

It seems like this sentiment is everywhere lately. It's as if for decades everyone knew, "Yeah, this is all bullshit", and now (for whatever reason) people are like, "Wait, this is all bullshit."

What's amazing is that it's coming from all over the place. Freddie's post could have been a Louis C.K. rant or a Rod Dreher article. It really does feel like something is happening.

Anonymous said...

You'd be amazed how much of this bullshit goes away when you have kids.

Greg Sanders said...

I saw much of myself in this as well as struggles I've faced after college.

However, I think that popular consumer engagement with cultural products, fandom for my purposes, offers an opportunity for depth that you are overlooking.

Art can tell us about our lives and the world around us. The internet does not assist us in the solitary contemplation of such art, but it helps us find others for conversation, argument, debate. Two people that share the cultural frame of the Wire have a set of common references available to talk about the 'war on drugs', one that might not be available otherwise. I personally tend to like doing political critiques of work, but I'd be the first to admit that there's multiple other frames of criticism that can enrich the lives and community of those that have consumed the same material.

I think by a certain age, hopefully well before 30, many people are done fighting about Star Trek versus Star Wars or the like. Subjective tastes are acknowledged and instead sorting criticism is used to help find new sources of art to experience collectively or individually. Constructive criticism of faltering art, even if unheard by creators, can damage good works but can also clear out dross that denies us room to discover new material or merely material that is new to us.

I'll fully acknowledge that this is a Pollyanna argument. I make no claim that such deep readings are the majority of internet criticism. However, I think there is a beneficial reality there and options for revealing self through mechanisms other than the creative act.

We live in a world of 6 billion people with any number of prior occupants and via mass-media and the internet we can actually see a fair amount of the production of other people. Genuinely original creative acts again throw us into competition and are a hurdle most of us will rarely if ever overcome. But that does not mean we cannot gain knowledge of self and knowledge of the world and use that wisdom to make better choices. By those choices we will thus reveal ourselves even if our only audience is our friends, loved ones, and immediate community. That's not a bold act of artistic creation but I believe it is an act worthy of respect.

Naive arguments about the potential positive power of fandom aside, by my own criteria, your argument succeeded admirably in helping me better understand myself and this world. Thank you for putting in the ample thought that underlies it.

Adam Ozimek said...

Freddie,

Are you sure it's not just you? I don't know that I'd use the exact phrase, but I "emerge refreshed by the joy and authenticity of expression" of things I read on the internet. Such things make me smile all the time.

To judge by your writing, what you read and react to on the internet frequently makes you angry and bitter. For sure, the internet has some of that for all of us, but a lot of what I read has the complete opposite effect. Do you not have that positive reaction often or ever?

You say "In such a context, there is no hope for the survival of the fully realized self." But what context would be necessary for the fully realized self to survive? Has it existed at other times in this country? What would you, in particular, need?

Adam Ozimek said...

Also, I really did enjoy the authenticity of expression in your piece, and in a lot of your work. It made me smile.

Freddie said...

Oh, my own fulfillment must, I'm afraid, remain private. Or lack thereof, I suppose.

Adam Ozimek said...

Well at least tell us about when there was hope for the survival of the fully realized self. Is the lack of this hope about the internet and our time and place, or is this always and forever the human state?

Freddie said...

I believe that there is hope, yes, but I also think that much of the elements of contemporary life that we feel like we need are impediments. The Internet itself is value neutral. The Internet as practiced, for the sliver of use that I'm describing, strikes me as an instrument that trades short term entertainment or interest for a creeping cynicism. Sure, maybe I'm speaking only about myself. But I don't think I am. I think that people are spending more and more time online and are finding themselves at a greater and greater distance from the parts of their lives that are transcendent. But who knows?

Michael said...

So this post is obviously about Zucotti Park... Freddie doesn't like it much.

Freddie said...

OK, no joke-- I don't know what Zuccoti Park is.

Adam Ozimek said...

If "there is no hope for the survival of the fully realized self" in the current world, then is the sort of fulfilling life you're describing even possible?

The choice of how and where to live has never been greater for more people than it is now. If you can't point to some better way, then you're story isn't about what you call "late capitalism", or the internet, or the modern world, but the inevitable human condition.

Is this about people not choosing fulfillment, or fulfillment not being available?

You're piece is really interesting to me, but it leaves me with so many questions

Anonymous said...

The humanism on display here is touching. "The genuinely creative act..."? Good lord, what is that, I wonder.

ovaut said...

hope is a prophylactic against hopelessness, which is the conclusion we start with

jcapan said...

Freddie: “I think that people are spending more and more time online and are finding themselves at a greater and greater distance from the parts of their lives that are transcendent.”

Adam: “Is this about people not choosing fulfillment, or fulfillment not being available?”

While the online experience has clearly added to the distance—this is incontestable—I share Adam’s reaction as well. If our culture wasn’t already deeply sick, would we have embraced Web 2.0 to begin with? Would a healthy society, one not alienated from its better selves or lives of meaning—transcendent, spiritual, if you will—have sought out such an outlet? The web may or may not have filled the void in our souls, but the void surely pre-existed the web. And while our inability to find fulfillment, to use Adam’s term, didn’t begin in the mid-1990s, our search for meaning today seems to face more obstacles than ever.

Skye said...

I think you're spot-on about the status games that young people are channeled into. You are less clear on how the Internet is to blame for this. As a 29-year-old, I see all these problems of superficiality and false dichotomy in TV, film, even newspapers. The mass media of the 1980s was not renowned for its deep analyses of society.

sdrace said...

Interesting to read this relative to the James Atlas NYT Op Ed, Super People

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/02/opinion/sunday/meet-the-new-super-people.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all

Rob said...

Freddie, thanks for this piece. I hope to return to comment at more length if I have a chance, but I wanted to put up this link to a post on the Invisible Committee's "The Coming Insurrection" now in case I don't have a chance:

"The impossible quest for that ersatz authenticity is wearing us down. In the absence of sustaining, reciprocal, non-schematized relations with others, however, the self, as the Invisible Committee asserts, begins to break down: “The more I want to be me, the more I feel an emptiness. The more I express myself, the more I am drained. The more I run after myself, the more tired I get.” Even though consumerism reifies and exalts individuality, it is ultimately self-annihilating. Rather than losing ourselves in the flow of socially meaningful and useful activity, we are congealed in the aspic of our stultifying self-consciousness, replaying strategies of competitive selfhood, disguising ploys for attention as disinterested solicitude. The ceaseless cynicism is corrosive."

I honestly think this (both what you've written about and what the Invisible Committee was talking about, which I think is roughly the same thing, or at least at the root the same thing) links everything: Steve Jobs, Shenzhen, Occupy Wall Street, correlationism and object-oriented ontology, the dysfunction of the Senate, mediation, network culture.

Spencer Thomas said...

Excellent article. One thing I'd add is this: you can make art, and not be preoccupied with monetizing it. If people buy it, they buy it, and that's wonderful. If they don't, they don't, and that's OK. Nothing stops you from just making it, regardless of whether or not it transforms into numbers in your bank account's online dashboard.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Some interesting thought, but you could use a good editor.

Cut this post in half, drop the purple prose, and you actually might have something half descent here...

Neil said...

I agree with Adam that this has been around forever. I like this piece a lot but I like it because it is my exact feelings. I've never found these sort of sentiments (or any feelings I have, I suppose) to be universally true; plenty of my friends from college graduated, got jobs, read the internet, and are perfectly happy, and it's not just some BS false consciousness. The sort of ethos that fuels what you call "the resentment machine" has been around forever and will be around forever. Whenever I find myself writing something like this, I realize they've won; suddenly I'm writing constantly about how awful they are. I will never convince everyone that Gawker and Facebook are vile, so I just shut off my own computer and go for a walk.

nico said...

Thought this was somewhat interesting until it became the usual anti-capitalist tirade. Modern liberalism doesn't prevent you from creating, far from it; and our myriad sub-cultures, which consumption allows us to penetrate and which free us from the monolithic thought-control of the past, all invite you to step forward and make your mark on the world. And to say that they are somehow less "valid" or "fulfilling" (than what?) is at best arbitrary, and at worst insulting.

TGGP said...

I was confused as to how large a cohort Freddie was talking about. All college graduates? Or just a smaller fuzzier set that he identifies somewhat with?

Anonymous said...

It sounds like it's time to get away from the computer and start building stuff. Perhaps take music lessons instead of building your music collection? Ever been to Maker Faire?

Also, this rings false: "When was the last time that you read one and emerged refreshed by the joy and authenticity of expression that you encountered? How many pieces do you have to read before you accumulate the satisfaction necessary for a single genuine smile?" I'm not sure what you're reading, but TV and Internet culture actually seem pretty good at making people laugh, at least in small doses.

Anonymous said...

I second the fellow who says a lot of the bullshit fades away once you have a kid. Figuratively tossing in a few chips, I'll see his one kid and raise two or three kids. Personally I was a married father before I was old enough to drink, and it spared me all the regret-filled angst that runs through this essay. Had my 35th wedding anniversary the other day, too, enjoyed with my granddaughter. Folks, it isn't at all about how intelligent, credentialed or culturally refined you are. It's all about having wisdom, which is a much rarer thing.

melicent said...

i'm 25 and right in the thick of it. i get where you're coming from on the crippling sense of competition that begins in high school or even before, but i can't get behind your idea that the internet is somehow to blame. how many "fully realized selves" have there *ever* been? what would be a healthy ratio of fully realized people to shallow, faceless masses? i hate to sound cold, but some people are not destined to be creators, and this was the case long before the internet was introduced. if anything, the internet can offer traditionally small-minded people *some* exposure to new ideas, or at the very least some new lines of communication. it's not fair to expect everyone to be genuine and creative. human life is a spectrum. the people who have it in them to be artists are already going through the same feelings you've expressed here. as for those who aren't... leave them be. to demand enlightenment is to perpetuate the same upward-orientation that you're railing against.

that said, thanks for putting your ideas out there. if they start one person's thinking in a brand new direction, then the internet isn't a complete waste.

Justin said...

More to the point, for this to approach real criticism I would have to offer an alternative to those trapped in the idea of the consumer as self. I haven't got one.

Um, try taking yourself less seriously. Try redefining the contexts that you feel you should have your presence felt. Find meaning things you are interested in for your tastes and meaning rather than what you can advertise in social media to build your 'brand.'

Luke Justman said...

How much Heidegger have you read Freddie?

Daniel Silveyra said...

Congratulations on the essay. I don't agree with much of what you say, but your arguments made me think a long while about where I stand.

On the idea that the entertainment products you consume do not describe who you are, I think you are demonstrably wrong. Look at the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment for a naive example of how consumption patterns give you profound insights into people's behaviour. Nobody likes to be part of a demographic...but everybody is.

The idea itself tends to unravel. If the entertainment I consume does not describe me, then what describes me? Some other personal reaction to some other piece of information? How is that fundamentally different?

Any alternative to that mechanism leads to the idea of either an unchangeable or an indescribable personality - i.e. a soul. You lose me there.

Thanks again for the writing.

Emily Allman said...

Whew. Compelling, but take a step back a see what's going on outside of the digital world.

My sister runs a farm in Iowa. The work is done by all volunteers. They give their harvest away to the poor. They host travelers who want to learn about sustainable agriculture. They host potluck suppers and academic discussions. She built her own house (with some help from friends) She quilts and plays the fiddle.

She was a National Merit Scholar and graduated with honors from a prestigious college. Her farm is almost completely off the grid, but occasionally she gets to the library to add to her blog. If you send her a note, she will add you to her mailing list for the quarterly newsletter... a paper, cut-and-pasted, photocopied, stamped,hand-addressed, snail mailed item that is the single most refreshing read I get all year.

http://mustardseedfarm.org/
It will refresh your soul.

MariaD said...

Would you consider the people who commented on your blog to be engaged in real creation (of text, in this case)?

ClimeGuy said...

As a 60-something person your long post reminded me of some "scary" times when i was in my 20s and most of my life was still ahead of me. These ideas are timeless and continue to fascinate. Bu now that Im the down side of my life and I look back, the angst of my youth is gone not because I've given up but rather because of an understanding that may only be possible through the aging process which was pointed out by Anonymous (my age peer) that I wish I was able to appreciate when I was younger:

[...Folks, it isn't at all about how intelligent, credentialed or culturally refined you are. It's all about having wisdom, which is a much rarer thing...]

Example: See if you can capture what you wrote in far fewer words.

Tarice said...

When you equate "The urge to create, and to live with an aesthetic sense" as "defiant opposition to the competitive urge" I have to LOL. You are empirically wrong. Have you been in an arts (incl. music, writing) scene? You don't think it's full of egos and competition? It's full of people (primarily though hardly limited to young males) who, even after making money and getting fans/groupies, still want to crush rivals whose work they find distasteful. Even when there's no money/groupies to fight over (or when there's a decent pittance for everybody), there will be status attached to "my art is better than yours". (If it wasn't, I'd be in your workshop, copying yours.) I don't know what kind of artistic vision you are having that entails kumbaya pure collaboration, but it damn sure isn't a "romantic" one, to use your word.

Jon said...

Nicely exercised exploration... in contrast to ClimeGuy's critique about wordiness, I think it is valuable to take the time to expound: stick some straw in the scarecrow and ponder the shape it takes... deconstruction requires navigating the structure and as pithy as koans are, they are not always the best teaching tool. OK, maybe cut out 5% ;)

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