Swans Commentary » swans.com May 23, 2005  



Love, Work, And Death In An Age Of Carelessness


by Phil Rockstroh






(Swans - May 23, 2005)   Daily life within our culture of Thanatotic corporatism holds us in the thrall and mercy of the banality of mindless power and its concomitant commodification of all things. It is little wonder why our dreams and desires have grown so grotesque and irrational -- why Christian fundies believe that they must annihilate the entire world in order to save themselves from their own lust; why neocons have come to believe that genocide is the progenitor of freedom; why consumers believe that -- despite mounting debt, stagnant wages, diminishing oil reserves, and the effects of Global Warming becoming more evident by the day (or possibly because of the fear of it all) -- they can buy, charge, and possess their way to peace of mind.

Zealotry and denial rule the hour at hand.

Perhaps then, to survive, we must become zealots for sanity. For far too long, we have deferred to churchmen, ad men, and other madmen who use power, wealth, and self-justifying displays of public piety to bestow a patina of respectability upon their pathological exploitation of the planet's people and resources.

Or is asking folks to become zealots for sanity the leftist intellectuals' equivalent of Christian fundie, anti-sex crusaders promoting the cracked-brained idea that folks should be as hot in the pursuit of abstinence as they are about getting laid?

I am a true believer in the dictum that salvation is derived from the blessed act of being saved from the unholy machinations of any and all self-proclaimed saviors. Though, I offer this caveat: I believe it's high time we got our priorities straight in relationship to our hierarchy of sins.

Does anyone else find it odd that explicit sexual activity has been deemed obscene by generations of emotionally desiccated moralists -- though obscene displays of hyper-macho political power rarely draw the ire of those finger-wagging scolds?

And the same principle applies to the obscene amounts of time Americans spend at work, generating obscene sums of money for the ruling classes. The story lines of the pornography of power rarely vary: the powerless must submit, fake that they are loving it, then, almost invariably, drop to their knees for the requisite money shot, delivered by their corporate masters, who stand over them, evincing a horrific variation of that joyless, thin-lipped, psychopathic, half-grin that Dick Cheney inflicts upon the world.

In addition, it's high time we confronted the (mundane but deadly) sin of obliviousness of the larger world beyond one's immediate needs, concerns, and compulsions -- the outright careless disregard of anything on earth that does not serve the selfish, short-term needs of a culture overrun by overgrown infant tyrants dropped from the toxic womb of corporate capitalism.

F. Scott Fitzgerald limned these miserable progeny of mechanized modernity in his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby:

"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made..." (Pg. 180-181)

Possibly, in this light and at this period of time, the words sin and sinners are too loaded with cretinous religious connotations and their meanings should be reinterpreted more along the lines of "self-centered fuck-up."

Such sinners need not be punished by the divine wrath of a quick-tempered sky daddy. Habitual self-centeredness is a variety of imprisonment; it is a form of self-inflicted punishment...the world is spread before the cell of the self -- but the prisoner cannot leave the confines of his greedy agenda...therein: mind, heart and soul become atrophied by a lack of diverse experience and spontaneity.

Commodification is a cage: it distorts the human animal's instinctual longing for love, communal acceptance, and freedom by proffering commercial facsimiles of such things -- but instead delivers the human animal to economic imprisonment. The bars of the cage might be invisible -- yet the sense of confinement is palpable across our corporatized culture, where, like convicts in the cell, longing for release, Christian fundies long for the eternal theme park of JesusLand, while neocons long for "Greater Israel," while consumers, confined in their work stations and cubicles, long for vacations, real estate, porn, and appliances, while George W. Bush longs for his own idealized reflection -- all are like Gatsby, longing for rapprochement with Daisy -- an event he believed would engender the reemergence of the person he had been while in her presence before the exigencies of capitalism left him corrupt and love-lack -- but beneath it all, like deluded Gatsby, the imprisoned populace of the consumer state, their souls shriveled by self-enclosure and doomed by the corrupt choices they have made to literalize their longings, lies the hidden desire for the release that comes with death.

Accordingly, beneath the carefully constructed image and maniac consumption of the commodified culture, the American empire is dying. Although, we, unlike Gatsby, for all our cunning artifices and desperate subterfuge, are not flaming out and falling amid the glittering debris of frenetic, jazz-imbrued bacchanals -- we have only managed shopping spree debt, over-priced coffee jags, mcmansion-enclosed anomie and porn habituation.

Carelessness is the manner in which extroverts manifest despair. It has been George W. Bush's mode d'être his entire dismal life. Bush is not the embodiment of all the ills and evils of our time; he is merely one of its toxic biproducts...as was Clinton (both Mr. and Mrs.) and most of the rest of those pitiful, sold-out Democrats.

What we are witnessing is the desperation of empty egoists -- bereft of vivifying experience and tempering circumstance...whose human hearts are drawn to the eros of the world, but are thwarted and tricked at every approach by stultifying, religious moralizing and soul-numbing uberculture artifice...Hence withers passion, intimacy and hope...And the ensuring emptiness creates desperation...which leads to selfishness and aggression -- manifestations of the carelessness inherent to "the ownership society" and its attendant exploitive workplaces, substandard education of its young, abysmal health care for all but its ruling classes, and its ceaseless need for imperial wars.

When passion, intimacy, and hope are thwarted, people long for release into paradise (which is the gateway drug to death -- since paradise stubbornly resists being made manifest). In this way, fanatics and addicts perpetually seek paradise. In doing so, they endeavor to create idealized versions of themselves...the perfect being that they could become...if only the obstacles to paradise could be eliminated...if only there was some way to ensure an endless supply of Dope or God. But in fairness to druggies, most of whom are saner than religious fundamentalists -- because, on some level, they realize the impossibility of such a thing.

Since such life-negating longings for paradise, the delusional search for the idealized self within an idealized community, and the hagiography of the powerful have been the progenitors of endless human tragedy -- where then should we turn our passion...sans idealized longings?

What should we strive for?

Frank O'Hara wrote: "In times of crisis we must all decide again and again whom we love."

Perhaps...life itself beckons. Love: the encompassing sounds of crickets and night birds on a warm night in high summer. Love: the exquisite indifference of starlight, and the manner in which it stands in contrast to the redemptive immediacy of warm bodies near us. Yes, of course, we must love those close to us -- yet with the same ardor, in order to survive, we must come to love the intricate manner that our lives and fates are interconnected to inmate strangers by way of our mutual dependence.

In a similar vein, we are dependant on air, water, and soil. Tragically, far too many of us have been tricked into believing they are dependant on Wal*Mart, McDonnell Douglas, Time-Warner, Big Pharma, and the like -- but these corporate monstrosities, these mindless aberrations sprung from our instinctual drives for acceptance, community, and security, now grown grotesque and toxic by unrestrained capitalism -- simply use us, and objectify us, and degrade us, by always taking more (increasingly more, obscenely more...) than they give back...They care nothing for us -- and we owe them nothing.

In contrast, we owe the air, water, and soil -- big time: for these things sustain us -- they are the face of our beloved.

We should carry snapshots of air in our wallets. And, in times of doubt and despair, we should gaze at the photograph in order to remind ourselves of this -- to love is to be drawn into and held in the thrall and service of the invisible.

This is the choice our times have given us: our soul's suffocation within the self-constructed prison cells of the commodified self or the passion-agitated air created by the ceaseless need to struggle against exploitation.

Our choice will not only determine our individual fates -- but the fate of the human race.

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Internal Resources

America the 'beautiful' on Swans

Patterns which Connect on Swans


About the Author

Phil Rockstroh on Swans (with bio).



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art11/procks47.html
Published May 23, 2005