Monday, March 07, 2011

A trip to the mall

In the same way that marriage has become culturally bound to the state, our lives in late capitalist societies are materially implicated in consumerism. How we react to this is complicated: we might bemoan materialism but love the new Snooki Minaj track. At least I do -- are you kidding? Yet how could capital be more concentrated, and artistry more controlled? All I know is, in the new society, there damn well better be auto-tune -- and, of course, Snooki.

Earlier today I took a stroll through the King of Prussia Mall. Commodities -- by which I mean commercial products and not raw materials or whatever in the stock markety sense -- on exhibit in a zoo! From a strictly Marxist perspective, you could get very bent out of shape about the whole thing. But that's not always what's called for in a social setting where people are very excited to satisfy their material needs, myself included. The fact is, I needed new pants. And do you know what? There they were, neatly folded, just like the old boy Tommy Friedman is always crowing about.

My suggestion to you is: Don't get bent out of shape! But at the same time: Don't forget about what has transpired. Remember! Rest assured that a time will come when you can put those memories and that understanding to use in a way that does not alienate you from what has become the social life, but secures affirmation to others when they invariably come away empty. Every principle you care about is best deployed in the service of other's needs; it should never approach them as condemnation. Mao said: Swim in the sea of the people. I say: Swim in the sea of commodities, because this is where you will find the people.

I want to make an analogy about your feelings when you think about injustice in the world. Some members of my extended family have something in their fireplace that they call an "insert." It's something that goes in your fireplace, presumably, but more noticeably forms a full glass and metal enclosure in the front. By means of this device, you can control the airflow to the fire.

This is the important part. When the airflow is turned to the minimum, that fire will last who knows how many times longer than it would if exposed to the direct environment. I've heard the fire will last all day or all night. Conversely, when you dial up the heat, it's hot as fuck. It will heat the better portion of your home. It's crazy.

Your passion about the things you care about is like that. If you let it get direct exposure to every goddamnable thing that comes along -- yeah, it's going to flare up; but it will only be a matter of time before you burn out. You know what I mean by this, many of you, I am sure. So create an enclosure, and let that fire burn indefinitely; and, moreover, grant yourself the ability to choose when you are going to let it run hot or let it go unnoticed by everyone else but you. Never let circumstances dictate how you dispense with your own energy -- or for that matter any antagonist. They will try, but this must always remain your choice. And you will make these choices based on what is required by the people in your life, intimate or afar, in solidarity with their struggles.

11 comments:

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

You are such a humbler! I appreciate your words of counsel, they are wise, even if they taste a bit bitter when I chew them. Sometimes the best nourishment tastes a bit funky to the palate that spends a lot of time in hedonia.

Ben There said...

Damn, JRB. You are hitting on something I constantly struggle with here; the combination of my own hypocrisy, cynicism, and sometimes-felt powerlessness feel like quite the load of baggage sometimes. I've had similar thoughts to what you are talking about here and I think it's an awesome approach, albeit one that takes a great deal of practice and patience.

Beth E. said...

To quote Che: "At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality... We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force."

I love the love that imbues this post of yours....

Ethan said...

Seconding Beth E. (and everyone). I love the love.

This is seriously some of the best advice I've ever seen.

PS. SHOPPINGGGG!!!!

thebaronette said...

"Every principle you care about is best deployed in the service of other's needs; it should never approach them as condemnation."

Been trying to phrase well this for so long...

It's a matter of not losing yourself in the frustration of investment nor in shielded detachment, but allowing yourself to truly sense a moment and those entities that inhabit it. It can be so easy to fall on either side...

Fantastic post JR.

thebaronette said...

On an only-slightly-related note, do you know Pauline Oliveros? I think might dig some of her theories on improvisational music. They aim to bring about new personal relations through "deep listening", as she refers to it. One method of deep listening she suggests is to just try and focus on as many noises occurring at any given moment. Her thought is that doing so restores a sense in us that sound is spherical instead of directional and from that empathy will arise. There's much more to it, but my exposure's been kind of limited so it would probably be better to just get it from her directly.

Justin said...

Wow, I disagree with almost everything you said in the first paragraph. Auto-tune after the revolution? God no, save the wawa pedals though. And I'll allow Ronni, maybe even J-Wow - but NO Snooki, not under any circumstances.

The post is rather excellent and makes very good points about burning out. Really though, the reminder not to internalize feelings of guilt or self-loathing when you are forced to accommodate yourself to a system, or to remove yourself entirely from it and also cut yourself off from others.

JRB said...

Thanks so much. I felt pretty strongly about this one: what you see are just the things I tell myself. I'm more than happy that it resonates with anybody else.


thebaronette:

I'm not familiar with her, but it sounds like a great subject for the new and rejooved 6thor7th. I'm very interested in theme of listening, so I'd be interested to get more of your take on it. Thanks for the suggestion!

JRB said...

Justin:

Wah-wah was the auto-tune of the '70s.

respjrat said...

this is something very hard to square for someone who thinks of themselves as being serious about different paradigm.

this conditioned chemical release, writ across not just western society, but the world over so long as it falls under the siren of late consumerism, is effectively irresistible. and if the nectar isn't dried about your mouth you'll seem quite saturated in brine to everyone else.

chances are, you didn't need new pants. you could have spent less on old pants that have already gone through the industrial process long ago. more likely, what you needed was a swim.

Joe said...

At the moment, I'm sitting a few miles from the King of Prussia mall, in lovely downtown Conshohocken. It's always funny when the virtual blogoworld (nearly) intersects with the actual world outside.

I just spent five days is Disneyworld, of all places. Talk about swimming in the sea of consumerism. There's almost no way for a natural cynic to make it two hours in that place without taking the approach you describe here.