Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The downloads of Dorian Gray

Ideas like "growth" and "development" mean different things depending on your perspective. For the average person, concepts like "spiritual growth" or "personal development" are often associated with the best of what human beings might pursue for themselves on an individual level. This is because what people achieve for themselves in their relationships with others ultimately forms the basis of their contribution to society as a whole.

These terms take on different meanings when we depart from the concerns of the average person and lend priority to the preferences of their rulers. Growth and development, not to mention democracy itself, meant different things to George W. Bush than they did to most of the world's peoples who experienced his interpretation first hand.

Among those subjects within the advanced consumer societies, the people of the United States know too well how the ideas of growth and development have assumed a meaning altogether peculiar when compared to the idea of full and free development for all. The necessary requirement of economic growth lords over every social possibility, from one's ability to retire to those municipal services on which most communities rely.

Just as all social development can be retraced to the sustained efforts of committed individuals, so economic growth demands the daily exertion of innumerable units of nerve, brain and brawn. Because growth in this sense predicates itself on inequality proportional to its success, most people have no choice but to submit themselves to this daily grind.

A common consequence of a life spent working for others is a life not spent developing oneself. This is true to the degree that employment points to a purpose that one cannot rightly call their own, over and above the inevitable requirements of living. Whatever can be taken from our jobs and used for the betterment our lives diminishes progressively with each unchecked advance of "growth" into the productive arena, because growth is inevitably a product made from the surrender of our lives.

Both employment and personal growth make their demands, but only one is required to live. This leaves the other an open question, to be realized at will.

Consumerism poses two obstacles to the self-development of the individual. One is employment which diverges from personal goals; the other is the market.

People who give their best energy to their employers don't have their best energy for anything else. Whatever they endure, they endure for their bosses; it is only natural that the rest of the time they are averse to pain, and structure their lives in avoidance of it. In the US, this often comes in the form of sedentary consumption.

The market plays its part by promising two things: ease of use, and personal fulfillment through commodity exchange. The market, first and foremost, demands nothing, but rather puts consumers in a position to make demands. It is little wonder that we cannot resist the appeal, and gravitate psychologically to this sphere! Secondly, it tells us we can be effortlessly happy by purchasing one thing after another, ad infinitum. We don't have to suffer at all, we only need to buy.

Nevertheless, suffering is always at our heels, no matter what we put into our heads. Our obligation to suffer at the hands of others directly informs our desire to escape suffering through the market -- in the act of consuming to make ourselves feel good.

We have already seen a generation of human beings who have lived their lives in this fashion, and their lesson should not be lost on us, so badly have they paid its price. Too many of those elders who we might normally look to for leadership have become petty and mean, small-minded and miserable; and, moreover, confused at where their life has gone and why everyone has abandoned them. Look closely, lest their fate become your own!


BRian M said...

This was an unpleasant essay because it is so true. I've basically ruined myself financially following this pattern of thought and behavior.

Kudos for another perceptive essay!

mp said...

This is some of your best stuff.

Anonymous said...

Growth and development, not to mention democracy itself, meant different things to George W. Bush than they did to most of the world's peoples who experienced his interpretation first hand.

Good point. It's a different way of saying something I'm wont to use as a scolding remark toward those who called Dubya Bush "stupid" and "incompetent." He's neither; he just has different ideas on what is the smart thing to do and what is the best way to do those smart things.

I'd say Dubya Bush and Barack Obama are much closer aligned on what is "growth," what is "development," what is "democracy" than either of those two cats is aligned with most of the rest of humanity. Their rhetorical approaches may differ, but if we look at their acts, they look like twins on the agenda front.

It's important for Americans to recognize that what works best for the corporate-crony-capitalist gang is almost always something that is destructive, socio-economically speaking, for the rest of us among the American populace. I think the naivete harbored by many Americans is beginning to corrode, thanks to the programmatic identity between the Bush-Cheney Admin and its followers in the Obama-Biden Admin, since both gangs have chosen to reward the thieving profiteers on the public dime.

If more of us Americans believe ourselves qualified to pass judgment on the so-called "leaders" of our government, we can take the next step: ejecting them, and replacing our system with one that is more humane.


Another thought, related to the ideas of growth and development: those ideas are basically the cornerstones of "progress," and Christopher Lasch wrote an excellent analysis of the American obsession with progress and its socio-economically destructive products. If you've never read it, I suggest it... "The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics."

If you'd like to read it, JRB, and can't find a copy, I'd happily loan mine.

drip said...

CFO__ The Lasch is excellent.

JRB -- I don't know how smart GWB is, but he got every fucking thing he ever asked for, except maybe the privatization of social security and he didn't try all that hard on that one. That is one smart motherfucker if you ask me and few I say that to agree.

I just got back from a visit with my mid-80's parents and they could not (or at least would not) describe themselves as "confused at where their life has gone and why everyone has abandoned them," and yet it is true. After the visit my mother wrote and said that they were going to drastically reduce the price of their house, their only real asset, and move to an apartment. They worked and raised a family, my father fought in Korea and lived to do as his society wished him to, despite misgivings. He expected his personal development to come through his service to god and country, which is a pretty important tenet of fascism and the path you urge us to avoid.

Thanks for this post and again, for this blog.

Anonymous said...

Another excellent post.

Here's a quote from Emerson that I think is apropos:

“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members….The virtue most [requested] is conformity….Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.”

Here's another:

“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”

Hattie said...

Very thoughtful. I see these things all around me. A whole propaganda industry masks from workers and consumers their complete unimportance to our rulers except as means to the ends of making the rich richer.
I might read Lasch. One of my friends was his lover a long time ago. She is dubious now about some of his premises, so I want to find out about that. He was rather conservative about the role of women, I believe. But I need to check it out.

Anonymous said...


Lasch was "conservative" only in the sense that he didn't kowtow to 20th/21st century "progressive" political correctness.

So if that stuff is important to you -- political correctness -- maybe you should avoid him.

Whether your friend fucked him, that's of no moment to the validity of his publicly offered thoughts.

My guess is you'll hate/despise/be disgusted by his thoughts on abortion. So I'd be prepared to hear your harangues on that subject, excoriating him endlessly, with "keep your laws off my body" rhetoric.

JRB said...

As is often the case, your comments have informed my thoughts on many of these issues; but because of limitations on my time, I hope you'll accept my regular postings in response!