Saturday, June 19, 2021

Americans Have Dehumanized One Another To Death...,

eudaeminiaandcompany |   In American life, everything, so much as can be, is private. Almost nothing is public. You go from your big house to your big car to your big sofa and you sit in front of your big TV. Back and forth to and from work you go this way. You barely need to speak to another person at all — except in the way of a commodity. The market mediates all human relationships, more or less — even romantic ones, now, which are brokered by algorithms, and reduced to raw sexuality. Everyone is a commodity.

That sounds like the stuff my favourite teenage punk bands would say. But they were right, the more I think about it. What does it mean when commodified relations are the only ones left in a society?

Well, people grow estranged. From each other. They don’t see each other as fellow travellers anymore, fellow citizens, husbands, mothers, fathers, grandparents…anything.

So what are they? They’re rivals. Adversaries. For what, in what? In a series of games. I shouldn’t call them games, though, because the stakes are very real. One game is played at work — Americans compete for “jobs,” in “jobs,” ferociously. They work famously long hours and get little to no real rest or succour. Why? Because, of course, everything is attached to the “job” — healthcare, retirement, childcare, etcetera. I put it in quotes because the only real point of this is to make billionaires richer — Americans are right where they were in economic terms half a century ago.

Americans are rivals for work, which makes them adversaries for basic resources — money, medicine, food, shelter. And they’re also rivals and adversaries for status. Big cars, big houses, big TVs. Americans are told that status and power are all that count in life, apart from money — and they obey this dictum weirdly mindlessly. They preen on Instagram and spend their money on shinier and bigger and faster things, and go ever deeper into debt. They don’t really regard each other as neighbours, friends, colleagues. They’re rivals in these zero-sum games: for basic resources, by way of production, and then for social status, by way of consumption.

This is a strange story of individualism and materialism run amok, gone haywire, pushed to the extreme. American life is so alienating because, above all, it’s hyper-individualistic. Like I said, you can go a day — a week — without ever talking to another living soul as anything other than a commodity. That is because you are never sharing anything with anybody, something as simple as public space.

Americans famously deny each other healthcare — while carrying guns to Starbucks. Mass shootings are weekly if not daily events. America’s legendary cruelty and hostility isn’t a fiction. And neither is the idea that at its heart is an materialism and individualism gone haywire. Everything is private — that’s a statistical fact, about 85% of America’s economy is private, and just 15% public.

That’s a recipe for selfishness that goes off the charts. When everything is private, and so little public, it’s not just that you don’t rub elbows with anyone else, except as a commodity — and well, commodities are disposable. It’s also that a kind of enmity takes over. You’ve got your big house and big car and big TV. And now you have to keep it. The world becomes a threat, to the hyper individualistic, hyper materialistic personality — and sharing anything with anyone, which is vulnerability, becomes a liability.

 

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