I found this written on a post-it note on my desk under a pile of papers, and I can’t remember what it was supposed to be for. I think it might be the conclusion to an essay I may never have written.
The desire to feel like an individual is a false need instigated by capitalism to make us productive in the social factory and to make us consume more in pursuit of a reified authenticity.
Not surprisingly, I find myself persuasive, but this still has problems. Talking about the truth or falsity of needs is probably counterproductive; it doesn’t change the fact that they are experienced and that they have behavioral consequences. Still, I was trying to get at the idea of individualism as a distortion of some inarguable human requirement of social recognition, which need not take the form of being heralded as unique, as some novel innovation on the general form of “human being.” The falsity is in failing to see alternatives. (Often, what’s false is the or in “true or false.”)
I just finished reading the first book of The Hunger Games.Given my hobbyhorses, it’s probably not surprising that I read it entirely as a novel about the ramifications of having to live as if life is a reality-television show. [UPDATE: Having seen the film, that seems an inescapable interpretation.] That is, it’s designed to appeal to teenagers (and everyone else) who all live with the unavoidable pressure of being scrutinized as a source of entertainment. The novel explores the effects of living under constant value-seeking surveillance, what it does us to know that someone is always trying to get something out of watching us (even if it’s just marketing data) and not being sure how far we should play along with and play to the unseen eyes.
In Wild in the Streets, teenagers secure the right to vote, vote themselves into power, and have all adults imprisoned in camps where they are kept high on LSD until they die. In The Greening of America, Reich explains how most Americans are trapped in Consciousness II — his jargon for the organization-man mentality, for the technocatic meritocratic Corporate system that made everyone into uptight, status-seeking drones with no “real” self — whereas the new youth movement is attaining Consciousness III, authentic and self-actualized beings who take the “individual self as the only reality” and groove on genuine “experiences.” Reich represents these stages of consciousness as progressive, heading toward inevitable overturning of the social structure, but it’s interesting how closely they parallel Boltanski and Chiapello’s three successive “spirits of capitalism” — the hegemonic ideology that justifies capitalism and neutralizes critique. What Reich sees as “mind blowing” becomes the basis for ideological corrections; his Consciousness III is the new spirit of post-Fordist capitalism, wtih its championing of flexible, liberated worker-entrepreneurs who scorn stability and embrace openness to new challenges.