Looked at an old, old unpublished post today and was taken with a notion.
Producers feel nothing - which liberates their productive energies (within the buy/sell circle, transactions get increasingly efficient and 'personalized' because exploitation can be ruthless).
Consumers know nothing - which liberates their imaginative energies (manifesting in increasingly complex relationships to that which is bought, and an imaginative knack for demanding new products). They come to respond 'intuitively' to new products and develop a codependent relationship with mere goods, into which incredible amounts of time and energy can be poured. Putting energy into a relationship is its own reward, accidentally, but it's also good for the communities of which the relationship is a component.
For 'communities' read 'fan communities' and such.
See, one big and/but largely unasked question facing Americans is, Why do we covet the irrelevant, the alienated, the obviously disposable? Not just 'Why is it all going faster,' but what are we getting out of our ever more self-aware festival of banality, 'consumer culture'? What's the deep-down satisfaction or network thereof in play? And it seems to me that the answer is: the more you know about buying, about how to fluently negotiate and fluidly navigate your increasingly hollow Culture Of Purchase, the less you have to wonder about anything else. They say 'constraint is creativity,' but on a broad societal level it's not so benign: lower the ceiling enough, bring the walls in closer, and your creative energies both fill up your space more easily, and amount to less, globally.
And I think we love that feeling. Every man the king of a castle approaching zero square feet. What's being peddled is the possibility of knowing your own worth perfectly (self-knowledge), in the form of monetary value or some other performance metric. The more statistics you have about yourself, the less you need to grapple with things that are unknowable. And you convince yourself you're exploring complexity, but in reality you're just not able to make calculations fast enough - you don't know what to do with the stats. Show the cheat sheet for a second-year undergrad physics midterm to a high schooler, and it sure looks complicated: lots of different symbols, the whole page covered in formulae, the promise of a total description of some as-yet unknown reality. Show it to the undergrad physics student and they know its true nature: it's only a prompt to remembering how to solve the problems, a set of tools.
But the high schooler doesn't mind - hell, if he's anything like I was in high school, he'll start looking for patterns and concordances, identifying visual symmetries, trying to figure out the schema. Feels great: the visual complexity alone is a pastime, as are the questions. And that turns into two things:
* The kid who sees that he doesn't know, what he doesn't know...and goes home to a physics textbook.
* The kid who convinces himself the patterns are enough - and who'll have a long life writing conspiracy webpages, or network TV pulp drama. Or, hey, a blog like this one.
Both kids are learning. The first kid finds a bigger space and takes more into himself in order to fill it. The second kid finds a smaller space - the satisfaction-structure of conspiracy, coincidence, numerology, of complication instead of complexity - and is satisfied already by how much closer he is to touching the walls.
The point of this is, or at least was in the opening paragraphs, that the 'creative energy' unleashed by certain kinds of capitalist engagement, on the buyer's side, is gratifying to buyers because of the sense of mastery it grants. It feels good to walk into a supermarket and pick the Neatest or Tastiest thing, to buy at the bookstore the Newest or Hottest novel, to get into the latest band Before Everyone Else. These things mark you as successful because you know something that other people don't know; you had money and made the right damn choice, and good on you. But this sense of mastery, this fluency of consumption, is valueless outside of the circle of production/consumption itself. What makes it worthwhile is knowing how to convert it to another realm of knowledge: how to take the lessons of buying and convert them into a force for making, to participate in microsocieties and open creative circles, to fall as far from the tree as you safely can. Not all information is ported with equal ease to other areas of human experience. 'Everything bad is good for you.' Well, only if you consider all information to be equally valuable, if you're addicted to monetization and its information analogues.
It's better to know everything, yes. That would be the goal, or one of them. But if you die knowing everything, having said nothing, you're worthless to everyone else. And some knowing makes it harder to speak - harder, even, to want to speak.
I believe that the only authentic way out of that circle is to invent in an atmosphere of urgent freedom. And that might lead you to God, or the great American video game, or to till the soil, or even to binding textbooks for a Copley Square publisher, hoping to help a kid somewhere. Hell, it might leave you scraping for subsistence-level wages, and my heart going out to you is cold goddamn comfort, I know. But the question goes for everyone. But What Would You Be If You Weren't So Busy Buying Things. What would we have made?
Why am I so worried about keeping up? And who with?
This is why I make the big bucks not so much, Reader(s). Freedom with no urgency! The very nature of blogs made clear.