J. W. Barlament
The Necessity of a Complete Course Correction
So it’s not a really shocking claim to make that overall quality of life has been declining in the United States for some time, right? To my audience — who I have to both apologize and announce my excitement to on account of my recent absence and my current hopes for more future output — this is a well-trodden line. What’s more important, though, is the hard truth that things just can’t keep developing along the same line they have been unless
It’s been argued by a lot of people that this is purely on the part of technology, but while the general progression of technology has obviously made this dismal reality possible in the first place, I think the especially insidious side effects that the internet has ended up having on pretty much everyone simultaneously, as well as the fact that things really never had to be this way, must be recognized. The fact that a large percentage of people here and all around the world have swapped a large portion of what would have usually been in-person interactions with faceless interactions online is perhaps the most dire factor killing off society today. And I mean that literally — for what is society but a gigantic network of relationships between real people, and what has suffered at digital tech’s hands than real human relationships? Can we consider the society of even thirty years ago the same society as the one we have now, when so much of the face-to-face relationship building that was necessary then has been replaced with screen-based button-tapping?
The Whale just won two Oscars with a plot centered around this issue because it’s at the forefront of the public consciousness, and for good reason. People are less social, less socialized, and more enabled to engage in antisocial behavior, before the pandemic too but especially since. It’s never been more possible, and with the self-repeating consequent social erosion, maybe never been more attractive, to isolate oneself from society, whether far outside or at the very center of it. The difference between the totally isolated lifestyle of yesteryear and that of today is that such a lifestyle used to be hard, full of risky activities and necessitating some general competence, and that it’s become distanced behind levels of abstraction and processing. Where it would once expose the individual to the elements in the rawest sense, it now usually entails flooding one’s insides with microplastics in one way or another, and it shows.
And maybe even this wouldn’t be as bad as it is if there wasn’t such an aimless essence to the United States today, too; where the culture which was once exported with power is now indistinguishable from its power and from power itself? It feels like all the most popular media out today only exists to make money and extoll values antagonistic to the interests of 99% of people. When was the last time we, as a culture or a country or a government or a mode of being, ever seriously readjusted our habits or products or values or prerogatives to get in line with how much the times have changed? While surely that social problem so ubiquitous today of generational misunderstanding and conflict has historical precedent, I think it’s so intense now because the world has changed too much in too short a time. I think it’s caused the older generations to be so out of touch that they’re incapable of reacting properly to the current situation, I think it’s caused the younger generations to be so unused to seeing anything get better that they don’t even think it can anymore, and I want to put forth in all humility my opinion that we, as the three hundred and thirty or so million people living in the United States as of this writing, have lost our way. On the ground everywhere here, self-isolation is sneakily easy for again probably a majority of people, making the idea abroad that Americans should be the ones to define humanity’s greatest aims in the near future a total joke.
Really, dear reader, ask yourself, considering the way the last decade or more of history has turned out in this country; should the rest of the world be following in our lead at this time? We are in an entirely new world that the USA’s elderly and inanimate highest leaders refuse to see or believe or or act upon. It may not be the fault of Americans that our country is so stranded in suspended animation, but it may be our imperative to just finally fucking care enough to start doing something radically different to combat the radically bad problems we’ve created for ourselves and everyone else. Different times require different values, approaches, systems, and answers, and all we’re doing now anyway is sleepwalking into a digitized corporate neo-feudalism and (lest we forget) a very real worldwide mass extinction in the foreseeable future. The continuation of the current world order defined by American hyperpower status will steer the world into a doomsday scenario soon enough in almost every available predictive model.
So what are we doing? Or, rather, what should we do? Hand off the responsibility of hegemony to another country? Really?
Think more along the lines of dismantling the ability of any one power to claim even regional, much less global, hegemony in the first place.
And how should we expect to do that?
Honestly, I think, by steering, rather than denying or delaying the end of the world order as it stands today, away from ideological or civilizational violence — away from riots and wars and any more killing of any kind, with the knowledge that an entire 20th century filled with idealistic bloodshed solved nothing in the end and we simply can’t make that same mistake again — and toward practical, earthly, ground-up, and community-based living. I think when the current economic order cracks and collapses like it’s been threatening to for years, we should forbid the same people from leading the rebuild and instead make something entirely radically new to promote an entirely new way for humans to exist in this world.
Anyway, my next article about anything tangible, and a new personal website too, will be out soon.