I was trying to do a thing recently and discovered that I couldn’t.
This is a thing that I immediately and abruptly hate myself for. It’s happened quite a few times, just a full on meltdown, and because I am lucky and have people who will deal with my misery I generally park myself in a dark corner and work my way back toward a repetitive delusion, that being that I should, can and will do things that I don’t want to do or feel that I can’t.
This is its own pathology, that has, under the ubiquitous presence of capitalism and the modern state, been presented as normal and virtuous. We all do things we hate, that are utterly meaningless and mostly harmful, and we might even get praised for it, though more often than not it’s just another thing to be shamed for. Rarely if ever will that private question be acknowledged: Is this it? Really? This is why I exist?
The answer to that question isn’t a straightforward “yes” or “no”, but rather a complicated “If the balance of political power is such that you can be forced to accept meaninglessness, then you can bet your ass this is why you exist.”
It’s a successful fiction and the profoundest and most occult bit of magic that this society performs, to make it so that this disconnect is rarely spoken aloud and further, to paint the notion that life should be different in shades of utopianism.
I hope that the ‘great resignation’ (which is a stupid fucking name, but whatever) is something of a reply. In the countless articles on the subject, in which psychologists and HR geniuses provide useful information to the non-person that these managerialist puff-pieces speak to, there is an endless discussion of the marginal enticements that might be offered to the surly plebes who no longer want to shuffle around whatever stupid rearranging of deck-chairs they’re needed for. And I hope it is the point that none of the miserable rewards on offer are enough.
And I sincerely hope that we have arrived at a point in which we’re asking of ourselves and others this pointed question: How is it that in a space-faring civilization there is a need to murder the poor, or neglect them to death, and even that it’s necessary for someone in a factory somewhere on this planet to make car airfresheners?
Murder the poor you say?
Yes. Murder. If you aren’t actively aware of this then good for you, I guess. Most people are doing everything they can to forget it, but it’s true. This is the undercurrent of human life: Fail to work hard enough at the right thing for literally the entirety of your life and you will be killed, and it won’t even be a quick killing.
Consider your impending homelessness, the thing hovering above you as you hurl the kids into the backseat and frantically careen toward a day of processing numbers.
Let’s say it all goes wrong, and you… I don’t know, break your car? Get cancer? And you find yourself on the street, or living out of your car. Do you believe for a moment that you’ll be left to navigate this plateau of misery? Because you won’t. You’ll be chased by the police as you try to live through the unlivable. Your kids will be the state’s kids. The comfortable place you’ve found in which to ride out the night will be taken from you by a police officer who will take you to an overcrowded shelter, or jail, or simply harass you until you find a less visible place to suffer.
And the world that gets to live inside, all those good people who figured out how to survive a bit better than you, they are unlikely to say ‘by the grace of God there go I’. More likely, they’ll resent you, both for the reminder of how bad things can get, and the inconvenience you threaten them with, that you might be noticed, or worse, ask them for something that you need.
It is the case that violence is the undercurrent of society. But the veneer of legitimacy painted on this missile needs to be manufactured outside of the missile factory, and so capitalism’s apologists turn to both obvious fiction (think Batman, or Friends, or whatever other drivel makes this Titanic seems like it’s not going to hit an iceberg) or the less self-aware ones, like religion, or the glad handing of politicians. But, since somehow we’ve arrived at a point when people have started to figure out that some, if not all, religions and politicians are awful liars who appeal mostly to dummies, we’ve got a whole ‘scientific’ discipline at the ready to generate ideologies and call them facts. This miserable discipline is called psychology. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.
I have been operating under the thumb of psychology since before I was able to figure out that my misery might, maybe, relate somehow to structural elements of human existence- that maybe the universal good of school wasn’t universal, or even good, and that dynamics of my family home might, maybe, contribute in some way to my well-being. Not at all. I was very aware that I’d come up short of what was expected, and that I was abnormal, and that this was 100% an outcome of a brain that didn’t know how to be grateful for the amazing life I’d been blessed with. But, lucky me, I could be corrected.
It never happened, and maybe that wasn’t the goal all along. Because while my unhappiness stayed pretty constant, the elements of it pertaining to self-hatred blossomed, and I think this is mostly the point of the endeavor.
I have written against cognitive behavioral therapy in the past, and I hate it so enthusiastically because I think it is so fucking good at making an argument for a weird, perverted and necessary truism of American capitalism: Not wanting to do a thing is wrong- sick even, and that the way to cure oneself of this wrongness is to do the dreaded thing until you no longer dread it. You do not need to feel better about it, goodness no. In fact, it reflects best on you to not like it and do it anyway. Forever, hopefully.
The popularity of this therapeutic model should raise red flags (hopefully followed by a glorious class war). If a government is willing to invest a great deal of money and social capital in an effort to correct behavior on a grand scale, it is obviously because a particular sort of social engineering is being undertaken, and since we’re not living in a just or well-intentioned society, it is mostly likely that the society being engineered sucks.
Simply look to any one of thousands of ‘thinkpieces’ on the ‘mental health crisis’, and be sure to note that every single fucking one of them makes reference to the financial losses brought on by the depressed millions. It is rarely stated who exactly is losing something because of all the missed days of work incurred, but it’s a safe assumption that it’s not you or anyone you know.
In what reasonable world should it be the case that suffering well is desirable? And who benefits from this suffering? You? Not dying on a sidewalk in the winter shouldn’t be considered any kind of consolation prize for a life lived on behalf of the wealthy, and that’s what they want you to want. There is no spiritual victory here, or moral high ground. You win your life. Is it worth it?
It is assumed, in all of this, that there will be some equilibrium of misery that the sufferer arrives at. This is odd, because it essentially posits the brutal endpoint of so many studies into animal behavior: If you sufficiently torture a creature, it will enter a state of ‘learned helplessness’, at which point it will no longer attempt to escape the pain it is subjected to. It is hopeless. There is no escape. It waits to die. This is the desired state of the working class under capitalism. Unable to fight, or hope, but sufficiently educated in the navigation of unhappiness that it placidly waits to die.
An aside: an assertion that it times of unhappiness a person should meditate is about as fucking stupid a statement as a person can make. I’ve heard, so many fucking times, that it is a guaranteed way to feel better about just about anything. Fuck that shit. Thinking back to the electrocuted puppy of the ‘learned helplessness’ experiment mentioned above, please make an effort to focus on the present moment as you experience stimuli that makes you writhe in pain. If you’re still unhappy about the pain after, let’s say, two days of meditating, you must not be meditating correctly. It’s been pointed out, ad nauseum, about the skill of Tibetan Buddhists in controlling their brain activity, as if a janitor and a cloistered monk are living comparable lives, aside from the breathing, eating and shitting stuff.
What we call a societal mental health crisis is nothing but the crisis of capitalism. That well-regulated brains are harder to find at this point in history presents a crisis for the capitalist economy, and in the system’s pursuit of markets via the creation of brain sickness it has run up against limits it created. The adoption of CBT represents a remediation project in the psychic sphere: Just like a superfund, our brains are going to be half-assedly rehabilitated with some fanciful reference to a healing event in the future, but really, it’s just all going to be turned into a parking lot.