Mom, get the camera — I found the meaning of life. It’s to buy shit and make shit.
I don’t particularly like ascribing modern phenomena to capitalism because I think capitalism is actually a very small part of our way of living. A capitalistic society is a society before it is capitalistic. Rhetoric criticizing capitalism has gained a lot of popularity over the past couple of years, but I think these criticisms are misplaced. They are critiques against society, not against capitalism. Society exists as a formulation of collective identity, and capitalism is a trait of society.
It reminds me a bit of Spinoza’s distinction between modes and attributes. Capitalism is the mode. Capitalism exists as a trait of society. Society is the thing with essence. Capitalism cannot exist without society, but society can exist without capitalism. Yet, in a non-capitalistic society, would the same problems that we often ascribe to capitalism go away?
One such problem is comparison-derived unhappiness. I once wrote a paper on the metaphysics of price — how the existence of price backed in currency allows us to compare objects against each other, which translates into our psyche a need to compare all things in life against each other, which leads to unhappiness. At the time, I ascribed it to capitalism because bombasting capitalism is quite popular in critical theory (read: I wanted an A on my paper), but I don’t think price as a concept is inherent to capitalism. There are markets in socialism and feudalism and other -isms as well. In fact, markets are a bare function of society that transcends whatever political and economic systems that exist within it. As long as society exists, comparison-derived unhappiness is inevitable. Since society is an inherent part of human nature — in the sense that human nature cannot exist without society — it also seems that comparison-derived unhappiness is necessary byproduct of nature.
One such way we try to overcome unhappiness is through art. I think Proust articulated the idea of artistic redemption the best through his 1,267,069-page magnum opus that I never actually finished reading nor will ever finish in my life (read: I think reading original texts are convoluted and unnecessary compared to reading commentary… Marcel, you obviously have the hots for your mom. Gilberte doesn’t like you; get over yourself. Why aren’t books skim-able like TV shows?). But the thing about Proustianism is that it assumes you’re actually doing something with your life when you are creating. Art has purpose; therefore, by creating art, life has purpose.
The fault in this is that it assumes that art has purpose at all. The act of creation — at maximum it’s just a feeling derived from the need to have meaning in life. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it I often find people (including myself) attempting to say that art is anything more than attempt to console yourself for issues that are inherent in human nature. Feelings are feeling. Feelings can be a great guide for us to live our lives; maximizing the amount of good feeling in our life is probably a lot more enjoyable of an experience than living with a lot of bad feeling. But at the end of the day feelings can be reduced to their corresponding neurochemicals. In absence of these reactions happening in our brain, feelings do not exist. The essence of art is derived from chemicals. The phenomena of art is derived as a product of chemicals. It is a mistake to believe the phenomena of consuming art can exist in the absence of neurochemistry.
Existentialism is a branch of philosophy that studies the relationship between existence and essence. Because, as Sartre annoyingly put it — “existence precedes essense” — we’re in a bit of a pickle of navigating life in absence of inherent validity to define. We exist initially in a state of ontological absence before we figure out how we want to identify ourselves. But, by then, we are already too far in life to control how we want to be identified. We have control one way or another, but identification isn’t instantaneous. Identification is a product of creation and consumption, and it is only through the act of creation and consumption that we are able to do anything at all with our identity. In absence of these forces, we are relegated to beings who do not have the freedom to identify.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that lately I’ve been feeling extremely detached from what I create. I don’t see a point to it, yet I’m still doing it for some reason, deferring to the same logic that got me here in the first place. There is a sort of schism between what I want to say and what I actually say. What I actually want to say is that my life is a lot more boring then what I write about on occasion. My thoughts are not as interesting as those I put on paper, and my near past is not nearly as glamourous as I try to convince myself it was. There’s not much going on, if that wasn’t clear, and I’m living a sort of purgatorial state — when this part of my life is just a phase that leads to the next phase in my life.
I have lived quite a different life from some of my friends. For one, I write on a regular basis because I am also sad on a regular basis, and that doesn’t seem to be a common experience shared with those around me. I have my writing habit mostly because I encounter something that makes me feel a little discomfort, and I write to ease the discomfort. We all have our coping mechanisms; this just happens to be mine. I am also extremely bored on a regular basis, and this seems like the thing to do. The thing with Proust, however, is that it supposedly creates meaning out of your experiences, whatever that means. I definitely do not see any meaning out of this.
Sometimes my friends bring up how they feel guilty not creating something of value all the time. Then, I remind them that we’re all going to die and that none of our life experiences are going to be remembered, so there’s no point feeling guilty of not creating something of value in your life. The position with the most amount of power in the world is probably the US president, and I don’t see anyone fretting about not becoming president. If you’re not president, you probably can’t influence the world in the way that you want to, and your impact will always be less than if you were president. So, it’s quite unfortunate that we can’t all be president, but it also doesn’t matter because if you can’t become president what’s the point in trying to leave your “impact” on the world, whatever that means? If you really want to think long-term, Earth probably won’t be around in a million years, so there won’t be enough “impact” made where it would transcend thousands of years; it’s all local.
It always struck me a bit dark how messed up the world is. But, at the same time, how do we know we have a stake in the world at all when it does not matter in an existential sense whether we intervene or not? Arendt kept on going off in about how evil exists when individuals are stripped of their political identity into economic agents, but why is politics necessarily an aspect of identity? Why cannot economics be the sole factor in our identity — after all, Bataille did say that we pursue self-destruction through Eros, so what is there to say we do not seek self-destruction through economic alienation?
Occasionally, I engage in some retail therapy. The other day, I bought a Tumi messenger bag. That was probably the highlight of my life for the past year. I mean, graduating college and finding a job is pretty nice and all, but personal accomplishments can never measure up to enjoying consumerism in terms of raw emotional output. I haven’t been able to use my Tumi messenger bag yet because I haven’t left my house for the past eight months, but it’s nice to have around. I’ve never seen any marketing materials surrounding Tumi, but it just seems like one of those bags that young professionals should have. By purchasing it, I am further solidifying my identity as a young professional. I’m not even sure that I want to identify as such, but how could I possibly understand this identity without its corresponding consumption.
The other day, I was thinking of buying a Rolex for the meme, but then I thought better of it. There’s only so much you can do for the meme. This is not one of them. I was bored, and I wanted something to make my life interesting. Since I’m living with my parents again, there’s not exactly that much going on in my life at the moment. I spend most of my free time studying more exams (even though I have already graduated) and attempting to kick-start my career as a late-blooming, k-pop star. It’s not going that well, at the moment, but I’m optimistic. I just finished the k-drama Startup, and if randos working out of an apartment in outer-city Seoul can make it in the tech world, I can definitely become a k-pop star at this point in my life. Life is a k-drama, after all.
For some arbitrary reason beyond my understanding, owning watches is very tied up with masculinity. I haven’t seen any girls who are very into collecting watches (how is that actually a hobby?), but I could name a couple of guys who are. It’s like why… watches are just moving pieces of metal associated with a brand that gives it legitimacy to charge premium prices, but I guess that’s also a lot of other things in life. I get having watches that look cool. Design is important in modern life. There’s also the obsession with automatic and mechanical movements, which I guess makes it slightly more interesting than battery-powered watches. Rolexes are watches whose identity is predicated on the idea that if you reach a certain level of success in life you’ll buy a Rolex. Then, there are the other watches on the same “tier” as Rolex but no one has heard of. Like IWC or Zenith. Or watches on a “higher tier” as Rolex like Vacheron Constantine. What the fuck is a Vacheron Constantine?
I thinking back to how Baudrillard thought we used our consumption habits as a proxy of identity. We buy things because we don’t know what kind of person we would be if we didn’t buy things. I didn’t buy a lot of things for most of my life, mostly because I didn’t have the money to buy things I wanted. Now, I do have money, so I am able to create identity through consumption. Without the money to consume, I do not exist. Writing and singing and gaming are fun and all, but it doesn’t lead to anywhere. It’s an activity for its own sake, while consumption is a directive authority in quantifying the translation between capital and happiness.
Benjamin thought of boredom as a force that affects all social classes, although he also thought that boredom affected the poor more since they couldn’t spend money on not being bored. I see the sentiment, but I don’t entirely see the logic. Nowadays, there are tons of things that are free that all social classes consume equally — like reality TV. I’m not sure exactly how tied together boredom and consumption are. I think most of the things I do — like writing, singing, and gaming — don’t really require that much money. Well, a WordPress Premium account costs like $60 a year, which is money that I really don’t need to be spending, but I’m also narcissistic and like sharing my writing, so what the hell, right? League of Legends is free though.
Who came up with the idea that the only way to be fulfilled in life is through consumption? It’s quite an annoying little piece of ideology that somehow makes it very hard to live a fulfilling life outside of consumption. Unfortunately, per the nature of consumption, it also means that it is very hard to live a fulfilling life without the resources necessary to take part in consumption. No argument about consumption would be be complete without mentioning people who have the capability to consume but still lack some sort of meaning in life. Well, in absence of cultivating relationships with others (which according to Angela Duckworth is the meaning of life), there is also the absence of creation, which fills the gaps that cannot be filled through consumption.
In life there is nothing in the beginning. It is only through consumption and creation can we make anything out of ourselves. Consumption serves our future selves for the person we want to be; creation allows us to make sense of our past and redeem our regrets. It is only through both of these acts can we achieve some sort of equilibrium in our lives. Our consumption habits direct us towards the person we want to be, and our creation lets us move on from the past we want to forget.