Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Death of the Individual

As the markets are taking a brief respite from their descent, we turn our attention to another pressing matter: the cessation of your existence.

Oh, you didn't realize that you've ceased to exist? Please, pardon the shock, but it's true. You have been subsumed into a technologically enabled, socially enforced global being. You are merely one among billions of cells. A highly-programmable cell, to be sure, but as fungible and expendable as any other.

In times past, aspiring philosophers would bemoan "feeling like a number." The 20th century philosopher Bob Seger put it this way:
I take my card and I stand in line
To make a buck I work overtime
Dear Sir letters keep coming in the mail
I work my back till it's racked with pain
The boss can't even recall my name
I show up late and I'm docked
It never fails
I feel like just another
Spoke in a great big wheel
Like a tiny blade of grass
In a great big field
To workers I'm just another drone
To Ma Bell I'm just another phone
I'm just another statistic on a sheet
To teachers I'm just another child
To IRS I'm just another file
I'm just another consensus on the street
Gonna cruise out of this city
Head down to the sea
Gonna shout out at the ocean
Hey it's me
And I feel like a number
Feel like a number
Feel like a stranger
A stranger in this land
I feel like a number
I'm not a number
I'm not a number
Dammit I'm a man
I said I'm a man
Quaint sentiments, those, viewed from the Post-Christian, Post-Modern, Post-Western, Post-American New Millennium, Decade 2. Here and now it is rather abominable to dare to think of one's self as an "individual." A contented spoke is a good spoke; a tense spoke makes for a wobbly wheel. And that is inefficient and sub-optimal.

No, these days the unhappy tendency to assert individuality will be bludgeoned out of you by peer pressure, corporate behavior codes, statutes and the steady re-education by the information and entertainment media. Not to mention the education system.

What is acceptable is to push the limits of weirdness as a substitute for individuality. Bizarre hobbies, expressions of fantasy life, superstitions, body piercings, tattoos and outright mutilations (yours and others'), bizarre eating rituals and such, these are socially acceptable expressions of "individuality." After all, what's more unique than a tattoo? Ahem.

But if you express an original idea; if you outwardly manifest a moderate, normal, healthy and productive lifestyle, you are suspect, and rightly so, because you are not manifesting the qualities of a good spoke in the post millennial wheel. You should watch it.

Later on, perhaps, we'll introduce you to the fact that you no longer live in a respresentative republic, but rather a tribe -- a global one -- governed by supersition and raw power.

The machinery you made love to, as McLuhan might have put it, has reduced you to subservience. Oh, yes it has.


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