Thursday, August 18, 2011

Obsolescence and Freedom

General Motors came upon an idea, planned obsolescence, the origin of which I do not know. GM chairman Alfred P. Sloan championed the notion of building marvelously powerful but intentionally deficient machines: that they would be essential, transformative in their power, yet fail--and have to be immediately replaced (his contemporary's creation Screwtape may have indicated his method). They would transform reality. The act of operating them would be efficacious but not clearly understood or acknowledged (academics would study the suburbs), but above all, the articulated emotion, the articulate unmeaning of the technology, the intoxicating simulation of liberty would be treated as the rational purpose of the technology. How can you sell an object over and over again? How can you sell a person a solution that never quite meets the question it proposes loudly to answer? How can we monetize the damnation of Tantalus and Sisyphus? Could their fate become an lifestyle that we accept and inhabit? 

My neighbor grew up on a ranch on which there are tools that provide utility many generations after their manufacture and purchase. This, like their land now valued beyond the means of all but the extremely rich to buy, is accumulation of generations. It is the essence of civilization--that which is saved, that which increases through saving, selection, that which is admired for its ability to sustain. Those things that sustain us, civilization--the accumulation of utility--are through planned obsolescence systematically destroyed in order to supply them again. It is pernicious--it acts upon the psyche; it appeals to Christian and more general religious ideas of renewal--with man's capability of forgiveness, to live again, his bond with every man who shares the experience of life, replaced by a ritual of buying new clothing from JC Penny every Easter. Ultimately the beautiful proposition of the author of the religious text is entirely forgotten and we simply buy new clothes to feel the sensation of power. The desire to be responsible is subverted to deliberate and incontinent disregard for the use of resources; the hatred of future generations. I have been bred, ironically, to despise breeding, specifically the idea of being a biological fact. Houellebecq: Children are existence's cruelest trick--you support them all your life, then they out live you. 

This is my rehash of the ideas of writers like Karl Marx and his descendants like Herbert Marcuse repeated through an education heavily influenced by Christian apologists. The primary idea and apprehension is not religious doctrine: it is that uselessness, trivial desire, effrontery and boredom are the motivation or emotional quality of this forty year moment of our motionless ecstasy in anti-civilization. It is the same apprehension the neo-conservatives; the fear that struck them, the terror they projected upon the terrorist. Their failure is their false or perhaps deliberately fraudulent attribution of responsibility for this destructive learned boredom on "liberal society" which they say must become wanton from freedom and seek to destroy the foundation that allowed or "afforded" them their contempt for the past. How much more likely is this assessment than powerful industries obsessed with the potential crisis of "over supply" of goods, developing and articulating in a deliberate campaign within our culture of insatiable desire fed by planned obsolescence? Is it true that what one necessarily does with freedom is destroy everything in reach? The man unbound from cultural chains immediately bashes his wife's head in for not making him coffee? It is an absurd question to ask--can I be free of culture? Can I lick my own tongue? It is a false question. It assumes, in a negative form, the failure of the neo-cons rejected mentor, Marx--that one could become conscious--rather than what I believe, which is that ideology is consciousness, and that our consciousness is an expression of ideology, that parsing ideologies is essential, not obsessing over their potential escape. The reality is that we are bound by culture, but that we have a real if limited agency to change it. The perverse determinism of the "neo-con's" is the real irrationality. Their necessary unraveling of society with too many freedoms, is flip side lie of Nike shoes, that if you possess this object you will master your enemies. Like planned obsolescence and the idea of marketing and public relations--it is the transference to an object a power or quality that it does not possess. Liberty is not causing the collapse of our society, concentrations of power are playing games with the perceptions of reality available to an atomized society, atoms that will never be molecules, auto-organizing atoms, molecule without combination, without attraction, molecule in one atom ("socialism in one person"), the auto-eros of homunculii like Bill Kristol and Daniel Pipes. They are themselves the disgrace of liberty as power gestures to these new non-men to participate in the manufacture of reality. To lie to automata. The determinism of geneticists progressed on the same lines--"this has to be"; your biology is your enemy; you hate you. To point out that the Greeks had contributed much to the discussion of the fate of those who defy fate is lost perhaps. In all of this, the beauty and awe of human investigation of our perceptions is lost.