Monday, March 11, 2013

All this buttoning and unbuttoning: fun against fun

In the old order of the 1950s we were all repressed and that was good; it meant society would be stable. People couldn't enjoy the physical experience of life, sex, and pleasure because we had been trained to repress our desires and not to express them. This goes back to Freud.  He believed that inside of man were powerful unconscious, violent and sexual urges that if we didn't control, we would tear each other to pieces, but not before raping each other. Then Wilhelm Reich came along and said the opposite; he thought, if we don't express our primal sexual urges, then they will drive us crazy and then we will all tear each other to pieces, but not before raping each other.  This latter idea, Reich's idea of the libidinal ego, forms the foundation of the 1960s counter-culture, particularly in California; essentially that unconscious desires must find expression, and that our bodies, and one's individual experience, one's pleasure, might provide solutions that old politics were not producing, the revolution people wanted.  Herbert Marcuse at UC San Diego said if enough people pursued non-traditional relationships, homosexuality, whatever, just not the mom-dad-kids patriarchy, it might cause a social transformation.  In a similar vein, Norman O. Brown at UC Santa Cruz championed the idea of the "polymorphous perversity", sources of sexual pleasure not directly related to sex organs, or at least to the biological sexual function of our species.  Politics was refocused upon our bodies.  We would be find pleasure in the weird, and it would change the world.  

Fast forward 40 years, and this is our ideology, and in places like West Marin, our religion.  We are all focused on our emotional lives, the struggle to be our "authentic selves", self-expression, and our sex lives -- a trance of pseudo-Buddhist detachment from reality and spiritualized hedonism.  And it is a terrible trap.  For a few reasons -- one, it doesn't know what to do with concentrations of power, like the corporations which control the economy; as other authors on point out: our belief in our individuality and separation from the whole, and its deliberate indifference to concentrated power, is the "scafolding that supports Empire" itself.  Two, it disregards politics, the weak uniting to negotiate with the powerful, because the process of organizing politically means the individual is no longer the center.  And alone in nature, we all think about the terrible things going on in the world, but don't think we can do anything about them.  Finally, it is a totally regulated and conformist ideology, in which pleasure becomes an order, i.e. "you must enjoy."  The liberty of experience, of sexual experience for instance, with liberty its essential quality, is forfeited -- people regulate and obsess over all aspects of sex; in relationships, people act as though they were each other's sex therapists trying to do the right thing for each other's sexual health and satisfaction; sex becomes a grim sacrifice, similar to the sex of the 1950s that we rebelled against. And more, people do outdoorsy adventuring because they feel they need to do it. We get anxious if we can't conform to "the dude let's go rock climbing" command we all apparently have to obey now.  We shameless suit our aging bodies in Lycra outfits, patronize coffee shops, and discuss our stamina.  More importantly, to not be focused on pleasure, our ecstatic aerobic selves, would be a betrayal of one's being; it would be dehumanizing. 

And this is why we are so maniacal and unhappy. Our "I wanna have fun!" answer to everything treats other people as instruments of our own pleasure and emotional fulfillment. The humans that our eye pans across exist to play a role, two dimensional place-holders for humans, and if the 2D people come off the page, when they leave our script for them, we are forced, sadly, to replace them with new actors. Worst of all, this new ethos described, makes me sound like the Pope, an instrument of social control. We are confronting, ascendant, invincible banality.  But if you say today that we have inverted and created a more extreme form of the social control of the 1950s, you are considered to be the enemy of freedom.