The Twilight of Care

The elimination of care is a corollary of the elimination of ethics, and is therefore part of the project of the neoliberal right.

In a profoundly stupid way, the elimination of care makes markets real. Flattening the concept of care to eliminate all nuance and reduce it to a category, then eliminating the possibility of care as a category from acceptable discourse forces the creation, from fully-realized subjects with desires and inner lives who recognize the individuality of the others with whom they consort, of simplified, self-interested actors. It does this, or it kills them. See the recently defeated health care bill’s elimination of the regulation of rates insurance companies can charge for preexisting health conditions. Such fundamentalist commitment to the tailoring of reality to fit the model of the market leaves no room for confusion as to why zealots would sacrifice the poor or the vulnerable by, without pretenses to doing otherwise, pricing 90% of society out of access to their own health. Care is concomitant with the acknowledgment of difference in others upon which ethics is based. Interest in the welfare of others contradicts the absolute claim to authority over the truth of human behavior that the market would claim. If people will not be convinced through baseless argument that we should agree categorically with the essential goodness of a selfish alienation from one another, then a famine must be engineered to categorically reshape the reality in which people live. This guarantees that, within the flattened category of market-directed kitsch—kitsch because this cultural reality is manufactured and foisted onto people without regards to how people actually form unions and live their lives in greater togetherness— want ensures we become self-interested actors by simple result of having been orphaned and left to the wolves with nothing save our injuries.

Succinctly, taking simple security from people creates an easily perpetuated hell where those interested in maintaining control of material wealth and power remain entrenched in their wealth. Meanwhile, society is gaslighted with the notion that society naturally and preferably tends to organize itself into markets, the role of the market-idealogues in perpetuating this idea having vanished from sight in the desperate scrum below the castle.

You will never live up to others’ heartless expectations.

You can live alone for decades, a walking tombstone monument to others’ joyless material aspirations. You can broadcast yourself like a business card. This seems to be the way things are going. Voices unconnected to bodies, unconnected to ears, unconnected to individuality. Bodiless brands in endless market circulation. Free. But to do what? Does communication work, or has the misuse of language for material ends supplanted what it means to connect to others? Just this freedom to compete to be the most visible? Not free, not when freedom is the brand slapped on satisfaction, an undying dread drive to which you must submit or be surpassed. Liberty is only manifest in not collaborating with this death drive.

Does communication work? Does communication work? Does communication work?

Mr. Mask Lives in a White House

The other card depicted this Mr. Mask proceeding with his shopping to a house on the corner of a well cared-for, established, but not to say well-to-do neighborhood, the sort with old houses in good repair, a green canopy of old trees, short fences, and paved sidewalks—the sort of neighborhood that is not any longer surprised to find itself standing where once, not so long ago, wooded shadow ruled by tacit fiat, where the industries of ursine slumber and the lupine pursuit of careful vermin alone sighed perpetually, without even the dream of street markers or doorbells or letter carriers or buried pipe to disturb their hungry, retiring stasis. His house (one understood it was his house) was on a corner, bounded by a black, wrought-iron fence, with a brick home adjacent to it that entered the frame of the illustration from the right. Other homes and yards and hedges formed the inchoate background within which it was ensconced. Beneath the wide canopy of a dark-leaved old maple, his house was a rounded white edifice whose organic and unpredictable lines were eerily out of place in the neighborhood in which it had yet clearly stood for some time, and the strange perspective of the illustration allowed enough of a glimpse of where a traditional angled roof had not been built to understand that Mr. Mask’s house resembled the mask he wore, an almost comically stylized skull facing toward the sky with great skylights for eyes. The caption on this card read, “Mr. Mask lives in a white house.”

Mr. Mask

The picture on the comically illustrated card depicted a supine character who had been the subject of, one had the impression, a larger set. He was lying in a boat. He lay on his right side in a small rowboat in the middle of a lake beneath the moon. As though to provide justification for the name with which the caption identified him, the strange man was contorted into a suitably strange position, with his loin-clothed abdomen thrust rigidly and urgently to the right of the frame, nearly off the edge of the small boat (the primitive, demonstrative style of the drawing alone made this possible, for even the amateur observer of natural phenomena would reasonably expect that the vessel would betray some tendency to capsize with its pilot and cargo so precariously positioned on the very edge of the dingy, and yet it did not), and his torso twisted back to his left, so that he was facing upwards and behind him in the direction of, but not at, the card’s viewer. In that position the mask he wore on his face could be plainly seen. The full, brightly pallid moon (whose depiction here suggested it had itself undertaken, with some force, to appear, and was then shining not as the negative image of a superior light source, but wanly, coldly, and determinedly clearly under the power of its own inscrutable agency) bulged largely into the sky above him, larger than the boat and its passenger below, giving the impression that something in the substance of the black of the surrounding night sky was suspending its considerable weight. The white of the mask he wore, a skull, round and simple in design with large, deep holes for eyes (with his own cartoon eyes drawn in within their darkness), was an analog to the light source with which he found communion in the middle of that lake whose shores were unblemished by the violence of habitation. There was a caption in a large, serifed font recalling the tarot. Or, if not the tarot, then children’s books (those from a time when childhood was something akin to a parallel dimension inaccessible to adults, or, perhaps, rather than a time of enforced growth and watchful edification as it is advertised today, a faraway country ruled by terror in a foreign language). The caption read, “Mr. Mask Loves the Moon.” The illustrator chose to grade the progress of the reflections of the moonlight on the water in clay tones—chalky greys and browns—and the distant solitude of the locale was terrible, complete, and impossible.

Nick Lowe and Compassion

It’s past the holiday season, but what the hell. Since when is human decency seasonal? at about 36:00 in this holiday interview Terry Gross and Nick Lowe touch on the compassion that sets Lowe’s songwriting apart from the rest. It’s the thing that, for me, anyway, makes his music so appealing. It’s music written for human beings by a human being. It’s sometimes morbid (Marie Provost), sometimes bemused (So It Goes), sometimes heart-on-sleeve (What’s so Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding), but always true. It is always songwriting stood on a bedrock conviction that people have dignity and it is deserving of recognition.

I saw Nick Lowe’s Quality Holiday Revue with Los Straitjackets this year, and it was absolutely the best concert I’d ever attended. I’ve never seen a better performance, I’d never witnessed better musicians, I’d never heard familiar songs so imbued with their own inimitable and indelible character. There was an incontrovertible, nearly geologic factuality to the presence and musical mastery those musicians brought to the stage.

Anyhow, here’s that interview:

Imperialist Reductionism and a Boring Universe

The other day on the Late Show I saw a game developer demonstrate his soon-to-be-released wares, a game called “No Man’s Sky”. The dev was himself suitably impressed with his own marketing hyperbole, but the demonstration, as per the usual in these circumstances, gave the lie to all the hype. The game generates an impossible-to-fully-explore universe the player exploits for resources. In the game, a universe consists of a fairly restrictive set of variables, summed up as planets and resources. The player looks at the pretty screensavers virtual landscapes, marvels at the life-forms that populate them (generated by the recombination of a limited set of variables determining animal appearance and behavior), and monotonously collects abstracted “resources”.  The reductionist ideology that guides the gameplay would have us believe that the only things to do in a “universe” is to engage in a mechanically simplified imperialist exploitation of foreign resources. That’s it! You’re G-d, and of course that means that all you want to do is collect energon cubes from hapless natives and watch your galactic credits pile up. The player gets a whole universe, and all he gets to do is play a monotonous farming game. It would be laughable if this ideology wasn’t so apparent all around us:  places of cultural value, such as bookstores and revered record stores, close in towns across the country only to be replaced by Chase bank branches pushing the empty signs of monetary value.

The universe is bigger than dollar value. To attempt to reduce it to a place that only abides the predatory regard of others is cynical propaganda.