Against the Immaterial Rat Race

Greatness requires both patience and time — and the youth of our culture are, from childhood, told they have neither.

In a world of pluralism and diversity, of even a strange sort of mass individuality, the status quo umbrella must extend to fit each and every kind, and then charge a price for protecting all from the rain. You can imagine the umbrella needed for such a task. Better, thus, to keep man and woman small, their ambitions regulated, their heat huddled together and useless, useful. Better to teach children the value of dryness than the experience of a rain dance. Everything has value, you see; and, no need to worry, we have determined it for you — a priori, if you like.

In this world, value is given, not created, and so that which is created must have value. We have sacrificed the a priori of God and of Form and of Ideal for the a priori of Demand. Rather that we do away with what came before us altogether, and keep our eyes on what may yet emerge, our toes on the precipice.

I do not speak here of the common rat race concerning the pursuit of money, which is the first that will pop into anyone’s mind, and for good reason. It is the topical standard, but it is only one manifestation of our hurried culture and has otherwise accrued for itself a well-established ethos of opposition: it is not hard to find in society today a movie, song, aphorism, book, and so on, which criticizes the material rat race in favor of a “simpler”, “happier” life. What I speak of is the Immaterial Rat Race, created for those who pursue creation. Both together form a one-two punch: if you are clever enough to see the game behind the quick jab of commodity-chasing capitalism, and thus avoid it — pursuing instead a life of art, creation, knowledge — in comes the lethal right hook, admonishing, “Oh, but these ambitions too are of limited space and high demand!  Hurry!  Hurry!”

In an economy built on profit, new markets must habitually be exploited to the point of reflex, until even the free and unlimited becomes commodified. This itself is not a new observation. Capitalism is “global”, and has been for some time. It is always seeking more, more, more, into every sea and every soil for every possible source of fuel, into every new market for the cheapest, ever-cheaper labor, and back home again to feed the insatiable. Do not underestimate the human will put into action. It has revolutionized our world in a short time. It will not stop. (Ah! Do not underestimate the human will put into action!). Why then, if it consumes all peoples and all places would it not extend into every idea and lifestyle — into even those of the artist, who would otherwise reject it?

But, such ideas and lifestyles are still dangerous. They can exist, if they play the game, but they must be eyed closely, not allowed to develop, let alone foment. We will give them time — but not much. And patience? They shall have none. From ages 18 to 28, the artist has his window to prove he belongs. Afterwards it is time to accept his fate and live a normal life.

Think about something you would like to be. Anything at all. A doctor, a lawyer, an athlete. These might be among the most common. Maybe an artist, painter, poet, musician. You don’t care much for the money. You want to help people, or do something beautiful. Simply making enough to get by would be nice for you. Now look up to those who know, to those who have been here before — because where you want to go has already been discovered, and what you want to do already done. Ask them how. Receive the answer:

“You must go to college.”

(So sayeth the Last Men.  And they blink.)

By the time you are 17, 18 at most, you are in college. So is everyone your age. It is put to you as the only possible path for every possible future from the time you are 13, 14, maybe even sooner — for some, surely much sooner. And in the mean time you are told you lack attention, and lack focus, and should pop some pills to stay in line. We tell our children to run before they can walk, and then stigmatize their stumbling. If you fall behind just a little, it is too late for you. The purpose of going to college is to “get a good job” — but even if you reject this immediate financial end and simply want to learn art, or write a book, or sing, or help people, you are still corralled into a university and at every turn reminded of your looming debt, your impending financial obligations, the necessity of capital. And what of the necessity of helping people? Ha! What demand is there for that!?

In pursuit of profit, the art industry churns out “the next big thing”, “the top 10 writers under 30”.  People “make it big” at 18, 22, 27.  So many, so few, make it big until the very young woman of 28 is convinced she is “old”. The cult of youth success, which is not based on skill, but on a lottery system of arbitrary finance, in turn helps create our cult of impatience. This is how the danger of art, of the artist, of art and of artist as political-cultural weapons, is kept quiet, is controlled. Those who make it are safe, and those who are too dangerous to make it are told at ever-younger ages, before they have a chance to truly grow and mature and create, that there is no space for them on the best seller list. Get a real job.

I have met far too many beautiful, talented people under the age of 30 who are convinced it is all over for them. They were promised something absurd, told to desire the impossible, told to dream of a status beyond their own control, a status embedded in the whims of those with money, those who create their own demand. And so this is what has become of art, of value: art is not created, it is supplied!

And demand? Demand is created! Demand is conjured out of nothing! Acts of pure magic that were once before and rightfully remain the pure domain of the artist, now the capitalist claims this skill for himself. Governments, banks, advertising firms, pharmaceutical companies, universities, police forces, armies — all the most powerful institutions on Earth operate by creating demand where there is none, blind to the reality that you and I have only so much to give, and so much to consume, and so much to create.  We give for them, we consume for them, we create for them! Why accept this world where demand suddenly appears in places it never was before, in places it is not needed? That birth, that bringing into existence, that dialectic of something from nothing, is rightfully reserved for man and for woman out of love! Artists make the world go round! Creators make the world go round! What can demand do but destroy and consume!?

Remember, from the artist’s perspective, financial success is not necessarily the goal — merely success of any kind is desired, merely “recognition”. But recognition takes the form of financial success, and is thus appropriated. Recognition is itself a quality advertised as valuable, is itself given demand. Recognition is commodified by limiting its availability — this is done by creating powerful institutions given the task of deciding who will be recognized — and charging a price for access.

The most blatantly cruel example of this — which is particularly useful in its obviousness, but not culturally unique in its cruelty — is American Idol. One by one, hundreds by hundreds, thousands by thousands, young, talented singers/musicians are sold the idea of fame, of recognition, and corralled like lambs to slaughter. To be sure, most participants are not concerned with the money, but with a chance to sing, a chance to create, and to do what they love. To be sure, the “finalists” and “semi-finalists” sign ridiculous contracts in pursuit of this opportunity, denying themselves a fair portion of an already-unfair profit. Yet, in mechanical fashion, each individual dream is appropriated until, by some fabricated farce of democracy, “we” choose “our” Idol.

A few people out of the thousands who dream are allowed their dream. The rest are told to try again, to wait for next season. To wait for Demand to raise its chin, and reach out its hand to pluck from the millions of mortals those one or two chosen for immortality. I would rather that you reject next season, and reject the New York Times Bestseller List, and reject the Ivy League, and reject degrees, and reject such dreams, and reject Demand as you have bravely rejected all other gods, and reject “making it”. Rather that you see you are an artist, and you are already making it. Rather that you look right now at what you have most recently created and declare, “I made it!” Rather that you smile, and slow down. Rather that you remain a child for a while. Rather that you wander for a while, into the rain even. Rather that you dance in the rain, all alone if need be. Rather that you overcome the fear of a drenched loneliness.


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