Over Mother’s Day, I had to talk to my family.
And I keep getting asked the same questions: “How’s your job?” and “When are you getting promoted?”. My replies are always the same: “Fine” and “I’m happy with where I’m at.”
Those sentiments are the anathema to our neoliberal world.
In Bettany Hughes’ Genius of the Modern World, she discusses three thinkers that shaped our current era: Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. Since most people don’t give a shit about philosophy, I figured that she chose these three because they’re the only guys most people have heard of. But people have heard of them for good reason: they did shape the modern world. Bettany Hughes was dead fucking right.
Marx was influential for obvious reasons, Freud because of psychoanalysis, and Nietzsche…well….I’ll be honest, I’ve never read Nietzsche (or Marx or Freud. Yes, I’m largely a Marxist but this isn’t a fucking religion. You don’t have to read the source material to understand it). When you’re a nerd like me, the only philosophers fellow nerds read are Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. He was always too “in” for me to take interest. But as we can stereotypically think of Nietzsche, his “existential angst” and “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” have been largely influential among neoliberal apologists.
Of course, Nietzsche has been misused and misunderstood since his death, notably by the Nazis. I have no idea what he was actually trying to conclude. In his defense, particularly in his description of the ubermensch, his ideal man (or person) is someone that embraces the ugliness and beauty of the world…he doesn’t necessarily envision some billionaire in the Ayn Rand universe. But go read him if you want to know. Yet again, our stereotypical perception of him has led us into justifying our angst and alienation in the world. Existence has become a battleground, a place where we must impose our will.
Life’s a Wagnerian Opera. We must slay the dragons.
So individualism has become our new religion (post-“God is dead”). And our objective is to dominate the world, or “make it our bitch!” Now we conceive of ourselves as some being independent of the society that raised us. Society, in effect, becomes the prison that holds us in.
I echoed this sentiment last year with the bullshit “static identity”. But there’d be no identity without society.
We are not, of course, born blank slates. But I’m missing one massive step. We need more than the Kantian a priori concepts if we are to understand ourselves. We need sensory content from the outside world. Without content and conceptions, there is no self.
We’re not locked within a prison. WE ARE the prison. Becoming the neoliberal individual, cut off and wholly independent this society, and heroically imposing the self onto the universe (by making the world your “bitch”) is, frankly, horseshit. It’s just finding an excuse to be an asshole. The world isn’t something to be conquered. You’re a part of it. To recognize that is the only method of liberation. Jumping down the rabbit hole of Westernized individualism creates the prison…one that you’ll never escape.