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The Tragedy of Nothing

There’s nothing viscerally tragic about living a middle class life in first world countries.

The tragedy is a slow unwinding of lost potential happiness where we are subjugated to menial jobs serving employers whom we can never escape – entrapped and coerced into an unwanted life. The American dream has always been a dream for the nothing, but the nothing is getting worse, and has been refashioned into a dream of finally not worrying about food, housing, and retirement security which is dangled cruelly in front of us in an unending cavalcade of predatory advertising.

Powerball lottos and other get rich gambling scams are the only dreams left, as evidenced by ever greater jackpots funded by the desperate and the nearly hopeless. Unfortunately, the horror of being struck by lightning, mangled during the daily commute, or shot by a terrorist outstrips the odds of winning the lottery. Never telling someone the odds may be a good working philosophy for a swashbuckling space smuggler, but for the American populace perhaps they should know their odds of seeing their life improve within the status quo engine are rapidly declining.  Such realities are conveniently shuffled aside, careful not to sever the last flimsy hope of reaching escape velocity out of the system.

Not to worry though – sophisticated technology, ample food, and relatively safe environments help assuage the tragedy of a life lost in mundanity. The death of Ivan Ilyich is the status quo premature death of spirit for all those subsisting in waiting lines of modern society. The unexamined lives are in fact tragic. For your consideration, observe the rotting souls still taking breath in small rusted out midwestern US towns drowning out their pain with opioids, another beer, and talking about next season on the idiot box while scheming ideas of suicide on the side. Do I leave a note or is that cliche?

The existential and transcendental movements are background noise to the nonplussed proletariat where felt joys are scantly encountered – haughty ideas like happiness and living a meaningful life are only received through advertising and media as glancing allusions that something more is out there, but the felt reality of the working class is numbness and withdrawal. They remain entrenched in their waking oblivion while only hearing murmurs of something lying just beyond the shadows on the cave wall.

A sense of purpose is what invigorates an individual to authentic action but we can never seem to eclipse the indoctrinated individualism and egotism we remain guarded within that dooms us to living a life as a fake fuck. Competitive capitalism has us ensnared in its death coil demanding more for the sake of more, exponentially more. Materially speaking, we know things can always get worse because there is no bottom in our brand of capitalism, no point where your suffering will be met with help if you should fall on hard times, so we bear those ills we have rather than fly to others we know not of.

We plod along living out our predestined corporate managed lives in a haze of where did it all go time. We are the herds. We are the 99%. We are the spineless gutless masses who can’t break free enough of ownership neoliberal capitalist doctrine to permit ourselves to feel the full disgust and outrage we have for it all. So we blame ourselves for not meeting their criteria for success and pretend the collateral damage for our lives of nothing is justified and unavoidable, pretend this is a life worth defending and killing foreign brown strangers over. After all, you’re not a slave and doing something against your will if you’re “so excited for this amazing opportunity and glad to be on board!”

But it’s not our fault, is it? We are fed heaps of propaganda from cradle to grave, and from government and business alike while reinforcing nationalistic attitudes and workplace subservience via the already indoctrinated authority figures, e.g. our teachers, management, parents, and religious leaders. We are told we are whiny for wanting more out of life than a working fridge, indoor plumbing, and a gaming console. We are told to practice gratitude for a life of nothing, it could always be a pants shitting horrorshow, so be grateful for your nothing. We are lauded for our ability to be the vigilant workhorse on the animal farm, and counter, told to feel shame if we are anything less than a go getter, a self starter, a multitasking whirling dervish captain of industry as if that was our obligation to this society that was put upon us, and an assumed preferable existence to living our own chosen lives.

The bars, restaurants, churches, workplaces, gyms, and retail shops offer the dull hum of predictability, the toys placed in our cages. An electric slide into becoming comfortably indentured. The uniformity of industrial civilization is a mind numbing dullness. People don’t even know what the fuck fun is anymore. Most haven’t had any in years. Fun is considered to most as something for children and the indolent. If people had fun then they might want more of it. That means they’ll be laughing with friends instead of filling out some goddamn forms, and typing words that will never be read by a human into a computer. But our owners want us to document everything for the good of the company, and to the detriment of everything else.

The perfect citizen always has a boundless puritan work ethic, sporting a drug free urine stream, and always preferring to remain busy because that’s just how virtuous they are. Busy people don’t ask too many questions, and they contribute to the bottom line of business without so much as a grimace of revolt for their treatment because they are too tired, too scared, and their will has been broken like a horse learning to wear a saddle or work the fields. Dutifully responding to their whip. It’s quite coincidental that our values seem almost directly in line with promoting a hierarchy based on wealth and status, it’s funny like that isn’t it? It’s almost like this entire system is broken in every possible way when it comes to helping the common man and just happens to disproportionately benefit the already wealthy and powerful – well it’s almost like that system was designed by the aristocracy for the benefit of the aristocracy as if they were the owners and didn’t give a ratshit about equality. And that’s what we are to the rich – a broken in beast, an asset being depreciated as our bodies grow older, kept securely in our upgraded cages.

Hope to leave this void only lies in overthrowing our captors once and for all. This old world hierarchy of rule by elites must come to a close so humanity can begin to live real lives, and our species may survive. Because no one seems to be winning right now. The most wealthy powerful nation is populated with zombie husks going through the motions, wearing the smile they keep in a jar by the door.

Even the owners lead shallow shitty stupid lives which is the true irony of this predicament. Their lives are terrible. Hurried more than our own, filling out their forms, and conscribing more emerging economies to the nothing. They live a life chasing the ego proliferating capitalist dragon while their toxic actions cause a cascading effect as leverage trickles down the hierarchy. Subsequently the shallow whims of the least among us have become the goals of our global society, and these empty aspirations have killed our collective spirit. To quicken us once more only a new era of liberty and equality can save us from a demise spurred on by egoism and its accompanying avarice. But that would require massive reform, if not outright revolution, and as noted, people are tired, scared, broke, and numb.

The cycle of nothing and the collateral externalized horrors could end but we must find the will to stand together and be intellectually honest and emotionally authentic. Americans are lost in the inconsequential nothingness of infinite double bind coercions our culture thrusts upon us: Republican or Democrat, work or starve, marry or be isolated and alone, Target or Wal-Mart. We must break this cycle and start to create again. We must learn to prioritize our energy, and can no longer be dabbling on the outer edges of substance. We need to start asking the right questions.  The nothing could end if we decide to say enough, dig our heels in, and push back.

The deadened masses may break this onerous social contract if they knew others had their back. It’s that simple, yet getting to that precipice takes intellectual responsibility to never stop asking questions and dissolving boundaries. Do we need stock markets or industrial civilization at all? Is private ownership of a company fair or moral when so many contribute? Why not cooperative loving economies instead? What about authority figures? Could we devise a system that that didn’t rely on giving people enormous power, perhaps one based on equality, liberty, happiness, fun, reason, and always trying to leave the smallest footprint in lives as possible. Letting communities naturally form instead of sold and indebted into existence. Could we live happier, simpler lives, with more human connection by localizing our economies while also being more sustainable, it’s not utopia – it’s simply reorienting our path and instead of chasing nothing, we choose something.

Jason Holland can be reached at jason.holland@reasonbowl.com, visit his site reasonbowl.com, or follow him on twitter @ReasonBowl.

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