Our Padded Cells: The Disenfranchised Individual
There seems to be an appropriate analogy between every citizen subjected to global capitalism and a person deemed-mentally ill, restrained in a straight jacket and shut away in a padded cell. Each one of us are being subjected to a process of increased isolation to the point of total disenfranchisement. In the strange time of no time/place of no place we occupy one cannot clearly see whether or not this process has already been completed. The internet can often feel like millions of isolated voices soaked with mental anguish, all screaming into a black hole, perpetuating their inertia. From such an angle, the internet resembles the pinnacle of communication-breakdown rather than the pinnacle of communication technology.
Some of the padded rooms are better endowed; they have more in them to keep the subject distracted, to forget their predicament. But some have little to distract their subjects with, who are continuously shouting and banging – but nobody can hear them.
European scientific discovery showed us how to take apart the living planet bit by bit, to see what it is made of, what qualities things possess, which has given us the ability to harness these qualities with revolutionary potential. But it seemed to be blind to half of what makes life what it is; yet you would be foolish to expect any individual living after centuries of the entrenchment of this logic to have some sort of idea what it was that was missed, even though many sense that something isn’t right. Before anybody could say “stop”, a powerful force has been released that capitalised on the extraction of qualities from the earth for profit: industrial capitalism.
Science now does us an immense disservice by continuing its crusade it has already won against organised religion, when the battle should be within itself (although I recognise this as an oversimplification, many leading scientific figures seem so hell-bent on ridding the world of believers in god, that they ignore that the frontline of science is used for the darkest, most secretive and socially regressive forces active in the world).
Capitalism harnessed scientific discoveries to extract from life to create something that is lifeless/dead: an accumulation of capital. This wealth is abstracted from what John Ruskin said was the real wealth: “life itself”. Like a dissection in a scientific experiment, capital acts on the planet as if with a scalpel, taking everything apart to extract profit from it. If there was ever a feeling that capitalism brought any other sort of progress than that of technological progress specific to its continuation, it has been incidental to it, such as with the creation of a proletariat (in the first industrial areas of the world) who forced capitalism to make a deal with it, otherwise there would have been revolution.
But the improvement in living conditions was fooled, exploited and twisted out of recognition by the power of advertising and capital found a way of extracting from one half of the world by manufacturing desire, envy and greed, and getting the other half to make the products. The white people’s of the first industrial nations were made into consumers, whilst the darker skinned people’s, to whom industrialisation was new, were made into the producers. This sent the people who had initially fought back against capitalism into a sleep-like state, and people began to find themselves alone together; everyone in box rooms, watching boxes of moving images, right next to each other, in sprawling suburbs. Alone, surrounded by material gains that couldn’t satisfy.
Once the labour organisations that had grown up to defend workers were defeated, capital had nothing to stop it growing and growing, and the more it grew, the more it fragmented groups of people; the more it did this the more it could exploit the individual. By the time the old Soviet regimes fell and capital went global, lots of people began to feel that if they couldn’t beat it they might as well join it; now they must be rueing this fatal error.
Everything capitalism sold to us as a token of freedom made us more and more trapped in isolation; cars emptied our streets of familiar faces; cell phones began to cut through conversations like an axe, and as more and more bought them, the more and more societies moulded to their design, making it almost impossible for anyone to be without them.
Forget the internet, now we have Facebook. Facebook may have the appearance of being a format that connects people and groups, but Facebook was an ingenious capitalisation; a capitalisation on a social trend already entrenched. Since the 1980’s an intense engineering of society to make it one of competitive individuals, isolated each individual, quietly disenfranchising them, to the extent that everybody found themselves unwillingly in competition with each other. The creators of Social networking sites picked up on this, to capitalise on the burning need to be recognised, seen as worthy of life and liked by others.
What is the feeling one has when they scroll down a Facebook news feed? It isn’t one of being connected, of being in company, it’s one of anxiety; anxiety over not being good enough, being invisible, being less popular, being left behind, being unattractive, which are all tributary anxieties that flow into the main river of anxiety of our time; anxiety over finances/work – and Facebook is an extension of work, which is why employees shouldn’t be surprised when potential employer’s analyse their profile.
Everything is an extension of work now, putting us in a continuous race to keep ourselves afloat. And individualism has began to show what it really means: freedom to fend off forces that are far too powerful for one person to deal with; a continuous becoming-incarcerated. The sound of what we have found ourselves in is slowly becoming too loud to ignore; but we no longer know how to connect and join forces with other people. Protest marches largely resemble festivals, charity races, that know where and when they will begin and end, than anything that has the potential to upturn the insane march into madness we have been placed on.
This is what I feel has happened; that so many of us have the same feeling; that the anger and anxiety about what is going on is trapped within us, as if it is our bodies that are the padded cells.