Give me back the Berlin Wall
Give me Stalin and St. Paul
I’ve seen the future, brother:
It is murder — Leonard Cohen
That has long been one of my favorite quotations, and I’m convinced that it becomes truer by the day. We have all seen the future, because the horizon of the future is closer than ever before — in fact, I am unaware of an individual or institution that seems able to project any kind of future further than about two years at the very most.
This works in two ways. First, any planning for something that will prove beneficial beyond the future horizon is so radically impossible as to be basically unthought. On the other hand, any potential (negative) outcome that could obtain at some distant point of the future must be dealt with immediately. This latter dynamic is clearest in government, where the budget deficit must be dealt with now lest bond traders start pushing up interest rates at some indefinite future point or where Social Security must be fixed now because there are projections under which it might run a deficit forty years into the future.
The first dynamic, however, is everywhere, and the primary culprit seems to be the corporate world, where investors seem incapable of looking past a quarterly time horizon and companies do their bidding — laying off workers now to boost net income and keep the share price up rather than riding out the economic storm and preserving “human capital” for the next upturn, for example. Yet the attitude has pervaded every aspect of society, so that momentary shortfalls are always a sign that permanent and radical changes — the omnipresent “cuts” — are necessary without delay.
This horizon of the future is the ultimate horizon of reality, and as in Freud, this reality principle is all about limits. “We can’t afford that,” “we don’t have room in the budget for that unfortunately,” etc., etc. — such context-free proclamations are routinely accepted as the final word, almost as a declaration of God himself. And strangely, the budget never expands, it only becomes tighter and tighter, constraining our options further, until life becomes an exercise in what to “cut.”
We live at the beck and call of numbers, of percentages — we “cut” to the appropriate level first and ask questions later. We must “cut” discretionary spending by 10%! We must “cut” health care costs or we’ll go bankrupt! We must “cut” — and here’s the kicker — taxes!
The two of course do go together in the straightforward budgetary sense, but I think there’s a deeper conceptual link. We passively accept “cuts” in everything else because of the “cut” represented by the tax “cut” — the “cut” that would “cut us loose” from shared responsibility, from anything that would challenge the ever-more-dominant attitude of “I got mine, and you can go fuck yourself.” Are you being foreclosed on? Fuck you, you fucking bum — I pay my bills. Are you out of work? Find a job, you lazy fuck — I work hard.
The result is a society based on the premise of looting. We are all “cashing out,” taking whatever we can hold onto — because fuck you, I’ve earned it. The CEOs are the most visible offenders, rigging companies to give themselves insane bonuses worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but isn’t that the model for everyone? The dream of homeownership: I’ll live in my own little detached box and go to my job in my own little individual box as well, and everyone will have to leave me the fuck alone. I’ve got mine, so leave me the fuck alone — did it ever occur to you to get a fucking job like I did? Did it ever occur to you to work hard like I did? Obviously not, if you don’t have what I have — so fuck you. Don’t ask me for a hand-out, you stupid fuck.
The society of looting, the society of go fuck yourself — we live in the society of trying to pretend that we don’t have a society. But we do and we have to — in order to do anything meaningful or worthwhile, we have to join together in pursuit of a common goal. If we all do nothing but try to claim our share, we’ll build nothing and destroy everything. This is not a moral ideal but an objective fact. By building a society on the principle of go fuck yourself, we literally are fucking ourselves, every day, up the ass — no mean feat! It required advanced technology and thousands of years of cultural development to get us to the point where we can fuck ourselves so thoroughly, and man, are we ever fucking going at it.