The Exercise of Imagination

~ musings on some of the tediums of modernity — and this quote by Ursula K. Le Guin:

The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary.”

~ Ursula K. Le Guin
Yeah, it’s 2021 – but this message certainly still applies.

So much of life feels tedious.

Perhaps I am only speaking for myself with such a sentiment, though I don’t think so. And I don’t just mean recently, with the whole pandemic thing.

I am mostly talking about the internet.

Life is so online now. And to me, quite simply, increasingly — online life does not feel real.

I’m kinda sick of it. Looking at screens. Clicking, watching, listening. Mediating my entire life through the machines around me. I feel malnourished, like I have crossed some boundary of no return. Like I have had my fill.

Maybe it’s just a phase. Some necessary malady to overcome in order to fully enter digital modernity and mindlessly continue to participate in it {i.e. become a dedicated poster, yet another internet peon, a digi-lifer with copious online accounts full of objects, currencies, tokens — all that depict a new class status to a population that has to be painstakingly trained to understand and care about any of it}.

Unreal, like I said.

By way of my burgeoning freelance online writing career, I have had to learn so much about search engine optimization (SEO) {what if we made Googling psychologically predatory?} and decentralized finance (DeFi) {what if we solved the vampirism and crash-cycling of Big Finance x fiat with small finance x crypto — less secure, more scheme-y, and much, much more complicated?}. I grew up watching — and on some level, emotionally connecting with — TV commercials. I’ve seen far more ads in my life than movies. And now I essentially understand the art of internet advertising through my learnings about copywriting, a form of primarily digital marketing that has exploded in opportunity and content in the 21st century. Everyone has websites, email lists, blogs — and they all need tasty words written by experienced writers.

Distasteful to my own soul or not — I have become pretty good at it. I hope for it to employ me going into the future.

And let me just say this: it’s all bullshit.

How many thousands of companies are pouring content onto the Internet every single second? What does this do to the net – to the reading experience and to the incentives of its running?

I don’t know what the statistics are on the actual dominance of media brands and PR firms and the marketing arms of every single company out there and what domineering % of internet traffic they herald with all their meticulous SEO-based contents, inanely blasting through the byzantine flows of the ouroboros-esque digital economy alongside so many convoluted MLM / Pyramid / Ponzi schemes that the average working class person cannot ever escape from having to see, and potentially labor within. Or just fall into the trap of participating amongst… as a mark.

Sure, the internet is the new Wild West — a digital frontier with borderless horizons and infinite possibility … that corps large and small continuously carve out irreversible pieces of, to earn ROI and gain brand exposure from, netting reads, subs, views at all costs. All mostly for the sake of ad revenue. No matter what all of their domineering actions do to the actual user experience of the internet.

Sell, sell, sell. That’s the core motive of it all. Throw our stuff in front of as many eyes as possible.

None of it is real. It’s all online tickers and counters. “Hits.” Digitized. Immaterial. Intangible. Audiovisual fantasia. Fugazi. Bullshit.

Contrary to some people’s beliefs, you cannot live inside the computer.

We now invest billions of dollars in the “Metaverse” to have work meetings within while poverty is still rampant in every major US city and coastal communities throughout the global south await climate catastrophes inside of our lifetimes. {You fucking kidding me??}

Now more than ever, it feels rather all-encompassing. Everything is online — our jobs, our social lives, our very minds… And the internet has become an overdetermined haven of salesmanship for bullshit we mostly don’t need, full of content no one reads but someone is paying for. Social media is just the beginning. Think about all these stylishly-branded subscription services. Not just for news and streaming entertainment {of which there are now about 50 right? Any Paramount+’ers?} but for personal care products, consumer electronics, shoes, meat, sex toys. Anything and everything you can imagine is available on your doorstep within two days’ time. Convenience long ago became the master value of our society.

Brands are people now. Or, more like people+. They post about anime and mental health and “spilling the tea” on social media. And they want your $10.99 monthly, like clockwork, to recursively feed to exec and shareholder hoards that don’t even know how the {digital} sausage is made.

Am I saying this is bad and we shouldn’t have it? Well… idk. But it certainly isn’t good. And the people delivering all of this convenience are in a hell that we cannot imagine.

Faceless {to most of us} drivers and delivery men labor 12-hour shifts in factories and trucks to guide our fast food packages home, week after week.

{Are these min-wage couriers, physically and digitally, the latest immiserating underclass tranche? Practically indentured servants, likely indebted and overeducated, working like hell for hourly rates with no benefits or backstops for medicine, childcare, vacation…}

I won’t say that online or TV ads don’t end up creating “value” for companies — because they do. People see commercials, they see targeted videos before their videos, or whatever, and yeah — they end up going and buying the shoes, subscribing to the channel, etc. Stock prices go up. That kind of value is certainly created within the interplay of this system.

Whatever. It still sucks. Try as we might — buying that new product is not really gonna make your life that much better. Easier, probably. More convenient. But not better, not more meaningful.

Consumption can only take us so far, spiritually speaking. And the drive to consume, taken on a societal, existential level, may just end up destroying us entirely!

The bona fide cyberpunk understands that life in the future won’t be sexy fun with robot parts, robot wives, and robot wars {that we have a puncher’s chance in}. It will be a hell of class domination by rulers who own everything and use power, wealth, and most of all — technology — to immortalize their rule.

Our main role in the cyberpunk future will be to simply work and buy and have children to do the same. {…wait, what is our role now?}

To truly *conscientiously* consider what kind of blood and exploitation goes into our supply chain — past, present, future — is to sacrifice your sanity, blacken your heart, and step yourself closer to the realm of some kind of escapist fantasy, like return-to-monke anarcho-primitivism.

In a mad world, only the mad are truly sane, right?

To want to leave this civilization as we have made it is beginning to feel more rational than not, eh?

Ok, I am rambling. {Let me ramble some more…}

My primary question to all this: how do we escape this world?

How can I displace myself from the social and economic and *digital* flows going on around me — and still survive? Still connect with the people around me? Is there anything to do but participate in this carnival of stupid horror?

Can we ever escape from the internet’s modern tedium?

Aaron Thorpe, aka paradoomer on Twitter, recently wrote a piece —What May Have Been— on the concept of futurelessness, paired with Mark Fisher’s {RIP} “hauntology” and capitalist realism theorizations, to explain our modern economy, the behavior of the mass media, our devolving consumer tastes, and the endless production of rebooted, nostalgic, franchise-based art to service them.

It’s well-written, a good read, and people should check it out. It speaks to much of the same feelings I am experiencing. The estranging tedium, the relative hopelessness…

My most cogent understanding of hauntology comes from Fisher’s application to explore culture and consumer society under late capitalism, or capitalist realism — a term used by Fisher to describe the near ubiquitous resignation that there is no alternative. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, globalization, finance capital, mass consumerism, and mass media have asserted dominance over not just every sector of the world but of our social relations, our behavior and minds, our hopes and dreams. But this economic and cultural hegemony doesn’t exist purely in recognition of itself; its power and very presence is “haunted not by the apparition of the spectre of communism, but by its disappearance.”

~ Aaron Thorpe

This malaise, the feeling that there is nothing new, is itself nothing new of course. We find ourselves at the notorious ‘end of history’ trumpeted by Francis Fukuyama after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Fukuyama’s thesis that history has climaxed with liberal capitalism may have been widely derided, but it is accepted, even assumed, at the level of the cultural unconscious. It should be remembered, though, that even when Fukuyama advanced it, the idea that history had reached a ‘terminal beach’ was not merely triumphalist. Fukuyama warned that his radiant city would be haunted, but he thought its specters would be Nietzschean rather than Marxian. Some of Nietzsche’s most prescient pages are those in which he describes the ‘oversaturation of an age with history’. ‘It leads an age into a dangerous mood of irony in regard to itself’, he wrote in Untimely Meditations, ‘and subsequently into the even more dangerous mood of cynicism’, in which ‘cosmopolitan fingering’, a detached spectatorialism, replaces engagement and involvement. This is the condition of Nietzsche’s Last Man, who has seen everything, but is decadently enfeebled precisely by this excess of (self) awareness.

The ‘realism’ here is analogous to the deflationary perspective of a depressive who believes that any positive state, any hope, is a dangerous illusion.

~ Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (2009)

Now, I know what you are thinking — and you would be right.

I am too online. I know this. I’ve simply spent too much time on the computer. Absolutely. I should delete my Twitter and read more books; I should stop writing so much and go out with people in the real world, at restaurants and cafes and movie theaters and concerts. I know.

I should stop being online so much. I know all too well; I know too much.

I should go outside, touch grass, make some new friends.

{Working on it! Writing about it… but also doing my best to get out more, believe me…}

But what would we talk about?

Movies and video games, probably. And … politics? {I couldn’t help myself … I am simply a political freak.}

Political discourse… *shudders* is worse than ever. All there is is discourse. Talk. No action. Do-nothing political posturing from the corporate duopoly. The expertly manipulative, minimum-brain-size salesmanship of prejudice and fear-mongering from conservatives. The means-tested servicing of corpo profit projects and financialized bubbles from the liberals (most of just the same stuff but more subtly respectful of cultural “norms” or whatever).

Political discourse mirrors online life in these same miserable ways: awful, waste of time, everyone is selling bullshit and there is no reliable medium for meaningful action.

Long story short: Basically everyone in positions of power throughout the world {especially in America} seems entirely corrupt. That’s a core political truth of our day, to my eye. There are no heroes out there. {Okay, maybe one.} In order to get there and wield power in our modern system, you basically have to be made to be fundamentally evil, if you weren’t already…

The American government itself is just a handmaiden to the corporate world. And mostly to weapons manufacturers and banks. That’s it. That is its job. To ensure that profits continue to flow from every industry — especially the industries most corrupted by privatization and the profit-motive — i.e. healthcare, education, housing, etc.

I will say, the recent general strikes and fresh unionizing efforts from the working class under the gun of mega corporations do represent a glowing silver lining as of the current political moment. It brings a modest smile to my face. {See: John Deere strike, Kellogg’s strike, Starbucks union}

Solidarity forever!

But whatever your political alignment, let me assure you — nearly everything you see on your screen, in online threads and coming out of sharply-dressed anchors and mass media mouthpieces — that is all bullshit. Nothingness. A soul-destroying abyss of distracting propaganda meant to manufacture your consent to keep exploiting your brothers and sisters and buying subscriptions, reading emails, updating your online profiles, ignoring the bleating pain within your very soul, etc.

Just like SEO and NFTs and the novelties of the DeFi ecosystem complexifies all the old ways — MAKE MONEY ABOVE ALL ELSE — political discourse online is all propaganda. A waste of time. From mainstream channels, and most alternative ones too — you won’t find much worthy of your precious time on this Earth.

{Fortunate is the soul, old or young, that never gets captured by mainline political discourse — especially in the US.}

Cure (1997)

And yet, I know all of this because I consume all of this. I see everything. I am aware of the discourse because — try as I might — I cannot avert my gaze from it.

Politics is important.

To sum: Between the asininity {yes, this is a word} of the terrible art in NFTs and the panic over their carbon footprint {still relatively minuscule compared to our entire energy industry pumping at full throttle!}, the complex network of financialization involved in everything from the modern internet to our horrendous healthcare system, to the psychic prison of our roads and the necessity of owning an overpriced x polluting personal vehicle to be a regular, well-to-do person in this country, to rapacious online algorithms driving us into a multivariate sprawl of outraging madnesses (that often have nothing to do with us or our actual material lives) — the continuous hollowing out of the spirit of the American being is a completionist affair. There is no hole that has not been filled {heh}.

All this stuff sucks. Again, all I’m ranting is that life kinda sucks right now {as of this historical moment}. Being able to travel the world is traded for the ability {cost} of easily connecting with any culture primarily {only} as a consumer. Being able to easily learn anything online is traded for a life that must be mediated through the internet, through smartphone apps and algorithm-based platforms that want nothing more than our money and attention. Longer life spans means more time to work at a job you hate, for people that don’t care about you, for a small hoard at the end of your road that you will have a hard time enjoying the spending of, what with the rising tides and fires and storms constantly glimpsing your horizon, gracing your notification screen with fresh horrors every 24 hours… {coming soon}

It’s all just so tedious. It’s boring. I am bored. And I am privileged enough financially to *be able* to be bored. And this tedium merely presages the coming horrors of climate disasters and cycling pandemics and financial crashes we will never be able to adequately prepare for. All within our lifetimes!

And I am not trying to be edgy, or act like I am above all of this. {Maybe I am unconsciously.} Mostly, I just want things to change. For myself, for people like me. For everyone, really.

So why am I saying any of this ish?

Because I am building to something important. Something I would actually want to talk about with prospective friends and colleagues and similarly worried, restless, bored persons — something meaningful beyond mere fantasia.

Cinema, yes. Music, yes. Art, yes. Imagination. Creation. Storytelling. All the stuff I have for long been obsessed with, and written about for my own meaningful *fun.* To me, such things are the last reliable escape from modernity’s tedious, exploitative, utterly commercialized hellscape of hungry cons and capitalists.

The only reliable escape from the tedium of this moment, as I can see it, is to use your imagination in some fundamental way.

Imagination to the tune of creation. Make something!

To me, imaginative creation can be a way out of nihilism.

You need to take a stand on the world’s problems. It doesn’t matter what position, just that you choose one. A strong identity may help restore your memory.” ~ Triss Merigold

Whether it be storytelling or music writing or deep fiction reading, the exercise of imagination can be a saving grace from all of the bad news and stupidity and prejudice and money-mindedness on all of our screens. To tap the well of your inner soul with art that you can call your own is … *sigh* truly non-fungible, {i.e. imbued with irreplaceable value} (I’m sorry).

The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary.”

~ Ursula K. Le Guin

The quote from Ursula I placed at the start of this blog illustrates the potentially *revolutionary* power of the imagination. To her, science fiction was not just an exercise in fantasia — it was a real way to seize back the means of your own mind from your rulers — physically and spiritually — to try for imagining something better.

To imagine a better world was to take a step, no matter how small, toward realizing such a world.

So my question evolves into: How can we imagine — and then work to implement — entirely new systems, modalities, thoughtforms in our world? How can we break, or transcend, the terror of this status quo which I have somewhat lazily laid out in such half-baked, meandering screeds thus far…?

And if we must remain logged on forever, how can we make the internet good again?

Strikes are a good start. Stories from regular folk like me and you, stories with an enlightening purpose beyond mere transactional, compartmentalized entertainment {yet still bloody, sexy, monstrous, fun!}, could be an imaginative proliferation of the inception of something really revolutionary.

I happen to believe good stories can make a difference. Maybe I am too idealistic, too naively hopeful… Maybe.

John Gardner, novelist and author of On Moral Fiction, said, “I think that the difference right now between good art and bad art is that the good artists are the people who are, in one way or another, creating, out of deep and honest concern, a vision of life … that is worth pursuing.”

Is the world as we have currently constructed it worth continuing to pursue in the same way that we have up to now? Do we want to keep building this same world?

How could we materialize newer, better pursuits?

As always, food for thought. ~

Footage of The Matrix premier in 1999: Again, this but un-ironically. Nothing pains me more than seeing footage of everyday people in everyday situations from as recently as 10-15 years ago and realizing just how uninhibited and “real” everyone looked and acted before pervasive social media destroyed it all.