In this financialized hall of mirrors, narcissism replaces identity and the authentic self is rendered incoherent.
CHARLES HUGH SMITH
Correspondent Dani A.M. (of Removing the Shackles) was kind enough to identify three bits of advice from my recent conversation with Max Keiser on Summer Solutions (25:45): (9:20 min: “We’ve been brainwashed into financializing the human experience.”)
1. Stop financializing the human experience
2. Acquire skills, not credentials
3. Vote with your Feet
These are the themes I’ll be addressing this week.
What does financializing the human experience mean? It means turning everything into a financial transaction that profits an enterprise and the state.Since the state needs profitable enterprises to generate its tax revenues (and to pay wages that generate payroll/income taxes), the state is an implicit partner in every financializing the human experience transaction.
In an increasingly cashless, debt-dependent culture, every financial transaction generates income for banks: credit card and debit card fees, interest on credit cards, etc.
Here are some common examples:
— Mom and Dad work long hours to afford childcare. Maybe they like working for the state or Corporate America more than caring for their kids (or sharing the care of several kids with other parents), but the system incentivizes maximizing income and paying for childcare as a profitable transaction.
In other words, childcare for many has been distilled down to a financial decision.
— Dinner with friends is purchased, generating income for an enterprise, a bank and taxes for the state. If people no longer learn how to cook, then sharing a meal with friends necessarily becomes a financial transaction.
— A sense of self must be purchased via signifiers of identity and self-worth.
The obsession with brands and other signifiers of belonging reflects one thing, and only one thing: a pervasive fragility of self. Unsurprisingly, our selfhood is incredibly fragile in a culture that glorifies the impossible (thin, fit, super-smart, witty, personable, creative, wealthy oh and of course humble) and sows insecurity as a means of selling you something.
That each of us remains the same person regardless of what we wear, drive, drink, etc. is obvious but verboten in a culture that profits from insecurity and self-doubt. As Caroline Caldwell observed, “In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.”
I would modify this slightly: liking yourself regardless of what you wear, drink, drink, etc. is a rebellious act.
Liking yourself is not the same as narcissism. Narcissism is the result of the consumerist society’s relentless focus on the essential project of consumerism, which is “the only self that is real is the self that is purchased and projected.”
The narcissism bred by consumerism has nurtured an emotional isolation and immaturity that I call permanent adolescence which leaves many young people without the tools needed to handle criticism, collaboration and the pressures of the workplace.
Personal gratification is the driver of narcissism and consumerism, which are two sides of the same coin. Consumerist marketing glorifies the “projected self” as the “true self,” encouraging self-absorption even as it erodes authentic identity, self-esteem and the resilience which enables emotional growth–the essential characteristic of adulthood.
Personal gratification is of a piece with self-absorption, fragile self-esteem and an identity that is overly dependent on consumerist signifiers and the approval of others.
The only way a consumerist economy and the state that depends on it can flourish is to turn every human interaction and emotion into a financial transaction. Just reached a personal goal? Celebrate by going to Disneyland and dropping a packet.
Feeling low? Cheer yourself up by buying a new signifier of self-worth.
Sensing something is terribly wrong with your life? Buy another self-help book that repeats the all-important narrative: It’s not the system, it’s you.
The problem isn’t that the system is deranged, dysfunctional and crippling; no, it’s you who are deranged, dysfunctional and crippled. But maybe some costly therapy will help you cope with your bottomless inadequacies.
By holding the system blameless for the fragility of our sense of self and identity, the conventional consumerist narrative fragments any social roles that aren’t dependent on financial transactions and consumerist signifiers.