All I Want is Time to Enjoy this Life… (II)

A Series of Personal and Pissed Off Critiques of Capitalism (Part 2)
Comments enabled. Find Part 1 here.

My argument is simple: there is a will to speed and quantity — more! faster! — that is actively hostile to the human body and its capacity for enjoyment.

Let me be clear.  I am not talking about pleasure.  Capitalism offers all sorts of pleasure.  That is its promise: the pleasure of the hamburger, new shoes, leather interiors, better handling, a larger screen, the Big Gulp, sharper focus, pill induced sleep, the weekend, arugula.  This is the genius of capitalism — it creates the desire and the gratification. And it creates it over and over and over again.   As Herbert Marcuse might say, capitalism co-opts the pleasure principle.

No, I am talking about enjoyment.  What’s enjoyment?  It’s living through this life, through this body, taking in the world and making the best of it — making health and beauty and love and more life. To enjoy something — an idea, a face, a painting, a film, a book, a flower, a sip of coffee — is to be saturated by the experience, to live from the outside in and the inside out and back again. Enjoyment may entail pain, suffering, melancholy just as it may entail great pleasure.  Where pleasure is an effect of living, enjoyment is a mode of living.

And what I’m calling capitalism will have none of it.  Capitalism is vampiric: it demands bodies be used to an ends that are not necessarily beneficial to said body.  To wit, sitting in front of a computer screen writing PowerPoint presentations that explain why a brand should be friendly but fierce, or not, does not necessarily suit the sitter-in-front-of-computer.  It’s good for other people — mostly, people none of us will ever meet.  But does it further the health and vitality of the person sitting behind that computer screen?  Well, no.

Of course, he is paid to sit there and the money benefits him.  But let’s examine that a bit.  What does the money do for him?  It lets him pay his rent, for his food, for this electricity and water and medication.  That it, it lets him survive.  OK.  What else?  He can occasionally travel to Hawaii, eat at a moderately priced sushi restaurant, buy some kind of cool shoes, maybe splurge on a massage.  But, for the most part, he’s at work all day, every day, so the money just lets him have a place to sleep before he gets back to work.  And this endless working is literally making him impotent, fat, stupid, and depressed.

Yes, once again, he can afford to have a place to sleep and food to eat.  And, yes, not everyone in the world has that.  But is that really our standard by which we assess the success of our lives — a place to sleep, some food to eat, and perhaps some cool shoes?  Really? TC mark

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  • Drew Farr

    On one hand, I feel like blaming capitalism is an oversimplification of an issue that has more to do with a society that indoctrinates its people with the concept of an awfully skewed semblance of capitalism (such as you described, with total accuracy). You're raised in a home where you're parents go to work every day and work at home all weekend. You go to school, where they teach you whatever some panel has determined the lowest common denominator is capable of learning (because they want everyone to succeed/feel successful, so long as they're succeeding at the same thing: perpetuating that skewed mockery of capitalism). And along the way they tell you you're learning all this so you can go to college, get a 9 to 5, and 'make a living'. And god forbid you pursue your passions, or even interests, because those things really don't apply when it comes to 'making a living' and 'being successful'.
    And so the cycle continues, with each generation getting better at 'making a living', and their perception of capitalism and 'being successful' getting more and more distorted.

    But I like how you've said it better. Whatever the underlying cause, everyone's idea of success and happiness has been parodied and twisted until it's hardly recognizable.

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  • elly

    So true. Ugh, thank you for putting what the current generation feels into words.

  • Dodo

    I feel like Coffeen will more times than not always be at odds with his society. If he was in a socialist state, he would criticize it as effeminate and boring. This was really what the Frankfurt School was all about imagining alternative possibilities for organizing society, keeping the window open for something different and that's what i like about these essays they don't call for change for anything they just ask us to step back and say hmm i wonder what other possibilities exist out there.

  • Addy

    I wonder, would your critique of capitalism perhaps be more successful — read: compelling, convincing, even if controversial — were it written in more precise terms? This go around, it seems as though the critique is really just a personal essay writ large.

    All these nuanced approaches of lists and analogies — ways of conveying a relatable experience, both personal and universally aplicable — feel like a safe way to write what could be a very direct, singular, personal essay.

    The latter half of the piece, the part about this “guy” sitting infront of his computer and occasional trips to Hawaii and getting fat and like that, just feels very guarded and imprecise. Do YOU have a personal experience of/relationship with/injury from capitalism? I feel like you do but your'e not willing to just say it outright, and that would make all the difference.



  • adamhump

    reminds me of Chip Lambert from “The Corrections” and his screenplay with all of the breasts

  • Capitalist

    yeah right..
    your needs grow…big surprise?
    for those of us that didn't inherit a trust fund, yeah, we've got to work…not loll around farting and screwing all day..
    it's possible to enjoy what you work at, and (therefore,usually) get paid well for it.
    and while you're at it, it's perfectly reasonable that you get to revel in a lot more than the odd cool shoe..lots of folk do.

    the key is to enjoy what you work at – the only thing wrong abt the sitter-in-front-of-PC picture is that said sitter hates his powerpoint. fix that, and it's not bad at all..

  • Ana Pozo

    I love your definition of “enjoyment” as a mode of living. I really do, and I want it to rule my life. But there is a key point you are not considering here: you need money, so you need a job, so you better find an 'enjoyable' job (in the meantime, ok, take any job if you need the money).

    You can enjoy doing what you're paid for. And that's great.

    Greetings from Barcelona, Spain ;)

  • BB

    It sounds like you're depressed. It sounds like you need direction. You could work so that you have the money you need to provide you child with a healthy upbringing full of opportunity. Or you could get religious or something. Scientology will definitely provide you with a reason to make money. :)

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