I have to admit something from the get go: I love saying the word, “capitalism.” Every time it leaves my mouth, I feel transformed into an earnest, young Jewish man from 1927 Lower East Side (pre-raddichio). A man who has passionate but considered opinions about Trotsky, unions, the international labor movement. A man who wears a Greek fisherman’s hat, drab wool baggy pants, sports some quasi-rabbinical facial hair and, more often than not, is a little sweaty. Try it for yourself: “Capitalism eats at the human heart just as it eats at the earth.” Or, more simply, “Damn capitalism!” Or even something more reflective: “Ah, such are the symptoms of capitalism.”
Feel free to try fun variations: “That’s just last stage capitalism.” Or: “These are the conditions of contemporary capitalism.”
Not feeling it? No problem, because I have a creeping suspicion what I call capitalism and what my poorly caricaturized early mid 20th century yid called capitalism are not quite the same thing. Or, more likely, they are the same thing but we come to this place from radically different places and draw radically different conclusions.
And that is a good thing. Because this is what lies at the heart of my critique of capitalism: that it wills the one when the key to good living is difference. The other heart of my critique of capitalism is it makes me really, really tired and makes getting laid more difficult than it should be — not to mention doing simple things like taking a walk, pissing, picking my nose, being sick, parenting, even watching a movie.
You see, I am no Marxist scholar. I am no economist. I am not learned in these matters, at least not in any academic sense. Yes, I have a PhD — in rhetoric. And while many of my fellow rhetors from Berkeley are learned in such things — they wrote dissertations that cited Adorno and Horkheimer, Marcuse and Benjamin, Marx, Gramsci, even Habermas — not me. I wrote about language as a sensual, creative, physiologic force, about how to view language so as to maximize joy — for oneself and for the world. My critique of what I call capitalism emerges from my day-to-day experiences, my struggles, to lead a life that is not just sustainable — although sustainable would be good — but a life that is enjoyable.
Oh, all I ever wanted to talk about was emerging systems of complexity, great teeming worlds of delight, Walt Whitman sans the poetic facilility. All I ever wanted was to take walks, read books, teach, write, think, screw, wallow in ideas and flesh and food and love and language. Whenever anybody mentioned anything that remotely smacked of politics, I’d brazenly — some might say obnoxiously — dismiss it. “Tend to your own delight. See the world as an endless, beautiful becoming. Politics are a way to distract us from ourselves.”
And you know what? I still stand by that, now more than ever.
But something changed along the way, something big, something that changed how I feel when I say that, when I think that: I spawned, I bred, I begat. And so unleashed a fury of personal angst but, more importantly, of forces and circumstances that drove me directly into the churning heart of contemporary capitalism.
Said spawn coincided with a dramatic shift in the financial make up of the country and, rather conspicuously, the city in which I live, San Francisco. In other words, I bred just as shit got really, really fucking expensive. And that meant making a meagre living — but living like a king as I had all the time in the world to actually enjoy living — was no longer sustainable.
To me, it was like everyone around me suddenly went totally nuts. Here were all these people going to absurd jobs for 50, 60, 70 hours a week — just to make their rent. Nobody looked very happy. But they did look, well, possesed. I mean here, in San Francisco, everybody went from being a psychedelic artist slacker to all of a sudden talking about brand engagement, apps and back ends, driving traffic and conversion rates; everyone had a goddamn business plan and a crackberry. And they were yammering non-stop — on line buying coffee, at the park with their kids — to whom they paid no attention, and then too much attention — and, of course, while driving a Jetta.
I know, I know. It’s not just that everyone changed. I was older. I had a kid. I needed to work. But that’s not all it is. Life changed. And shit got nuts. I mean, shit was always nuts but then it got really, really nuts.
And all I ever wanted to do is wake up at a decent hour, have a nice morning fuck — oh, I wake up at full mast and love that sleepy, dreamy booty — and then enjoy my breakfast, occasionally see a matinee or play with my kid.
I’ll work. I will. Truly. But not all the goddamn time. All I ask is for some time, please, to enjoy this life. Is that so wrong? And yet, somehow, I’m the one who comes off as a lunatic.
All I know is I began to find life increasingly difficult to live, that my time became more and more accounted for by people who were a lot richer than me, that it became more and more difficult just to talk about things like movies and ideas in ways that were not prescribed, that it became harder and harder to wallow in the beauty life affords.
It was around this time that I began noticing other things, the way seemingly disparate things were tied together— prime time Viagra ads (we live in impotent times), the dementia of 40 year old white middle class parents (guilt and fear and loathing), the ubiquity of the open office space (give me some privacy, please), fusball (let me play outside the office), the near-elimination of LSD (and now the kids pop Adderall), the exponential rise of Tantra and Buddhism (nihlism in the face of demise), café lattes (antiobiotic drenched milk fat). There are forces at work here that are aggressively changing the human body, trying to rid it of its vitality, its pleasure, turning it from a body of enjoyment to a body of labor. No one person, no devious plan, no conspiracy but forces the more powerful for it — forces that would rather have me not fucking than fucking.
And so I began my exploration: Why, for god’s sake, won’t they let me fuck — not to mention digest my food?