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

A Series of Personal and Pissed Off Critiques of Capitalism (Part 1)
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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? TC mark


More From Thought Catalog

  • Kate Magoc

    “the near elimination of LSD (and now the kids pop adderall)” – for me this line is the epitome of our time because I am, for all intents and purpose, one of “the kids”. A college student, working two part-time jobs, neither of which utilize my learning (bartender, and fashion retail sales associate, and soon to be graduate with degree in English Literature/Anthro minor). But after a conversation with a fellow “kid” friend of mine, our adderall addled brains collectively concluded that we want to work, as much as possible. Gives us jobs! Please, for the love of god, we will work 70 – 80 hours a week…just pay us more than minimum wage please. Thanks, capitalism…that is all.

  • Madison Moore

    I really liked this piece! You know, my research is all about glamour, darling, and how fun + exciting + happy it makes us. And every time I give a talk somewhere, somebody brings it back down to OPPRESSION and CAPITALISM as being bad or whatever. I agree with you – can't we just enjoy life? Screw everybody all the time, eat, play, write, do fun stuff. I don't think I could EVER work 50-60-70 hours a week. Well, maybe I could, if I was making like $150,000 a year. I'd slave off and work for five years, live in a tiny ass apartment, save, save, save, then quit my job and do what I want!

  • Dondark

    Coffeen is a fraud who is just upset because no one wants to hire him

  • Molly

    I’m not exactly sure what your plaint is, nor why the extensive Jewish characterization at the beginning is at all necessary or relevant. Are you angry at capitalistic enterprises? Are you resentful of the workaday work inherent of a grown-up life? Do you have a bone to pick with Starbucks re their “café lattes (antibiotic drenched milk fat)” – or, are you pissed that have a kid means having to give up being a kid yourself?

    In fact, it seems like just about every paragraph is its own disparate rant, unrelated and un-relatable to the rest. If all you really mean it say is that you’d rather getting off at dawn than going in to the office like the rest of the world, just say that. A cogent argument for hedonism is much more interesting, if not just more intelligible, than a scattershot proverbial fist to the sky.

    • Matt Lowe

      I thoroughly dislike what you wrote — everything about it feels ugly. Your questions are painful. Your commentary… perhaps I don't understand.

      Extensive Jewish characterization? Uh, you mean those few introductory words? Words which could ostensibly be useful to — oh, I don't know:

      give a performance of how Coffeen relates to language?
      introduce the discrepancy in the ways the word “captialism” is used and thought of?

      Is that where you can't find necessity or relevance?

      Anybody who talks about “what is necessary” or needs “relevance” is living in a strange realm — at least from where I'm standing.

      • Mark Gareb

        Who wants another argument for hedonism?

        Molly – Yeah, you need to consider this is a performance, how one relates, feels, grows within language and capitalism, not some weird argument against or for something, besides this is obviously part of a series so we can't even judge it all yet,

  • Brandon

    Also having trouble understanding why you're blaming capitalism for the fact that you aren't having morning sex and for the fact that people have to work long hours. People have always had to work long hours. Survival, civilization, culture, society, all seem to have always required someone to… work. Visionaries, geniuses, major literary figures, prolific artists, (for example Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Ernest Hemingway, Bukowski, Einstein, Obama, Karl Marx, Che Guevara) all worked long hours to create legacies that continue to inform global society and culture. I don't see how capitalism creates the necessity of hard work. Seems like if the world were full of “psychedelic artist slackers” there wouldn't be electric cars, wind energy, solar panel technology, [every industry composed of people that don't habitually take LSD and 'do' art all day]…

    • Matt Lowe

      This — maybe, oh-so-very maybe — could be the most amusing “for example” list I've ever read.

  • Daniel Coffeen

    Am I allowed to comment on comments? Is that verboten? I love this interweb: I get to read comments on my obscenities and reply to said comments. It seems, well, decadent.

    Brandon: I am not opposed to working long hours. I am opposed to THE NEED to work long hours FOR SOMEBODY ELSE'S FINANCIAL GAIN in order to get by (excuse the caps; I'd italicize if I could). It seems an essential distinction.

    Molly: Hang tight: it all comes together. This is a preface, a symptomology, not a diagnosis. And it's not hedonism I advocate; it's enjoyment — a living through of experience. As for my hebraic references, please note the title which designates this as a personal critique. Ergo, my invocation of my own heritage and how it informs my imagination of myself. As for your implied admonition that I grow up, well, you just reiterate the very terms I am critiquing.

    As for Mr. Darko's ad hominem critique, I am actually quite gainfully employed — but I'm not sure how that's relevant. But I am curious about my fraudulence: In relation to what, precisely, am I a fraud? I don't doubt you; I am sincerely curious.

    Mark, Matt: thank you for the generosity — letting the piece play out to see how it goes.

    Madison: I dig your your porn essay.

    Kate: ah, well, I think you understand it all.

    • Molly

      Oh man, did I just Breitbart myself? Consider my comment on the hebraic reference to be null and void.

      Actually, I wasn't at all implying that you ought to grow up; I did ask if you were trying say that you resent how have kids means never getting to be a kid yourself (generally, figuratively).

      I have a follow-up question (…if that's allowed):

      You said to Brandon: “I am not opposed to working long hours. I am opposed to THE NEED to work long hours FOR SOMEBODY ELSE'S FINANCIAL GAIN in order to get by.”

      Do you mean this on a purely personal level? Because, surely you'll agree, many a man and woman work for themselves or at least for their own benefit. Yes, iLaborers in China are suicidal cogs in the wheel and oyster gatherers in the gulf probably sold their spoils to big seafood enterprises for peanuts, but you seem to negate the idea of the self-made man or woman. What about tenacity and chutzpa and entrepreneurialism?

      Not everyone can be an accidental billionaire, but to say that “getting by” rests on long work hours and is conditional upon the successful fattening of someone else's pocket, well, this is a giant generalization. No?

      “Getting by” can look like a million things, not just one overworked and under-appreciated idea of “the people”.

      I realize this sounds like a defense of the nation’s richest, it’s not. Just trying to get our terms straight.

      • Daniel Coffeen

        I don't think anything I've said so far is actually controversial. Can we work for ourselves? Sure. I do. I've worked for myself for 12 years. Of course, this is complicated because my working for myself entails working with clients….

        But that's not the point. The point is that capitalism, and its corporate tendril, is premised on using other bodies for its own gains. Which is to say, today, most people have to work increasingly long hours — and to work for other people. The capitalist myth of the self-made man is in fact made on the shoulders and backs and minds and lives of others.

        That doesn't seem controversial or contentious, does it? Doesn't it seem like a structural element of capitalism?

  • Justin Jacksonfly

    Wanting to enjoy your life is pure capitalism. Before capitalism people were perfectly well prepared for life to contain suffering, sacrifice and endless work. People could still enjoy things, but there was no pressure to do so, there was no social expectation that you would grind away 70 hours at a thankless job and be a happy about it. Today our personal happiness is a social conformity, if we fail to be happy be are mal adjusted.
    We are raised to associate every aspect of our psyche with a product that will fulfill our desire to be happy, or confident, or safe, or sexy, or in charge of our will. If consumer products fail to satisfy us, pharmaceutical products are recommended.
    No matter what our inner desires are asking for, a product has been designed to hijack.
    I first noticed this as a child, but didn’t understand it.
    For about four hours each Saturday morning I would watch cartoons. During this four hour period I noticed a repeating theme among a few of the cereal commercials that most often repeated…
    1) Luck Charms
    Cartoon Leprechaun doesn’t want to share… kids force him to.
    2) Trix
    Cartoon Rabbit wants cereal… kids won’t let him have it
    3) Coa coa puffs
    Cartoon bird doesn’t want to eat cereal… kids force him to

    They are targeting a child’s inner desire is to have some sort of control over their lives… kids who are being rewarded and denied reward, manipulated by adults all the time.
    One cereal gives you power to take a reward that’s being held back, one cereal gives you the power to deny rewarding another, and a third choice allows you to manipulate somebody into doing something they don’t want to do. The advertising of these products trigger the desire for happiness. They also contain lots of sugar, which children seem to enjoy.
    So the products work! Capitalism works!
    The job of the consumer is to discover which products have been designed to fulfill their inner desires and buy them. What feels good is good. You are sexy in that shirt, you are powerful in that car, you are healthy in those shoes, you are a maverick with that office chair, you are a good parent defrosting that breakfast food, patriotic in your political predilection, prudent in your toilet paper pick, spiritually in tune with what is steeping in your mug…
    If you are considering any other way of being in the world, you are a subversive.

    • Daniel Coffeen

      Capitalism, as Marcuse points out (if you'll excuse the pedantic aside), co-opts the pleasure principle. So, yes, it is capitalism that asks us to enjoy things. But I am not talking about the enjoyment of things. I am talking about an enjoyment that is a living through one's own experience, one's singularity (not one's individuality but one's singular metabolism).

      So, yes, I agree whole heartedly. Capitalism operates at the level of desire. Which is why Felix Guattari claims that we cannot think change without thinking the “three ecologies” of self, social relations, and environment.

      • Jacksonfly

        If it wasn’t for money mankind would have no way of getting out from under the whip of king or church. And while it cannot buy happiness, it pays off misery like not amount of endentured servitude ever did…
        Truly, individuality is a con job… yet everything else you say seems to command that I hit up the used book store for some sadly missed reading.
        Still, even with my being raised by existential wolves and commercial television, I would wonder if living the singularity utopia wasn’t just as hard if not harder under all previous systems. If so, the problem isn’t that capitalism retards such things… it’s that the sort of enjoyment you seek is just too damn elusive and difficult to nail down without suffering or banality.
        Even though capitalism co-opts the pleasure principle, as you say… at least the pleasure principal is indulged and our inner desires, while hacked, manipulated and transferred to consumer goods… at least it is allowed to exist. How many millennia did people have to do time on planet earth under systems that denied, demonized and even tortured us for our pleasures and desires…
        We have hacked the inner junky, mostly thanks to capitalism… (thank you capitalism) and can choose our own rewards.
        Now we just need to hack capitalism, become filthy rich bastards that can raise our own children during the day and pursue pleasure at our leisure…
        So capitalism isn’t you biggest obstacle, it is your greatest objective.

      • Dwatson

        A lot of this argument is based on the fact that things used to be really bad and they're not as bad now. Okay. That's a fair point, but I don't think Coffeen's point is that we can't find enjoyment in consumption. But there's a particular kind of hollowness in that sort of happiness – there is a despair right below the surface of the bliss I feel at the moment I buy some new gizmo.

        I understand that nobody is an isolated being separate from everyone else. We are all being-with-others, so in that way any notion of a pure individual is incorrect. However, and I think this is important, we all only experience ourselves as selves. And at least with myself I can feel temporarily happy from buying things and enjoying the pleasures of capitalism, but the fear that I'm losing something tremendous in this trade-off is very real. Now, this doesn't mean we should just revisit some other system that failed. I think lots of interested economists, I mentioned Michael Albert in another post or Robin Hahnel, are genuinely trying to find a system that could account for production, allocation and remuneration, without being so cold as modern day, post-everything capitalism.

        I believe identity is more or less formed from the outside in. It's more complicated than this, but essentially if you want to significantly change attitudes and behaviors you need to change structures. As long as the structures that are in place stay, I will be okay and I assume that anybody that has time to read and write on philosophical blogs will survive, but there are a lot of people who aren't even getting the hollow joy from buying whatever new product Apple is putting out. And I know this gets complicated and buried in nuance, but I am not and never will be satisfied with a world where my relationships all have a quantifiable exchange rate. Today 291 pennies was worth exactly one Large RedEye and 2 minutes of banter.

  • Dwatson

    What always surprises me about critiques of capitalism is that everyone doesn't just nod, agree sadly and then try to figure out a solution. It seems so obviously correct that this is a soul-deadening way to organize a society. To be fair, yes, it created great wealth, for some, at great expenses. But it seems like such an evil trade-off to have almost all of my relationships mitigated by a financial system in such an insidious way that I hardly even notice it.

    And it also seems like capitalism is one of the last sacred cows. You'd be more likely to hear someone like Chris Hitchens or Richard Dawkins say nasty things about religion on television than you would hear Noam Chomsky or Michael Albert critique Capitalism.

    To be fair, I'm not an economist either, and if this is really the best we can do, which I hardly believe, it still sucks.

    • Thought Catalog

      Capitalism and darwinism go hand-in-hand, I always thought… More or less: the same thing.

    • Molly

      Unlike my previous comments on this thread, my response here is simple: Yeah.

  • Julia

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  • Julia

  • Dwatson

    I would need to hear more to understand what you mean by the comparison of capitalism and Darwinism.

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