Postmodern Blues

by brillient

Is this a real life? Is this just fantasy?

Sometimes I feel like I’ve lost touch with reality. Not material reality, but social reality. Actually, it’s more like I’ve lost any faith that society has anything to do with reality. And perhaps it’s wrong to expect it to. But I just can’t get excited about fantasies any more.

People tell stories. A lot of the time, those stories are fantastical to some degree. Some stories are literally classified as fantasies, but I don’t just mean those. I mean the stories we tell ourselves every day, about our jobs, our hobbies and interests, our families, the things that give us meaning and a sense of purpose, and what makes us feel significant. Culture is the medium of story-telling, and these days, its overloaded with fantasies.

The thing is, if you strip all those fantasies away, all you have left are animal instincts and the concern for basic material needs. But these just don’t fill up much time, at least for me. Honestly, I don’t think they’d fill up much time for anyone if it weren’t for all the other distractions, the fantasy needs. Certainly, if a small minority of extremely obsessed, and slightly deluded, people weren’t constantly trying to raise the bar, to up the stakes in the arms race of social status, we’d all have a lot more time to focus on practical matters, or to just relax.

I know that a lot of people don’t actually believe that they have much time for chasing after fantasies. Those people have two things I don’t: children and houses (well, probably only one house). Those are two things I’ve avoided. I’m not saying I wouldn’t find meaning in owning a house. It would certainly give me something practical to focus on, and keep me motivated to work hard to make income to pay all those bills that a house brings with it. Nor am I against having children, per se. But the job+house+car+kids+school+vacations+anxiety is not for me. I have anxiety enough without all the additional stress, conflict and endless running around.

I think I’m existentially exhausted from too much dissociated information.

I’m also hitting another career disillusionment patch. It’s nice to have the option to take a break, which I’m doing. My expenses are low, and my rates are high, so I don’t have to do a lot of work to keep myself comfortable. I can stop and consider what all this craziness is about.

It doesn’t seem to be about anything but itself. It’s a self-perpetuating do-nothing machine.

If people just lived and worked in the same place, with the same people, would they need smart phones and social media to keep in touch? Would they need cars and trucks to drive around in?

I know people want to own nice things. I want to own nice things. But how many people actually own nice things? A few people don’t need to buy things from IKEA, although some do anyway, just because they don’t have time to learn how to shop for nice furniture. If you own nice things, you have to take care of them. Or you should, at any rate. The point of nice things is that they last a long time.

Then again, a lot of people seem to want to buy nice things that have very short life spans. Disposable designer goods. Clothing, gadgets, housewares. Some people even go through cars and houses as fast as they go through socks. But I guess if you have the money, you might as well spend it, right? Though I don’t know what this says about the people who spend money that they don’t have.

I would like to make something wonderful. But my mental space is too full of short-lived, low-quality, high-noise concepts. Being a consumer software developer is a ticket to a world of wandering attention spans, disconnected news bites, confusing marketing messages and deceptive¬†advertisements for fantasy cure-alls. It’s the same all across the consumer media and cultural environment, whether popular or haute. Someone’s always selling something. Everything is for sale.

I know some people find refuge in art, or nature, or science, or various other activities where they can shift into a different state of consciousness, and this gives them respite from the feeling of being constantly influenced by invasive messages. But I see it everywhere. OK, not in nature. And not so much in science, which is very close to nature: the world that exists regardless of human interference. But society, people, are a perpetual source of semiotic influence. Everything anyone says or does is saturated with semiotic viruses trying to infiltrate your understanding and cultural interpretations.

I got into software because a) I’m good at it, b) it pays well, and c) I wanted to make conceptual, interactive models of dynamic systems. But the buyers of software only want one of two kinds of models: models of imaginary worlds in which you get to pretend to be some kind of super-hero, some construct of ideal humanity that has evolved as part of our cultural self-image, or models of consumers and social networks, which are built by companies who are interested in making new cultural images for you to try to live up to, so that you’ll buy their symbolic products, whether real, virtual, or (usually) some blend of the two. Some people want to sell a fantasy, and others want to buy a fantasy. So it all works out.

I’m not interested in buying or selling fantasies any more. But I’m not sure what to fill my time with instead. I am close to completely convinced that everything beyond basic material needs represent one kind of fantasy or another. The past is a fantasy. The future is a fantasy. Far-away places are a fantasy. If it’s not immediately in front of you, you’re imagining it, and it’s almost immaterial whether or not it’s real, except insofar as you value what you believe to be true over what you would merely like to be true. It’s all equally imaginary.

In other words, I am imaginary, and you are imaginary, and everyone that we think we know is also imaginary. Everything you own is imaginary (since ownership itself is imaginary). Money is imaginary. Society is imaginary. Meaning is imaginary. Not that that makes things less meaningful. But it puts a lot of doubt in my ability to believe that any particular activity is especially significant, since I know that the sense of meaning is contrived. It makes me tired. And it makes me hungry.

I’m going to go make some tea or something.