I am too serious–that goes without question. Seriousness has its benefits and its flaws. Even as I sit here at my computer, the application is freezing, not allowing me to write. I become frustrated and irate. After months of unemployment and laziness, on the back of a masters degree, I wake up today motivated to writing six pages a day—a truly capitalist dedication. Why? Because I need a job, not because I particularly want to write. I need money to survive. And yet, life stands in the way because the very productivity promised by capitalism is inhumane and unrealistic. To plan one’s life out in segments, each day cut up into time-blocks dedicated to work, is not natural in the least. This sort of planning disrupts the natural flow of life. Labor should be done when that specific labor is needed or substantially desired. When it is abstractly and worthlessly demanded by forces of oppression, how can any sane person comply? I see a dog trained with treats to perform the same task over and over again, and I contemplate the transition from natural life to castrated domestication and obedience. This is what capitalism demands of the worker. It is no wonder why people love dogs so much. Dogs are what our bosses want us to be. We see in the dog the happy, castrated, slave and wish we ourselves were this simple—simultaneously obedient and simply joyful. Of course, we rarely condone castration as a means of attaining this. That would be inhumane!
This transition is precisely what Adorno highlights in his “Dialectic of Enlightenment.” The transition from ‘chaotic’ nature to organized, systemic repetition is precisely what has allowed humanity to develop technology, medicine, science, and modern life. But the context of this practice is lost and fetishized. The very systemic way of living is not seen as a means to an end—to be employed on occasion for specific purposes. No, the castrated life of domesticated repetition becomes the norm, it becomes valuable in and of itself. Everyone must comply. Whether one is developing medicine, or advertising mobile video games, the sociological view is the same—one must work in this way for the sake of servitude itself—not the ends gained. “One must work!” It does not matter if this work produces anything of worth to society. It does not matter if the work is alienating or absurd. One simply must work. This is shouted with absolute certainty by all capitalists, and all too often by the workers themselves.
The novel Holes is one of my favorites—one of the few works of literature that I read during high school with any actual critical elements. The story is one of modernist, capitalist absurdity. The image of an innocent boy being sold into slavery is symbolic enough, but the nature of the labor involved in said slavery is even more telling. The children at the prison are forced to dig holes over and over again. All day long they dig holes. Are they doing something productive? Gardening? Farming? Harvesting? Building? No. They just dig holes. The labor itself is argued by their masters as valuable, however, not on behalf of anything it produces in terms of material wealth or sociological gain, but instead as “character building.”This same reasoning is the world-view of capitalists. Work isn’t valuable for what it produces for the world. It is valuable because it turns individuals into subservient slaves–where the more slave-like and castrated you are, the more developed and praise-worthy your character is. Only when the character built is subservient and obedient is the labor itself justified. The labor produces domesticated humanity—that is its value. They become domesticated dogs—the very embodiment of what passes as virtue under capitalism.
At the end of the novel—at this point the capitalism critique in Holes is complete—the prisoners at the camp discover that all of the meaningless work that they were doing serves an actual end outside of servitude. The point of all the holes is that their capitalist owners heard that a treasure was buried in the desert. So, the meaningless work was not entirely meaningless. The purpose of the slave labor was directly and explicitly for the financial benefit of the slave-owners—the capitalists. The boys are turned into good slaves who labor not for any benefit to the well-being of society, nor for the flourishing of their fellow man. They are not building houses, growing food, developing medicine, inventing technology, etc. They are laboring in the abstract and meaningless sense for the sole purpose of the bank accounts of the few demanding they labor.
This is the absurdity of capitalism. It fetishizes its own mechanisms and loses sight of any original value the systemic domestication of humans originally had. Capitalism argues that the domestication of the human species is valuable in and of itself and equivalent to living well. Of course, this isn’t true for all, but for the working class, those who are to be domesticated. The ownership class exists outside of the value system promoted by capitalism, and outside of the mechanisms of domestication. They are the exceptions. They, it is deemed, have earned the right to not work, the right to be free. They have earned the right to hoard material wealth and the right to exploit and enslave others. All must follow in line like dogs, except the wealthy, who get to live like pigs. To say that capitalism makes no sense—that it is an empty, nihilistic, and inhumane system—is a truism. There is no argument to the contrary.
My first sentence in this writing experiment had to do with seriousness, and the importance of understanding its benefits and weaknesses. No human can be happy who is serious all of the time. But a slave only has two options. Either be a domesticated, dehumanized, and complacent slave. Or take life seriously—risk being anxious and ill—and create for themselves the possibility of legitimate freedom. Capitalism forces us, the working class, into this lose-lose scenario. And so, the possibility of a healthy, free life for us is an illusion—an impossibility. All we can be is serious and repugnant, or domesticated slaves.
In the very practice and ritual of writing six pages a day—Stephen King writes six—we see the absurdity of capitalism in art. Writing ceases to be a natural phenomenon. It ceases to burst forth out of inspiration and significance. It ceases to serve ends outside of itself, and outside of the mode of production. Stephen King’s writings, after all, are not works of art. He is the very embodiment of mediocrity—someone who labors for labor’s sake. He has reduced writing to a laborious task to be performed day in and day out as a job—a means of assuring financial security. Whatever he has to say about his own motivations for writing should fall flat, because what he has produced speaks louder than any subjective testimony he could ever provide. His works are trash—disposable. They do not speak—let alone shout. His novels are holes in the desert, like all labor under capitalism.
And so, as I sit here without healthcare, drowning in student-loan debt, desperate to find any way of survival that doesn’t reduce my mind and spirit to that of the domesticated house pet, I write as a slave, about my condition. I am not free. I am not happy. I am not encourage to bring value into the world. I am encouraged to submit and obey. And I do just that—because I must. My seriousness and unhappiness becomes my last region of meaning—my only free expression. My rebellion—the last ounce of humanity.
I only wrote four pages. Oh well.