Imagination Uses Humility as Retaliation
Write smarter, not greedier
Mirror, mirror on the Facebook wall, who is the piggiest of them all?
Since 2016, there’s been no shortage of grifters monetizing this very long moment by worshipping at the altar of make-believe, growing their self at the expense of everyone else’s, most particularly those who look up to them and see an example, an inspiration, and a savior.
It became all about showing the world, an internet, and the ego what hubris could do. And here we are, in an era where ideas are at least secondhand, thoughts are ghostwritten, and human attention span is more evanescent than ever. Words are no longer written to enshrine a moment into permanence but rather to feed algorithms that can be gamed in innumerable ways, all of which you can pay someone how to teach you how to do, too.
Trumpism is only one flavor of this enduring cultural phenomenon of disposable opinions but it is without the doubt the one that has enabled, emboldened, and empowered the great online grift gamble that have been chewing through platforms designed to connect us. Instead of harnessing creativity to tackle societal ills like stigma inherent to mental illness for example, many succumbed to the intoxication of victimhood the minute they realized schadenfreude, sensationalism, and greed paid much, much more.
The cult of the almighty self is part of America’s foundational mythology. It has been spreading, gathering disciples, followers, and fans long before the orange reality TV star teleported into the White House on a wave of retrograde, exclusionary, and hazardous hope. To entrust Donald Trump with a mandate like the presidency wasn’t America’s brightest idea but it did nevertheless glow. Then again, so do plutonium, radon, and thorium.
Napoleon Hill and Norman Vincent Peale paved the way for positive profiteering in the analog age. Today, they remain two of the ‘experts’ grifters quote whenever seeking to add credibility to their enterprises. Surprisingly perhaps, Hill is known for ethical dealings with others in Virginia and has a day named after him. Peale, meanwhile, was a positive thinking evangelist and pastor who officiated at Donald Trump’s first wedding in 1977 and gushed about the newly-wed to the New York Times. He told the reporter he perceived in the then 31-year-old Trump “a profound streak of honesty and humility.”
Peale taught Trump to worship himself; Trump taught everyone else.
The rest is all down to storytelling and branding.
As long as you believe in your purpose with unwavering fervor and fanaticism, you too can manifest the American Dream, boo, but bear in mind predatory capitalism’s core principle: The end always justifies the means. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to grow rich, richer, richest. If it weren’t, algorithms wouldn’t be pushing money and productivity down our throats, grifters would go extinct, and we’d all earn a living doing what we love.
Instead, precariousness is the inevitable payback for those who dare stray from the norm and refuse to service the zeitgeist. Do not take on the mantle of dissent before you’ve learned to control your appetite because the fruit of your intellectual labor is unlikely to feed you three meals a day any time soon. Unless you live in an area that offers an abundance of rodents, that’s tough luck if you have dependents but at least Fluffles McMeowington won’t starve.
For humans, hopefully there’s a well-stocked food bank nearby.
And so anti-intellectual mediocrity endures because we, the people, are too poor to get angry. The democratization of self-expression the web has afforded us comes at a price. So far, it has cost us politically, culturally, and creatively.
Meanwhile, get-rich-quick schemes abound online, spreading the tech gold rush culture, minting new digital forty-niners every day who then go on to cash in on fear, cash in on anger, and cash in on greed. If Trump was social media’s Hiroshima, the pandemic created even more pixels and data packets robber barons offering to parlay our wildest dreams into attention, compensation, and domination. Because it’s not enough to carve out a place for yourself anymore.
You have to crush and quash the competition otherwise your efforts aren’t valid and you’re just another wannapreneur among millions.
If you’re going to be greedy, be really greedy. If you’re going to be angry, be really angry. And if you’re going to harness fear and uncertainty, be really terrifying: Nothing less than sphincter-loosening doomsaying will do.
This is the kind of copy cowardice laps up and courage sends up.
The ruthless and unforgiving nature of the zeitgeist may have stripped many of dignity — or never afforded it in the first place — but it can never subjugate human imagination. Even when partisanship attempts to trump our shared humanness by pitching us against one another, resourcefulness, resilience, and inventiveness always find a way around or through.
Adversity paralyzes some people and activates others. Fear is a universal emotion that can trigger creativity as a way to reframe a situation and focus on solutions rather than problems. Writers are uniquely placed to give life to alternative scenarii (this etymology is non-standard and rare and so are imagination magi) and start assembling possibles. After all, many of us are walking prototypes, live and breathing proofs of concept, and experiments in motion.
We share a proclivity for constant questioning and find answers through our creative practice, borrowing from other media, genres, and art forms. Anything is potential material and grounds for investigation if only we dare cast a quizzical eye upon despair, despondency, and doom instead of allowing fear to take over.
Resilience doesn’t mean feeling no fear but rather repurposing this fear to deliver temporary relief. Sometimes, resilience comes in tiny packages. To a cancer patient, resilience is a spoonful of food. To a cardiac patient, resilience is a heartbeat. And to a patient mind, resilience is a sigh, a shrug, a word, a hug, a smile, a tear...
It all adds up, you know?
That’s how you carry on, forging your own path off-road and on foot while the crowds flock onto the highway, pedal to the metal, smartphone in hand, eyes on stats that auto-fresh…
But you, you don’t have a driver’s license so you had to find another way.
Once your vision adapts, you find out the wilderness isn’t as lonely or as silent as it looks. You learn to make out the sound of other hearts loving out loud, other minds thinking out loud, other creators hoping out loud.
Some are humming, many are whispering but the conversation is happening.
Every human is a platform now, we hold the world in the palm of our hand and have the ability to shape it in myriad tiny ways through our daily digital dalliances with deceit, disinformation, and distraction. Most progress happens in darkness, in the interstices of society, wherever basic human needs are not being met and dignity is being denied.
In the most abject of circumstances, there is no choice but for joy to prevail so you seek it out, tame it, and nurture it because your life depends on it.
When disquiet gains critical mass, something changes.
On Nov 3, 2020, ‘We, the people’ took on ‘Me, the people’.
And joy won this round, outing the big self as a fraud, an imposter, the biggest loser of them all in the end but only in the end. Greed and grift won big for four years, greed and grift set the tone of the internet for four years, and greed and grift built empires, ruled entire platforms, and spawned many more for four long years, organizing us into hives of echo chambers.
Accountability resurrected at the ballot box because we kept the faith common human decency would prevail and reject the zeitgeist of greed and grift.
Without frills or fanfare, the quiet confidence of imagination came through.
So what else can it do?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For everything else, deets in bio.