People are going hungry while others gloat about diet coaching, i.e. paying through the nose for guidance on what to eat to repair their relationship with food, perchance even reduce. A few weeks ago, it was hoarding.
It all sounds like a hoax but it never is. Those people are as real and as honest as Alex Jones is, at least according to themselves. We are, as a society, disappearing down the quicksands of dystopia and everyone is too busy monetizing the moment to pay much attention to it. We are entertaining ourselves with our own demise, shocked, outraged, yet delighted still to be the only topic of conversation worth talking about in these trying, tragic, terrifying times: ourselves.
But none of it should be mistaken for what it may look like but is not: a collective exercise of self-inquiry carried out in public for maximum accountability. We aren’t unpacking our individual shortcomings to document how they contribute to societal issues that want eradicating. Instead, we continue to ascertain the prevalence of self over the common good, rendering the context in which we live forever irrelevant.
Relevance is you. Only you are relevant to you. No one, nothing else is.
Hence the compensated gloating about the diet coach, or a president more concerned with ratings than death rates, or a man who declares he will eat you if he has to in a strictly culinary — and thus non-sexual — way.
The dumbness of greed oozes apace and never even interesting.
Slime seeping out of insatiable snouts sullying the internet with swill unsuspecting eyeballs feed on. Greed is a human meat processing plant where profit prevails over moral, ethical, spiritual hygiene.
“Me first, screw you.”
The crass ethos that affords America its prized exceptionalism perdures despite the pandemic. Individualism is holding an entire country into a chokehold, many are struggling to breathe, and someone somewhere is paying someone else to give them permission to eat another cupcake.
No wonder only Americans take America seriously.
But the worst part? The endless bragging about the things one can afford while so many have to go without basics like food, shelter, and health care.
The digital mirror only reflects who we are. It doesn’t shape us, we shape it but the ‘we’ isn’t always the result of public consultation. Algorithms in thrall to the lowest common denominator ensure its growth. And so we applaud third, fourth, or fifth-hand news ‘reporting’ from a typist emoting about another celebrity’s fall from grace instead of pausing to consider our shared humanness. Or asking ourselves what our purpose is. Or even what words can do.
And we probably should, sooner rather than later. The content that gets traction is what we want to look at closely for clues about where we’re headed. We cannot afford not to take dumb seriously because it has one thing thinking does not: Mass appeal and a willing audience that sees itself reflected in its narrative.
A culture of mediocrity has made us numb to the possibility of anything else. Instead of using the internet to engage in dialogue, discourse, and debate, we while away our precious time in the corporate echo chambers of social media platforms and assorted media outlets with variable ethics and credibility. On the off chance we might be aware they’re not actually the same thing, many of us have long lost the ability to make a difference between the two. We go by metrics, followers, fame, fans, as if humans were home-delivery meals, rated from best to worst. Sometimes ‘best’ serves up ginormous portions of gloopy garbage but most people like value for money no matter how tasty and nourishing ‘worst’ is.
Quantity sates greed, quality does not.
Yet cloying overabundance is never enough, and so it always seeks to expand. The prophets of infinite growth do not understand humans can only stomach so much before we turn on one another.
Can we still prevent this? We only have time to try, not wonder and ponder. It starts right here, on our screens, the screens we carry in our pocket, the screens that connect us across borders, the screens that keep us tethered to the world during the physical absence of peers.
Those screens can save our life because the words we read and write on them have the power to upend everything at individual and collective level if only we spare a thought for others before we send, publish, or share. Our pixels and data packets presence is part of an ecosystem, just like our physical self is. We don’t all consume the same digital diet, some of us grow our own food and cook from scratch while others feed on ready-made junk, and many take bites of both. Some of us can’t manage our relationship with screens any more than we can manage our relationship with anything that crosses our lips.
But our faith in our personal, individual relevance remains unwavering.
The internet was never about you, personally. Blogs were the beta for collective self-inquiry and then greed ate everything as marketing took over and writing became all about personal brands, and tag lines, and income streams. Not artistry, not curiosity, both of which remaining the preserve of professionals and weirdos who vowed to serve language and human communication to the best of their abilities and dare question the status quo. They are the most reviled of parasites: intellectuals.
In 2020 America, the word is an epithet, a sick burn, a slur and an object of universal derision.
Intellectuals don’t rankle because they think though, intellectuals rankle because they tend to think about more than just themselves. Their disposition clashes with a culture of self-made and self-partnered instant self-gratification, self-empowerment, and self-care so dysfunctional it hungers for self-help.
Observant and inquisitive people are inconvenient people. Plus they’re always urging you to do something that involves even more people. In short, they dare get in the way of your personal enjoyment by reminding you of all those invisible, nameless, gullible people — others, again, yikes! — who host your dreams and make your life possible and, well, it’s rude. And it grates.
Those who see through the bullshit inevitably turn into tireless messengers until heard or silenced.
Pick a side.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.