Sunday, April 17, 2011

(a)Musings: College and Capitalism

It occurred to me a little while ago that I don't post anything intellectually substantial on this blog, just mildly interesting, cute and fun things that I find aesthetically pleasing. I've been reflecting on what I've learned while in college lately and have come to a number of conclusions about life that I'm just going to ramble about stream-of-consciousness now. I hope someone reads it and likes it. If not, that's fine too.

First of all, I have a long commute to and from school and have taken nearly, exactly or over the maximum number of credit hours allowed the entire time I've been in school, sometimes at two or three different campuses, almost exclusively in the form of upper division classes, and always studying two different languages simultaneously. And I honestly feel really lazy not working myself to the bone at the same time, but I'm tired. I did twice as much as everyone else in high school, too, and I'm somehow still going, despite the fact that I've always hated school and have elevated procrastination to the realm of the highest art forms. I've worked a couple of temporary jobs, odd jobs and have been selling stuff online for about three years now, but for the most part I haven't worked. I worked a lot more while in high school than I have while in college, which seems like an unusual reversal and has always left me feeling restless and strange.

So what was the point of my typing out that bit? Well, for most people it's the opposite. College is the exception in America, not the rule. Barely a third of the population has a college degree, and once the spawn of the Boomer generation has passed college-going age, I have a feeling the number will drop even more. I've watched people work menial, low-paying, dead-end jobs nonstop for years starting just after high school ended so they could move out and plunge headfirst into the rat race debt cycle that is the lower middle class. A lot of people had kids right out of high school, so that's their life now. Some people really haven't done anything. Still others (though not as many) are having the typical college experience, carefree, drug-addled, pregnancy-scared and alcohol poisoned, largely if not entirely on their parents' tab. My college experience has been somewhat atypical, and I find yet again that I don't fit neatly into any particular group. I never have. Expanding on that even more, I've also never felt like I truly belonged anywhere. That's why I'm finally leaving the country this summer for the heart of Europe, with the ultimate goal of never returning.

Watching everyone go their separate ways after high school and backing away from the extremes of irresponsible spending and living only to pay pointless bills has given me invaluable insight on life. Watching the country's political situation morph into a three-ring circus and the global economy go down in flames like the Hindenburg collapsing onto the main tent is the other important aspect of this insight I've gained. The psychology of economics is a really interesting thing. People have really been freaking the fuck out and getting totally unreasonable and even hysterical for a few years now, and I know the economy is the cause of it. I don't know how to say this without an annoying and distasteful air of superiority, but people are just so simple. They're base and illogical and incapable of seeing the big picture, which is exactly what I feel has slowly dawned on me over the course of these last few years.

Now, don't get me wrong - I don't feel like I'm the big important kid who's been to college and now knows everything, ready to face the world from a different angle than anyone before me. Just thinking about that makes me laugh. No, I just feel like I know what I want in life. And that's the most important thing that ever dawns on anyone. What other people say and expect of you doesn't matter. Giving yourself premature wrinkles to get the highest grades really doesn't matter. Our whole existence definitely doesn't matter. We're just something else that evolved on a little speck of a blue planet somewhere on the edge of one of billions of galaxies, and we'll probably never know how the universe in which all of those galaxies hover in all their pale purple spiraling brilliance came to be. Through some rare miracle, we became complex enough to be self aware. Our ability to contemplate and relay to each other what our minds have concocted is really the only thing that separates us from bamboo and frogs and is therefore the only thing that matters. We see things from a different perspective, from many perspectives, and so what we want and how we look at the world is all that actually matters in life. The concept of purpose is an exclusively human one as far as any of us knows, so it's up to each of us to define it.
How so many people can be satisfied with mediocrity is totally beyond me. If you want to write a book, don't just talk about it with your coworkers at ABC Corp. around the water cooler to sound vaguely intellectual. For fuck's sake, write the book. Even if it sucks at least you'll have done it. Maybe you'll meet some interesting people who'll take you into the next stage of your life along the way. We've been talking a lot about fetishes and sadomasochism in my Japanese lit class lately. My favourite part about it is that it gets half of the room daydreaming and the other half very uncomfortable. What I'm saying here is that I want nothing to do with the latter half. There's no point to idleness, mediocrity or denying your true nature.

Digressing to the current political situation (which is mostly what I wanted to ramble about), I have come to find Capitalism as equally repulsive as Communism. The original mission of the Communists, after all, was to provide an alternative to the greater evil that already existed and talk zestfully of its demise. With Communism, at least you know what you're getting. You get this much bread and this much milk - assuming we don't run out - if you line up at this place this many hours before it opens. Everyone is forcibly shaped into a little cog within the brutally oppressive Communist machine, knowing his place and never wavering or complaining lest he wants to be dragged out of his house in the dead of night, thrown into a Black Maria and never heard from again, either shot in the head or relegated to living day after day in the life of Ivan Denisovich. I doubt anyone will ever know the exact number of people Stalin killed, directly or indirectly. But you know, Mao Tse-tung shot all of the drug addicts and dealers he could find, billed their families for the bullets... and China no longer had a drug problem. Mussolini (a Fascist, I know) shot train conductors who were a minute late because people were sick of not being able to get where they were trying to go, and all of the trains were on time thereafter. There is no room in a Communist society for the kind of extreme laziness and selfishness I have come to know in America. Even if you're one of the handful of guys sitting pretty at the top, you've got stuff to do and constantly have to play your cards just right to avoid being killed.
What I find just as tragic and senseless as how many people Communist regimes and other dictatorships have murdered over the years is the fact that Americans genuinely believe they are happy. The system we live among is far more brilliant and sinister than the outdated Communist machine because it's so subtle. A number of enterprising gentleman decided - probably around the time the railroads and steel mills were reaching their peak - how much of what they were going to control, and between them they came to control everything on the continent, under the ocean surrounding it and eventually in the space above it. These few at the top and the occasional entrepreneureal genius (though the good old boys still scoff at that new money) are the super mega ultra rich; we all know this. Paradoxically, what most fail to realise is that we're all just the working poor in this land of corporate hegemony and crass consumerism.
The only difference between the two systems is that the fat cats who run this one throw their servants scraps in the form of concessions like free speech and consumer electronics to keep them just happy enough to keep from revolting, instead of constantly threatening their lives. The median salary of the American worker has actually decreased since I was born. Ever wonder why at least 50% of Americans live in apartments, why you can't keep up with your bills and why you just can't seem to find a job that's good enough to live the life you want? That's why. Inflation has gone up wildly in every sector while wages have stayed the same. That's obviously not sustainable, and that's why the economy finally crashed. The fat cats have been getting greedier and greedier over the last few decades and have been shamelessly milking people for all they're worth.

Why are gas prices so high? Unrest in the Middle East? No, just because they can be.

Stop looking for a more complicated explanation. It's not Inception, you don't have to go deeper. The only reason is greed, pure and simple and unabashedly evil. No one instituted massive layoffs in response to Obama's unpredictable healthcare and tax policies; they just did it to post record profits, just like the oil companies are doing with gas prices. There are rooms in which small groups of men meet early every morning to decide what everything will cost and how far they can gouge prices today without alerting the consumer to the massive conspiracy that fucks him in the ass before he's even had his Starbucks. It's the most brilliant scheme ever: hurl everyone into a perpetual and inescapable loop of debt of which they somehow remain largely unaware even though it governs their lives, make as much as you can off them, repeat. Even better if you can get elected to the highest political office possible and skim some of the taxes they already have to pay off the top to fund your pet projects (in Iraq, Dick Cheney). We're just worthless, faceless little machines that make the 0.01% of the super mega uber rich even richer. No, it's not Inception, it's The Matrix. That's what that movie was about. Paralleling the life of Christ was just a subordinate motif.
What I've stepped back and seen while in college is that scene, the one with the endless fields of human batteries being grown and harvested for the benefit of The Machine. I owe my credit card company about $3,000, and the Federal Student Loan Program about $15,000. That's all these motherfuckers are going to get out of this copper top, and that's why I want to live in a country like Denmark. Some of the world's highest ratios of economic equality and mobility, cleanliness, safety, efficiency, social security and high-quality free or practically free college sound rather appealing to me. There's no reason for a rat to cling to a sinking ship when it can swim just fine.

We grow up brainwashed, just like the kids our age in China. Automatically denying such a statement instead of contemplating it, as I know someone reading this has just done, is just proof that it's true. Extreme evangelical politicians backed by big corporations tell us what to believe and frighten us into voting them back into office with senseless legislation based on irrelevant moral scruples so they can distract us from real issues, continue ripping us off, and as of late, literally kill us. And yet, at the same time, Stepford wives start taking their girls to the tanning bed, buying them brand-name mini skirts and iPhones by the second grade, and the only thing most people care about is making as much money as possible and/or becoming famous, even if it means intentionally getting pregnant at 16 to try and land a spot on a reality TV show (which you know that tan second grader with the bleached hair who already knows all about sex is going to do). When I look around I see some good people, but I also see a lot more who are all but vapid and soulless, just batteries for The Machine: You want a job at a big corporation to make your parents proud and impress your friends. You want a nice big house and a brand new car. You want to be patriotic and you know that you live in the best place on Earth, which makes you inherently better than everyone else. You want to listen to this new hit song and buy these new trendy clothes. As long as you're saying whatever you want and buying things, you're happy. Right?
Are you starting to question whether or not you actually want to be a part of this like I have been the last few years? I sure hope so.

What you want and what you think is important is all that matters. I just hope it really is what you think.

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