You are a commodity, in a commodified culture, existence itself is partitioned into commodities. What you call ‘self’ is a pattern of aggregates, and these aggregates are enmeshed into the greater network that is society. There is no separation between the ‘you’ and the intersubjective network. Only in language do we attempt to isolate the subject from the object. Consciousness emerges from intersubjectivity. One is weaved from and into the other. We no longer live in a solid modernity, as Bauman has stated, we currently live in a liquid modernity.
Let us use an analogy, our currency is not backed by the tangible solid which was gold. Our currency is now strictly credit. The world, the global network, is being ran on credit and numbers without tangible backing. It is not real, and yet it is real. This can be applied vastly to near any aspect. People are no longer beings in the classical sense. They are patterns, consumers without essence, a structure without a base. Individuals are signifiers without a signified subject or object. Individuals simply signify, and this is what makes them both commodity and consumer.
It is said we do not live in an economy rooted in production, rather a service economy and instantaneous consumption. We consume for the now, not the long lasting. We consume products manufactured elsewhere, absolutely oblivious and alienated from its origin. It is a product without roots, it floats, and we consume it. This is a liquid modern age, the solidification of the 20th century and the Industrialist past has eroded into pure floating temporality. Currency backed by gold, the gold is removed, the currency remains. Apply that to individuals, lifestyles, media, politics, identity, and so forth. Our existence and culture is completely fiat.
Living in an economic network we cannot escape the commodity/consumer paradigm. People strive to be valuable, desired, useful as a commodity, be it socially or in career. The newest cell phone has multiple features and capability, it is also stylish. The typical narrative is that we are the customer, the consumer, which uses the product. This is in language only. Truthfully the citizen is as much a product as the cell phone. We perceive one another as commodity and social life has glorified this with celebrities and fashions. A celebrity like Kim Kardashian is a valuable commodity, envied, desired, and much of us are lesser commodities. On an unconscious level we have commodified existence, even if we detest the thought. It has infiltrated and molded our perception. Ultimately there is no differentiation between the individual and marketed product. Consciousness emerges from intersubjectivity. There is no separation of ‘self’ and network. The consumer and commodity are one. The promoter and the commodity are one. One weaves into the other without pause. This is an attack on our agency, unfortunately I believe it is a fight that was lost decades ago.
According to Virilio it is speed which has radically altered our world. The worship of progress is actually the worship of speed. Time is neither cyclical nor linear, it is instant after instant. A flash gun that fires each second. Microtransactions across the network, millions in a single moment, the network is absolutely electrifying and never ceasing. News from another nation, a text message from a faraway friend, information about an ancient culture, the latest movie development, a political speech, a celebrity affair, flash after flash after flash; a global nonlinear tidal wave. Speed and desire is what generates constant change and energy. An individual is a pattern that desires, is sated, and desires again; neverending desire unto exhaustion is the consumer’s existential purpose. Increase speed to satisfy desire, increase speed to deliver. It is mindless, directionless, a paradoxical network consisting of both synchronization and collision. Speed circulates through the network. The proper event, the right introduction into the network, and through godlike speed it spreads throughout reaching every individual and impacting their mental state. Hysteria becomes common. Individuals are not beings, they are patterns, they passively react, and what resonates throughout the network is what alters the pattern. It is much like poison to a village well. Directing the masses becomes relatively easy with sufficient resources. Pluck the right cord of their unconscious, be it desire or fear, and watch it spread like a virus through a mainframe. The crowd is guided by base emotional instinct. Edward Benays would surely be impressed.
What is neoliberalism but the globalization of the above. No nation will escape the commodification of existence. Whether an advanced nation or a sweatshop region, not detail will go without becoming commodity. No individual will escape, even the most imoverished country is enmeshed and is a result of the economic network. Neoliberalism terraforms the non-economic into the economic. The human being into consumer-commodity. The social fabric into commodity-desire-consume. Essence ceases to exist, there is only the fiat, the floating without foundation.
The solidity of yesterday has passed. The liquidity of the now is experiencing immediate failures as well as immediate births. Our consciousness has been turned inside out. Our private lives are now voluntarily public. Our agency voluntarily turned over to commodification, to become commodity as we consume commodities. Buddhism describes reality as temporal, passing, finite, and empty of intrinsic essence. Our ‘liquid modernity’ has taken that to the limits. Relationships, services, apartments, news stories, electronic devices…this is a disposable culture, a ‘throwaway’ culture. Little value is assigned to the passing. What once contained depth is now passing whim. Depth has been sacrificed for the sake of quantity or multiplicity. The local is a novelty. Expressing ones identity is cliche. Existential angst is as trendy as a pop song. Furniture is without craft, a throw together IKEA. Substantial meaning is replaced with limitless information and choice.
Individuality has become an illusion that plays to the market and political ideologies. Identity is kitsch. There is a novel ‘expression of self’ on a monthly basis. Rebellion ‘against the system’ has itself been commodified, has been taken into the discourse, has been utilized for profit. By buying into kitsch identity and pseudo-diversity individuals are inadvertently walking advertisements for a particular brand, media, or political agenda. Being true to thine own self is vital to self-realization, unfortunately the network will gladly assist in providing that information to you. The kitsche identity is mass produced, a cheap plastic manufactured identity that is distributed wholesale. The illusion of resistance, of rebellion, of ‘against the network’, is well within the discourse and moderated.
Sexuality and gender is no exception. In fact, it is perhaps the best selling commodity. Sex ceases to be intimate love between two people, rather it is a social signifier. No different than the newest IPad, an individual is appraised by their sexual desirability. This is particularly true of women. Feminism achieved milestones, media and the market became a double edged sword, both providing liberating opportunities as well as reducing the female body and sex to being the ultimate commodity. Women are both promoters of the commodity and the commodity itself. The promise of self-empowerment abducted from feminism and used to advertise the latest. Men are not to blame. They are as much products of this discourse as women. Decentralization and globalism has removed guilt from any one single entity or party. The looming patriarchy of yesterday has given way to the marketing globalism of today. Sexual orientation has faced similar exploitation though moreso politically. There is no question that gender and sexual orientation are diverse. The simplistic binary model of the past is passing and rightfully so. Unfortunately ‘sexual identity’ or ‘gender identity’ has become the patch one wears on the sleeve to feel unique or a political statement. It is the lesser of the whole parading as the whole. Ones sexual identity and gender identity is a footnote of what makes an individual. An important detail yes, a footnote nonetheless. To mistake it for the whole is a common and tragic mistake, a mistake that is easily exploited by political agenda. One must make it theirs, isolated from the buzzing opinions and noise of the indifferent chattering.
In the 70s Foucault presented the Panopticon analogy, a central tower that could observe every prison cell, the ultimate ‘All-Seeing Eye’. The cheesy phrase ‘Big Brother is Watching’ was forefront in the ‘stick it to the man’ social scenes. Fascism was still perceived in its 20th Century form, the Eastern Bloc or Nazi Germany, the looming Cold War fears. Orwell’s 1984 was still the expected form of totalitarianism to come, and even presently there are those whom still have this obsolete perception. The panopticon originally envisioned has been turned inside out. Citizens have voluntarily given up their privacy, made it public, they have taken the panopticon into their homes willingly. It is not an overseeing central tower, it is turned inside out, splayed across the prison cells. Totalitarianism already exists, though in the 21st century, the ‘liquid modernity’ or ‘postmodern’, totalitarianism has taken on a radically different form. Totalitarianism has become democratic, and I am full aware how paradoxical that sounds. Through consumerism the citizen has completely disclosed his most personal details, be it social media or service industry. The sentiment of the people can be moderated and manipulated. This is nothing new, though the majority are still under the illusion that there is complete choice and authentic existence. The panopticon has permeated even the most miniscule details of our daily life. The commodification of our existence has already permeated even the most miniscule details of our daily existence. There is no fighting a war that was lost decades ago, even if we were oblivious to it and still are.
Mind you this is not intended to be nihilistic or fatalist. It does certainly sound it. Advanced nations, lesser nations, globally there is a radical change occurring and has been occurring. Usual models of comprehending society, self, nations, economics, must be discarded and new models must be learned. Radical new ways of thinking must be explored. I do not have this solution. There have been multiple intellectuals whom have attempted and contributed. Multiple minds across various realms are attempting to prophesy what is approaching, what has occurred, how we can relearn and adapt to a present and future which outpaces us. All we can do is ride the storm, observe the chaos, and watch as the house burns.
Nothing I say goes without being in the shadow of geniuses. Intellectuals I read, whom change my perception and way of thinking, I give them credit for inspiring and teaching me. The following is inspired by the works of Michael Maffesoli, Zygmunt Bauman, Foucault, Baudrillard, and Paul Virilio