My Pseudo-Life


I

The tremendous and enduring popularity of teen TV dramas, teen movies, teen music, and teen nostalgia in recent decades signals that the only paradigms so many of us have for understanding our own social existence come from our high school years. Even those adults that are ‘successful’ are basically repeating or imitating adolescence. It’s bizarre and disturbing that this society neither allows for any kind of adult social life, nor does it really even produce adults anymore: we’re all objectively stunted.

Once upon a time, of course, the dubious separation of ‘adulthood’ and ‘childhood,’ so peculiar to the era of high capitalism, was itself rightly subjected to radical critique by the surrealists, the women’s liberation movement, the midcentury counterculture, and others. But that is only possible when the terms of the antagonism retain their determinate content — today, we are witnessing not their hoped-for sublation, but their decomposition, the worst of both oozing together in a generalized state of halbbildung.

 

II

The form of so much contemporary social conflict essentially repeats the taddle-tale’s whining threat: “stoooooop, I’m telling!!!” But who is there even to ‘tell?’ Society as a whole, as objective abstraction, must assume the role of ‘adult authority’ to which one can appeal (via semi-anonymous howls of outrage swarming through the online void) despite no longer consisting of independent adults. Since people rarely develop egos anymore, they can hardly be expected to have superegos, which were only ever introjected social strictures mediated through patriarchal authority, the traditional form of the latter having fractured and crumbled without anything better replacing it — the objectively sexist societal constitution has certainly not been thereby overcome, but merely erupts in paroxysms of incoherent, often impotent, sometimes deadly misogynous male rage.

The superego function has been re-externalized and autonomized: instead of being the voice of society in your head, the all-penetrating ether of society is the superego over your head. It appears most obviously concentrated in the shape of the smartphone in the palm of your hand — through it, the flat, segmented, decorporealized ‘identity’ which has replaced the ego is structured as a complex of bios (swollen with lists of pronouns, labels, flags, and alleged disabilities and disorders, all of which seem increasingly and emphatically arbitrary), avatars, hashtags, ‘stories,’ threads, posting regimens, so-called ‘content.’ The semblance of experience is determined by algorithm, feed, ‘for you page,’ just as all ancillary irl activities flow back into them: all is done for the sake of ‘validation’ (like value that only counts if realized in monetary exchange) by this vast, faceless, alien conscience, which molds thought, speech, and behavior with dictatorial force, lest any deviation from the one-dimensional consensus prevailing in one’s identitarian feedback loop result in instant bans and public evisceration by hordes of vicious children.

It’s as if drives and repressions now enter into an immediate relationship fully subsumed to the circuit of capital, without anything like that pesky byproduct, the mature, integrated character structure with its internal tensions and self-reflective capacity, coming between them. Hence why so many people seem to consist of disjointed superimpositions of extreme taboo-bound moralistic puritanism and infantile-narcissistic amoral sadism. Whatever solidity they still exhibit comes strictly from the economic character-mask that’s been stamped onto them: ‘behind’ that, the center cannot hold.

 

III

We ceaselessly look back to, re-live, and re-create our high school experiences, however miserable, because they feel more real than anything that comes afterwards. High school feels more real because it’s a closed, structured social milieu that’s explicitly, overtly forced on you, thus you can rebel against it properly: it’s the last father. After that, you’ll be made to do things primarily by dull economic compulsion — no one will pick you up for truancy if you don’t go to college, or work, or whatever. The doubly free laborer is always free to starve, her servitude formally voluntary. Only if we end up in prison, where the slippery, incomprehensibly abstract domination of capital and law congeal into the palpable domination of state violence, do we experience something like high school’s semblance of distinctly collective social life again, thus it’s no wonder that dramas set ‘inside’ have closely tailed teen dramas in popularity. The clique, the gang, the brutal bully, the politics of the cafeteria, the suffering of the body and its few illicitly procured pleasures, the flesh-and-blood conflict, the master with the visible face — in the immediacy of their inhumane barbarism, both prison and high school shows seem to tell more human stories than do the pseudo-lives of their viewers, isolated particles drifting in tedium on the receding tide of the profit rate, which, indifferent and unknowable, spells their fate: tendential superfluity.

Consequently, schoolteachers are meant to grind students into an adequate shape for a world that neither wants human subjects, nor does it increasingly even need the diligent economic agents it used to, as ever-greater portions of the proletariat, from the most blatantly lumpen consolidated surplus populations to the formally-educated but barely employable sinking strata, are abjected from the accumulation process in permanent crisis. Schools train nasty, cowed, imbecilic scavengers to fight for scraps.




A New Institute for Social Research