All That is Solid Melts Into Air

What matters most to modern man is no longer pleasure or displeasure, but excitement.

The desire for excitement now exists as a societal imperative, establishing the motif for every social interaction, technological innovation, and pharmacological ingestion. In keeping with F.T. Marinetti’s Futurist dream of a world enriched by ‘the beauty of speed’, the artificially-accelerated rhythms of the human body have increased in tandem with the speed of both the motor and the microchip.

The alienation of everyday life is no longer just an economic or bureaucratic phenomenon (as obsolete left-wing ideologies continue to suggest), it now includes the lamentable condition of a social body that, for all intents and purposes, has been ordered to live at a pace dictated by technology. With the diffusion of fibre optics, the speed at which the social lives can only be measured using metrics that defy our all-too-human notions of time and space.

As Marinetti triumphantly announced at the beginning of the twentieth century, “time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed.” Oh, how delighted Marinetti would be if he could only see how far we have come to realizing his dream. Alas, unable to escape the rigid confines of mere flesh and blood, he never had the opportunity to revel in a world that now suffers from equal doses of alienation and exhaustion.

The tormented factory worker in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times remains a poignant symbol of contemporary existence. Subjected to the invasive tyrannies of behavioural control and technological servitude, we exist as parodies of all that which is authentically human. The pseudo-religious quest for efficiency has obliterated the traditional separation of home and office. Labour and leisure are indistinguishable; production and consumption one and the same.

The cheerleaders of our brave new world have already welcomed the emergence of the transhuman, a provisional species that bridges the evolutionary gap between the human and the posthuman. The human body has become reliant on an ever-widening array of technologies and is now but one more machine to be mastered. Heidegger and McLuhan were both acutely aware of the extent to which we had become subordinated to the logic of our machines. Neither man would live to see the cellular telephone or the blossoming of the internet, and so their writings could never fully plumb the depths of alienation and exhaustion.

There is now an urgent need to revisit the words of Bertrand Russell, who, in his 1932 essay In Praise of Idleness, noted that “there is far too much work done in the world, [and] that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous.” Having said this, Russell expressed “a hope that…the leaders of the Y.M.C.A will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”

Perhaps out of a misguided effort to redeem Russell’s life, the call is hereby being made for a loosely concerted effort to reduce the speed of everyday life. Such an effort will require a decidedly subversive strategy of recklessly applied laziness. In the words of Paul Morand, we must find new recruits for “the great secret society of layabouts enjoying the scorn of a world which works too hard.”

Don’t be mistaken, this is not simply a plea for ‘slow cooking’ or an intimate evening with the family spent playing bored games. Rather, it is a diverse campaign that entails nothing less than the wholesale rejection of all that which refuses to operate at human speeds. Let us shake off the cobwebs of neglected relationships and once again feel at home in the here and now. And let us escape from the dictates of efficiency and control, which are simultaneously used to both advance and justify the ongoing colonization of the lifeworld. To this end we must each develop our own idiosyncratic strategies for safeguarding what is properly known as our collective humanity.

To advance such calls for inaction is almost criminal, a tasteless affront to the spirit of our times. To reject the zeitgeist is akin to declaring oneself mentally unsound, and one risks being stampeded by frenzied psychiatrists in their rush to catalogue every manifestation of this new disease. The names of the inordinately lazy will no doubt find their way into countless databases, and threatening emails will be quickly sent to inboxes that—perish the thought—might not be checked for a day or two.

The Luddites were far too easy to destroy. We must prove ourselves to be a more elusive adversary. But first, we sleep.


~ by Sean Best on March 1, 2008.

One Response to “All That is Solid Melts Into Air”

  1. I thought you might like to check the newspost on this page out for a take from the transhumanists. It’s actually a pretty clever idea.

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