Hopelessness

[blank] the System

The end of history. No future. Back at Year Zero. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, alongside Margaret Thatcher’s politics of “There is no alternative,” the mentality that capitalism is the only valid socio-economic and political system has instilled itself in the collective unconscious. Sure, there still are subcultural communities of idealist anarchists, socialists, and Marxist-Leninist, yet any hopes of our lives changing due to their ideologies have been given up on.

This phenomenon is conspicuously seen in the predominant music genre among youths. Rap, the genre that pushed away punk and rock from the pinnacle, is an ideology of acceptance, as we see through hip-hop lyrics and the personas of rappers, youngsters’ role-models: we all know the system is corrupt and greedy, that money and international concerns rule the world above law, that life is unjust and cruel – but that’s how it is. Their response is to become the system, hence the sacralisation of luxurious brands of clothes and cars, arm in arm with the idealisation of nihilistic hedonia of incessant partying, taking drugs, and having sex.

How is that different from punks, hippies, and rockstars? When these movements and music genres began to form, they stood up against the model of American-dream family and values held dear by then society. Today, the world of capitalism is about – as the name suggests – capital, so payrolls, commodities, and consumption. The rap culture, the culture of the youth, is no longer an antithesis to the status quo – it’s its very amplification.

According to Hegel’s philosophy, and as Marx applied his dialectics to historical development, our society used to evolve through a series of thesis/antithesis contradictions, that then formed a synthesis – a progression – which later would become the widespread thesis, until a new generation challenged it and so on. The contemporary youth has no alternative to the status quo. The modern leftists aren’t offering an alternative to the current system, as Slavoj Žižek puts it, but merely try to push what we’ve already got slightly to the left. Hence, we’re stuck in an evolution within the thesis, within capitalism, with cries for political correctness, safe spaces, and social programmes based on taxes on the Left, while the Right becomes radicalised and chaotic, as we can observe in both European countries (Brexit in the UK and nationalistic Poland being great examples) and the US (where Trump’s unpredictability was simultaneously his greatest asset and threat).

Without an antithesis, there is no space for a cultural and political progression, at least in Hegelian understanding, or rather my vast generalisation of it. These are times after history and without future, without an alternative to turn to. Today’s punks and counterculture groups may despise everything about the status quo, but it’s not a distinct ideological identity per se. Counterculture defines its identity based on mainstream culture; it needs the hated mainstream to even exist. Ergo, the hopelessness is narrowed down to becoming the system or going against it – and neither of these approaches have a clue how to overthrow late capitalism.

The Cobain Case

I’m neither the first one to notice this pitiful situation, nor to fall into despair because of it. As Mark Fisher explains in Capitalist Realism, Kurt Cobain was well aware of it too. Paraphrasing Fisher, Cobain knew that his every move was bought, tracked, and sold before it even happened; that nothing runs better on MTV than a protest against MTV; that everything he did was a cliché, and even realising it was a cliché. This is a moment of clarity that makes the void unbearable, introduces a disastrous impass into our lives, especially those of artists who are conscious of this hopelessness, and – like we could read in Cobain’s last note before his suicide in 1994 – he no longer had passion within and couldn’t enjoy what he was doing. Without the aforementioned antithesis, without a possibility of any cultural and political progression, everything becomes a pastiche, a copy, an imitation, devoid of stylistic innovation. [1]

What’s even more depressing is that success is equal to failure. Imagine that your paramount goal is to go against the late-capitalist system, against the chase for money and the celebrity-idealising culture. Obviously, you want to spread this message, to inspire people to come back to empathy over individualistic arrogance, to listen to their hearts’ desires regardless of economic necessity. So, you gain publicity, make it to the top, and become your own anathema – a mere puppet in the hands of record companies, literary agents, whatever. Apparently, even crusading against money sells.

It comes as no shock that it makes people kill themselves. It also causes a worsening in mental health, leads to obesity and heart-attack deaths, gives people cancer. Only recently did COVID-19 enter the game of leading death causes. [2, 3]

What’s the response? The rock/punk belief that the youth can make a change – a real change – was abandoned. Looking through the lens of rap music, the aforementioned acceptance gave birth to a form of refined cynicism, that aims to describe the dog-eat-dog reality, which is so common that it no longer raises goosebumps; and furthermore, not believing in the rightful cause of the capital-ruled world, the detachment only makes this system work – it helps us endure corruption and crime and keep living.

The author of Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher, committed suicide in 2017. As anti-capitalist movements failed to produce a viable alternative, Fisher’s suggestions were for a new political entity to build on the desires that capitalism couldn’t meet, and shift our way of thinking from post-history hopelessness to believing that everything is possible again exactly because of it.

Ok, Doomer

The character of the Doomer – as can be seen in memes like this one:

Is young, nihilistic, and pessimistic, set in the ‘internet mentality’ of the incessant flow of information, personality or identity crises, lack of attachment to any tradition, religion, or nation – all of them denounced by reason – and drowning in the meaninglessness of existence.

And you can read about the pointlessness of life, this philosophy having even been touched upon in high school, but you don’t know how it feels until you actually experience it; like you can’t explain the colour orange to a blind person. According to Schopenhauer’s philosophy, after such a moment of clarity, one can either devote their life to art or the pursuit of understanding existence through asceticism or philosophy. But why dive into art if you simultaneously know – like Cobain did – that attempts of novelty are futile? And why strive for learning about the nature of reality, of the human mind, of life itself, whence we found ourselves at the dark end of the road?

I don’t have answers to these questions, and such existential conundrums have pushed me to grim contemplations too. The universe failed to give us meaning, through God or philosophy, and finding your own reason to live, searching for authenticity, presenting the ‘real you’ in the outside world is no easy task. Of course, that is if you believe there is such a thing as the self that has got its pure essence – which has been denounced by both existentialists and Buddhists alike.

Solution? The abovementioned contemporary philosopher Slavoj Žižek wishes to embrace our hopelessness and despair, supporting e.g. Trump’s 2016 presidential candidacy, hoping that the radicalisation of the neo-conservative Right will trigger a new political and ideological movement on the left to counter capitalism, possibly without links to the leftists philosophies of the past, an unprecedented occurrence in the political spheres. Žižek’s debating companion, another commonly misunderstood modern thinker, Jordan Peterson, is – in a way – the epitome of rap’s acceptance: it is what it is, you won’t change the world, have a family and get a job, try to do your tiny bit of personal-development good and be responsible; so at the same time, he tries to fight the nihilistic hedonia, so ubiquitous among the youth today.

Nietzsche’s answer would be to accept the suffering and to learn how to use it. So, speaking in modern meme-terminology, become a Bloomer – a person who is aware of the emptiness and futility of existence, yet who can nonetheless take pleasure from living for the hell of it.

As the existential, political, and societal problems began to unfold in front of me, or in my head, or wherever they did, I was in trouble – the most innersome one. Shifting from one identity to the other, being haunted by internal contradictions, not seeing a silver lining, and then being overcome by passion in the ecstatic moment of creation – led me to a conclusion that I know nothing, and – somehow – I am nothing. This might be the end, and this might be a new beginning. The king is dead; long live the king. You have to figure it out yourself, but if I was to give you a feeble piece of advice, I’d tell you what I’ve been telling myself – It’s okay to be lost.


Credits/Sources

Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? by Mark Fisher

On the Desert of Post-Ideology by Slavoj Žižek

Who Is The Doomer? – Dealing With An Age Of Hopelessness by Pursuit of Wonder

Yeah, even this post is hardly original.

Published by Dawid Tysowski

[writer]

4 thoughts on “Hopelessness

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