Random Observations from Late Capitalism

What’s up with the “trying to build my empire” line on Instagram profiles lately? Really, everyone is trying to build an empire? How about just trying to live your fucking life? Oh, right, anyone who does that is “lazy.” Everybody is trying to be Jeff Bezos, since being an ordinary person apparently doesn’t cut it anymore. Since when is the goal of the average person “building an empire?” (of course, I know the answer, since Neoliberalism). I don’t think there are enough resources for 200+ million people in the U.S. to each have their own “empire”—by definition an empire consists of the ruler and the ruled: an emperor and subjects.

How is it that people say these things uncritically? It’s like Neoliberalism in America has become so internalized, so ingrained, so much the water in which we swim, that it’s penetrated into our very soul.

And what’s up with all the MLM stuff everywhere? It seems like every woman on Instagram is engaged in some sort of multilevel marketing sales scheme. There are the old standbys like makeup (Mary Kay, Avon), with all sorts of new skin care/beauty products joining the mix. The latest schemes are things like essential oils and products made out of CBD. Then there are the always-popular health supplements. Everyone’s social media now is hawking product (when not posting conspiracy theories). It’s like everyone is a seller, but there are no buyers.

And are we ever going to reach Peak Supplements? It seems like every celebrity in the world is hawking some sort of magic pills. Tom Brady is the latest to jump on the bus in a field pioneered by luminaries like Alex Jones, Joe Rogan, Gwynneth Paltrow, Tim Ferriss, and countless televangelists. It’s like their core business model is deliberately attracting an audience of gullible paranoiacs so you can continually sell them useless shit. It was only a matter of time before a politician like Trump used this exact formula to win and maintain political power as well. I have a hunch he’s just the beginning.

This is what we call “business” today?

And related to that, whenever someone signs up to shill for one of these companies, they often say something like “proud to be a member of the [insert scam product] family.” Family? Really??? What’s with this idea that all of these money-making operations are any sort of family? Um, you’re not a member of a  family; you’re an employee. How sad is it that we have come to be gaslit into seeing employers as like our families—employers that owe us nothing and will terminate us without remorse based on numbers on a spreadsheet.

To say the language of late capitalism is Orwellian doesn’t to it justice.

And has anyone noticed the posters with exhortatory messages that have sprung up all over capitalist workplaces? It’s like something out of the late stage Soviet Union. Dig that coal, bale that hay, tote that barge!

And no wonder. Just like in the late Soviet Union, morale has long since eroded away, replaced by dark cynicism and gallows humor over things like unpayable debt and health care bills. Any connection between “hard work” and reward has been severed for the vast majority of people. Whatever class you’re born into, that is where you’ll stay. So we need to constantly encourage the proletariat to keep their noses to the grindstone, because previous motivators like prosperity, stability and social advancement are long gone.

And the similarities to the late Soviet Union don’t stop there. We have the spectacle of a fossilized gerontocracy exemplified by Trump, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, et. al., unable to respond to the dire challenges facing the country, just like the uninspiring grey bureaucrats of the late stage Soviet Union. We have a cynical youth alienated from the political process and facing declining living standards with no realistic way to change course. We have a media that’s basically party propaganda. We have mass spying on the citizenry beyond anything the Soviets could muster. And lately, we even have secret police “disappearing” people off the streets of American cities to unnamed dark sites.

It’s capitalism run amok. We’re not just workers anymore—we’re all perennial hustlers; we’re all an “empire of one.” We’re popping magic pills for “total human optimization” while waiting for “our ship to come in.” We’re substituting instrumental money relationships for genuine ones. Every parent is working like a madman to give their kids any edge in the unremitting status tournament of American life. As Chris Rock observed, “anytime you’re talking to an American, you’re really talking to their agent.” And it’s only gotten worse since he first made that observation.

This culture is so toxic. It’s irredeemable. It’s one reason why I feel so alienated and alone in America. How can you possibly relate to anyone else in a culture like this? How can you have any kind of genuine relationships when everyone around you is a hustler; when everyone is spending every waking moment climbing the status latter and “building their empire?” It’s just so hopeless.

7 thoughts on “Random Observations from Late Capitalism

  1. Thomas Chatterton, a guest on Rolling Stone’s Useless Idiots podcast, was saying he thought part of cancel culture was people subconsciously trying to clear out space above them in difficult to get jobs in media and elsewhere.

    I sort of doubt that exact explanation.

    But I do agree that the hyper-competitiveness of our instant twitter punditry and gig economies does lead to a lot of inherent hostility.

    So I think what you are talking about goes far beyond just the obviously market driven silliness of supplements. Our whole culture is individualist competitive versus individualist leave-me-alone-to do-my-own thing.

    1. I too feel this subject links in somehow to cancel culture. People are not cancelled directly by the mob: they are cancelled by their managers. Why do these managers listen to the mob? It’s almost like they’re being paid to listen.

      1. Interesting how “the Left” is now considered to be managers of Fortune 500 corporations, elite Ivy League Universities, the mainstream corporate media and Hollywood–all in the top 10 percent. If you wanted to discredit genuine social movements for change and keep the working classes at each others’ throats, how would you do it, I wonder…

    2. I actually heard another version of that theory somewhere else. They were framing it as a generational conflict, though. The Boomers have lock on all the positions of power and authority and refuse to let go. Therefore, the only option for moving up is to “take out” people, for their “out of date” attitudes.

      Basically, societies that are disintegrating have the exact same neuroses and pathologies. The comparisons to the Cultural Revolution are apt. It’s like we’ve got both late Weimar Germany and Maoist struggle sessions going on simultaneously. As usual, Americans have to overdo everything!

  2. We are living thru a very bad time. I have to work hard to let the good stuff in – a fine summer day, how comfy my bed is, how perfect trees are.

    I call elected officials most days and I don’t think they listen to me, but I must do something and I feel better for it.

    I do not dream of my empire, but I do hope to have a garden someday.

    1. I haven’t done any gardening in the last few years, since I’ve been hoping to get out of here. But if you ever do, my advice is to plant perennial herbs. Every year I get sage, chives and oregano, by doing absolutely nothing. My Permaculture teacher called this S.T.U.N. – Sheer Total Utter Neglect. I think I’m an expert at it. And this is the first year by blackberry bush is finally producing!
      I would look into container gardening, or just growing herbs in a pot indoors. It doesn’t take much space.

  3. The war of all against all. Except it’s not quite everyone. There are still some real people out there. Seek them.

    What’s odd is though so many people might claim to be ‘building their own empires’, they appeal to authority to win arguments. Specifically: finding a page on the internet and reading it to you. What is all this about?

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