The Aesthete

Gadgets, Porn and Guilt-Free Murder: Why Good Capitalists Die Alone and Psychotic

by Cintra Wilson illustration Sandra Shap

WINSTON: It's not so much staying alive. It's staying human that's important. What counts is that we don't betray each other...Confessing isn't betrayal...If they can make me change my feelings...If they can stop me from loving you, that would be real betrayal.

JULIA: ...It's the one thing they can't do. They can torture you, they can make you say anything. But they can't make you believe it. They can't get inside you. They can't get to your heart.

- From the movie 1984, adapted from George Orwell's book of the same name.

Lately, intimacy between men and women seems to be experiencing an all-time low. 

For the last six or seven years, heterosexual relationships seem to have been crashing and burning all over the place in ways that seemed uglier and more brutal than usual. On the meta-level, there were public scandals: Eliot Spitzer fell from grace after being busted indulging a formidable appetite for escorts. The beautiful Huma Abedin was betrayed by Anthony Weiner. Jesse James ransacked his marriage to Sandra Bullock and America’s Sweetheart was treated to an extra-scorching public humiliation when one of his paramours appeared in several tabloids with a tattooed forehead, wearing a sexy Nazi costume, etc.

On a personal level, the majority of my female friends and I were all encountering unusually ugly bust-ups and/or divorces. We had always perceived men as our equals, our people, our friends. Suddenly there seemed to be an epidemic of scorching betrayals. I was hearing the same complaint, in the same wording over and over again: women were feeling as if they had been suddenly, dramatically undervalued.

At first I wondered if men were freaking out in thrall to collective “status anxiety.” Men are socially conditioned to interpret larger economic tendencies that are beyond their control as personal failures. And we are still in the midst of a super depression, which, like our wars of choice, seems to have no end in sight.

Then I wondered if the female currency had been unduly diluted by the unprecedented availability and mainstreaming of porn. The scarcity economics through which Pussy had enjoyed a relatively stable value, most of our lives, was suddenly, abruptly clobbered by the internet. Endless High Definition Pussy – perfect, teenaged, meticulously shaved, free of unwanted conversation and free of charge – was suddenly flooding the market, and women were, on some level, having to compete with porn as the new normal. This pervasive attitude was articulated most chillingly by Ryan Gosling’s character in Crazy, Stupid, Love, who said “The battle of the sexes is over, and men won the minute women started pole-dancing as exercise.”

But when the current political cycle started rolling women’s reproductive rights back to the Dark Ages – re-fighting the old civil wars – I started to think if there wasn’t an even larger and slower wheel that had actually brought us to this place, so slowly as to be almost imperceptible.

Today, there is a Disney princess in every skin tone -- one for every little girl in the world. This is fine, until you factor in all of the emotional baggage that comes with her: Cinderella is essentially the Typhoid Mary of female sexual repression.

I am morbidly fascinated by cultural engineering, and the ways in which society is subliminally conditioned to believe all kinds of hair-raising things on subconscious levels that end up informing who we are in the deepest, unconscious ways.

The covert psychological methods employed in advertising are generally perceived as simply coercing you into being a brand-loyal consumer. But there are murkier agendas. Freudian psychology was a pretty stellar beginning for group brainwashing, but the scariest stuff in your grocery cart now comes from a more Jungian angle: archetype psychology, which employs symbols hardwired into humanity’s collective psychological mainframe. That Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth stuff makes for very compelling voodoo when it comes to crowd manipulation and consent-manufacturing.

Now I believe that this tendency alienating men from women is part and parcel of the exploitation built into the character of our free-market economic principles as they are being exercised.

Think of it as the mirror-reflection of the legal fiction of Corporate Personhood - the idea that “corporations are people.” People, in term, are acting as ass-out, sociopathic and unaccountable as corporations.

Human beings tend to behave like the prevailing marketplace tendencies and ideologies. (This isn’t fodder for conspiracy theorists so much as tiresomely academic, critical theory arcana.1) Corporations now inform who we are and how we experience our lives, on hair-raisingly intimate levels.

I started paying closer attention to consumer brainwashing one Christmas when there were no less than seven girl toddlers at my parents’ house, all from different homes, all dressed in head-to-toe Disney princess costumes. None of the parents were happy about it, yet they felt it was a mania too strong to avoid without negatively reinforcing it.

Today, there is a Disney princess in every skin tone – one for every little girl in the world. This is fine, until you factor in all the emotional baggage that comes with her: Cinderella is essentially the Typhoid Mary of female sexual repression. She is patient zero. She's the trusted friend and a romantic mythology who is also a Trojan Horse full of social and consumer conditioning. The spangly princess dress is a gateway dress that leads to Barbie clothes. Barbie, that tippy-toed slut, begets prom-dresses, tit-jobs and anorexia.

But encoded in the princess dress (and really, all formal dresses are different age-appropriate versions of the same princess dress) is the same unspoken goal: the wedding dress. Every girl may be a princess – as long as she pledges lifelong slavery to the beauty/dietary/bridal industrial complexes and ultimately marries a Handsome Prince, lives happily ever after in the castle on the hill, and ultimately breeds.

Marriage is a hilariously futile goal, mainly because boys are trained from a young age to hate girls. If you are a boy, you are trained to think of women as the Terrible Other. Your mortal enemy. The abyss. A black hole from which no light can escape.

Dig, if you will, a rather hair-raising example of the psychological use of symbolism in action. In 1982, HASBRO introduced the concept of “Cobra Command” – a terrorist organization that is the arch nemesis of GI Joe. This is the logo for Cobra Command. It happens to be a vagina with teeth. GI Joe is the sworn enemy of pussies everywhere.

Or, as my friend Ted Mann put it, DO NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH GIRLS OR THEIR DEVIL VAGINA MAGIC.

The Free Market, by design, abhors limits. It is obsessed with expansion. Boundaries must be transgressed, worked-around, cheated. What psychologists refer to as the more death-drive-y aspects of the male biological imperative (loosely translated: fucking everything that moves) is mirrored exactly by free-market capitalism: There is a pervasive sense that to be a "real man," a guy needs to not love and value just one flawed woman, but fuck (really and/or virtually) lots of perfect, disposable women who are always barely legal and perfectly shaved. An unrestrained, unregulated consumer culture in which there is a limitless supply of Pretty Women with no self-esteem has downgraded real, problematic women to the level of toxic assets.

Men also seem to have utterly lost the ability to understand or appreciate the primary function of women -- which (aside form childbirth) is to be critical of the corruptions that divide men from themselves.

Plato once pointed out, tracking how empires suck themselves backward like bad vegetables in his Cycle of Regimes – that most forms of government inevitably gutter out into a plutocracy, then into a military dictatorship.

During depressions, many people are forced into “alternative” economies and are put into prison (read: slave labor, to protect the interests of the .001%).

During military dictatorships, men are either directly or indirectly persuaded to become military men. In times of war, there is a push to dehumanize the enemy, to encourage men to suspend themselves in a terminal state of emotional adolescence and to dehumanize women (lest men start enjoying a mature, pleasant home-life with kids and decide to refuse to participate in the perils of imperial adventurism).

By unwittingly embracing the dehumanizing of the enemy and women encouraged by the status quo, men have also unwittingly flunked themselves out of their own hero mythologies. Men have been gradually divorcing themselves (in a collective tendency disguised as a consumer-style individual "choice") from deep human connections in favor of becoming glib, shady and compartmentalized. That could all be seen as a lucky victory for the boys – if the cult of consumerism didn’t ultimately manifest in a split personality existence in which they are alienated from themselves and their communities and compelled to die alone in a room full of spent Kleenex and dead zombies  (and to regard this tragic waste of life on earth as their own lifestyle "choice.")

Men seem to have forgotten their own ennobling mythologies and how (or why) to want to be men. Valor, honor, nobility and courage are virtues now exclusively relegated to sports and warfare. Men are not really encouraged to cultivate the interior qualities that have classically defined a warrior/philosopher/poet/ king/hero (or, for that matter, an adult man). They now seem to regard virtues like loyalty, chivalry, honor, integrity and honesty as being less than manly – twee, anachronistic. In an adolescent word: gay.

When the bottom dropped out of the male mythology market, men also seem to have utterly lost the ability to understand or appreciate the primary function of women, which, aside from childbirth, is to be critical of the corruptions that divide men from themselves

In thrall to the tendencies of consumerist brainwashing and the ramped-up depersonalization of modern warfare, men have obediently become Predator Drones – divorced from human empathy and accountability – and, in surprisingly large number, seem to be Enron-ing themselves into moral/personal bankruptcy. Women have echoed this response by following the Cinderella archetype (read: someday my prince will come) all the way into the vinyl boots of Pretty Woman (the neoliberal Cinderella story. See? That Disney bitch is everywhere).

Only a close, sustained human relationship, with all of the rigor, ordeal and misery this implies, can actually tell you where the termites live in your psychological foundation. It isn’t fun, but it does help you evolve. It’s healthy, so it certainly isn’t as compelling as whipped cream on tits or shooting virtual non-persons in the face (zombie cream pie, boys?).

Capitalism does not want you to have strong values and a happy home life because you would do too much to protect it. People with fulfilled lives and tight family connections make terrible slaves.

Monogamy runs in natural opposition to the idea of free-market capitalism. Self-knowledge and a home life is a threat to outside control. Strong familial bonds inoculate you against psychological weaknesses that enable you to be easily manipulated and victimized. Capitalism does not want you to have strong values and a happy home life because you would do too much to protect it. People with fulfilled lives and tight family connections make terrible slaves.

Separation of people from their families has always been considered an act of tyranny. Now we are so brainwashed, we actually choose to do it to ourselves.

Ask yourself: Why, in the middle of a super depression, after all the money in the economy has been stolen by the richest .001%, is there so much free porn? Why are there so many video games in which you may enjoy accountability-free massacres? Why the sudden “War on Women” – this rush for restrictions on birth control, sex-ed information-hoarding and outright bans on abortions?

Just as governments gutter out into military dictatorships, unwanted children gutter out into employments of last resort, like the military (read: cannon fodder) or for-profit prisons (read: slave labor). 

Consider this: prisons allow inmates on death row to watch porn films on the night that one of them is executed. Apparently, masturbation really helps keep rioting down.

Instead of rebuilding America’s infrastructure or investing in education for future generations, we are pouring money into “autonomous drones” i.e. buying the illusion that robots are now “autonomously” making their own decisions to drop bombs on “The Enemy.” This is the all time greatest money-shot of a free-market military dictatorship: the ultimate lack of empathy, the ultimate depersonalization, the ultimate power-porn. Bombs away. Oops, the drone did it again. The new code for power is the ability to get away with murder. Goldman Sachs is currently the dominant ruling silverback orangutan of structural authority, and society unconsciously mirrors its behaviors – even in love. In short: it’s all connected (duh): accountability-free criminal behavior (free-market capitalism) is accountability-free sex (porn/polygamy) is accountability-free death (drones).  When you tweeze the humanity out of any aspect of human life, it becomes hostile and inhospitable.  When the ruling power structures declare war – on anything or anyone, even the Homeland Vagina – it becomes the depersonalized zombie/enemy.

Free market capitalism is the whore that does anything for money. She doesn't criticize you to make you a better person, she merely enables your immediate desire to transgress and wallow in a psychologically compartmentalized stretch-lace underworld. She is Thanatos, the death drive: the Jezebel in the Nazi costume with the tattooed face.

The labor, care and attention of individual human beings is currently the most undervalued commodity in the world.

I have seen couples on their 50th wedding anniversaries. The fight goes out of them when they go the distance – they fall in love all over again. Not that it's easy. Nor should it be. If it was cheap, it wouldn’t be worth having. That’s the whole point: real love ain’t cheap.

1 A particularly wonky articulation of what I am referring to is Lukács’s use of the word “reification” to refer to “the structural process whereby the commodity form permeates life in capitalist society,” which results in a society in which people behave and “seem like mere things obeying the inexorable laws of the marketplace.” (Zuidervaart 1991, 76).