Monday, October 26, 2020

Capitalism As A Flight To Nowhere

Have you seen the news? Flights to nowhere are selling out in minutes. Shops are selling airplane food. People (with jobs, homes, and money) are breathing sighs of relief that air travel is resuming because of the ‘tough’ year they have had.


More than ever before, we are at home with our family, and connected online 24-7, yet still desiring for escape. But what exactly are we escaping from, and to where?


Not since Durkheim’s groundbreaking work on how social disconnection leads to depression and suicide have we seen a clear indicator of how this phenomenon works. We are connected to each other, but disconnected from consumption, from sidewalk cafes, clothes stores, and bars. We can’t travel to exotic locales, or go see the shows. We are cut off from our goal – endless, mindless consumption, and the culture industry that takes our mind off it. And it is killing us. As Durkheim stated, “One does not advance when one walks toward no goal, or - which is the same thing - when his goal is infinity.” 



Under Covid, we see what Durkheim would describe as a “general state of extreme depression and exaggerated sadness, causing the patient no longer to realize sanely the bonds which connect him with people and things about him. Pleasures no longer attract.” Indeed, this is the very definition of Durkheim’s ‘Melancholy suicide’, in other words, an ennui towards the daily pleasures of family, work, hobbies, and health, and a craving for the hyped pleasures of consumption, particularly through travel.



Neoliberal capitalism has programmed us to desire the same thing: the status signifying brand, the high paying job, and the package tour to blow off steam from the effort required in acquiring these. This is the ideology of the times, the religion of what Foucault called homo economicus – man defined by his economic relations. According to Durkheim, “It is society which, fashioning us in its image, fills us with religious, political and moral beliefs that control our actions.” We are flailing and failing during the Covid crisis precisely because of how our society is constructed. Look at the utter failure of hyper capitalist US society to deal with the crisis, then the ‘surprising’ success of African and Asian nations, which realize the importance of traditional social bonds for stability and individual happiness.



Durkheim also noted, “Social the masterpiece of existence.” But homo economicus is not a series of masterpieces, each unique in his or her own right. Instead, we are mass produced knock offs, infinite variations on the same product, modded and kitted out in ways that simulate individuality, freedom, but which are just different coloured chains of consumption. Make no wonder that we feel unfulfilled and lonely, despite having access to the internet’s Cave of Wonders.


In the early days of the Covid-19 crisis, media outlets sagely opined that the crisis would be a time to find a new normal, one that fulfills individuals while allowing a new relation with nature. Looking at the return of the airline industry, with the pump priming action of flights to nowhere, I fear that we are willingly slipping back into chains that bound us, and refusing the lesson on what is important in life that Corona is trying to teach us.

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