Kyle Hayden, Columnist

Are not the activities of most people Sitting and Watching?

This is not limited to screens, though the primary form of Watching and Sitting comes through the form of the screen or from a car window. A “screen” could be any kind of mediation: a separation between the being (human) and environment (reality).

Vacation this year, although lovely by any normal measure, was framed foremost by the recognition that reality is off limits; nothing anywhere is particularly of any use unless you can access spaces or substances (food) by forking out some money. No contribution is likely. No intervention is possible anywhere. Freedom means you can do anything you like as long as it has no real impact. Buy and Sell. Sit and Watch.

Our chief activity as a species in public is now shopping together. When I go somewhere, I can’t actually do anything with the materials there. I cannot take care of anything, grow anything or build anything. Most spaces are off limits; the world has become a museum with “DO NOT TOUCH” signs everywhere. I don’t mean the destruction caused by driving an automobile down the road should be regarded as “an intervention.” The “choice” of driving on any particular road is not a choice at all and is essentially determined before one even begins. Driving is not freedom; movement should not even be considered freedom if one doesn’t have the capacity for meaningful and direct experience with reality once one gets wherever one is going. That’s why every place is indistinguishable from the next apart from some vestigial geography of the previous centuries and millennia. All that seems to change are the numbers on interstate exit signs.

Civic life, and with it “civilized” life in the United States and elsewhere (vacations to Europe are not exempt from the tendency to Sit and Watch) has been and will continue to be reduced to the mediation of shopping together. Is this freedom? This stems more than likely from the idea (rather, the unquestioned assumption) that consumption is the reason for living. After all, do we not measure the success of nations in Gross Domestic Product? The locus of control and fear through the measure of success and attainment founded in the accumulation of toys and the ability to spend money is seen in the increasing use of personal home security systems, gated communities and prisons. Where everything is always in danger of being pillaged.

The future for young people is seen more as a series of cages; you might be able to buy a slightly bigger cage (house), or get a well-scented one, or a cage in a neat spot with a good view, but it is still a cage.

A recent image shared widely among people in my age group featured a person of college age sitting at a table in formal clothing, at a job interview. The above-caption read, “Why do you think you are a good fit for this position?” Their reply: “I’ve always been passionate about not starving to death.”

Zygmunt Bauman was more on target when he wrote that we are “for now, invalids watching life from the hospital windows.” Reduced to watching our lives pass before us on screens, it’s no wonder students think work is sitting behind a computer, moving pixels around with a cursor.

The reason why people choose to get “wasted” — sometimes to death — knowing this kind of future awaiting them is not even a matter that needs to be discussed any further.

Even if one isn’t drinking to blackout three days a week, shopping for alcohol and shopping for people’s bodies (what they call “hook up culture”) occupies their “free time.” The remaining time is spent ensuring that one will be able to secure employment upon graduation, assumedly to keep the party rolling. Any threat to this non-stop party seems like the apocalypse. To become responsible, careful, contemplative or reflective is seen as a threat to their “way of life.”

Certainly “our standard of living” can continue to be upheld (through force or otherwise) for many years, and it most likely will. It is for young people to decide whether they want to continue living an utterly empty existence of putting waste heat into the atmosphere for fun; or find something to do that won’t make any money for Deloitte,
Lockheed-Martin or Facebook.

In Huxley’s novel “Brave New World”, the “simple lifers” were a group of people mentioned in passing in chapter 3. The consumer society depicted in the novel required the participation of everyone in order to maintain its smooth operation. It could not tolerate those who refused to participate. The simple lifers, it can be inferred, were people who chose to eke out an austere existence in the country. It bears noting that these people
were exterminated.

haydenka@ miamioh.edu

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