Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Parade of Zombie Clowns

Anarchy A to Z:
a guide to understanding our history unfolding for the anesthetized and apathetic

C is for Culture

   Now that we realize what megafauna have cleverly crafted—dependency upon them and crippling inferiority—we might consider what system-addiction creates. Culture can be defined a number of ways, but I find one particularly intriguing: it makes us human and keeps us sane. Now that may seem vague, but it is powerful to consider how fundamentally simple definitions beg the deepest thoughts. A culture is a set of rituals and values that bring normalcy and routine. They determine how we produce our basic needs and patterns of socialization for reproducing the culture in our children.

   Think about our rituals. Bacon and eggs on Saturday morning. Church or an intramural softball game on Sunday. Or more broadly. The ritual of the first sleepover. Passing a driver’s test. All of these things are pleasant but not useful to my narrative. Nothing sums up American culture better than someone getting shot over a pair of Jordan’s. Death by stampede on that cluster fuck free-for-all we call Black Friday. I call it the parade of zombie clowns. We are spiritually dead but participate in a maddening spectacle. 
Don’t believe me? Just ask your leaders: 

Terrorists hate our way of life.  Go shopping.

   It would take several libraries to house the history of American culture, but here it is in an incomplete and necessarily biased nutshell. We started farming (more to come). We developed a coherent set of symbols called the alphabet. Later, we started thinking about what makes us human and continued our departure from the natural world. Much later, we rediscovered this knowledge but had crafted better tools of travel and exposed ourselves to our neighbors in China. Our spiritual emptiness could be filled with machines, the divine embodiment of rationality and order.

   Technology allowed us to conquer and exploit more easily, to communicate and traverse longer distances. Thus, we traded in a localized guild system for a plantation system and patted ourselves on the back at the ingenuity of our efficiency. We transported this “mercantilist” production abroad as we realized that wealth could easily be extracted from lesser beings. We continued specializing our technology as our resource production demanded faster articulation into finished goods. Modern capitalism was born in the industrial age, as technology became the key to greater wealth; labor and land ceased to be culturally-owned and now became, simply, “the means of production.”

   We were fascinated with new things, just as primitive cultures marveled at glass beads. Our philosophy had already departed a great distance from our dependence on the earth, so industrial capitalism need not worry what limits lay in the land. Growth and progress became the narratives. Besides, technology would solve those problems if they arose. The only problem is that, after a few decades of imperialist market expansion, our ingenious efficiency quickly saturated the markets we conquered. The crisis of overproduction gave birth to a new and improved and, of course, ingenious device: consumption-based growth.   

   We, then, find ourselves in an era where we have been consuming so much that it has not only outstripped the earth’s carrying capacity, but has laid a profoundly heavy hand on how we conduct ourselves. We can keep up with the Jones’. We can covet our neighbor’s wife and his 72” television! We have departed, largely, from the idea that we have an obligation to the tribe. We perceive goodies as synonyms with success, which is precisely why antisocial behavior, like selling subprime mortgages, goes unnoticed for so long. Ultimately, the outrage is not wholly that speculators wrecked the economy. We want a fair shot at the prize.
The current fiscal crisis is one of overconsumption. The energy crisis is one of overconsumption. The ecological crisis is one of overconsumption. Our spiritual crisis is one of overconsumption. 

   Like the machines 10 year old Korean kids use to sew up Jordan's--lifeless and monochromatic--so are we. As cultural critic and all-around Renaissance man, Lewis Mumford, bemoans, “by funneling all order into the machine, man has cut himself off from those very repetitive acts and rituals” which maintain “some degree of internal balance, some prospect of creativity.” These rituals are our culture.

   Zombie clowns, indeed.


  1. A great post. I am currently studying the Enlightenment and this post has really rung a chord with me. Great stuff!


  2. thought-provoking post! found you on a to z and will definitely be back to read more.


  3. I found your dissitation on debt thought-provoking to say the least. You argument is well reasoned and expressed in terms we can all relate to. I guess service life gives you the time to ponder over other matters more than most. I must be the same age as your parents. We traveled Australia in a caravan in the 70s, looking for another way of life, where barter replaced the grip of debt. Never did find it. But I've found peace to ponder and write stories.