The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2011

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MAR 2011 Issue

Breach the Contract

This generation has come to vicious crossroads. Do we give in to the hole we’re in, or claw our way into the twilight? Do we lower our heads and keep going along with the plan, or take a hard look in the mirror and try and salvage what we see? They say there’s a middle way, but we all know that’s a lie. The American bourgeoisie are hypocritical, stupid, ugly, and getting fatter by the day. We either scratch and snort for a place at the trough, or walk away and pay the price. We either give up large chunks of who we are so we can rent dumb movies and masturbate on comfortable couches, or we continue to ask our own questions and get pounded into the ground. We either pay our monthly student loans so that we can keep half-functioning until we die, or we say fuck it and face an exile from which we will not return. Either we keep getting punched along the ropes in a kind of half-dazed slowburn beatdown, or fully knocked out of the ring and haul ass for the exits. Either way, we lose the fight.

It’s almost a question of martyrdom: is there anything in our hearts that would cause us to raise that middle finger toward the system in a last great act of defiance? Is there anything in our minds that would cause us to raise the objection, or at least pay more than lip-service to Thoreau’s admonition to: “Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine?”


Let your “LIFE”...Not: during your post-college years one should endeavor to raise as much heck as possible, but then immediately settle down and begin setting aside money in your 401(k). He said LIFE, as in from the cradle to the grave this shall be the guiding force that gives meaning to who we are. 

COUNTER FRICTION...Not: one shall bravely strive to post videos of protestors on Facebook during their lunch hour. Or, one shall go see the new band that nobody’s heard about, then have the courage to go eat Mexican food. No, this is action. This is where the sparks fly. This is the horrible screech that wakes you up at 3 a.m. There is where you get run over a little bit, sometimes a lot, because you were the only one dumb enough to actually take the thoughts in your head and put them out into the world. You were the only one to step out into the breach and say no to the machine.

THE MACHINE!! Why does it always have to be THE MACHINE?? Why didn’t Thoreau say: let your life be a counter friction against the forces of pro-slavery? Or, let your life be a counter friction against economic exploitation and the corruption of fancy city living? Why has there always been this phantom of something cold and organized, something systemic, something all-encompassing that invades every aspect of who we are?

Because that’s exactly what it is

You can’t define it as any one thing. You can’t point at the government. You can’t point at the pharmaceutical-industrial complex, military-industrial complex, mass media, bad movies, TV, psychology, mom, dad, your next door neighbor, injustice, war, hunger, or even the nauseating carnival rip-off of the capitalist system. The machine, the system, the man…isn’t a force OUTSIDE of us. The machine, the system, the man…isn’t a force INSIDE of us.

The system is an agreement.

The machine is a contract. It says that from birth to death, if you agree to buy in to and support certain conceptions of what it is to be a socially-approved person unit, then the System won’t make you go live in a garbage dump outside of Newark. For following a pre-approved life plan and not attempting to challenge the status quo in any real, threatening or substantial way, the aforementioned system agrees not to seek consequential and punitive damages with regard to identity, status, self-esteem, sense of place, family, role in the world, well-being, both emotional and physical, which could ultimately result in your death in the back alley of a Third World Country, or, of course, residence in the aforementioned garbage dump, whereby the terms of this agreement would be null.

The utter, abject genius of the contract is that it goes to the heart of what really matters. You could be a self-professed communist professor at Columbia with a blog calling for an uprising of the proletariat, and still be part of the contract. (Hell, you’d get a book deal.) You could be a pissed off feminist who wants to restart the Society for Cutting Up Men and still be part of the contract. (They’d make a documentary about you for the Sundance Channel.) You could be a Christian Republican, angry rapper, radical zoologist, or even anarchist and still be in compliance with the terms. We can’t educate our way out of the contract. We can’t fuck our way out of the contract. We can’t party our way out of the contract and we can’t dance our way out of the contract. (Lord knows I’ve tried.) There is only one way out of the contract…

[And here the author looks at himself in the mirror.]

We have to tear up the contract. Rescind the agreement. Walk away from the negotiation table. Stop playing ball. Question every expectation, projection, and fear. Question every “should” that lives in our brains:

I should do this, I should do that, I should be this kind of person, I should be that kind of person, I should stay at home tonight and watch TV tonight because Tuesday nights are for watching TV and feeling sad. I should be happy for not living in a garbage dump outside of Newark.

All the “shoulds” that reside within us are nothing but the echoes of the system. They are the way the agreement makes itself known. We must stop consenting to some mutually agreed-upon lowest common denominator coercive fear-driven definition of who we are. Better stated, let our lives be a counter friction against the machine.

There is nothing more important to a writer than his credibility, so I want to say that I had an ecstatic vision about this generation at 11:22 p.m., February 14, 2011, on the way back from New York, sitting next to a woman who looked like my mom on the airport van between Albuquerque and Santa Fe that went a little something like this:

We are the last ones to know what a black and white TV with rabbit ears looks like. We are the last ones to know the horror of having to get up to change the channel. We are the last ones to spend long periods of time looking at the world without the aid of screens. We are the last to have whiffed—literally and figuratively—the rarified air of the ’60s. We’ve tripped acid in diners with people who have lived in communes and talked about heavy shit. We are the last to know that the way things are is as much a result of fraud, coercion, assassinations, exploitation, and apathy as much as they are a beat down outcome of the human condition.

In short, we know that there is a contract. We know that we have impliedly signed the contract. And most of all, we know that our lives are owned and operated pursuant to its terms. If that knowledge dies with us, then it’s over. And by it, I mean IT. And by over, I mean OVER. You know it. I know it. We have arrived at a moment of reckoning: either we fade into a terrible complicity, or breach the contract. It is less a choice than it is an imperative that we face or turn away from. We either hide in our little apartments, or set out like pioneers. We either lower our eyes and go along with the plan, or venture into the insecurity of the unknown. We either walk the tired path of comfort, or risk birthing something new. No less than the fate of the world depends on what we do in the next few years.

Now here was the vision: truth has a way of being relentless. Truth has a way of refusing to die. There will be many people who read this and see it as an overly sincere and melodramatic piece of crap, but there are those who will recognize it as one loser’s agonized attempt to get at the heart of the matter. And for those people, i.e. you and me, this game isn’t over. You can say that truth is going to use us for something, or maybe we’re braver than we think we are, or maybe that the bullshit volume of misery is going to get turned up so high that ultimately we’ll have no choice but to say fuck it and take a stand, but something is going to happen here. We will not go gently. I can see it in the eyes and on the faces: the desperate realization that five years of something beautiful is infinitely better than 30 more years of lies. We may go down, but we will go down swinging. The final act of this generation has yet to be staged.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2011

All Issues