A famous German said “one loves one’s desires and not what is desired.” A famous Frenchman said “desire makes all things flourish; possession withers them.” A famous Irishman said “there are two tragedies in life: one is to lose your heart’s desire, the other is to gain it.” What are these Continentals jabbering on about?
The idea is that you can’t approach that which you hold sacred. An aura develops around what you hold dear, any duplication becomes a forgery regardless of how close its traits overlap with the original. So, all replications, however faithful, are treated as simulacra that are both inferior and replace the original as the best you can achieve.
And you’re not an island. So those around you will think similarly. Which makes a stronger echo chamber out of mere appearance. This means the folkways that have been touted as guides are actually walls. The technostrategic discourses that surround us build the Overton window – not transparently, but more insidiously still, as an invisible medium rarely detected, just like photons in the room around you allow the reading of these words.
The end result: the thing you desire will become what you fear and despise. You’ve discovered jouissance.
This is not a test. This is not a metaphor aligned with Eid or Christian apologetics. This is contrapasso. What you work to achieve will come to life and revolt against its master, and that’s you. We’ve know this since 1818, and yet we keep spawning.
So what’s your poison?
What about finding pleasure in pleasure itself? Redundant maybe, but a tautology is not the worst place to start. But Sybarites need to beware the hedonic treadmill. Apolaustic accumulations lead to aprosexia, even if perfectly captured. So we end up with addiction to opioids as the latest ill in society, soon to be replaced by something else. As put by Sam Kriss:
“There aren’t any jobs or much hope either; some people are on heroin and most are on Netflix, staring through hours of entertainment standardized especially for you, plugging into Americanywhere.”
What about seeking fulfillment in a partner? Good luck finding your symbolon in the 21st century. Contact is abundant in the physical and social realms, but we are rarely intimate. If we were, Ryan Creamer wouldn’t be popular “porn” through simple acts of affection. We’ve replaced Storge with vacuous physicality, and then reduced even that physical intimacy to extimacy. Inner thoughts become broadcast and collective, external to all people, including the original owner. So you’ve become one of many people with trait X, and lose your individuality in pursuit of the herd. You cling desperately to any nature left, however primal, just to feel alive. That’s also something that’s been known for decades:
“Modern men and women are obsessed with the sexual; it is the only realm of primordial adventure still left to most of us. Like apes in a zoo, we spend our energies on the one field of play remaining; human lives otherwise are pretty well caged in by the walls, bars, chains, and locked gates of our industrial culture.”
What about a worthwhile career? If you’re German, that way leads to alienation. Or if you’re Thomist:
“So long as productive work occurs within the structure of households, it is easy and right to understand that work as part of the sustaining of the community of the household and of those wider forms of community which the household in turn sustains. As, and to the extent that, work moves outside the household and is put to the service of impersonal capital, the realm of work tends to become separated from everything but the service of biological survival and the reproduction of the labor force, on the one hand, and that of institutionalized acquisitiveness on the other. Pleonexia, a vice in the Aristotelian scheme, is now the driving force of modern productive work.” – Alasdair MacIntyre
Maybe after all these considerations, it seems reasonable to exit the whole scene altogether. So how about quitting and take an exit? Prima facie, there is some intuitive appeal to the idea of wanting to deracinate from all entanglements, abandon social life, and become a hermit. But think harder and you’ll find that you’re already there: we have developed faster means of communication and self-sufficiency but use it precisely to shut ourselves in. We’ve been doing that for decades even. Howard Beale knew as much back in 1976:
“We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone’.”
If you think you’re an exception to the rule, double check. Make sure it’s not an illusion. Illusions look damn near identical to the real thing, but just because something is realistic doesn’t make it reality. Remember what Plato said:
“The bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind’s eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye. He who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh. He will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other.”
You think you’re not in a cave? Is that what you think when you buy a ticket to the cinema, that affordable simulacra of reality with a built-in ideology, that cheap alternative to theater that flourished when it served its purpose of distracting the masses in the middle of the Great Depression?
I ask again: what do you see when you step out of your cave?
“But I like my cave. Why leave? Why do that?” you ask. “To what end?”
The bitter end.