We seem to have forgotten how to be social beings. And the question that keeps popping up when you consider a society that has forgotten about its most basic social values is – how is this even possible? How can this be a ’society’? The complexity of the ’social’ structure in which we live goes beyond our grasp and it no longer appears to respect human needs or basic human rights.
“Solitude matters, and for some people, it is the air that they breathe.”
– Susan Cain, author of Quiet – The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.
Solitude is not the same as loneliness, but it can be a stop on the way to isolation if you’re not careful. The word ’solitude’ definitely has a more positive ring to it than ’loneliness’. Solitude tends to be something people choose for themselves – it’s got connotations like: peaceful, quiet, alone time, concentration, romantic, contemplation, inspiration and so on. Unlike loneliness it doesn’t describe a painful state of not having your basic social needs met or having been expelled from a group of peers, or from society in general.
Among artists and other creatives ’solitude’ is usually something we treasure, seek out and cannot live without, because most of us flourish creatively during the time we get to spend alone with no one and nothing disturbing our creative process. Regardless, it has become increasingly difficult for creatives, as for the rest of society, to find ways of unplugging from our virtual surroundings and find little chunks of silence, because in spite of what poeple might be telling you or bragging about when you meet, we’re all addicted to social media and to being online every single minute of the day (and night). And if someone’s trying to convince you that it’s easy for them to unplug, disconnect and just stay inside their peaceful creative flow for hours or days on end, you can usually go ahead and assume that they’re lying, for whatever reason.
Being an artist, or creative in some other way still grants you all kinds of pardon when it comes to social obligations, taking responsibility for other people, getting a ’day job’ when necessary, leading a ’normal’ family life etc. This is partly because of the lingering romantic idea about the artist as a kind of ’genious’ or ’outsider’ who finds inspiration alone in nature, or in a dark studio somewhere, removed from the rest of the world, through an isolated creative process, and not really connecting with the rest of society. There is still some truth to these romantic notions. But, even though our current late capitalist society represents so many things that cause anxiety, anger, distraction, loneliness and depression in our lives, most of us still have a desire to be part of the social complexity, and make a contribution in an attempt to change things and affect the future.
Role models for Neoliberalism
There are changes on the horizon, as far as the role of the artist, the physicality of exhibition spaces, the art market, and the relationship between art and politics are concerned.
Creativity is wanted, all the time, and we are encouraged to focus all of our efforts on developing creative strategies, cultural events, and other kinds of art related practices, in spite of the fact that the current economic climate is negating the very survival of art and creativity, and making it virtually impossible for artists to spend their time making art work, or ‘producing culture’. This pressure coming from a hyper tense society of doom is having a massive impact on the art being produced by those who manage to keep up their practice, and it is forcing others to remain passive or paralyzed, while waiting for a change of current that may never come unless we decide to act.
Isabell Lorey and Bojana Kunst, both working in the field of culture- and performance studies, recently visited Denmark in connection with the performance-festival ‘Works at Work’. An article appeared in the Danish newspaper ‘Information’ in which Isabell Lorey and Bojana Kunst stated that the culture-makers of today have become role models for neoliberalism. These so-called culture-makers of the middle class not only have the most insecurity in their lives, with no job-guaranties, living from one project to the next and always competing for funding, they have also developed a kind of self-imposed insecurity. They have willingly become role models for the neoliberal dream of freedom as the ultimate self-reliance and our main responsibility. This state of existence is called ‘creative self-invention’, and it has become the most essential thing to strive for in today’s society. People tend to think that these existential insecurities mainly affect the ‘outskirts’ of society, the less wealthy part of the population, but in fact this particular problem is deeply rooted in the cultural middle class.
Making plans for our future has become increasingly difficult and we have gradually adjusted our expectations as far as our basic workers rights are concerned. We no longer know what to expect. Building a life without a safety net – not knowing where our next paycheck is coming from, how much we’re getting paid, how long the job is going to be ours, or if we will ever be able to start paying off our loans and saving up for our retirements etc. It has all been incorporated into the category of what we consider ‘normal’ these days. We have become a society of ‘project employed culture-and knowledge workers’, and no amount of mindfulness and coaching lessons, or organic food and yoga poses – none of it will be enough to remove this kind of existential stress at the core of society and in the individual ‘self-inventor’.
Has Man finally become an island?
We seem to legitimize our self-imposed insecurity-ridden way of life by investing our hopes in a better future, but there is nothing indicating that we will ever arrive at this utopian state of future bliss. On the contrary we have left our Utopian visions of the future far behind. With each ‘project’ we’re working on, we are burying ourselves even deeper in the blankets of loneliness spread out over society as an involuntary (?) wow of silence. We let it happen to us, because we all feel so overwhelmed that we prefer the status quo, and we keep running around in our little hamster wheels day and night, advertising neoliberalism as a ‘lifestyle’ as we go along. It’s all bad news, and perhaps especially if you’re an artist or a thinker who finds yourself caught up in the hamster wheel too, having let go of your dreams of actual freedom and making work based on any kind of idealism. This is not it, and we all know it. We just don’t talk about it. We jump on the next project and keep our fingers crossed that we can survive the next 6 months if we make sure to fight off all our competitors with whatever it takes.
The good news is that we’ve become the victims of a self-imposed disease. Our society is suffering from an acute lack of values, vision, solidarity and stability that we have brought on ourselves. This in turn means that we can choose to correct our mistakes and learn from them. We can start by imagining a better future, for real – not just as part of our subjective, ego-driven, career enhancing, Instagram documented, and success hungry victory plans. We need to start thinking about our community again, and we need to realize that other people are not just (potential) enemies in the real world and our (simulated) friends online. Regardless of how we choose to act now the consequences of the society we’re currently living in can be felt in our bodies and minds as we suffer through the existential insecurity of an existence where man has finally become an island.
In today’s society solidarity, sharing, participation and responsibility have become part of the huge ’simulacrum’ blur (Baudrillard # simulated reality) that is being posted online and in actual reality you have to look hard to find examples of such values being practiced anywhere. We seem to have forgotten how to be social beings. And the question that keeps popping up when you consider a society that has forgotten about its most basic social values is – how is this even possible? How can this be a ’society’? The complexity of the ’social’ structure in which we live goes beyond our grasp and it no longer appears to respect human needs or basic human rights. Sure, in a simulated / virtual way, most of us still have our democratic rights as citizens to cling to, but what does it mean if those rights have been through a de-humanization process so intense that all we’re left with is theory?
”Society, you’re a crazy breed. Hope you’re not lonely without me.”
– Eddie Vedder quote from Into the Wild soundtrack.