Thursday, October 17, 2013

Passion: a Big! Messy! Draft!

I stole an hour today and talked with someone about the death and strange afterlife of passion in contemporary American society.  We were just bullshitting, and didn't bother to interrupt the human exchange to cite sources and name-drop researchers, so this, its direct outgrowth, is quite informal and all over the map.

We're at a weird place, kids.  Desire has become disconnected from anything bodily and rooted to anything marketable.  Look at how we describe things online:  Food Porn, Decor Porn, Shoe Porn (ok, that last one's a real fetish, but you see my meaning).

Look at Miley, if you must.  Look at friggin' Cosmo.  It's quite alright to wax lyrical at the lastest iThing or call something "hot", but try representing nuanced passion for something without a price tag and you're going to get funny looks.  Even if it's "cool" to be a "geek".  (Nota Bene: It's not, it never has been, it's just become profitable to the right people)

Deep libidinal feeling is bought and sold, traded on an abstracted and ephemeral market of news feeds and photo streams.  Satisfaction and desire are reduced to icons - they remind you of something long gone, but no one is sure of precisely what that is.  "Like" culture has replaced passion.  At the same time, a fashionable detachment surrounds us, the emotional equivalent of vocal fry.  When did feeling deeply about something become laughable, and affected anomie cool?  When did cynicism become the lingua franca?

At the same time, we as a people are experiencing great demands on our passion.  As if we have any to spare.  Try to find a job advertisement that doesn't want some sort of "passion" from you, the employee.  It's dangerous to love a job anymore.  My cohort is un-learning the former "given" of a paternalistic employer.  There will be no more thirty year jobs.  There will be no more retirement parties and gold watches.  There will be no more security.

Earlier this fall, September 5th, Bruce Schneier wrote about a disturbing idea for the Financial Times.  He looked at Wikileaks and Snowden and Manning and submitted this: the young up and comings of our day, the 20s-30s are less likely to prioritize loyalty to their employers, as they are receiving none of it themselves. This poses a unique problem for anyone involved in the type of jobs that need security clearance.  Intelligence used to be a commitment.  Hell, many jobs used to be commitments.  What will our government do when it reaps the harvest of millions of people accustomed to being disposable contract workers and interns, professional nomads with no expectation of security from the powers that be, and no desire to put themselves out for diminishing returns?  And yet, the old values remain.  Put in more time, sacrifice your personal life, and get your reward.  We know there's no reward any more, so why give our selves?

So what are we supposed to do in this still-new century?  Should we continue this chilly, culturally approved version of passion?

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