And blooms of renewal, I suspect, will not be found online as well. The electronic sheen of social media sites is no substitute for communal fabric. There is no animal musk nor angelic apprehensions to en-soul the flesh and tease wisdom out of obdurate will ...No matter how many restless shades want to friend you on FaceBook nor ghostly texts descend upon you in an unholy Pentecost of Tweets, online exchanges will continue to leave you restless, hollow, and yearning for the colors and cacophony of an authentic agora.The adolescent purgatory of FaceBook -- with its castings into the Eternal Now of instant praise, acceptance, and rejection -- reflects, magnifies, and acerbates the perpetual adolescence of the contemporary culture of the United States, intensifying its shallow longings and displaced panics, its narcissistic rage and obsession with the superficial.It devours libido, by providing a pixilated facsimile of the primal dance of human endeavor, leaving one's heart churning in thwarted yearning, locked an evanescent embrace with electronic phantoms, as one, paradoxically, attempts to live out unfulfilled desires by means of hollow communion with the soul-negating source of his alienation.One can never get enough of what one doesn't need. Ergo, the compulsions and panic of millions of hungry ghosts will hold an ongoing, hollow mass online, in a futile campaign to regain form, gain direction, and walk in meaning and beauty among the things of the world, but instead will remain imprisoned within the very system that condemned them to this fate.And this is the place, we, as a culture, will remain, for a time. This electronic inferno will be our vale and mountaintop, our sanctuary and leviathan. We will stare baffled into its vastness, stupefied and lost within its proliferate array of depersonalizing distractions and seductions.The more we try to lose ourselves in it, by surrendering to its shimmering surface attractions, the more tightly we will become bound in the bondage of self.Naturally, living in the grinding maw of such monsters of alienation will engulf one with ennui and angst. Moreover, the judgment of anyone claiming not to be afflicted should be regarded as suspect.
Oh, is that so? Well, I suspect the judgment of anyone who traffics in such prosaic jeremiads, so I guess we're even!
I should say that I now feel bad for poking at Joe Bageant the other day. The romantic longueurs and the circumlocutory cri du coeur in this essay make Joe look like a model of terse realism. There's even the obligatory quoting of Eliot's "The Waste Land"!
Anyway, I have no use for Facebook, Twitter, et. al., as I keep saying. But the shallow inanity of social networking sites is not somehow an infernal subversion of the true essence of human interaction. Gods, man, have you ever actually spent time listening to what ordinary people talk about? Did you grow up or spend a substantial amount of time in a small town, pre-Internet? Has it ever occurred to you to wonder why most people who did will tell you that all they dreamed of doing was getting as far away as they could, as quickly as possible? You think mindless, suffocating routine is exclusive to big-city life in the digital age?
In a way, though, the romantics are correct that our heightened sense of individuality helps create a stronger sense of alienation. The more facets of our personalities and tastes we develop, the more points of divergence between us make themselves visible, and the greater the impression becomes that no one truly understands us in all our complexity. But the answer to that is not to daydream about what a joy it must have been to live in the same area that your great-great-great grandparents did, doing the same things, seeing the same few dozen people all your life. To his particular credit, unlike most people who take up this banner, Rockstroh doesn't call for any such retreat, but still:
Try this: embrace the bracing pain of your alienation: make a home in being lost. Gaze with wonder upon the sacred scenery of your bewilderment ... Wandering in the wilderness is a holy state.In other words, in times such as ours, when we embrace our alienation then we will be welcomed home ... to share a common shelter with the multitudes who are also lost.
Life didn't become meaningless in the last few centuries. We didn't lose anything along the way. We discovered, in our burgeoning self-awareness, that meaning did not inhere in life itself. Now our anomie should be a provocation to forge new bonds and new meaning. I find the wide-open freedom of it exhilarating, myself.