Rats & Rage, or, What Even is Time
ASSUMED AUDIENCE everyone just doing their best right now
Hey, y’all. I don’t know about you, but January and February were individually three months long and collectively ten years long. I’m so happy for longer days and more sun, I can’t even tell you.
I Don’t Know What You’re Getting This Week
I cannot brain.
I feel incapable of landing on a coherent, focused topic on which to write. Perhaps if I’d given myself a different set of publishing parameters (like…fire at will, when it’s done!), then maybe I’d feel less pressure to Write a Significant Newsletter every month. But this is what I did, and I don’t want to change the format two months in, so.
Like, consistency is boring, okay, but…none of us have the margin to constantly recreate our expectations every time on every single thing. So knowing what to expect and being able to enter the experience—whatever the experience is—in more or less the same way helps us out. Anyway. Cannot brain.
Pinging around a lot of thoughts, like gerbils in a box.
Thinking a lot about capitalism and acceleration, and how we think we have agency in our lives, but we’re really just rats hitting the buzzer for treats in the 24/7 global economy.
There’s a lot of rodents here.
I Can Feel It in the Air Tonight
When I’m out running errands, I’m often struck by how tightly wound everyone seems these days. It’s like a collective PTSD in the air - we’re all stretched thin, burnt out, and pissed off. The window of tolerance has shrunk for everyone.
The other day, I saw a guy inching down the road in his car while leaning out the driver’s side window, just cussing out some other dude sitting in the turn lane going the opposite direction. Like, the dude legit was almost halfway out the window, waving and gesturing with specific fingers at the other guy. I have no idea what the hell was going on.
And I wondered, what set this guy off? Did he know the dude? Were they strangers? What else had happened in his day that this was the only response he felt he could give?
Why do any of us respond that way, for that matter.
Turning Off the Nozzle of Sh*t
My friend Rachel is an amazing human, a wife, a mother of three, and a full-time editor. Life really comes at her fast. Anyway, we were chatting recently, and she said something that made me catch my breath. She shared:
“This sucks. I hate this. I absolutely hate this break-neck speed I’m going at right now.
What if “being conformed to this world” is less about “don’t look at porn” and “don’t have sex before you’re married”… What if the most pressing issue of the day is capitulating to the accelerated speed of everything? And bowing down to the idol of speed?
And then “being transformed by the renewal of your mind” is actually choosing to shut your mind off from the constant stream of shit coming at you? Like, turn off the nozzle of shit?
Allow your brain enough space to come up for air and breathe, so that there’s even the capacity to be transformed.”
I’m still sitting with this. And I’d guess she’s not the only one to feel this way. I’m not nearly as busy and I feel that way.
I recently finished reading 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, by Jonathan Crary. It’s not a cheery book by any stretch, but Crary does a good job of describing the myriad ways in which all the technology we built to serve us has actually come to rule us.
I feel like I’ve seen a lot of writing lately about “the good old days” of the internet. There seemed a broad consensus that this networked access to information and communication could only be a collective and individual good. Now it feels like everyone’s just pulling up chairs and pointing out the different colors of the raging dumpster fire.
Anyway, Crary’s main thesis is that sleep remains stubbornly resistant to the 24/7 environment created by consumer capitalism, systems of technology, and the internet. He calls sleep “an irrational and intolerable affirmation that there might be limits” to our compatibility with these “allegedly irresistible forces of modernization.”
Although, from the perspective of that environment, sleep is seen as a weakness to be controlled or eradicated in favor of becoming something other than the human beings we in fact are.
I made a lot of highlights in this book. Here’s a few that stood out.
On not counting the cost:
A 24/7 environment has the semblance of a social world, but it is actually a non-social model of machinic performance and a suspension of living that does not disclose the human cost
On the kudzu of 24/7 non-time:
The effectiveness of 24/7 lies in the incompatibility it lays bare, in the discrepancy between a human life-world and the evocation of a switched-on universe for which no off-switch exists. […] Since no moment, place, or situation now exists in which one can not shop, consume, or exploit networked resources, there is a relentless incursion of the non-time of 24/7 into every aspect of social or personal life.
On the formation of individual identities:
Individual habitation to these [accelerated, disconnected] tempos has had devastating social and environmental consequences, and has produced a collective normalization of this ceaseless displacement and discarding. Because loss is continually created, an atrophied memory ceases to recognize it as such. […] Everything once loosely considered to be “personal” is now reconfigured so as to facilitate the fabricating of oneself into a jumble of identities that exist only as effects of temporary technological arrangements. The frameworks through which the world can be understood continue to be depleted of complexity, drained of whatever is unplanned or unforeseen.
On being insulated from other people:
24/7 presents the delusion of a time without waiting, of an on-demand instantaneity, of having and getting insulated from the presence of others. The responsibility for other people that proximity entails can now be easily bypassed by the electronic management of one’s daily routines and contacts.
But that feeling of being disconnected and at the mercy of something “other” constantly humming in the background of our brainpan? Crary points out that that “docility and separation are not indirect by-products of a financialized global economy, but are among its primary aims.”
I mean, if you want to say this is the Matrix, it’s not the worst metaphor available.
I’m especially struck by the observation that we have “collectively normalized” discarding the “old” with this constant assumption of the “new” arriving every minute. It’s like a quasi-Alzheimer’s or dementia: we have willfully accepted this loss and the related destroying of memory and any sustained identity that extends beyond “temporary technological arrangements.”
And if we cannot remember ourselves as having any permanence or substance, how can we expect to remember others, to accept their proximity as a feature of being human, not a bug?
The Great Aggravation
And so we live in this constant non-time of on-demand instantaneity. We swipe left on profiles without considering the human beings behind them. We head for the self-serve checkout lane at the grocery store rather than deal with a human clerk. We look for an email, a contact form, anything other than a phone number that requires us to speak to a live person. And we feel constantly pulled apart, disconnected, and worn out. We avoid making actual connections that might slow us down, or even worse, cost us some measure of control.
If it’s an accurate description, Rosa’s sociological theory says that
modernity is culturally geared and structurally driven toward making the world calculable, manageable, predictable, and controllable in every possible respect. Yet resonance cannot be made controllable through scientific knowledge, political management, economic efficiency, and so on.
This is the great aggravation inherent in this social formation, its essential contradiction, which produce ever new waves of enraged citizens.
We long for resonance, trying to manufacture when and where we might meet it. And we structure and drive ourselves toward control and exploitation. No wonder we’re so ready to lean out our car windows and yell at people.
A Different Pattern
When my friend Rachel was talking about conforming to patterns of this world and being transformed, she was referencing verses from the Christian scriptures, specifically the book of Romans.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The apostle Paul likes to talk a lot about bodies: being in them, using them, pushing them, sacrificing them (not literally, but then again, he probably was martyred). Anyway, he talks a lot about bodies because our bodies are literally the location of our lives.
It sounds simple and obvious, but I think we forget this by constantly going at 24/7 speed. We forget that our bodies take on the rhythms and patterns in which they’re embedded, absorbing the sounds and smells and mannerisms of “this world,” whatever it happens to look like. There’s a reason it’s called “muscle memory,” and why we rely on it so much.
And that’s why transformation that goes against those patterns is so difficult. It requires attending to them, consciously changing our environment, deliberately trying to move in a different rhythm when all the shapes of the pattern no longer fit.
When you’ve decided you don’t want to be a buzzer-bashing rat anymore, it’s a challenge to make it as a bistro chef.
But it’s not impossible.
Let’s be hopeful, creative, and wise—together.
1 Crary, p. 13
2 Speaking of hidden human costs, I recently started watching Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on Paramount+ (and it’s a fantastic entry into the Star Trek universe, yay!). One episode, hauntingly titled “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach,” is probably the best exploration of Ursula LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” I’ve ever encountered. Worth a look.
3 ibid., p. 9
4 ibid., p. 30
5 ibid., pp. 58-59
6 ibid., p. 124
7 ibid., p. 42
9 Romans 12:1-2