Revolutionary movements tend to be co-opted — swallowed up by the mainstream and turned into pop culture. It’s a way of neutralizing it, when you think about it…it makes it all safe and palatable, it shuts up the radicals. Once that happens, the real power is pretty much dissipated.
Candida Royalle quoted in Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy
There is a still-point to culture, something that remains unchanged even as progress appears to be made. The past 150 years has seen immense social change. Over the course of two human lifespans, slavery has been abolished, women gained gained the right to vote, birth control was invented, homosexuality and gender variance have been accepted (if not yet normalized) to quickly name some of the biggies. Yet, despite all this “progress,” something remains fundamentally unsatisfying about all of these movements. It is as if we are willing to tweak the superficial details of an obvious problem without addressing the underlying rot from which injustice springs.
Most recently, gay marriage passed in the United States which was felt as a self congratulatory orgasm in liberal America. Yet, even as more rights appear to have been granted, something was lost. Or, perhaps rather than lost, there was an opportunity left unexplored. It is notable that queers were granted the right to marry at a time when our dissatisfaction with marriage is at an all time high. More than half of marriages will end in divorce, and yada yada yada, but when we came up against an obvious limitation of the current institution (it is not available to many people who love each other) we tried to limit the disruption to our underlying belief system by integrating the radical element.
The existence of homosexuality pointed to the idea that our long held beliefs about love and romance were wrong. If there’s nothing wrong with Adam and Steve, who’s to say there’s anything wrong with Adam and Eve and Steve? Or, maybe Eve doesn’t need an Adam anymore, and can reproduce via sperm donation from Steve. Perhaps human cloning will be invented, and Adam will eschew genetic variance and live eternally through his identical twins. The future is a vast and untamed place. However, when the question of gay marriage came up, on a national level we never asked why are we coercing people into a particular type of relationship in the first place?
Marriage clearly adds something important to us on a cultural level right now, or we would have abandoned it. There are likely many benefits to marriage, probably some of them quite joyful — however, I would like to propose one very cynical merit. I believe part of the cultural value marriage adds to society is that it cements people into unhappy relationships, ensuring higher levels of dissatisfaction in its populace for a longer period of time.
The underlying still-point of western society is to keep its citizens fundamentally dissatisfied so they do the work necessary to perpetuate the culture. Like DNA, the human systems that survive are the ones that learn to propagate themselves. Missionary religions, like Christianity and Islam, have exploded because part of their scripture is spreading the religion to others. American consumer-capitalism persists, not because it is the best system along any metric like environmental efficiency or life enjoyment, but because it has a method of self propagation.
Consumer capitalism perpetuates itself by convincing its populous the keep purchasing goods. The usual reason someone will buy something is because they are dissatisfied about some aspect of their lives, and they believe their purchase will offset this dissatisfaction. If, for instance, you are dissatisfied with your current level of hunger you might opt to purchase a sandwich. A highly rational decision.
However, consumer capitalism will grow more if it can convince people to purchase beyond their basic needs. This is where advertisement comes in — aka, the main propagator of consumer capitalism. The more dissatisfaction people have in their lives, the more vulnerable they will be to an advertisement promising to fix said dissatisfaction. Want to sell more breast implants? Convince a bunch of women their tits are too small. Consequently, for a consumer capitalist society to experience maximum growth, the population it exists in will have to have a base level of dissatisfaction with their lives that drive them to purchase.
Any highly effective consumer society will also develop systems of creating enough unhappiness in its population to keep consumption high, but not so much unhappiness it completely revolts. For all our masturbation about the victory of love over hate, the legalization of gay marriage was really about normalizing a radical element of society. Gay culture had split off from straight culture, and people were developing new ways of existing in relationships. Ways that were making them happier. Marriage pulled them back into the mainstream before such explorations were allowed to go on too long.
All social progress has been allowed because it has not fundamentally increased the overall happiness of the population. Women will be allowed to hold jobs if they can be sexually shamed into submission. Black people will be freed from slavery so long as they can be trapped in institutional incarceration. Radical movements will be granted whatever they ask for, so long as it won’t actually improve the quality of life for the population as a whole.
The only way to stop this is to create a larger system that is perpetuated by human happiness. I’m not sure how to create such a system, but I believe the first step is to halt the effectiveness of the current system. Find a way to stop carrying the shame society has instilled in you. Know that you are as worthy of love as any other person. Learn to see yourself as beautiful if you possibly can. I know it sounds like hokey bullshit, but it only sounds that way because consumer capitalism shames anything that risks the destruction of its dissatisfied human base.
And, finally, if you are unhappy — don’t blame yourself for it. It’s not your fault you were born in a time and place where life enjoyment was dismissed as less important than societal maintenance. But, also know there is a way out if you can stop buying into the lie that you are unworthy.