Spend Bravely, O Precariat! (Gently Ironic Thoughts on Another Black Friday)

This holiday season, as the shops swell with novelties; as the parking lots and malls jam with consumers anxiously ready once again to demonstrate their love through the miracle of transactional devotion; as the stock markets clamor, in a sort of jingling desperation, for the retail revenue-injection that will just possibly prolong the suspended animation conferred by over a decade of risk-free borrowing; as the debt load of the American public now soars beyond its prior record set on the eve of the Global Financial Crisis; as the level of credit card defaults spikes—yes, as we witness all these things and more, it seems only fair to take stock of the tremendous webs of indebtedness that make the holiday season so endearing and to remember, with a thankful heart, their importance in maintaining our closeness and interdependency.

We are still often accustomed, through some archaic conditioning that has long exerted undue authority over our minds, to think (or at least pay lip-service to the idea) that indebtedness is a bad thing, a dangerous thing. Time and again, we have allowed the fear of debt, like the archaic and now thankfully largely defunct fear of sin, to hover over our lives like some primordial guilt, to poison our waking and even our leisure hours—to fill us with the sense that some reckoning awaits, a judgment, or even a simple logical consequence—if not of the loan officer or the repossession team then of our own self-accusation, then the deeper specter of our inner doubts about our status, our freedom, even our success in life.

None of this, for the most part, is for lack of good intentions and proper conditioning. We have learned well that purchasing is the natural outlet of dreaming, and dreaming in turn is the proof that Progress itself is somewhere on the march (even if we do not see it around). And so we have dreamed, and we have bought. Whether we had the money at the time seemed so immaterial; we were reminded time and again in sweetest language that this was literally so, that we had left behind materiality to dwell in the world of pattern and information, an endlessly supple and edifying imaginarium.

And yet, as these trials of holiday shopping draw on, as our paychecks evaporate and our car payments and school debts seem to mount through the clouds, we still may find ourselves forgetting these lessons. We may find those doubts creeping in again, almost like the insidious whisper of the long-dead fear of sin, weighting down our individual attempts to join in the communal search for the ideal dream, for whatever purchasable pattern will most indelibly inscribe us in the thoughts of others.

At these times, we owe it to ourselves to remember the underlying reasons not only that we can continue to buy, but that we should continue—and without the least stain of fear or guilt. We must remember our place in the great experiment of self-realization through consumption, whose urgent importance debt has immeasurably helped to subserve and to more sharply underline. We must remember that no debt is too large, nor any prudence too slight, for in our headlong movement towards a state of complete and inescapable peonage we find ourselves learning more and more perfectly the nature of our devotion to one another.

That devotion comes down to this simple point: that massive indebtedness is a good thing, yes, utterly and limitlessly good, because it is pro-social—it forces people to depend on each other more, forces us closer and closer together! Debt is the mightiest “social glue” ever devised, greater than God, greater than motherhood; there’s no getting away from your boss, your landlord, or your country, once you owe a great pile of money not only to them but to so many others. The magical act of lending having transpired, we are subjects of a great initiation; there is none for it but to hunker down and keep paying out every last bit we can scrounge up. This is why there is no greater recipe for sound work-ethic and political stability yet devised than having a population eyeballs-deep in credit—a true “owe-nership” society!

We can and should remember the lesson of this social goodness at any time of the year; but during the holiday season, when selflessness is so rightly foremost in our minds, it is if anything more opportune to do so. We should also give thanks for the noble intermediacy of our humble financial organizations, which make the remembrance of debt’s role so much easier for us. And that the people to whom we actually owe are, in our system, largely statistical aggregations of complete strangers or notional “corporate persons” only strengthens the holiday lesson; for how else would we learn to extend the circle of our interrelatedness not only to the few friends and acquaintances to whom we may be in hock, but to whole legions of others sharing anonymously in our communal struggle? For this judicious and instructive opaqueness, too, we owe a great thanks to those aforesaid financial organizations.

Thus we see that debt is not only pro-social, but even pan-human in its ambitions: to love debt, truly, is not only to follow one’s own dreams, but to love one’s fellow man.

In contrast, consider the frugal person: such a person may simply squirrel away their money, obsessed, perhaps, with some faceless abstraction called “the future”, or worse, with some anti-social objective such as personal freedom from creditors, excessive work hours, issues of personal trust, etc. But I ask you, what good are such independent, free people to society?! They contribute nothing much; they surely are not in any way more festive. Rather, by going their own way and retaining for themselves assets that could otherwise be productive in the very circulatory-system of society—that is, in the act of borrowing and loaning—they act as dead-weight to the rest of us and destine themselves for a joyless existence on the margins of society. What is almost worse, such freeloaders—being less restrained by the fear that an employer’s or creditor’s disapproval might ruin their life entirely—may even have the daring to exercise free speech or thought! Such proclivities contain in them the makings of chaos, of unproductive self-indulgence (as opposed to the productive, dreamily debt-accruing kind), and do nothing to safeguard the future of a people, let alone the growth of economic production; they only sow doubt and irrelevant questions.

As so sagely observed by the meticulous and present-minded inhabitants of Brave New World, “ending is better than mending”: for only rapid turnover can support the needs of mass-production and with it, social order and pan-human flourishing. Faced with the succinct insight of this splendidly Fordian adage, we might dare to add, in the same general spirit, a new holiday jingle with a more financial perspective: “owing is growing, and saving, misbehaving“!

Yet the benefits of debt do not stop just at the pursuit of festivity, dreaming, and human bondedness, but in the cultivation of a resolutely affirmative attitude towards life. There is something salutary not just in the general expansion of debt, or in the way it at once greases and fuels the economic mechanism and promotes the increase in social unity and interconnection, but also in its most personal, individual aspect. For to borrow—especially if done with blithe unconcern for how one will repay—is in essence to personally say “yes” to the system that surrounds one, to “buy in” to it, to accept the risks that come with it as the risks of living and even joy itself. And since nations are in themselves nothing more than great systems, the taking out of a loan, the larger the better, is possibly the best way to gain practice not only in habitual optimism, but in patriotism.

Yes, to borrow is, in a sense, a heroic act: it divides the mature person, ready to jump full-tilt into the maelstrom of creative destruction, the one who says “yes” to the controlling interests of his society and his fellowman (trusting in their essential goodness), from the “saver”—the pusillanimous wretch who cradles his useless freedom and independence just as he cradles his utterly unproductive dollars and holdings! I ask you, can such a being as this ever be trusted fully? Indeed not, not in the large–and this is why the saving-types have been ushered steadily out of every position of power and accountability in our system. But the borrower for whom there is no such thing as profligacy, he or she points the way forward, is the architect-in-waiting who constructs the ever-new edifice of an economy that rightly will accept no bounds.

This, friends, is the crucial realization we must strive to attain this holiday, and every holiday thereafter: that debt is but an illusion, a test of worthiness, an assessment of one’s selfless dedication to the Whole Cause. Those who see past the illusion, and trust in their fellow-man and the essential wisdom of the system itself, and seek only to contribute to it—so to speak, at any cost—through the daring, unapologetic indulgence of desire—these are the intrepid ones who will be ushered into the sunlit uplands of Progress, their arms generously stuffed with consumer goods. They will know the inner secrets of the Kingdom to which we are all heir, and they shall be pacified.

Of course, even these heroic ones may hear the whisperings of doubt from time to time, the fear of “consequence”, and hearken despite their best instincts, and find themselves afraid. What is to be done then? Here we must admit we remain at an impasse of sorts. Unlike the Brave New Worlders, we have not yet achieved the perfection of pharmacologically-guided, self-policing inner harmony represented in the marvelous invention of “soma”. But we do approach their profundity, at least, in beginning to grasp that it is not “religion” that is properly the opiate of the masses, but opiates themselves. Naturally the addictiveness of opiates is a cause for concern, and even possibly a permanent drawback, so that the spread of opiate use in a nation-system, as we have seen in ours lately, can not be taken as a totally positive sign. But there is much hope yet of our finding a workable ‘soma-surrogate’, possibly even in the growing world adoption of cannabis as a wholly acceptable, legal, safe method of “checking out” into a land of pure pattern and dream.

In these more physio-chemical developments, too, heavy indebtedness has no doubt played a role, no less than drugs have, not only in financing the business model but as the gentle guide to heightened consciousness, in all senses of the term. For what else is drug (ab)use, in a sense, than the psychic debt one takes out to finance one’s own happiness… and at the same time, one’s full awakening to this same debt?

So go forth, wise precariat, fear not for the future—for the future is either an ungrateful lonesome country, or an endless treasure, already mortgaged at favorable variable rates in service to our peace of mind. The medicines, both financial and psychotropic, are already there for you; they stand almost perfected, and waiting to cement your communal happiness! Go forth without fear, save Christmas once again from the isolating ravages of prudence and satiety… and dream on.

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