06 June 2007

Utopia: a postmodern hell

Utopia: a postmodern hell
by Gregor_Samsa
06/06/2007, 11:50 PM #

We live in difficult times. In the western world, compared to a century ago, the average person lives thirty years longer. Infant mortality and contagious diseases have nearly disappeared, violent crimes are lower and the work week has shrunk to almost half. Any schmuck living today can enjoy comforts, travel the world, appreciate the arts and wine and dine in a way that was possible only for the aristocracy not so long ago. Add to this the fact that haircuts are a lot cheaper nowadays and free porn is available everywhere, and things begin to look very gloomy indeed. If everything continues to improve at this rate, we could soon face an epidemic of severe depression, and possibly, mass suicide.

Jerome K. Jerome writes about the time he was having some minor symptoms and decided to look up a medical encyclopedia to get a diagnosis. Bad idea. It soon became very clear that our man was suffering from every fatal disease known to mankind, except Housemaid’s Knee. Before the advent of modern medicine, people would cheerfully die at forty, run over by a horse or bleeding from unknown causes. Now we cower till eighty, putting everything we eat under a microscope, opening our posteriors to polyp hunters and worrying about insurance. No spam about penis enlargement has been found on the cave walls in Lascaux, proving that most of our anxieties have a modern origin.

The Fray upgrade unveiled this week mirrors this human condition perfectly. I don’t know whether Fray 2.0 is superior to its predecessor, but if the loud collective whine of a million fusspots is any indication, it must be. We came here to seek refuge from the toxic fumes of progress that has engulfed civilization. I was expecting the new Fray to be viewable only in a DOS window in typewriter font, the messages scrolling down in real time providing a brief opportunity to catch them before they disappeared forever. Instead, we get this over adorned, unwieldy mess, proving that the caretakers had every resource at their disposal except wisdom.

Social philosophers come in two stripes (depending on whether they were spanked as a child) – the sunny and the morose. Marx was convinced that all conflicts push society towards a final utopia of harmonious prosperity, while the forlorn Malthus saw us engaged in a Sisyphean struggle that will inevitably end in squalor. Suffice it to say that simpletons like these should have chosen pursuits more suited to their temperament, like pizza delivery or telemarketing. Schumpeter alone among modern thinkers realized that understanding progress calls for an ironic approach, which inspired him to call it ‘creative destruction’. With typical Viennese drunkenness, though, he got it exactly backwards.

Every time we advance one step, our aspirations take two steps forward. Whenever you fix a problem, you’ll learn about two more in need of attention. Life used to be a brief adventure. Now it is nasty, brutish and long. I can see the Fray of the future – an infinitely customized hall of sighs, where people are too busy adjusting font colors, toggling between multiple screen views and worrying about the right combination of settings to ever post anything at all. It would reflect a similar existence outside, where every waking moment will be spent fiddling with the controls of life, adjusting blood pressure, dopamine, libido, nose length, financial portfolios, global climate and a zillion other things.

I say, fcuk that. Somebody please bomb us back to the stone age.

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