One of the very first wrenches that got between the seams and stopped the reproduction of me as a good loyal adherent to bourgeois ideology was reading the works of David Foster Wallace (DFW). His magnum opus, Infinite Jest (IJ), is a very entertainingly written book that aims to show how heartbreakingly pervasive it is for people to seek to numb themselves to pain with things that are diverting, or entertaining, or fun in a way that is overall harmful for them. It aims to lure people in by their desire for dazzlement in order to then help them break with their addiction to dazzlement. It is a book that is about addictions of many different sorts, to drugs of various kinds as well as to other sorts of thrills that don’t involve consuming substances.
It was one of the first things that really helped concretize for me something that I had always felt, which is the small horror to me of how most middle-class people choose to live their lives. Middle-class people find it easy to denounce the use of “hard drugs” and notice how the use of “hard drugs,” while (by necessity) gratifying to some small sub-part of the mind and the set of human motivations, is extremely destructive to the well-being of all other parts of the mind and to the satisfaction of all other motivations. middle-class people see this and sort of boggle that anyone could allow themselves to fall within the captivity of such a pattern.
But they don’t see how incredibly often their use of media, their pattern of dazzling themselves, is very much an addiction. When DFW was writing IJ, television was still the main form of entertainment. People in the u.s. were still watching an average of 6 hours of TV a day. The point of IJ is to show that in fact most of its readers had come to the book seeking the dazzlement and distraction *in the same sort of disordered way* that it was criticizing and to help them come to terms with that and see that it was not different. in fact, it should be said that the mind is so powerful that it needs no book or entertainment to do this. the thrilling stories one tells oneself about oneself–that is, what is called the ego–that one is morally very good and admirable, or that one is shockingly despicable, even attention to these is the basis for such an addiction in almost everyone.
i could be mistaken, but i think it might be said that something fundamental to all addiction is a pattern that gets set up where the well-being of the whole is subjugated to the well-being of some sub-part–maybe, where the strategy for treating the pain of some sub-part deepens the roots of overall pain.
Reading IJ a couple of times, especially in conjunction with Dante (and also listening to Kimya Dawson’s immensely sad song “The Beer,” which for me is about the raw, freight-train-like self-destructive energy some people pour [or have poured] into the pursuit of addiction because they know they are betraying/destroying themselves and can’t stop it and hate themselves for it and deepen their use of the addictive thing precisely out of self-hate), was part of what helped me break down and cry and decide to seek to live in a way where i would never again allow some parts of myself to be held down relentlessly by other parts. Certain parts of my soul had been screaming in pain for decades and I could no longer bear to allow them to be ignored.
There is a reason that the etymology of the word “health” is “hale,” or “whole.” To me this says that health is where there is no part of the mind or body that is not tended to, and whose needs are not included in the central, rational plan for upkeep to keep all parts working in achieving an ever-greater harmony. As Mao says, “Dust will accumulate if a room is not cleaned regularly, our faces will get dirty if they are not washed regularly. Our comrades’ minds and our Party’s work may also collect dust, and also need sweeping and washing.” Any part left unincluded will begin to cause problems for all other parts.
There is a way of pursuing this on through to what i sometimes call “spirituality”–which seeks to take this lesson about health/wholeth seriously and help people transform themselves and adopt practices to leave no voice within the body or mind unknown and un-attended-to by the other parts. I think this is good and progressive for people to engage with.
But if one is really being materialist, one can also not ignore the place of society in shaping and influencing the individual. i came to see that if i was to truly seek my own whole well-being, i HAD to realize that (a) there were reasons why i was in such pain, and (b) it was not just my own doing–society was tantalizing and presenting me with so many destructive addictions, substances as well as gratifying power-trips and defense mechanisms such as objectifying/patriarchal sexuality, narcissism, and insincere glibness. i had to recognize that virtually everyone else in the world was also in pain and also being twisted by such addictions, and so if i was to seek to cure myself, i had to seek to align my own well-being with the well-being of the broad masses of humanity and the future of humanity, which i soon after discovered is bound up in seeking to ensure the victory of the global working class and its allies over global capitalism in order to create a communist world, a world where all concentrations of power and leadership were accountable, where literally no voice was left out, and an ever deeper and wiser harmony was collectively sought among all the constituent parts of humanity, (a) because such a harmony benefits all the individuals within it, but even more deeply (b) because only by centering one’s life around such a motivation can one truly like oneself and find oneself acceptable through and through.
I started writing this because there are so many people from middle-class backgrounds whom i love who are still caught up in making something other than the well-being of the broad masses and the future of humanity the center of their lives–hobbies of all kinds, literature, music, the craft of various arts. i know they are seeking to be hale, and i think that it is impossible–because they are not actually doing work that is fully and unadulteratedly in service to the future of humanity–that they do actually feel hale, whole. i feel quietly but persistently sad and desperate watching them pursue all these things. i know that their talents and their motivations can be folded into the one and only project that can serve the broad masses of humanity and the future of humanity and really of the biodiversity and harmony of all life on earth. we are in a desperate time in history. i wish sincerely for all such people to follow that root to its very utmost conclusion. i want to know and love them as comrades, and i want them to be able to love themselves as the true caretakers of themselves and the true servants of humanity that i sincerely believe only communists can be.
* * *
EDIT: i feel like there is more that can be said. it is not simply accepting the necessity of communism that allows people to overcome these things. people need support and camaraderie to transform themselves and become more healthy. i don’t have all the answers by any means, but i know that there is no more solid foundation on earth for camaraderie than the communist movement–it gives us strength and solidity.
i suspect that some people’s reaction might be that having comrades and being involved in the communist struggle sounds like it might indeed provide the meaning and support to transform themselves, but they think to themselves that do not possibly have the strength to put together such a thing by themselves. i can tell you in confidence that you will not have to. i think that in general if you take one step toward serving the people by beginning organizing that is fully communist, persistently offering that pursuit whatever you can sustainably offer, the masses will take two steps toward you. whatever at all you can currently start to put on offer in building something that is all-the-way communist, i believe you will see that energy reciprocated. i believe taking whatever-sized first step you can is all that is necessary to begin this process, and that as more support comes in, you yourself will benefit from that support and come to be able to offer more, in a feedback loop that brings more comrades and helps those comrades support each other in transforming themselves.
if you want to know how to begin this process, here are two things i wrote on that subject, for whatever they may be worth: