“It feels churlish to complain when the big-picture numbers are so good,” says the New York Times, as if it’s my mother standing over me with her hands on her hips when I tell her I’m too depressed to get out of bed. This is how things are. I’m old enough; I should know better.
Usually I can ignore such a voice. After all, what’s the harm in yelling about how good the economy is when everyone I know knows that it isn’t? Nobody I know is getting rich. We’re gritting our teeth on the subway platform while a cop hassles an old lady on the platform because she’s got one too many bags full of stuff that wasn’t just purchased on 5th avenue. We’re working three jobs and watching the rent keep rising.
But now the objections to reality take a sinister turn. After brutally arresting 58 protesters, flinging blood all across 5th avenue, a professor snaps a photo of a “Thin Blue Line” flag hanging outside of a Harlem police station and along Flatbush Avenue at another station. Bill De Blasio is gaslighting me and 8.55 million other New Yorkers when he says that it could have been photoshopped. He is gaslighting me and 8.55 million other New Yorkers when he says that just because a teenager hanged himself in front of cameras at Rikers because he went shopping with his mother in New Jersey (technical parole violation) doesn’t mean that anyone actually saw it happen. Don’t you know that Jeffery Epstein killed himself in prison and nobody saw that happen, too?
We know it’s not true – and how dare them! Gaslighting, after all, is nothing if not dripping with contempt. When you were young, your parents and your teachers told you about the Soviet Union, and its propaganda, it’s Pravda, it’s lies piled on top of lies. Then you get older and realize that the truth is only as good as what gets reported on. Yes, the employment numbers are up. Yes, the stock market is soaring. That’s all true. But why is the stock market soaring? What sorts of jobs are people engaged with? If inflation is in check, the Phillips Curve smashed – what does that mean for our everyday lives?
It might strike some as being quaint to look back over old Marx, the Grundrisse having been written over 160 years ago. Yet there is more truth to these ancient books of physics than all the truth published about how well the economy is doing, all the speculations on how Mammon is feeling given Trump’s latest tweets. There is more truth in the rising up of Hudson Yards while the 7 train sheds bolts on Queens residents than in all the glossy investment brochures piled up in the sales office.
A major struggle of the new millennium is determining a reality we can all work with. Whether it’s social media, #fakenews, propaganda, shoddy employment statistics, polling results, etc, we’re all seeking something to root ourselves in, something to get context from. Analysis that isn’t a clapback or a witty quip that floods our brains with dopamine as it gets engagement, or makes us feel depressed when it garners none, both outcomes perhaps no fault of our own.
That’s why I’m running back to the blog, perhaps one of the last long-form formats we used before dissolving into out-of-context 140 character (now 280) tweets, algorithmically determined Facebook posts, instagram likes, whatever. Even if we’ve forgotten how to write like this. Even if we’re unsure. As the reality becomes more and more clear (and yet somehow less articulate) to so many of us, we increasingly lack the mediums over which we can honestly and clearly communicate. We want so badly to see seen while we’re being heard less and less.
So, in 2020, if we aren’t in the streets for one reason or another, let’s find new places to meet that aren’t subject to being fucked with by sociopathic billionaires. Let’s find each other again, and speak about the future in a way that doesn’t make us feel so atomized and helpless. It’s not helpful.