This, then, is the role of the resentment machine: to amplify meaningless differences and assign to them vast importance for the quality of individuals. For those who are writing the most prominent parts of the internet—the bloggers, the trendsetters, the über-Tweeters, the tastemakers, the linkers, the creators of memes and online norms—online life is taking the place of the creation of the self, and doing so poorly.
This all sounds quite critical, I’m sure, but ultimately, this is a critique I include myself in. For this to approach real criticism I would have to offer an alternative to those trapped in the idea of the consumer as self. I haven’t got one. Our system has relentlessly denied the role of any human practice that cannot be monetized. The capitalist apparatus has worked tirelessly to commercialize everything, to reduce every aspect of human life to currency exchange. In such a context, there is little hope for the survival of the fully realized self.
All well and good, the parts about petty differences in aesthetic taste being magnified into such a huge distinction in Internet culture. But I suggest to you that the idea of the “fully realized self” being equally available to all is also a product of our consumer culture, as well as the luxury of sitting around worrying about authenticity and originality in the first place. It’s a fine thing to cultivate the wiredrawn aspects of our personalities and intellects, of course. But do we have to go as far back as a few centuries to consider the existence of small-town villagers and peasants, or can we stop at our grandparents’ generation in order to realize that for many people, life was about growing up in the same area as the rest of your extended family, doing the same kind of work that they did, never traveling more than a few day’s journey in any direction, and settling down to raise a family and grow old without ever pondering whether there was anything else to it?
Most of the artists and thinkers who cultivated such well-rounded lives were aristocrats themselves or depended on them as patrons; for the rest of us, money has always played a major role in defining (or, should I say, limiting) our horizons, our relationships, and our potential. The system has denied the role of any human practice that cannot be monetized? Well, why are you looking to the system for validation?