So much for new year’s resolutions

December 28th, 2008

I don’t usually make new year’s resolutions. Nor ny’s reservations for that matter, or any big plans around this fairly arbitrary and thus meaningless date – concept really. I realized from a young age that the resolutions never stick – are a set-up for failure basically – and that the night itself is usually awash in disappointment. At the least it never meets expectations.

But. With me, hope springs eternal, despite the shit and horror of this world. I am the hopeful despondent. And so when Trophycase drew my attention to my horoscope in Free Will Astrology, I gave it a gander. Now, I have written about Rob Breszny’s FWA before … and my assessment remains the same – Leos get the short shrift in his column – despite the odd bone tossed our way. Here’s what Rob wrote about the regal star sign as 2006 drew to a close:

Leo Horoscope for week of December 14, 2006

“Your face alternately contorts with strain and breaks into beatific grins. Your body language careens from garbled jargon to melodic poetry. Your clothes make a fool of you one day and show off your inner beauty the next. Are you becoming bi-polar? Probably not. The more likely explanation is that you’re being convulsed by growing pains that are killing off bad old habits as fast as they’re creating interesting new ones. This is one of those times when you should be proud to wear a badge that says ‘hurts so good.’”

And, you know, I took heart at the idea that people could change. That I could change. Not so much a new year’s resolution but a work in progress. I think that’s more artful and beauty-filled than any finished “piece.” Course, the years flow on, and nothing much does seem to change. Least of all me. And I find myself mired in my own shit all over again, or still. And then up pops another inspiring horoscope from my buddy Rob and I tempted to hope once more:

Leo Horoscope for week of December 18, 2008

“Happy Holy Daze, Leo! If I could give you one gift for the holidays, it might be a magic object to add to your love altar — something like a pomegranate resting on red velvet, or a golden heart-shaped magnet, or Pablo Neruda’s book 100 Love Sonnets. What? You don’t have a love altar? Well then please begin creating one as soon as possible, and continue building it throughout 2009. For the next 12 months, the time will be right to get smarter, wilder, and kinder in your approach to creating intimate connection.”

Sounds pretty awesome, hey? If only I could deliver. Once every year or two Rob Breszny comes through for Leo. Somehow, it feels too little, too late. A bit like me and my “changes.” I recently watched the latest from Harmony Korine, Mister Lonely. The Michael Jackson impersonator is played by the ohsolovely Diego Luna. The expansive Samantha Morton is Marilyn Munroe, who asks Michael whether anything ever changes. He says of course. And she repeats her question with more insistence: But does anything ever really change?”And Michael is stumped. Then Marilyn, true to form, kills herself. It’s a good movie. Go rent it.

My new year’s resolution for 2009 is the same one I set for myself every day, the same one I’ve had since I was about 30: to change myself. To rail against the social constraints and limitations that stripe my being like whip marks. I tell my students at the beginning of each course (whichever one) that the world is a social construction; as it is made daily by our participation in social and physical structures, by our acquiescence to the status quo, so it can be unmade, remade.

But can I remake myself? How to change daily practice that has become second nature? People default to nature as explanation, our animal instincts as some sort of salve that would soothe us, cleanse us, even, from any responsibility for our very conditioned (re)actions. It is tempting, believe me, but not in the spirit of metamorphosis.

Marcuse writes of “second nature” – both of the current capitalist set of values/mores and of the instinctual foundation for liberation:

“Once a specific morality is firmly established as a norm of social behaviour, it is not only introjected – it also operates as a norm of ‘organic’ behaviour the organism receives and reacts to certain stimuli and ‘ignores’ and repels others in accord with the introjected morality, which is thus promoting or impeding the function of the organism as a living cell in the respective society” (Essay on liberation, p. 11).

He further observes that the “so-called consumer economy and the politics of corporate capitalism” comprise the second nature of human, tying her “libidinally and aggressively to the commodity form.”  The constant need to possess, consume, own that capitalism offers to and imposes upon people has become “biological”in this sense.

“The second nature of (hu)man thus militates against any change that would disrupt and perhaps even abolish this dependence of (hu)man on a market ever more densely filled with merchandise – abolish [her] existence as a consumer consuming [her]self in buying and selling” (ibid). According to Marcuse, the needs created by the capitalist system are stabilizing and conservative – in this way, the counterrevolution becomes instinctive.

Marcuse says that unless the “revolt” – that is revolt against capitalism as a dominative and repressive mode of social organization – descends into this “second” nature, these ingrown patterns, “social change will remain incomplete, even self defeating” (ibid). The radical change needed to transform existing society into a free society therefore must take place within the individual, in the biological dimension, which will then unfurl and extend to social relations and then to social organization itself. For this to occur, according to Marcuse, the “vital, imperative needs and satisfactions of (hu)man” would need to assert themselves. Currently, our “instinctive” needs and satisfactions reproduce our servitude. “[L]iberation presupposes changes in this biological dimension, that is to say, different instincutal needs, different reactions of the body as well as the mind” (p. 17).

The difficulty is changing our instinctive reactions to the social conditioning that has literally ruined us as free, expressive, loving individuals. Intellectually, it isn’t that difficult to observe and analyze the history of humankind, which Marcuse calls the “history of domination and servitude.” But to liberate our scarred, branded, crippled selves from that history is tricky business indeed.

So it’s true: if you want to change the world, you have to change yourself first. And that in itself is a revolution. It might be bloody. And there might not be survivors. But as Spartacus said (just watched for the first time last night), a slave only finds freedom in death. I am speaking metaphorically here, and the conundrum remains: how to be reborn, free of the societal chains that confine and maim, and yet still live in that society?


3 Responses to “So much for new year’s resolutions”

  1. Steve on December 31, 2008 2:52 am

    very elegantly put, and very courageous to take on the change of changing oneself at a deep level. Seems so often we hear people say they want this or that for themselves, like if they just repress part of who they are enough, they’ll be what they want to be – at least in a very specific context. But rarely do we hear people take on their very foundation, which is likely to be holding us back in multiple ways.

    Nicely done, good luck!

  2. air on December 31, 2008 2:08 pm

    The way you live your life, with all it’s complexities, is a huge inspiration to me. I know you may not realize it, but simply by living authentically, you change the society around you. I think that now, more than ever, our society is posed to take great strides of change. More than ever my support network is of like-minded people (through social media), and there is room on the planet for all types of people and multiple belief systems.

    Your friendship, and that of your family, means the world to me.

  3. Link Love « Talking To Air on January 5, 2009 12:08 am

    [...] My friend Kate writes about her desire to always change. I think she is on to something with [...]

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