Real wages of American workers have declined since the late 70s (while wealth has been concentrated in the Ruling Class) yet there is no real protest. Why? Logically, union membership should be rising in response, but in fact it’s dwindling. What’s the matter with America?
The answer is a unique phenomenon in world history: the “spiritualization” of the working class. The New Age, which appears to be a peripheral phenomenon, was in fact central to this transformation. I will date the dawning of the New Age to the publication of Be Here Now, the all-purpose guide to enlightenment published by Baba Ram Das – as he was then called – in 1971. Early New Age followers were fond of saying, “I am not my body,” and though this formula could be described as “dissociation” from a classical Freudian viewpoint, it became prophetic. Much of the working class today does not reside in their corporeal flesh. Simultaneous to Be Here Now was the rise of the “Jesus freaks,” who gave birth to the current evangelical Christian movement, which emphasizes personal salvation, religious ecstasy, and apocalyptic visions. The End of the World is probably the main theme of recent American movies. The shrinking paycheck must not be resisted; it’s one of the signs of Jesus’ imminent return.
Millions of Americans – mostly male – live their true existences within the prismatic world of video games. Others find “avatars” – spiritual identities – through role-playing games, Civil War reenactments, busy online communities. They are not their bodies; they are mystic warriors temporarily trapped in (usually overweight) fleshly vehicles. Though the USA has lost every war since World War II, individual Americans have vanquished trillions of aliens, terrorists, vampires, demons.
Simultaneous to the dematerialization of American workers was the easy access to credit cards – what I call “spiritual money.” One need not work to have riches; one can have them for free and pay in some utopian future. Also a renaissance of drugs, from “mood enhancers” to “muscle relaxers,” from Prozac to Xanax to ecstasy, allow Walmart clerks to escape the drudgery of material existence, while listening to their iPods, which transform daily life into an endless action movie. Throngs of radical workers once filled the streets on May Day, demanding a better world. Now every day is a festival on Facebook.
What happens when an entire nation is “not their body”? Does the country become “not its geography”? No one knows. One truth is certain: today’s world can be better understood through game theory than through political science. Social reformers can’t push people back into their physical flesh. No one can be forced to re-materialize. Radicals and thinkers must accept this new spiritual reality, and fly alongside it.
Sparrow lives in a doublewide trailer in the hamlet of Phoenicia, New York, with his wife Violet Snow. His book How to Survive the Coming Collapse of Civilization is forthcoming from The Operating System Press. He is currently running for President of the United States. Sparrow@Sparrow14 on Twitter. http://thesunmagazine.org/author/sparrow