Monday, October 21, 2013

Why Does Life Suck? A Tripartite Theory, With Reflection On The Entrepreneurial Self Of Modern Times

Contemplative cat is contemplative
A couple of years ago I was browsing my blog stats, and I saw that someone had landed here after googling "Why does life suck"?

This gave me pause. Because I would very much like the suckiness of life to be one of the things people feel they can learn about on my blog. Along with death, it's pretty much the main topic of human existence.

As I see it, the suckiness of life has a tri-partite existence.

First, there's Inherent Suckiness, the suckiness of the human condition. Human life is brief, frequently unsatisfying, and often boring. Though people tend to stop talking about this as they get older, the world's two-year-olds all agree with me: the whole thing is way dumber than it has to be.

There's not much we can do about inherent suckiness.

Second, there's Natural Suckiness, the suckiness induced by nature. Nature must have a really great PR team, because even though its full of disease, death, and deprivation, everyone talks about it like it's goddamn mother's milk.

Natural suckiness can often be alleviated through human effort and invention, and generally speaking I think it's reasonable to say we're working on it. We don't have a cure for cancer, but if our creators came down and accused us of sleeping late and dicking around, I think we'd be justified in telling them to STFU and get off our case already. We're working on it. OK?

But the last category of Self-Inflicted Suckiness is the most important and interesting. This is where we humans are making things worse for ourselves, making the world a hostile place, making a society that makes us crazy.

If you live in the 21st century I'm sure you can think of a zillion ways we humans are making things worse than they should be. This blog has touched on some of them over the years. It's a winner take all society. If you're at the bottom you're screwed. It's not enough to do something well, you have to promote promote promote

A few months ago I read this book, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, about how neoliberalism survived the financial crisis. It's got a lot of great interesting stuff, but one thing that really grabbed me was the idea of the new "entrepreneurial self" that's required for life in modern times.

The idea is that, especially in the contemporary US, everyone is expected to be their own generator of prosperity. This means that to survive each person must be not only sophisticated and knowledgable and self-promoting, but also completely unresistant to change and willing to accept blame for every setback.

That is to say, if you fail, you fucked up. It's your fault, and you better do something about it. Get yourself to a motivational seminar. Get a life coach. Look up one of the many websites using the term "entrepreneurial self" in the positive way.

When I encountered these ideas I found connections among things I hadn't seen before. The relentless positivity requirements of our modern era, the omnipresent narrative in which in which YOU deal with life's problems by curing YOUR inner demons thus ramping up YOUR personal best, the constant need to package each setback in life as a triumph over obstacles ... all of these are connected by the same metaphor for humanity, a metaphor that flatly denies the obvious: that we are all interdependent on one another.

So if you're thinking about why life sucks, and you want to move beyond the obvious Inherent Suckiness and Natural Suckiness of life and into the Self-Induced Suckiness, the entrepreneurial self might be a good starting point -- though I'm sure you can generate many rich examples of your own.


Olof Leffler said...

At least your insight here is a pretty good case for saying that not all of life sucks. It's more inspiring - because more humane - than 10 000 life coaches. Thanks for a great post!

Daniel said...


I agree that the rhetoric of the entrepreneurial self is pretty unappealing, although there is certainly a lot of competition out there. You seem to suggest something of an historical argument, by citing the 21st century (or late 20th century in other posts) as the locus of suckiness. With that in mind, was life ALWAYS less sucky before now, or was it sort of a brief time from say the 1940s to the 1970s that are longed for by critiquing the entrepreneurial self? Or maybe it's something different altogether, that ebbs and flows.