The American Dream is one that is unattainable and yet idealized in capitalist American society as something that will, inevitably, lead to happiness. The American Dream is a concept that encompasses a number of priorities crucially important for the majority of Americans, both economic and non-economic, and serves as a guideline that is aiming for an impossible utopia. The economic side of the American Dream is especially emphasized as the most crucial part of the American Dream and can be attributed to the growth of capitalism in America. Chuck Palahniuk’s controversial novel, Fight Club, disproves and deconstructs this American Dream through the utopian and dystopian worlds exemplified by the narrator, an unnamed protagonist, and his alter ego Tyler Durden. Camus’ The Rebel can be used to identify and analyze the narrator of Fight Club and his quest to escape capitalist American society. The narrator, through his dissociative identity disorder, rebels against capitalism through Durden in order to create a new world order.
The Rebel by Camus analyzes the rebel and the psychological process the rebel to bring awareness to a problem to make way for change. Once an individual has formed awareness for what is and what should be the rebel must then encompasses “the idea of the sublimation of the individual in a henceforth universal good”. American consumerism “has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need”. The narrator is a prime example of Camus’ rebel, by way of his previously utopian lifestyle and Durden the narrator is able to recognize that common good can only be brought if the consumerism can be destroyed. In Fight Club, Project Mayhem is a clear form of fascism targeted specifically against things that are symbolic of American consumer culture and rampant materialism with the narrator as the leader of the group. Project Mayhem requires that a legion of Fight Club members, created by Durden and the narrator, destroy the consumerism that has destroyed lives. The narrator explains “like fight club does with clerks and box boys, Project Mayhem will break up civilization so we can make something better out of the world”. Here, the ultimate goal of Project Mayhem is exemplified and seeks to create a new and better world order that will not consist of capitalism and uncontrolled consumerism.
I am currently reading the book Days of Destruction Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, it has been an eye-opening exercise for me. I have been aware for a while that society, or more specifically consumer culture is creating a dystopian society against or own wills. Most people do not realize, like Palahniuk says so brilliantly, that the things that we own or now owning us. I am surrounded by people on a daily basis that are always just waiting for the next object that will best describe who they are. I think about this and then I am reminded that there are some that can’t even make a decent living in what we call the greatest and richest country of the world, and I don’t mean just a few unlucky people, but a great pocket of the population. In the proud populist tradition of Howard Zinn (whose A People’s History of the United States provides a foundation for this book), the reader is presented with an illumination of the American underbelly, as the exploitation of a perpetual (and growing) underclass makes the “sacrifice zones” of global capitalism which makes one this of third world countries. Though Hedges and Sacco are more known for reporting international warfare, the war they document here is in America, where “[c]orporate capitalism will, quite literally, kill us, as it has killed Native Americans, African-Americans trapped in our internal colonies in the inner cities, those left behind in the devastated coalfields, and those who live as serfs in our nation’s produce fields.” They immerse themselves in these depleted areas and illuminate the human and environmental devastation in those communities, with the warning that no one is immune. “The ruthless hunt for profit creates a world where everything and everyone is expendable…it has enriched a tiny global elite that has no loyalty to the nation-state,” writes Hedges. “These corporations, if we use the language of patriotism, are traitors.” While finding some surprising pockets of hope within communities that are otherwise steeped in despair, the pair reserve their concluding glimmer of optimism for the Occupy movement. Otherwise, they find no hope in politics as usual, depicting Democrats and Republicans as equally complicit in policies that benefit the few at the expense of the many. Hedges and Sacco are calling for a new American Revolution that might be starting in the Occupy movement and then growing on a much larger scale.
Hedges and Sacco travel to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to examine the misery of the Native Americans who remain there. It’s nice to think that we’ve corrected our crimes through political correctness, and yet they continue uninterrupted — unconscionably, intolerably, tragically. Here the human stories are told, and told by those affected and by those resisting and struggling to set things right. Ironically, the victims of the United States’ first imperial slaughters are now disproportionately suffering the pain common to veterans of recent U.S. wars. As we continue to other areas in the book we are faced with that same pattern of widespread military experience, while other communities in this country have virtually no participation in the military.
Camden New Jersey is the next stop in this book, and there is a story that I think hit me the most, one about the perception of poverty. In Camden it is the world of impoverished and ghettoized African-Americans whose lives have been worsened by the many measures of past generations, despite all the progress that has been done by the civil rights movement. Poor whites are also mentioned in the story of this forgotten city, with a focus on those struggling to improve the world, whether on a small or large-scale. We meet Michael Doyle and tells us the story of decline and devastation that the city has experienced, and this is what hit me the most:
“You hear people my age get up and say, ‘We were poor. We put cardboard in our shoes.’ We talk like that. But we didn’t know we were poor. Today you do. And how do you know you’re poor? Your television shows you that you’re poor. So it’s very easy to build up anger in a, say, a high-voltage kid of seventeen, and, he knows he’s poor, he looks at the TV.”
Doyle went on to say that the cause was unclear, the “enemy” was unclear to people, and “so you take it out on your neighbor.” Young men with no education have no employment anymore, he said, no opportunities to be worth anything — except through the military. This hopelessness is striking in a nation that portrays an image of success and that those at the bottom are there by choice or plain laziness.
Welch, West Virginia, those suffering from and resisting mountain-top removal by the coal companies is a really hard and upsetting section in this book. Larry Gibson, who lives with death threats and other health hazards, has saved a fraction of his family’s land from the surrounding devastation. “You heard about the World Trade Center terrorists?” he asks.
“You heard about them? Bombing, three thousand people dying, but have you heard that with the emissions of coal we lose twenty-four thousand people a year in this country? You know, eight times bigger than the World Trade Center. Nobody says anything about that. Then you have the something like six hundred and forty thousand premature births and birth defects, newborns, every year, EVERY year, and nobody’s doin’ anything about that. Coal kills, everybody knows coal kills. But, you know, profit.”
Gibson points out that cities have passed laws restricting cigarette smoking in public, but families living near coal fields breathe the dust. Julian Martin, a retired high-school teacher and son of a coal miner, says, “It’s a sacrifice zone. It’s so the rest of the country can have electric toothbrushes and leave the lights on all night in parking lots for used cars and banks lit up all night long and shit like that.”
Finally, they head down to Immokalee, Florida, to meet with immigrant farm workers, tomato pickers, new slaves, resisters, and organizers. The wages for picking tomatoes have dropped by half over the past 30 years. An unlimited supply of cheap and vulnerable labor has meant less concern for workers than there may have been in some cases for slaves of old. “Before the war, we owned the negroes,” a planter said in 1883. “If a man had a good nigger, he could afford to take care of him; if he was sick, get a doctor. He might even put gold plugs in his teeth. But these convicts: we don’t own ‘em. One dies, get another.” From 1883 to today, what’s changed is that many of the workers are effectively owned and in some cases literally enslaved, chained up, confined, and threatened should they attempt escape. What has not changed is the expendability, a product of corporate global trade and unregulated greed. With less work for women in the fields, many are essentially enslaved as prostitutes. But these most powerless of immigrants — the farm workers of Immokalee — have organized, resisted, and won major improvements from massive corporations, inspiring others across the country and around the world.
The next section in this book is about resistance and rebelling against a system that is clearly broken, the Occupy movement is the focus. Occupy is national, even international, and — at least at first — had much greater attention from the corporate media (which is what made it national). It is also more middle-class and less-rooted in a community. If it can build one massive movement out of all the pockets of resistance, and move on from resistance to creation and substitution, it may indeed turn this avalanche of horror and misery around and push it back up the mountainside. “I have no interest in participating in the traditional political process,” says John Friesen, occupier of Wall Street. “It’s bureaucratic. It’s vertical. It’s exclusive. It’s ruled by money. It’s cumbersome. This is cumbersome, too, what we’re doing here, but the principles that I’m pushing and that many people are pushing to uphold here are in direct opposition to the existing structure.”
Hedges notes, importantly, I think, that the governmental response we have seen to the Occupy movement, the militarized police brutality, and the passage of federal legislation allowing the military to engage in domestic policing, is not a sign of weakness in our movement, but rather one of strength — a sign of fear by Congress and its corporate bosses. Now we have to turn that fear into realization that the spreading of sacrifice zones will absorb us all unless radical change comes soon.
This is where we ask Camus his thoughts on the Occupy movement, or the need for revolution, where is The Rebel? Camus has written about poverty, he was very conscious of the poor working class, having been raised in extreme poverty in Alger, he did not forget his roots during the rest of his life. Let us not forget that Camus is not only famous for his works of fiction and theater, but as an active member of the Resistance, as a commentator on the political problems of his age. His warnings against fanaticism is still relevant today, as well as his passion for individual freedom. His pained and angry denunciations of social injustices serve as a reminder that people still suffer from avoidable ills, despite the many political and social changes that have occurred and continue to happen since his death. What I have always appreciated Camus for warning me against the various postures of chic revolt so common among teenager of bored, affluent nations. There is no silk-screened Che across my bosom. Revolutions aren’t secular versions of the Rapture, in which the “bad” government disappears, to be replaced by a new, “good” one. Revolution is generally a social calamity, a nightmare of inhumanity: one regime dissolves, and in the already violent chaos of meltdown various factions kill, rape and pillage in a struggle for ascendancy; the leaders of said factions tend to be nihilistic knaves (Lenin, Hitler) who would have lived, ranted, been ignored and died safely on the fringes of the old society. The Rebel is an incredible display of philosophical insight and moral awareness; next to Camus, Sartre is at best a naive bourgeois, from a distance lionizing the revolutionaries who would have destroyed him if they had had the chance, and at worst a cynical degenerate, a knowing flatterer of tyrants.
Camus begins by defining the Rebel as one who affirms by negating, who says yes in saying no–one who decries absolute freedom in establishing limits to acceptable behavior. He thus immediately counterposes the rebel with the nihilist, who, in denying that anything has meaning, valorizes a conception of life which is dominated by mere facts–power. He takes issue with revolutionary movements as they have existed in the twentieth century, claiming most of them to have betrayed the origins of rebellion by replacing it with an absolutist–even, totalitarian–ethic. He sees much to be respected in the efforts of the Russian ‘revolutionaries’ of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (a group from which he of course excludes Lenin), who rebelled against tsarism and tyranny often violently. Camus finds their nobility partly in the fact (which he posits) that these revolutionaries, unlike many of their counterparts of the twentieth century, were often quite consumed by doubt and engaged in murder and assassination only with much reluctance and much moderation. He laments, then, the disappearance of such doubt and moderation in the nihilism that gripped much of the twentieth century, nihilism that gave rise to the uncompromising ideology of Marxism-Leninism and, not unrelatedly, Nazism, and denounces its consequences.
Camus also roundly criticizes many of his intellectual contemporaries for their undying faith in Marxism, claiming, for one, that Marxism reproduces some of the central problems of religious faith (ie, in relegating justice, etc., to the “Later On,” as he puts it–that is, post-capitalist society) and entails the negation of much that is defensible and good in humanity by reducing human obligation to the promotion of revolution. I think he’s certainly on to something here, but I think his reading of Marx is also somewhat flawed, in that Camus seems to disregard Marx’s concern with emancipation and free conscious activity in his efforts to discredit the approach of the “prophet of justice.” Camus posits a different approach to social change, claiming that rebels/revolutionaries, in their efforts to combat injustice, should never lose sight of the importance of beauty within the conception of human dignity.
It seems that many so-called revolutionaries, though (probably more of the socialist-Marxist bent), would reject Camus’ analysis as sentimental and, in fact, supportive of the status quo. Does Camus then break with the predominance of Marxist thought in his day and accept something close to anarchism? He certainly seems to reject revolutionary society (at least, the revolutions demonstrated thus far by history), but he remains highly critical of bourgeois society as well. Contemplating these tensions is crucially important, and Camus’s The Rebel certainly represents an important contribution to this debate.
I think that we must continue to explore this thread, I will take some time to ponder on what would Camus really say about Occupy Wall Street and the promise of a more just and equal society, which this movement is trying to create.