Part 1: ACQUISITION
I tied a noose from an old rope found in the backyard shed, and if made correctly, the noose would cinch my neck before I could feel remorse for it. I’m ready to fade into obscurity. Why must I struggle through an existence with no meaning for the stress, the uncertainty, or the goddamn cheap imitation of purpose? I have nothing better to do than dispense with reality.
I sat on my bed full of contemplation and anxiety for a while before my girlfriend Jannette came home. I don’t think I hold much love for her, although she is the best thing that has ever appeared in my life. I don’t want her because I’ve had her, and I’m uncertain of my love for myself.
The weather is sullen today, with rain pattering on the roof, providing me with a justification for my current demeanor. I’ve thought about everything in this life, and I’ve been told that this life, ostensibly, has no orientation in reality.
My entire existence has been someone else’s production: first, my parents’, then friends’, and finally society’s. An authentic thought has yet to surface in my mind other than the decision to take my life, and even that I question. This is the closest I’ve felt to authenticity; it must be for a reason. I need to follow through! I’ve rarely penetrated life’s surface, and without a dent, I’ll go. Graduating from college was my only achievement, but it, too, meant nothing. Meager grades and regretful actions took me over, all in an effort to please everyone else.
My stomach curled in a knot at the thought of ending my life. Soon, though, after thirty minutes of this pensive exercise, I noticed the sun shining through the windows and the warmth touching my face, slightly elevating my mood. All a sudden, a distracting impulse compelled me to think of the shoes I’d always wanted but never had the funds to obtain. Once again, the mundane shoved the meaning aside.
In vain distress, I delayed my fate and tucked the noose under my pillow, to be addressed later. I left the high flat and stumbled onto the street, all the while lost in the idea of a new pair of shoes. It must have been an unconscious impulse, similar to a death wish, perhaps. I walked into the men’s shoe establishment, and the salesman began to size me up by trying to convince me to buy worthwhile shoes. His obsequiation was aberrant, and his efforts fell on deaf ears, though, because my choice had been premeditated. The shoes, once purchased, contributed a fresh swagger to my step.
Feeling the need to show them off before returning home, I stopped at a local coffee joint to spend the rest of my money. I’d never patronized the place but knew of its reputation well. The waiter took me to a table outside, under the awning, where I sat with my back against the wall. There was enough cash in my pocket to get a coffee, possibly two, and a pastry, and I did just that. I rarely indulged in the luxury of a gourmet cafe.
I drank half my cup while watching pedestrians and cars go by and caught the trace of a cigarette. Leaning over, I thought, “Why not?” and politely asked the older gentleman a couple of tables over to trade me three of his cigarettes for my pastry. He gave me a strange look at first but firmly handed me the cigarettes free of charge. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t stop thinking of how tough and unforgiving the rope fibers will be. Yet I didn’t lose my resolve during my protracted interlude of smoking and drinking. In fact, I was so preoccupied with the morbid possibility that I was a bit startled when my phone rang. “Is this Harlan Fleurs?” a stranger asked.
“Yes, I’m Harlan. Who is this?” He introduced himself as Barry Détente. He was from a political party based at the downtown headquarters and asked if I’d meet with him. This was a first for me. Why would anyone want to talk to me? I indeed wasn’t seeking out conversation. However, I gave him my location, and he insistently replied: “I’ll be right there. It's within pissing distance of my office. Give me five minutes, boy.” He never mentioned what we were to discuss, so I was left with a queer feeling of anxiety.
Barry Détente arrived with a brown leather messenger bag that provided an indication of his profession. He was a stocky man with a shaven face, professional attire, and the way he carried himself gave him an essence of confidence. After expressing the customary formalities and ordering a decaf coffee, he revealed his motivation to me.
“I received an email from Professor Fisker, my good friend, by the way, relating to your essay, ‘Direct Democracy and Communism: A Resemblance Hidden in Plain Sight.’” Taking a sip of coffee, he added, “I read it, and I share his appreciation for it. I even printed it out and have it in my bag. Fisker applauded you and expressed to me that it was the best political essay he’d ever read from a student.”
I sat back in my chair, feeling some pride in my work and in the fact that a stranger, a presumptuous stranger to be sure, was willing to introduce himself to me. Pulling out the essay, he set it, newly decorated with red-ink notes and arrows, on the table, next to the ashtray.
“It was one of the only papers I devoted any real-time and attention to,” I admitted. Barry laughed. “What happened to all the others? He told me you were a jaded student but wrote an extraordinary paper. What’s the sense of that?” I mentioned my indifference to academics in modern universities.
The second cigarette lying on the table beside my left hand stole my attention as Barry ordered a drink. I craved something to do during our conversation, so I picked it up and lit it, longing to feel another buzz and the harsh, hot smoke traveling through my body. Modern etiquette insisted that I ask Barry if he objected to my smoking, and, since he didn’t, we were able to dispel with the niceties and delve into politics.
I told him that communism and direct democracy shared an apparent yet turbulent relationship to one another, although no one else had noticed, understood, or agreed with my thought process. Instead, my solitary readings in the throes of despondency had convinced me to study the revolutionary ideas of Marx, whose philosophy had eventually become lucid to me due to my own detachment from society. I suspected that my new friend Barry, who seemed captivated by our conversation, must have recognized an element of himself in me. He kept smiling, which made me want to be even more impassive than I already was. I had no reason to trust him.
“I’ve never considered that…” he began. Then, after pausing to think, he continued: “I don’t think anyone has to be honest with you. If people understood Marxism, then they would see the resemblance. I understand you, go on.”
At that moment, for whatever reason, I remembered what I had planned to do later that evening. Everything I did up until now was a distraction, and I should never have left the house. For twenty seconds, I stared blankly at the traffic on the street, not seeing much but hearing everything. Yet, the conversation progressed because Barry needed an answer to the emergence of my ideas, and he grew impatient.
“I don’t know,” I replied, wiping my eyes. “I guess it’s because I can’t get a break, and life could be so much simpler.” Barry shifted in his chair as if the conversation were crossing over into a place of solemnity.
“For example, consider the variety of products that Americans have at their disposal. There can be more than 25 options for the same product, and yet only one, maybe two of them have any return value at all. The same thing happens with almost any product; they all resemble one another. Why are they cheap, and why are they expensive? It depends on the labor, of course, and the quality of the ingredients to forge. Don’t forget the marketing; advertisers will not let you forget. With the advent of social media, there is no reason to obstruct profit when everyone can have their own personalized propaganda fed to them like a pig at the trough.
Unaware of the point I was trying to make, Barry asked, “What’s the problem with that? In a capitalist society, we have options, and that’s exactly why there are 25 products rather than two elsewhere!”
Thinking I hadn’t explained myself adequately, I continued. “Look, humans have damn near perfected psychological manipulation by exploiting our survival mechanisms and biases, almost all but without total brain control, which I believe is in the works as we speak. However, that will be a conversation for another time. Modern technology plays on our desires and fears, experimenting with our emotions and causing us to crave again and again and again. ‘No, of course, I can’t miss out on what all of my friends and role models are doing all the time, then I will miss something!’ The opportunity and subsequent abuse exist primarily in capitalist societies where profit is the motive, not ethics, benevolence, or the simple life. In fact, the cravings subvert the simple and good life, substituting it with a reliable supply of dopamine to the brink of mental corruption. We miss that feeling when it is not immediately present, and we’ve become depressed from its potency and lack thereof. So we will never have enough. It's disconcerting! The more we learn about ourselves, the faster we die. How am I supposed to live the life I want to live when I do not understand if I have control of my own mind? I don’t understand the absurdity of the world.”
“I can see your point, Harlan, but most people don’t obsess over something like that. If anything, people appreciate what they have, understand the market, and don’t pathologically cogitate on it like you seem to do, quite negatively, I’d say. I mean not to affront you, if anything, I can relate to this in a way.” Barry replied.
About ten minutes elapsed during our conversation, with another coffee ordered, mostly to give us something to do, so I gave in to the discomforting anxiety and lit my final cigarette. Then I continued.
“Okay, Barry, let me rearrange my thoughts. I think we live in an era of hyper-realism, where everything is ‘breaking news.’ And there must be a moral imposition attached to the breaking news, telling us how to think, all for the purpose of eliciting an emotional response of anger or anxiety. But why? Again, it’s the profit incentive. Chaos provokes uncertainty and a need for news. And why wouldn’t the American mass media want sensationalism? There’s money to be made! To make matters worse, I think humans will never have a utopia for this reason. It is the perennial trap of diversity, a human distinction; none of us are the same! Besides, as soon as we have a utopia, we will burn it to the ground just to see what happens next.”
Amid this unexpected catharsis, I couldn’t help continuing. “We are a society of addiction, status, and attention because addiction is the medium for consumerism, with greed at the epicenter. Americans are the most obese people globally, yet we discriminate against drugs because, like food, drugs are addictive and deleterious to individual and public health. The government prioritizes citizen safety by prohibiting drugs, yet we eat to exhaustion and further instances of death. The cognitive dissonance I see is unsettling, for a multitude of reasons. Nothing is genuine or authentic. Instead, everything is warped because of the perceived need for profit. Everything is diluted to portray what people want it to be. America is the country of excess and unnecessary necessities.
“And the funny thing is, people don’t even know what’s happening to them until they’re asked about it. Maybe for a glimpse, are they conscious of it all? And, for the record, I don’t expect everyone to know everything, especially because of the onslaught of information we encounter and the proclivity to ignore it. However, this excess of information doesn’t condone the abuses I see throughout society. The government is just as complicit as corporations are. How it operates controls what the definition of normal is, and this peculiar life is now normal to us.”
I was getting worked up talking, but of course, I hadn’t expressed my opinions to anyone in a long time. “It causes me pain to see this complacency in the average citizen decay into oblivion. Anyone can walk over you without harnessing some sort of conviction. Happiness platitudes and technological entertainment distract everyone from what’s really happening behind the scenes in the world. This life is just a portrayal of the story we all tell ourselves, about ourselves, and it’s nothing but an avenue to impress others with our affectation. I hope this meandering treatise has given you a glimpse into my mind.”
I was beginning to get a headache, so I re-lit the cigarette I’d abandoned to neglect. “I know I’m scattered, but all these thoughts race through my mind. I must be talking too much. You think?”
“No, it’s fine. Trust me. I can tell you’re not fond of big institutions, and you’re clearly not a nihilist.” Having said this, Barry let out, from the depths of his belly, a roaring laugh that nearly shook the shop. He must have been sarcastic.
We talked about five minutes more about the current political atmosphere before Barry addressed the reason for his rendezvous with me.
“All right, chap. Let's move on; I never got an answer from you.”
“About the link between communism and direct democracy, of course.”
“I thought it was obvious! Communism is about proletariat control that’s facilitated by the systematic destruction of traditional bourgeoisie supremacy. What could give the masses more control than allowing them to vote, all the while relieving representatives of their duties? It’s the last means before insurrection, able to protract it and placate. So when I speak of democracy, I mean it with the original intent of the word.”
I continued. “Congress sustains an impressively low disapproval rating, which is not what the people want; thus, it makes sense, to me, that they would directly vote individually on a proposition, directly ordering the government about how to handle it. When We the People give representatives the power to interpret constituent decisions is when nothing but aggrandization takes the seat. Representatives are people just like you and me: once they’re voted in, they have no intention of giving up office. They will either do what they can to get re-elected or position themselves to ascend the political hierarchy. I can’t reprimand this.”
“The grievances of communism derive from a lack of authority who tends not to seek equality of outcome and the satisfaction of proletariat abuse, so how must this situation be reconciled? By direct democracy or revolution, of course! The latter would be much more fun, don't you think? If such an operational system were implemented in government, the people, regardless of class, would have few justifications for further grievances. And although others may feel shafted, communism is an attempt to level everyone. Incidentally, marijuana could have been legalized years ago, assault rifles took off the streets, and multiple politicians booted from office, by virtue of the people of all classes.”
Barry leaned forward, searching for something to say. “Yes, that makes sense, in a way, but what about how the majority oppresses the minority, in numbers and in legislation? Wouldn’t 51% of a vote win over the other 49% of the population? And who is to say that your class identity will prevail? Is this some sort of circumstantial moral, political theory, or what?”
His tone suggests doubt, I reckon. “The masses have their own best interests at heart, which in a way would contribute to everyone else’s advantage if we all did the same and lived by similar ethics. It would be mutual destruction if such were not the case. But we don’t have a direct system of representation. I would be remiss, though, if I forgot to mention that the masses, not the individual, are the focal point.
On the other hand, the individual does have a role to play for the greater good, but it will produce no pleasure. I guess you could say, just make sure you’re not in the minority at election time because the interest of the many will civilly take control from the pressure of the masses, rather than a violent Marxian revolution that so many desperately want deep in their hearts. It’s an instinct to generalize the other and to hate them. We are too tribalistic, which makes me think we are not suited for such complex systems of government.”
Barry couldn’t help but lose focus. I synthesized too much, and it was something for him not to understand. The older man who had given me the cigarettes must have been inconspicuously eavesdropping throughout the entire exchange. As he left, he provided me with two more cigarettes and a box of matches. As I lit my third, Barry began analyzing much of what I was doing, trying to profile me, I think. Then, after a few more minutes of small talk to abate the severity, he handed me his business card and offered me a job working at the political headquarters with him. I expressed my gratitude and a bit of a surprise.
Pondering whether I had the ability or even the confidence to work at a political office, I was brought back to the moment by Barry, who said, “My number’s right there. If you decide to do it, give me a ring or come down to the office. We need someone with a heterodox passion like yours. You sometimes don’t make sense to me; I want to see more.”
He must have found me eccentric but incredibly perceptive, and he must have noticed my frantic conceit too. Looking over at me as he gathered his things and left cash on the table, he looked as if he had forgotten to mention something. As he left, he called out, “By the way: nice shoes!” Making a clicking noise with his tongue, he smiled and walked away, converging with the other pedestrians.
Usually, I’d be regretting my exuding ego by now, deciding that I’d done something wrong. I’d thought about my suicide plans just once throughout his visit, and the realization surprised me. But as I sat, I felt that I mustn’t take the job because accepting it would negate the pact I’d made with myself.
A sudden rush of melancholy possessed me, so I left the money under the ashtray so the wind wouldn’t take it and left. I didn’t want anyone to witness my mercurial body language and anxiety. Instead, I went home, keeping my pact resolute.
I grabbed the noose from under my pillow and felt the tough fibers again. Procrastinating, I walked to a storage bin and left the noose there, buried at the bottom, poised for a moment less interrupted than this one had been.