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THE REVOLUTION OF EVERYDAY LIFE - VANEIGEM
The Age of Happiness - Page 33

Affluence had seemed to promise to all men the Dolce Vita previously lived by the feudal aristocracy. But in the event affluence and its comforts are only the children of capitalist productivity, children doomed to age prematurely as soon as the marketing system has transformed them into mere objects of passive consumption. Work to survive, survive by consuming, survive to consume, the hellish cycle is complete. In the realm of economism, survival is both necessary and sufficient. This is the fundamental truth of bourgeois society. But it is also true that a historical period based on such an antihuman truth can only be a period of transition, an intermediate stage between the unenlightened life that was lived by the feudal masters and the life that will be constructed rationally and passionately by the masters without slaves. Only thirty years are left if we want to end the transitional period of slaves without masters before it has lasted two centuries.

3

With regard to everyday life, the bourgeois revolution looks more like a counter-revolution. The market in human values has rarely known such a collapse. The aristocratic life with its wealth of passions and adventures suffered the fate of a palace partitioned off into furnished rooms, gloomy bedsitters whose drabness is made even more unbearable by the sign outside which proclaims, like a challenge hurled at the Universe, that this is the age of freedom and well-being. From now on hatred gives way to contempt, love to cohabitation, the ridiculous to the stupid, passion to sentimentality, desire to envy, reason to calculation, the taste for life to the fear of death. The utterly contemptible morality of profit came to replace the utterly detestable morality of honour; the mysterious and perfectly ridiculous power of birth and blood gave way to the perfectly ubuesque power of money. The children of August 4th 1789 took bankers' orders and sales charts as their coats of arms; mystery was now enshrined in their ledgers.

Wherein lies the mystery of money? Clearly in that it represents a sum of beings and things that can be appropriated. The nobleman's coat of arms expresses God's choice and the real power exercised by his elect; money is only a sign of what might be acquired, it is a draft on power, a possible choice.

The feudal God, who appeared to be the basis of the social order, was really only its magnificent crowning excuse. Money, that odourless god of the bourgeois, is also a mediation; a social contract. It is a god swayed not by prayers or by promises but by science and specialist know-how. Its mystery no longer lies in a dark and impenetrable totality but in the sum of an infinite number of partial certainties; no longer in the quality of lordship but in the number of marketable people and things (for example, what a hundred thousand pounds puts within the reach of its possessor).

In the economy of free-trade capitalism, dominated by imperatives of production, wealth alone confers power and honour. Master of the means of production and of labour power, it controls the development of productive forces and consumer goods and thus its owners have the pick of the myriad fruits of an infinite progress. However, as this capitalism transforms itself into its contrary, state-planned economy, the prestige of the capitalist playing the market with his millions fades away and with it the caricature of the pot-bellied, cigar-puffing merchant of human flesh. Today we have managers, who derive their power from their talent for organization; and already computers are doing them out of a job. Managers, of course, do get their monthly paychecks but do they do anything worthwhile with them? Can they enjoy making their salary signify the wealth of possible choices before them: building a Xanadou, keeping a harem, cultivating flower-children? When all possibilities of consumption are already organized, how can wealth preserve its representable value? Under the dictatorship of consumer goods, money melts away like a snowball in hell. Its significance passes to objects with more representational value, more tangible objects better adapted to the spectacle of the welfare state. Consumer goods are already encroaching on the power of money, because wrapped in ideology, they are the true signs of power. Before long its only remaining justification will be the quantity of objects and useless gadgets it enables one to acquire and throw away at an ever-accelerating pace; only the quantity and the pace matter, because mass-distribution automatically wipes out quality and rarity-appeal. From now on the ability to consume, faster and faster, great quantities of cars, alcohol, houses, TV-sets and girlfriends will show how far you've got up the hierarchical ladder. From the superiority of blood to the power of money, from the superiority of money to the power of the gadget, the nec plus ultra of Christian/socialist civilization: a civilization of prosaism and vulgar detail. A nice nest for Nietzsche's little men.

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