Meat and Marginalia

One in four Britons have lost their marbles. A quarter of those who work from home admit to answering Zoom calls in the midst of panting on an indoor exercise bike. Apparently, they perform this madness to appear “healthy, disciplined, and dynamic.” Another half divulge leaving Zoom calls early to feign busyness. Swirling around their brains, no doubt, is the next world-first app. Or perhaps the secret blueprints for a silent fire alarm. Two-thirds of these absurdities manipulate their laptop camera angle to “appear more dominant.”

I suspect the majority of these shysters are of my generation—Millennials. You’ll encounter such curiosities in their natural habitat of LinkedIn, a kind of Facebook for raging narcissists sapped of the stigma such maladies invite.

On Facebook and Instagram, one’s narcissism must disguise itself behind a syrupy sentimentalism or a vague concern for mankind. Often, an aspiring influencer has her tits out, but beneath the outing of aforementioned tits rest the wise words of Gandhi.

On LinkedIn, getting one’s tits out for Ukraine or the Afflicted of Foreign Lands or that week’s altruistic concern is frowned upon.

Narcissists relish LinkedIn like crackheads relish the crackhouse. In these judgment-free safe spaces, like-minds can indulge freely their drug of choice while sealed off from society’s schoolmarmish expectations. They can humblebrag without risk. Humblebragging is a form of public masturbation in which the participant goads his audience to gawk over his furious bout of onanism and applaud his climax.

Such inanity sears the brain. One creative ambassador I’m familiar with updates his followers bi-hourly on that day’s fruit and vegetable intake. His personal best, you’re dying to know, is seven pieces of fruit by lunchtime! Call the Guinness Book of World Records! Profound achievement! Inspiring! Please excuse the exclamation marks, social media’s grotesque style guide insists every utterance ape an epileptic seizure.

With the click of a button, I could’ve marked such drivel as “insightful,” “liked” it, “loved” it, “celebrated” it, or pretended it rendered me “curious,” such is the sinister limitation of social media’s newspeak. Doubleplusgood.

Perhaps we need a button for “what a load of bollocks.” Such an inclusion would, I humbly suggest, not only improve the condition of social media, but the overall condition of humanity. Ridicule, the sharp-elbowed sister of truth, is an elixir of progress.

After all, our culture obsesses over progress. Everyone’s on a journey, all are empowered, the rest are in therapy.

You’d assume such a culture would welcome regular infusions of the lifeblood of progress. Instead, we police language, arrest thought, jail the truth. We shuffle toward a world in which what we say is second-cousin to what we think. Most of us borrow our opinions, wear them once, and return them with the tags still attached.

Sadly, the oldest profession in this brave new world is prostituting oneself before leering corporations like a fun-pub slattern.

My old résumé claimed a proven track record of double-digit productivity across a range of high-pressure industries. In truth, I endured the lunchtime shift at Pizza Hut serving triple-cheese pizzas to chemically coshed day-releases from the local psych ward. Those gentle souls were calmer than Hindu cows.

They were nothing like the more expressive cohort of what the manager vaingloriously called the clientele. Every week, I’d defuse a difficult situation. The local lumpenproles would stream into the restaurant and finger-jab everything on the menu. Meanwhile, their horde of gobby children would lace jabs and right hooks into professional-grade boxing pads, pacifying them as a dummy would pacify a mewling baby.

After pillaging their feast, launching chicken bones at a staff wilting toward collective nervous breakdown, our humble patrons would announce that their £150 feast was worth perhaps half the bill. Put simply, in the predatory English requisite of the modern British slum: they’d batter anyone in disagreement with their wholly reasonable offer. Not getting my nose splattered across my chops relied upon razor-sharp problem-solving skills.

If art imitates life, then life imitates social media. Social media has convinced us that perfect is normal and that normal is paltry. Ordinary, then, isn’t a statistical reality but an invitation to suicide.

We forget that social media is a highlights reel, as carefully curated as Hillary Clinton’s memoirs, as reflective of reality as those who answer Zoom calls while panting on a Peloton.

Yet, we play along, foraging offline for the bounty online, in pursuit of that narcotic gush of dopamine to which we are addicted. Like any drug, the fleeting warmth demands bigger and bigger hits for an ever-diminishing high.

It’s a hopeless occupation. The more one chases the dragon of dopamine on social media, the more depressed and anxious one tends to be. But social media is a mere symptom of a deeper malaise.

Social media has rendered the extraordinary ordinary. Our culture has rendered the ordinary extraordinary.

History is littered with the tombstones of inevitable theories, fancies, and follies.

Back in the 1990s, our betters declared the end of history. Half would go to college. A rising China would be a boon to all. History had other ideas.

Decent high-wage jobs fled to Chinese factories. In Baltimore and Bradford, those well-worn routes to the middle-class deserted to Beijing and Bazhou.

According to the Wall Street Journal, all was well. The line marked “GDP” went up.

Such social horror still dissolves in Percocet and whiskey and with 70,000 Americans in annual deaths of despair.

That “end of history” actually only ended what we took as our birthright: decent work, rising wages, and buyable homes. What was then ordinary is now extraordinary.

Now our definition of success is dependent upon a degree, one credentialed drop in a burgeoning ocean. Those two-thirds good with their hands and their heart as well as their head, as David Goodhart puts it, are relegated to failure.

What folly. My brother-in-law built his own home with his hands, heart, and head. No degree required.

Consider this. If we were to colonize Mars, who would be first in line: a drinker with a writing problem, or someone who knows his way around a toolbox?

As the traditional routes to status closed off, the routes to fame opened up.

Social media is our personal reality TV. The stars are ourselves. Our minutiae, and marginalia the meat of life.

The vast majority of celebrities to whom I am unwillingly subjected are famous for being famous. I’m supposed to know not just who these oxygen thieves are, but consider their every inanity a charitable gift to my own paltry existence.

(Though, this does have its good points. I cannot wait for that professional narcissist, a YouTuber named Jake Paul or Paul Jake or whatever he is called, to encounter in his fledgling boxing career a primitive uppercut flush beneath his jaw—a desire doubtlessly shared with millions.)

It’s all a game, isn’t it? Our civilization has a “Truman Show” delusion in which the afflicted believe their every moment plays before a rapt audience of millions, yet we find nightmarish the thought nobody is watching.

This triumph of triviality poisons everything else.

Modern politics is the politics of warring tribes, each infused with their own bespoke delusions, irrationalities, and the ancient lusts of resentment and envy. Soothsayers explain the past, present, and future in 280 characters, 10-second soundbites, and million-hit viral clips as rapidly excreted as they are digested. From two shrunken menus of acceptable thought, we pluck intellectual baby food.

In the arts, we find what is not so much dead as unliving, some phony truism dressed in the overalls of truth. What passes for literature, mediocre and insulting. What passes for education, laughable. Every trend is a mild deviation from the last. Every decade smells, looks, sounds, feels, and tastes the same as the one before.

And this is where history returns. Everything has progressed, and nothing has changed.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared at Oxford Sour. Subscribe to Christopher Gage’s Substack here.

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About Christopher Gage

Christopher Gage is a British political journalist and a founding member of the Gentlemen of the Swig. Subscribe to his Substack, "Oxford Sour."

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