After failed real estate developer John Luigi Ferre murdered ten office workers and two lawyers in downtown San Francisco, inept San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan was quoted as blurting out "maybe he just cracked."
Jordan's off-hand comment drew a stream of protests from relatives of the victim. They demanded a definitive line be drawn between "savage killers" and the many ordinary people we instinctively sense are close enough to the edge to "crack" under pressure. "He didn't just crack, he went on a deliberate murderous rampage..." Complained one moralistic editorial.
But Jordan's comment rings true to these times. The competition, pace and ruthlessness of this society have increased to a point where many people are pushed to and off "the edge" in many ways. The labor market reduces wages till millions of families are forced into starvation and homelessness. Television atomizes people and distorts their sense of worth till they attack their partners or themselves. AIDS, drug resistant tuberculosis and hepatitis ravage people's bodies. One Apple Computer Engineer kills himself and another suffers a nervous breakdown after the "Newton Personal Digital Assistant" fails to sell well. Kurt Cobain leaves a suicide note saying he "never be a really passionate performer" like Jim Morrison. US figure skating champion Tanya Harding pays to have a rival crippled. Presidential aide William Foster, one of the most powerful people in the country, kills himself over some bad press. The boundary between normalcy and utter despair seems thinner and thinner.
Strategies of despair appear when a society manages the direction of people who are going under entirely. It is the explosive knife-edge and dull throb underlying social action today.
By going under we mean losing hope of survival on the social level. According to his class and social concept, hateful real estate dealer Ferre couldn't continue living when his last deal brought him to negative worth. While failed capitalists are probably more blood-thirsty than unemployed workers, the great mass of the despairing are working class people who have suddenly lost all belief in the survival once guaranteed by this society.
This society's managers are still struggling to control the direction of the present despair. Naturally, they must put the spin on despair below the surface. The spectacle's hidden dialogue on despair is based on resentment. The movie "Falling Down" shows the correct direction and attitude for someone who "cracks." Take revenge against other powerless people who offend you. The hero was a middle class white who attacks poor more than rich and blames workers for the actions of their company. On the other hand, many workers today are ready to start joking about which bosses they'd go for if it ever came to it.
One powerful weapon the rulers have against our forming a coherent strategy of despair is the different directions this society sends us in. The rotten-bourgeois protagonist of The Fall lauded the medieval torture device the little-ease as a harbinger of modern existence. The little-ease was just a very small room. The prisoner was confined in this room that was both too small to stand-up in and too narrow to lie down in. Thus each prisoner had to assume half-way compromise positions - either straining their knee or their back or their neck. Starting from the little-ease, modern society has greatly expanded the directions you must twist yourself into to survive. The demands of a job, a family, social appearance, rent or mortgage payments, and the fear of crime or non-conformity each form walls cutting off the average workers' escape.
To get a little mental space within its little-ease, modern society offers resentment against others who have no real power. Janitors can resent those who do graffiti instead of those who pay them shit wages. Each cultural group is sold the resentment of those somehow below them. Whites and Asians are told to hate blacks. Blacks and whites are told to hate immigrants. Atomized men are sold sexist stereotypes and pornography.
In this way the slaughters in Bosnia and Rwanda are at the leading edge of capital's game. The spectacle recruits those who have nothing to lose but are still atomized to slaughter their neighbors. The spectacle gives these herds shallow pretexts now and the promise of slightly more later.
The proletariat is the class of people who collectively understand they have nothing to lose from the end of this society. The propaganda of today doesn't try to give any false hope. It is happy to have a mass of individuals with the same desperation. As long as the desperate have no collective consciousness, capital will win in the long-term.
On Roseanne, the father tells his son about masturbation. "Everybody does it but nobody talks about it." Bart Simpson makes critiques of this society informed by revolutionary political economy. But these must be translated into the choices open to a single TV hero against the mass of society. So they are inherently recuperated into a dialogue of submission.
There are two directions you can go once life itself becomes impossible or pure pain. You can either deny your memory, power and existence. Or you can make your willingness to face pain and death into your power and pleasure. The first choice makes you controllable. The second choice makes you dangerous but still leaves the question of what to attack.
There are still opportunities for us to break out. To satisfy the world market, capital streamlined its controls. This gives it a chance to fail in a bigger way.
The LA riots showed a vague collective conscious as an enzyme that could corrode the entire social fabric of conformity. A vast horde of poor people would defy this society just because they knew they could.
The system still exists because our time is out of joint. Neither three days of riots in LA 92 nor two weeks of factory occupations in Paris in May 68 were long to think about a positive collective power. But our strategies have not yet been played out. The present times are creating both those who build slowly and those who act quickly.