Aug 12, 2021Liked by Angela Nagle

Amazing foresight for a 30-year-old work. I am struck by how much the present moment gives off "vibes" of the Bush I era; the command consciousness of the USA requires an enemy, be it Native Americans, Mexico, or Russia, to give it social purpose. I always thought the tendentious rebelliousness of 1990s US pop culture was simultaneously absurd and touching -- the international political paradigm of competitive fear and incipient doom was broken; what was there to rebel against except existence in an affluent society itself?

Tenor of the times (although an English band); Jesus Jones's "Right Here Right Now": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MznHdJReoeo

After 10 years the Global War on Terror served as a band-aid to prop up the USA vs. The World binary system, but even that seems to be crumbling.

"Marriage does not break the fortress that is built in everyone's heart, especially young couples."

Imagine a young couple in bed together, looking at their phones and/or laptops instead of being with each other. One does not have to imagine too strenuously.

Expand full comment

"Human flesh, sex, knowledge, politics, power, and law can all become the target of commodification… commodification can reduce the burden of the political and administrative system… Commodification, in many ways, corrupts society and leads to a number of serious social problems."

I think this, coupled with the way individualism is playing out across economics, social life, etc. has led to the phenomenon of self-commodification- which you see in the emergence of sickening terms like "personal branding," influencer culture and the gig economy. I wrote about this a couple days ago: https://www.splicetoday.com/writing/the-perils-of-the-personal-brand

Some reflection on and tempering of individualism would definitely be a welcome development in the US, though we'll never get rid of it entirely (and I wouldn't want to). All societies have their contradictions, benefits, risks and drawbacks, and at a certain point it's a matter of "pick your poison."

Expand full comment

Fantastic write up, thank you for this Angela.

We in America should absolutely not underestimate how sharp Chinese diagnoses of America’s flaws (such as Wang Huning’s) might be, even if we disagree with their solutions.

In Wang Huning’s case, his solution to heading off liberal values in China was to work to steadily push the country, under Xi Jinping, into transitioning into what is in many ways best described as a fascist polity, with a powerful corporate sector fused to state control and backed by state-promoted ethnic nationalism.

Interestingly China is now nonetheless beginning to face more and more of the same social problems Wang identified in America 30 years ago – see for example neijuan, “involution” or “turning inward,” an individualist nihilism produced by “a prevalent sense of being stuck in an ever so draining rat race where everyone loses” – which is now leading to some panicked reevaluations by the CCP.

I’m working on an essay on this myself at the moment.

Thanks again.

Expand full comment

a very interesting perspective from a thinking person from another culture. I think there is compassion in his observations, insights.

Some points stood out for me or triggered of more reflection. The issue of loneliness, is that tied to individualism. The absence of mystery seeing social problems in terms of technological solutions.

Americans have almost no belief in ghosts.. This is the passage which got to me the most. the lack of mystery.

The second point for me is how much this would apply to my own culture Australia which in some ways is imitative of the United States but has its own problems, issues too. Also own identity issues. (We have unconscious racism in our history and even now. This has also applied to my background too growing up in the isolated countryside in Western Australia in the late sixties, early seventies.) We also continue to have a major issue with suicide in Australia. Is this individualism, also faith in science and technology to solve things outside of its boundaries, how many Western countries have a similar conditioning? influence?

thank you for this

Expand full comment

This essay contains some piercing observations. Americans do not question the price they pay for their prized individualism. Is there any wonder at why the collective “we” and “us” of couples can be fleeting?

“For most American men and women, (their) union does not interfere with the privacy of each of them…..American conjugal life to this point is the result of a society that has long pursued individualism…Marriage does not break the fortress that is built in everyone's heart, especially young couples.”

For the American bourgeois, happiness, safety and wellness have practically become indistinguishable therapeutic demands. College students, who need to avoid being triggered and traumatized in class, couch this requirement in the dogmatic imperatives of social justice. But they are just young off-shoots bourgeois society. What could be more bourgeois than preoccupations with comfort, wellness and safety?

And yet all the comfort and wellness in the world cannot cure the howling winds of loneliness too many Americans carry within.

Expand full comment