We all know these people. They seem to think that they’re cool, that their anchor tattoos are unique & that there isn’t a goddamn thing that matters in the world aside from the forced pursuit of “fun”. Obviously, they’re hipsters. If you were that profound then you would be too. There isn’t any option but to maintain a diary in purpose-bought fake-leather notebooks.
I’m sure you all now have an adequate image of the kind of human-being I’m talking about. They might have expanders in their ears, or they might have some form of kitsch maritime regalia wrapped around them. Fundamentally, it’s irrelevant. I do not deign to discuss the fashion of “hipsterism”, beyond the panoramic & universally true statement: it’s shit. What I do want to discuss is a peculiar aspect of their doctrine, to expand on my initial post on this subject. Specifically, today we will be talking about possibly the most annoying facet of this sub-culture, that which has permeated society at large most prevalently, & is reflected back at us in every dickhead wearing a checked shirt wandering the high-street. We’re going to be talking about “hipsterist” obsession with the self, the atomised & ludicrous self.
Let’s get this straight: there is nothing new here. 1 could say that about “hipsterism” in its totality – the very name of which is taken from 1950’s Beatnik nomenclature – however, that would be rather missing the point. The idea of self-fulfilment & the expression of the self as the single most important worldly goal has existed since the bourgeois rubber-stamped “dawn of civilisation”: ancient Greece. If we read any of the early forms of idealist text, the theme is present, held aloft by a titanic army of slaves. You can see the theme repeated again & again throughout the advance of ideologues. For example, Nietzsche’s Übermensch isn’t altogether that far from the initial concept. I mean this, of course, in its general quality. It is not identical & Nietzsche is far more monomaniacal than most (his autobiography is called Ecce Homo, a direct comparison with Christ, & opens with the chapter “Why I Am So Wise”). Indeed, the idea of self-transformation (in a far more progressive manner than Nietzsche) is even apparent in extremely important Marxist texts, Guevara’s Socialism and Man in Cuba, for example. The point, again: “hipsterist” obsession with the self is nothing new.
I highlight this only to make it apparent that “hipsterism” is by no means distinct & carries with it all the reactionary baggage of prior idealist texts. I highlight Guevara’s article because I’m going to be using it here.
Anyway, think back to the image of a checked-shirted man I conjured at the beginning of this. Chances are you recognise him for the irreconcilable idiot that he is, you possess a faint sense of loathing toward him. Unfortunately, you’re bound to run into him at the pub, bound to end up having to listen to him talk about how he “found himself” whilst reading classical Russian literature & renouncing a class analysis of anything. I know remembering such conversations is painful, but there is a point to this. I want you to think about all of his reference points, about how he expresses himself & what he thinks is profound. I already know that, regardless of what phantom you might be contemplating, he’s going to talk about art a lot. He likes photography, old films &, without a shred of irony or self-awareness, 1950’s Beatnik nomenclature. He likes very specific music: the underground Folk-Punx scene, Sigur Ross, some drips & drabs of the Austin alt-country “renaissance”. In addition to this, he talks about travel a lot – either where he has been, or where he intends to go – & takes pride in his specifically manicured appearance, which possess a faint (& intentional) ragged edge to it. He either drinks real ales & beer from Brew Dog exclusively, or else is straight-edge. Let’s move the conversation along a bit. He tells you he thinks that the best way to change the world (which is, of course, perpetually awful) is to make small internal changes to himself (because every other form of resistance is futile). He thinks he is the “new man”.
It is at this point, if I were talking to you in the real world, that I would spit & grimace. Whomever you’re thinking about, he is not the “new man”. Here’s why: literally everything he thinks is idealist garbage, thought that can only exist in the mind of some1 in a materially privileged position. The view that 1 may only change the world through endless self-analysis & perpetual re-imagining of the self is reactionary. As we have already discussed, anything which does not question Capitalism, or which views it as the “end of history”, upholds a bourgeois hegemony: ‘It upholds that a Capitalist society is unchangeable, that there is no alternative & that the atomised individual must each find their own way to survive. This is what hegemony means.’ Furthermore, everything that this human-being maintains is part to his identity (which is presumably greater than our identities) is entirely bound within the fethishisation of commodities, ‘the economic cell of Capitalism’.
Again, this is nothing new. Consumerism thrives, & has always thrived, upon the basis that we must identify with the objects ground out by Capitalist exploitation, before relating to each other in a manner that is human. Underpinning this is the Marxist theory of alienation: ‘In capitalist society individuals are controlled by a pitiless law usually beyond their comprehension. The alienated human specimen is tied to society as a whole by an invisible umbilical cord: the law of value’; ‘The reward is seen in the distance; the way is lonely. Furthermore, it is a contest among wolves. One can win only at the cost of the failure of others’ (Guevara). The reward here is the accumulation of Capital, the process of becoming an exploiter. As this manifests itself to people, the reward appears as the accumulation of objects, of commodities, with which 1 may better define an identity wholly driven by the possession of property.
This observation is significant insofar as “hipsterism” is concerned due to the, frankly absurd, illusion that dominates the culture. “Hipsterism” proposes, maintains & wholeheartedly believes that it is progressive. Those within the culture who can conceive of a political landscape beyond the space between their ears identify primarily as Anarchists – an important point, but beyond the scope of these present notes. The dialogue of the culture is concentrated upon concepts such as the “new man”, a Marxist term. The relationship it has with the commodity – although an old trope of Capitalist society, of humanity under the whim of Capital expansion – is important due to the dominance of the form as a sub-culture, alongside the simultaneous melding of idealist liberal ideology with this kind of commodity fetish. It is unfortunate that the writer of any analysis of sub-culture is not presented with figures, informing them of the class-status of those within said cultures, or even the total figure of the culture’s “population”. Such information would be invaluable, but is impossible to come by. Nevertheless, the entry of “hipsterism’s” culture into popular consciousness – marked by the entry of the word in popular usage, the existence of ugly facsimile bands such as Mumford and Sons etc etc – shows a certain degree of popularity & prevalence. It is a culture dominated by bourgeois ideology, but cannot be said to be infecting exclusively bourgeois forces. In a word, “hipsterism” is used as a form of opportunism.
Before closing, it is important to say a few words on the correct understanding of the “new man”. Guevara is quite clear that the process of revolution & the building of Socialism does require the re-imagining of the self, the growth of individuals: ‘To build communism it is necessary, simultaneous with the new material foundations, to build the new man and woman.’ The methods he discusses to achieve this are written primarily for a context in which the proletariat has seized state power, quite obviously different from our own context. What form this individual might take is somewhat difficult to understand, commodity relations still dominating the manner in which we relate to each other & bourgeois ideology infecting every aspect of our lives. It will, obviously, involve a jettisoning of bourgeois idealism – of sexism, racism, prejudice etc. It will involve the free association of individuals, people not being forced to associate merely in order to subsist. It will involve that most wonderful aspiration, of which Guevara writes so beautifully: ‘the ultimate and most important revolutionary aspiration: to see human beings liberated from their alienation.’
In terms of where 1 might start, Guevara does provide us with an answer:
‘Here again, in the framework of the proletarianization of our thinking, of this revolution that took place in our habits and our minds, the individual was the basic factor. Every one of the combatants of the Sierra Maestra who reached an upper rank in the revolutionary forces has a record of outstanding deeds to his or her credit. They attained their rank on this basis.This was the first heroic period, and in which combatants competed for the heaviest responsibilities, for the greatest dangers, with no other satisfaction than fulfilling a duty. In our work of revolutionary education we frequently return to this instructive theme. In the attitude of our fighters could be glimpsed the man and woman of the future.’
In other words: get angry, get active & stop being a dickhead.