Kevin Barnes' Manifest Destiny

During Reihan’s generous summary of the Of Montreal guy’s take on the perils and pleasures of trying actually to make a decent living off indie rock, one particular sequence jumped out. Barnes asserts that

Our generation is insanely lazy. We’re just as smart as our parents but we are overwhelmed by contradicting ideas that confuse us into paralysis.

This seems to me the truest part of the manifesto (I still don’t quite know what ‘over-privileged’ means, for example), and one that puts Barnes’ strategy of ‘buying in’ into proper context. Faced with an overwhelming amount of contradictory ‘facts and values’, you can do one of three things: freeze up, resolve the contradiction on a single set of terms, or leave the contradiction in place and act pragmatically according to what seems most profitable and least painful.

One of the ‘interesting’ things about capitalism today is how it contributes to our habitual selection of the third option. In fact, smartness increasingly means ‘being able to comport yourself to your benefit in an everyday world in which the rules, social guideposts, and moral interdicts that traditionally create and structure that ability are both radically diverse and stripped of traditional authority.’ The smart today are those who can contextualize themselves as fleeting market actors without despairing, who can maintain, without resolving it, the contradiction between writing ‘authentic’ music and selling it obviously inauthentic corporations. The agony of resolving the contradiction on terms that sacrifice one or another benefit goes away, and Barnes’ manifesto seems to suggest that, with a little practice, we can more perfectly eliminate the big uptick in anxiety that has been our modern tradeoff for trying to minimize agony.

This, I think, is a social shift bigger than Barnes. His manifesto is more a consequence of it than a cause. I don’t know if it’s good or bad — I mean I’m still trying to figure out on what terms it has to be judged as good or bad. The minimum judgment does seem to me to be that it would be bad if ‘laziness’ became associated with a deliberate refusal to maintain contradictions and a conviction that they must be resolved instead.