“Self-improvement is masturbation. Now, self-destruction…” – Fight Club
“I am a god” – Kanye West
“I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Cor 7:29-31)
Justin Bieber, unique snowflake that he is not, is making us all witness to his existential project of self-destruction. He wants to destroy something beautiful – in this case his own life. That takes courage – well, the sort of courage millions of dollars and a guarantee of next to no consequences affords.
Some people care and pity the boy; others do not, frustrated that his self-destructive experiment is made to occupy so much of our attention. Understandable. The latter want news and views about things that “matter.” Again, understandable.
Yet, it seems that the very fact of Bieber’s mattering matters. What sort of world do we live in when a 19 year old’s self-destruction garners this sort of attention? What sort of world do we live in when a 19 year old can be a multi-millionaire? This matters – unfortunately.
For the simple fact is, ultimately, reality is defined as to whether one is or is not a Belieber. We are all Belieber’s or aBelieber’s now. Justin Bieber, following Thomistic theology, engages the world actus purus. His actions come necessarily from who he has established himself to be. Following Duns Scotus, Bieber’s is a pure voluntarism. To adjust the old question: Is x good because God does it, or does God do x because it is good? In the case of Justin Bieber, the answer is surely the former.
As Sam Kriss notes, what we have in Beiber is the aestheticisation of destruction, of “his omnicidal ennui.” As such, what to us appears as lawlessness and abuse, to Bieber is little but the most meaningful existential project: a project of self-immolation, evisceration, and pure spectacle – each in all its profound beauty.
To we observers, following Kierkegaard’s thoughts on Abraham in Fear and Trembling, Bieber’s can only be a pure faith, which in all its particularity makes no sense in relation to our universal ethical norms. He is acting entirely out of his own self, and it is incomprehensible: He is either a lawbreaker or a demigod.
Yet, all of this surely conceals something much more insipid and pernicious. For while Bieber is surely able to say, following Kanye West, though in an considerably less reflective and dangerous sense, “I am a god” – joining the many who have been divinised onto neoliberalism’s henotheistic pantheon – this can only be noted to have occurred within a wider speculative metaphysical reality dominated by neoliberal, capitalist ontology.
Bieber has reached the summit and realised there is no escape. He cannot escape the pursuit of wealth, he cannot escape the free-market, he is realising his creativity will always be co-opted. Even here, his self-destruction will never be so thorough as to be irredeemable. For in all of this, his actus purus, his total ethical incomprehensible can come only out of the neoliberal ground of Being.
Ultimately, Justin Bieber’s pure faith is but a pure and infinite resignation. It is a cynical experiment in flagellation. His voluntarism is the “voluntarism” of a lesser god – for he does not want a new world, only to see this one burn – not out of hate or spite, but curiosity. For in the order that he knows, there is nothing new to be done. His is a prophetic self-destruction, revealing the teleology of neoliberal ontology – which offers nothing other than a nihilistic geo-political ecology. Its is a metaphysics of self-destruction.
As Kriss, again, writes,
This is the way the world ends: not with a bang or a whimper, but with a swaggering bassline that cracks the bedrock of the continents and a billowing autotuned vocal track that sends them plunging into the fires at the centre of the world.
So, what is to be done? How do we act in the face of the embodied parable and project that Bieber is making of himself?
The answer may lie in the Pauline hos me, the Pauline “as if not.” Justin Bieber has gifted us with a vision of how the world ends. He in many senses is the apocalypse. As I said, the very fact of his mattering matters, and this is why. He shows us what must be overcome, and it is the politico-economic ontology that made him possible; that under and through which he has experienced theosis.
What Bieber signals is our need to “decouple” from the existing order of things, to live “as if not.” As Paul writes to the believers in Corinth encouraging them to engage the world as if they were not engaging it; because, he writes, “the present form of this world is passing away.”
In this detached space the possibility of a pure faith is opened up: not in the Kierkegaardian sense of faith in the absurd in which one gets back what one thought was lost, but in a greater sense of acting upon the world to bring about what one wills to bring about, without guarantee – for it is either that or total geo-suicide.
For Bieber displays openly his failure, his cynical self-immolation. He can and has already been co-opted. His self-destruction is little more than masturbation, snowflake that he is. Yet, in this we have a proleptic vision of neoliberal teleology; here we encounter the apocalypse; in Bieber we experience the end times, and what we must do is go further. We must live “as if not” and in this call about something new – ours is a project of self-, socio-, and geo-creation over against a metaphysics of destruction.
Bieber’s failed voluntarism, his status as a neoliberal demigod, is a signal for our own self-divinisation in a reality of our own. We are gods, and our responsibility, in a full vitalistic sense, is to create with the world the world we want – as we engage the current order, and reflect upon Justin Bieber, as if they were not.