“The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody.“Only Oscar Wilde could justify socialism with selfishness, and be funny at the same time. In the workers’ paradise, everyone’s needs will be taken care of, and we won’t be burdened by the promptings of conscience that tell us that there is suffering abroad. We will be free, without guilt, to simply develop ourselves, in all of our finery and frippery.
Note, he says that the “sordid necessity” of worrying about others presses upon “almost” everybody – he was quite aware that some people weren’t bothered at all. Some of them were rapacious barons of industry, some of them were worthless fops. I think he was brilliant enough to be a genius and to consider himself something of one of the latter.
How strange he would have found it that today, in the bosom of capitalism, we have achieved, after a fashion, his vision! That is, we are obsessed with lifestyle. That’s what Oscar’s personal aestheticsim was all about, the fashioning of one’s life, with style, into a self-contained work of art. Life as an aesthetic production, not a moral or ethical one. By freeing oneself of quotidian limits, one could let one’s individual self flower into all sorts of wonderful and absurd creations, produce art for art’s sake, be beautiful, cultivate the beautiful, and live the beautiful life. Sounds like an advertisement for a resort, a face cream, or a new set of living room furniture, doesn’t it? Oscar never let irony drop, and so he was never so shallow in his pursuit of the purely aesthetic… and he came to think differently, after being thrown in jail for being a bit more pretty and witty than Victorian society could bear. He came to see clearly that there was life, and there was style, but there was no lifestyle.
Our consumer society has puffed itself up on the exact opposite of this idea. Style is not an accessory or an ornament to life – not a delightful extra to enhance or add to pleasure. No, style is life, and you must struggle for a lifestyle that suits your aspirations. And to what does one aspire…a lifestyle, of course. And if you doubt the truth of it, just look into a marketing demographics magazine where you will find your own individual self pigeon-holed as, perhaps, “empty-nester”, “young, up and coming”, “ethnic striver”, “blue blood leisure,” etc. etc. etc. In Oscar’s vision, we would all create our personal lifestyles, but now, we just shop for it at the mall.