Marshall McLuhan: CounterBlast and Baby Powder

from-mess-to-chaos

“Ontological density without identifiable form is abstract horror itself. As the Great Filter drifts inexorably, from a challenge that we might imaginably have already overcome, to an encounter we ever more fatalistically expect, horrorism is thickened by statistical-cosmological vindication. The unknown condenses into a shapeless, predatory thing. Through our techno-scientific sensors and calculations, the Shadow mutters to us, and probability insists that we shall meet it soon.”  – from  Nick Land: Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”  – Pogo

“In America and Cosmic Man Wyndham Lewis saw North America as a benign rock-crusher in which all remnants of European nationalism and individualism were happily reduced to cosmic baby powder.”1 Marshall McLuhan will seek what he terms a counter-environment against the imperious Infospheric global hyperobject (Morton) which has been quite ubiquitous and invisible to most citizens of the planetary socious of capitalism. He further reminds us that as in the beginning of Pavlov’s experiments where he discovered the key to conditioning was previous conditioning, our current masters have slowly accrued vast communicative systems (ICT’s) as well as certain convergence technologies (NBIC) to condition us to our enslavement to the great profit systems of capitalism, and engulph us in the Internet of things like a great surround media-systemic world architecture.

One could follow this into Baudrillard and Eco but will refrain from such obvious parallels of hyperreality systematic enclosures. J.G. Ballard might be of better suited when in his 1977 Vogue essay he’d already predicted Reality TV as the ultimate technonarcissistic form of joyous idiocy for the rising cognitariat who would become director, star, and self-editing feed back Moghul of her own cinematic realities. As Simon would say in this article, Ballard always felt the “role of his fiction, as he repeatedly emphasised, was cautionary. He once told an interviewer: ‘I’m trying to say “Dangerous bends ahead. Slow down.”’ Yet much of his appeal to the cyberpunks lay in the seduction of his techno-visions.” One could say the same of McLuhan and other media-theorists of that age.

Plato, in his Allegory of the Cave, purports the existence of truth in ideal forms, accessible not in reality but through the philosopher’s ideas and intellectual pursuit of the forms. Plato presents a clear understanding of simulations in the Caves; although he concedes that any artistic reproduction of ideal forms would constitute representation, he is clear that it entails the copy of an original, true form. This was the first instance of a notion of hyperreality.

Against Plato’s notions of a forms and simulacrum Deleuze argues that Plato contrasts these legitimate copies to fearful simulacra, “Plato divides in two the domain of images-idols: on one hand there are copies-icons, on the other there are simulacra-phantasms” (p. 256). It is thus that Deleuze is able to claim that with the arrival of hyperreality Platonism has been reversed, for any original truth or ideal forms that provided the anchor for representation have since been permanently lost in the reproduction of simulacra and the construction of a hyperreality without any connection to the real. (see Oberly)

The key of course is joy and pleasure, the affective regions of our sexual and animal needs as “desiring machines” (Deleuze/Guattari). We don’t mind our slavery as long as it feeds our gratification systems even to the point of pure inversion: sadism and masochism, or sadomasochism. Pain is pleasure is ingrained from the beginning. Pavlov needed only to place one environment within another to succeed. Can we do the same? In the end must we become counter-Pavlovians to attain freedom from the InfoSphere?

McLuhan of course suggests just this in his book, and tells us the Counterblast is just such an project, a global initiative to construct a counter-infosphere against the hegemonic one that has cannibalized us since the early feudalistic enclosures of the commons. Shall we say the full gamut of capitalist history is this long conditioning process working its logics out, a Pavlovian machine of reinforcing norms and incentives conditioning us in ever accelerating waves and feed back loops of pleasure and joy through sadomasochistic delight? The pavlokian bracelet will teach you to self-modify your own mind, join your local tribal network and use the pavlov wrist shocker today (a farcical product taking Pavlov’s reflex therapy seriously!)

As biochemical mechanisms – biological informational organisms, or what some now term inforgs (Floridi) or information gathering and indexing assemblages within an ever expanding communications system – we are being conditioned and reformatted in this transitional period from our old natural environments into new artificial environments in ways that are so subtle and mimic natural processes that we even feel happy about our current cooperation with this systematic transformation of the human machine. But of course not everyone is happy, but do these disposable units matter in the total context of this ongoing planetary transformation? Not according to the design strategists (read: elite capitalists); in fact, they built exclusionary features into the systems to expose weak and unusable parts (read people, individuals) as in themselves exclusionary clauses in the total systems overall goal.

As far as the plan goes –  there is always a Plan – the peasants have become nothing more than mere ‘parasites’ and ‘refugees’ that must be reformatted in the computer of city life. Yes, the city is now a Computer in which the citizenry are mere programmed algorithms supplying capital with a smooth surplus of value. Education is mobile, as every new electronic device takes over from the traditional educational institutions and “ads” become the new teachers of the inforg citizenry. The infosphere surrounds us ubiquitously like a mother’s child in the womb. The first computer was a clay tablet where writing replaced nature and the infosphere and civilization arose triumphant.

Gutenberg, father of the mechanical mind, the printing press of distributed intelligence to encompass the world in the new enclosure of data. Technological man is the idiot of the information age. Yet, in this cavern of intelligence and idiocy we are being reformatted by iconic and visual displays of informational memes that shape us to the Comic Book culture of the dark net and its commercial twin. Hynotics, one and all, we live in a rear-view mirror seeking our futures in the past. Cinematic and mobile inforgs we wander the global exchange systems of semiotic flows like alien guests to a banquet held in ancient Rome, shifting in Axial Age splendor in Greece or India, riding the crest of wars and expansions in China or Mesopotamia.

Our academic bewail the return of tribal illiterate and visual societies, with their rampant rituals and musical revolutions of sensual and exotic pleasures of technomadic denizens of the tubes and underground enclaves. Like the cyberpunk warriors of a previous era the new soft decopunk era reverts to pre-tribal speech and visual cues that ride past the commercial blockades releasing the schizflows that cannot be contained.

Work is fractal and fragmented, time-parts rather than time-flows, the human sliced in graphs of time-quotas is not longer whole but part of a fractalized time-world where nothing exists but the profit margin of time-value quantas of fractalized surplus gathered by sophisticated AI algorithms in endless circuits of gnomic speed. The acceleration of the socius implies the fractal job market in which labor is no longer confined to a monolithic factory scenario, but rather is parsed out like so many methods in a hyperobject (Morton) that can be called out of the pool of latent programs on a 24/7 basis. The human as human is just another bit player in a fractalized market. (Bifo Berardi)

The Infosphere is a process not a container, the ready-mades of yesterday become the subliminal toys of machines, while humans fragmented into so many time-parts no longer produce anything more than sub-art for a global intelligence factory that serves the singularity of elites. Only the elites exist beyond the fractilized labor pool as real living beings. All else is invisible and ubiquitous. The mass is now machinic and totalized in a machinic phylum of pure time and timeless space. The elite call out programs, not people to reprogram the artificial environments they live in to the benefit of themselves and their constituents.

The new artists is the engineer who develops technologies of immortality and the transhumanist vision of the elites. McLuhan called ours the age of instant humans: humans as data and image – “Love thy label as thyself.” One might say: “Brand thyself and live as a DataMan.” Even in 1969 McLuhan saw Education becoming the major industry grunge mill of the 21st Century – the largest business in global capital, the one that would enslave its citizenry to 24/7 learning as accelerated flows that would never end. (p. 37) This is capital subjectifications, the learning process as a continuous fragmentation of knowledge into fractalized time curves ever accelerated spirals and time quotients of the knowledge worker becoming cognitartiat in a global machinic phylum of an artificial time-machine termed the Infosphere.

As McLuhan said presciently in 69′ “the key fact is that it’s the movement of information itself, in a kind of non-stop global dialogue that makes wealth today.” (p. 40) We as physical bodies no longer exist for capitalism, only our extended informational quanta as it exist in the global data banks as “applied knowledge” to be adapted and used by corporate and governmental complexes at their behest and profit. McLuhan was still optimistic about this new age of information and did not see the strings of the puppeteers who would hold out the promise of education and learning, but forget to tell the youthful slaves about the debt repayment plans they would incur hooking them into the machinic asylums for the duration of their long-lived lives. “I the age of electricity and automation, the globe becomes a community of continuous learning, a single campus in which everybody, irrespective of age, is involved in learning a living.” (p. 41) The key here is knowledge as work – continuous 24/7 work till you die or become immortal which the machines dangle before the profiteers as a sublime possibility of the singulatarians of the cosmic advert.

What McLuhan terms the extension or “outering” of human body parts into the technological environment as part of a long dialectical interaction of humans and technics is knows as alienation in Marx. The alienation of the human from his machines is actually the expulsion of the human as machine into his technological counterparts. We’ve been divesting our humanity into machinic phylum as an ongoing evolution for a long time now and this project is almost complete. As McLuhan will testify:

Throughout previous evolution as it were, we have protected the central nervous system by outering this or that physical organ in tools, housing, clothing, cities. But each outering of the individual organs was also an acceleration and intensification of the general environment until the central nervous system did a flip. We turned turtle. The shell went inside, the organs outside. Turtles with soft shells become vicious. That’s our present state. (p. 44)

Like Poe and Mallarme we are dark riders of detection and poetic infiltration, sexual machines flowing through the circuits of the Inofospheric pop-culture. Pop-culture is our high culture, the academy is a dead ghostland for disconnected luddites of a passing technological edifice. The academy no longer exists except in the mind’s of the elite purveyors of a dying civilization. T.S. Eliot once said he preferred the illiterate audience to the literate academics of official literacy because they do not teach us about the future in the past, but only the eternal drift of their own unthinking minds.

With the launch of Sputnik in 1957 evolution gave way to technoevolution and the earth became the object of technological reformatting and programming. The earth had become an artificial object under the eye of technology, to be adapted and selected for optimal purposes under the careful supervision of fractal agents of the inhuman Infosphere. We are those alien technologists we’ve feared for so many eons. Look in the mirror what do you see behind those electronic eyes? The alien you are becoming…

 


  1. Marshall McLuhan. Counterblast. (McLuhan, 1969)

2 thoughts on “Marshall McLuhan: CounterBlast and Baby Powder

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