Watching the recent elections and of various artists confrontations, along with the reaction on the Left, I’m beginning to see that our moment has opened a great gap or crack between these opposing views of our life world, a gap so huge that those on each side of this divide can no longer tolerate the other’s perspective or stance. We are truly in the midst of a Civil War of the Mind, one I hope will not become a civil war across the planet, Yet, as a pessimist I do not hold …out on hope, it always being a vanity of the optimistic mind. Rather it appears the next stage of our collapsing civilization will be this dark and abiding war that no one has yet to acknowledge at the level of cultural awareness.
Lately watching some friends posts about the collapse and chaos in India and surrounding nations as they seem to be struggling through all the varied problems of politics, climate change, drought, famine, disease, overpopulation, racism, gender issues, class struggle, etc. I’ve wondered when the civil war for the human soul of the planet will reach the proverbial butterfly effect? We seem to be on the tip of the iceberg, and it is melting fast. Violence seems to pervade the breath of FB in its hatred of each other’s views in the extremophile sections. While even those of moderate cast seem to be turning to the panic stream of thought and turning up the volume. Horror writers seem in vogue, because they speak of the inherent inhumanity of man to man, our darkest desires running rampant in the resurrected myths of our ancient fears and terrors.
In conversation with Glyn Daly, Slavoj Zizek said that even in our age of philosophy “we are confronted more and more often with philosophical problems at an everyday level” (58). It is not that you withdraw from daily life into a world of philosophical contemplation. On the contrary, you cannot find your way around daily life itself without answering certain philosophical questions. It is a unique time when everyone is, in a way, forced to be some kind of a philosopher.
One of the greatest notions floating around at the moment is that the past is no longer available to us as a guide or resource. The literature, philosophy, art, etc. of the past is truly dead to us who face such strange and overpowering future catastrophes. Our nostalgia for the past is on the rise, while the very function and structure of that world lies in ruins all around us. Politics of the traditional and the safe, the conservative and the reactionary is on the rise because people are seeking to stabilize their lives, revitalize the old mythologies in the wake of despair and economic collapse and change. People no longer trust the scholars, the artists, the politicians — Authority and legitimization in all its varied guises. The Symbolic world we’ve enclosed ourselves in is under siege from within and without by the an almost self-serving elite caste of Oligarchs, Plutocrats and the varied Military-Media-Industrial Complex of academic, think-tank, foundation, and media pundits and their minions that support the collective consensus reality system, and secure its defined perimeters: ethics, politics, sciences, educational, legal, and other institutions in a Telecommunications systemic network of Global Reach.
“I love the poorly educated.”
—Donald J. Trump
He would, wouldn’t he. In one sentence he underlines the whole reactionary approach of the extreme right, punctuates its stance toward literature, philosophy, and thought per se. What we are facing is not a crisis of Republican implosion or political deform; this is not your MSNBC smug defense of the Democratic Party’s sanity in the face of Republican insanity. We should harbor no such illusions: “The spirit of authoritarianism cuts across both political parties.” Both parties have sold us out, and Trump is not the answer, but just the embodiment of our frustration with the staid and cool, corporate fascism of the neoliberal jet set. As Zizek admitted, Trump is a nasty old racist, and yet a vote for Hilary would have just returned us to the illusionary politics of neoliberal slavery. So a vote for Trump was ultimately a vote for some kind of change, any change, even for the worse. Personally I detested both candidates as the worst choices of the Presidency in its entire two hundred years plus. Such seems to be the effect of our times and our bland indifference and ignorance.
The point here is that we shouldn’t be interested in Trump the clown, Trump the narcissist, Trump the racist, or even Trump the con artist. Instead, he turns his critical sights on the society that produced and legitimized him. From his rabid and rapidly growing right-wing and left-wing of both parties following to the channel surfers seeking a good chuckle to the liberal elite or republican yokels of Establishment quick to dismiss The Donald with smug indifference, our country and its democracy is in steep decline. After all, this is the same society that holds 2.5 million in cages, most of whom are black and brown and poor; whose military budget is larger than that of China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the U.K., India, and Japan combined; where the killing of unarmed Black people by police, security guards, or vigilantes has become almost a daily occurrence; where the toxic mix of privatization, free-market ideology, and a “punitive state” has turned our schools into high-stakes testing grounds and human warehouses in which the administration of discipline has shifted from teachers and principals to the criminal justice system; where the War on Drugs, with “zero tolerance” policing, turns some neighborhoods into open-air prisons, strips vulnerable residents of equal protection, habeas corpus, freedom of movement, even protection from torture; and where, in states such as Michigan, local governance has been replaced by so-called Emergency Financial Managers whose primary objective is to privatize public resources and basic needs (e.g., water). And the band plays on . . . or, as Giroux so aptly puts it, we move “from a culture of questioning to a culture of shouting.”2
I remember growing up where the Preacher (Southern Baptist) would hold up the Bible in one hand, and Darwin’s Origins of the Species in the other and ask the congregation: “Which of these books would you put your trust in?” At the time (I was eleven!) I’d only vaguely ever heard of Darwin or his book, so I went to the school library to find it. The librarian told me it was much too controversial a book for a sixth grader to read.
So I asked my Father (an atheist), not my Mother (who was devout, but not dogmatic) to get me that book. I remember him looking at me, wanting to say something, but not saying because he’d promised my Mom he’d not inculcate her children with his atheistic ideas. (He’d later laugh about it all. His compromise was that if we ever inquired into his beliefs he wouldn’t hide them or his learning. He had a large library of books he left me, that as I grew up were safely locked away from us by my Mother). So it goes… He gave me the book by Darwin. I read it, puzzled over it, asked him questions.
After a few months it dawned on me why this Preacher man was so afraid of Darwin: If he was right then every aspect of the Bible would prove to be a fiction, a nice story about a particular tribe of people who needed a system of Law and Regulations, Stories and Parables, to keep their culture ongoing. Religion appears to be this binding back upon one’s cultural heritage, which oddly is the meaning of Torah. The People of the Book. But are not all the monotheistic religions about the one true Book, rather than the books of men, they hold their Book to have been written once by God in Heaven, etc.
I learned that there were other ideas in the world that spoke of a different truth. It was this first book by Darwin that began my long voyage into what we so mistakenly term Western Culture and Civilization (another of those umbrella concepts that should go away someday!). The past is multivalent and a site of competing voices and utterances rather than as in religion of recieved tradition. History is important because it is not monolithic, but rather a contested realm of memory and temporal voicing and writing that helps us discover not our origins but rather how we produced and invented ourselves from such fragments as these.
Adam Curtis: HyperNormalisation
Adam Curtis’s new BBC project reminds me of this strange paradox. The aim of the film he is making—HyperNormalisation—is to bring that new power into focus, and show its true dimensions. It ranges from a giant computer high up in the mountains of northeast America that manages and controls over 7 percent of the worlds total wealth, to the complex algorithms that constantly monitor every move and choice you make online, to modern scientific ideas about what the normal human being should be—in their weight and in their feelings and moods. As he states:
What links all these systems is an overriding aim is to keep the world stable. To avoid all change. The giant computer constantly compares events happening around the world to events in the past. If it sees a dangerous pattern, it immediately adjusts its trillions of dollars to keep things stable. That is real power. The algorithms on social media constantly look at the patterns of what you like and then feed you more of that—so you enter into an echo chamber that constantly feeds you back to you. So again nothing changes—and you learn nothing new that would contradict how you feel. That too is real power.
What results is a system which cocoons us and makes us feel safe. And that means we have become terrified of all change. But that fear of change is in the interest of a system that wants to hold everything stable. And stops us from ever challenging it.
But it is impossible to keep things frozen forever. The world is dynamic. Things happen that you can never predict just by reading the past. This is why more and more we are being hit by events—the horror in Syria, Brexit, Trump, the waves of refugees—that neither we nor our leaders have the mental map to understand let alone deal with. Because we have bought into the dream that the world can be held stable and safe.
The short film I have made for VICE is about how, if you pull back and look at the everyday life all around you, you can see the cracks appearing through the shiny surface of the cocoon we are living in. So much of the modern world is beginning to feel odd, unreal, and sometimes fake. I think these are the dynamic forces outside beginning to pierce through as the system begins to fail.
It will fail – because a system of power that has no vision of the future can never last. It cannot deal with change. We have to begin to look outside. Because there is more out there…
After watching the clip I was reminded of Axël a drama by Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam published in 1890. It was influenced by his participation in the Paris Commune, the Gnostic philosophy of Georg Hegel as well as the works of Goethe and Victor Hugo. It begins in an occult castle. The Byronic hero Axël meets a Germanic princess. After an initial conflict they fall in love. They speak of the amazing journeys they plan to have. But they realize that life will never measure up to their dreams. They then commit suicide.
Our elite rulers are like these romantic gnostics, closed off in their corporate enclaves, living out their occult praxis and magical economic systems in a world of presentism where everything remains the same and nothing changes. The most famous line in that play was “Vivre? les serviteurs feront cela pour nous” (“Living? Our servants will do that for us”). This sense that the upper echelons and .01% percenters are truly Vampires, of which Marx once stated: “Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him.”
What so many on the Left term ‘neoliberalism,’ a term that means nothing or too much, is just this sense of the fake world we live in with all its sense of futility, market driven, global, and enclosed in debt without any end: an absolute hell for the workers (Third World or First!), who must suffer through the extreme degradation of being spoon fed media fantasies of the Rich and Stupid in their Hollywood Towers that the worker herself will never ever have access too. We return from our part-time jobs to our local pubs and bars, our drug infested dens, our shanty town tin roofs and dream of escape. Knowing deep down there is not end to this eternal round of the Same, to endless days of work and labor ahead in either factory, service industries, or even the veil of upper white collars who on call 24/7 to their masters by way of mobile lives lead lives of gray despair: these dividuals (indexical lives of wire and fleshscape dream) who exist not as flesh and blood organics, but as fragments of a corporate personality and inforgs (informational organisms) whose lives are not lived in real-time, but in the hyperchaos regions in-between circulation and profit, greed and expenditure.
In ancient Greece the Paideia or the education of the Citizen took in both body and mind, teaching and educing out of the naïve and ignorant young the physical and mental prowess and intelligence to understand what it meant to be part of the public way. We’ve lost our Public Sphere, it having slowly been privatized and dismantled by the very instruments of technology we once thought would gain us more freedom: the internet and its mindless chatter of media driven repeats, twits, and links into the ever same message of the day. From Reuters to the most radical publication the Same has become the Order of the Day in which we live, an echo chamber of our isolation being fed our likes and dislikes in packages of bits and data already massaged and filtered for our absorption like the commodity fetish it is.
As Kelley said in his preface to Henry Giroux’s recent America at War with Itself:
America at War With Itself demolishes the pedestrian (and dangerous) argument that Trump appeals to legitimate working-class populism driven by class anger. The claim that Trump followers are simply working-class whites expressing class resentment ignores both the historical link between whiteness, citizenship, and humanity, and also the American dream of wealth accumulation built on private property. Trump’s people are not Levelers! (Nor are they universally “working-class”— their annual median income clocks in at about $ 72,000.) They strongly believe in private property and the right to bear arms to protect that property. They don’t just ignore Trump’s wealth; they are enamored with it. They embrace the dream that if only America can be restored to its mythic greatness— which is to say, to return to its status as “a white MAN’s country” (as if it is not now)— they, too, can become a Trump. But their racism, reinforced by civic illiteracy, has convinced them that it is the descendants of unfree labor or the colonized, or those who are currently unfree, who are blocking their ascent to the world of Trump and the billionare Koch brothers. (see below)
What he’s saying is that the bland blanketing by the Left misses the point, these followers of Trump are and remain the central players of what was once the American world view. It is the Left that has tried, in vein, to displace this older America and over the past sixty years unsuccessfully to take over the Academy and teach the progressive world view without realizing that the majority they needed to educate were being ostracized, dammed to illiteracy by the very institutions of the Left elite themselves. The Left have only themselves to blame for this situation. Not Trump, not his followers, but the Left who in their snobbish elitism and belief in their more intelligent cultural world of academia did not need to bend low, to reach out, to speak to all the rest of America about America. They forgot the others who also live here and are also Americans.
It is these others that the Left has repeatedly demonized and left to rot in their dying country towns and lower worlds of poverty and isolation. The Left alone is responsible for this ignorance and apathy. The Left sold out to the Neoliberal world long ago, and worked closely within its Cathedral of academia, think-tanks, and white collar precincts shielded by a false ideology and security system. And now that it is unraveling around them they are even more entrenched and reactionary than the right-wing thinkers ever were. They react to the change going on around them without any new thoughts, ignorant and repeating the shibboleths of the 1930’s on Fascism and Populism as if that explained anything at all. It doesn’t. We are not in some Hollywood or some German Propaganda film narrative. We are not those people. Do not think their thoughts. This is something else, but as long as people continue to fall for the old myths and staid critiques of ancient fascism nothing will transpire.
People need truth, not some vein bullshit about ours is a an age of “Post-Truth”. What a crock of horseshit that is. But one hears that from Oxford:
Oxford Dictionaries has selected “post-truth” as 2016’s international word of the year, after the contentious “Brexit” referendum and an equally divisive U.S. presidential election caused usage of the adjective to skyrocket, according to the Oxford University Press.
The dictionary defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
What a crock? That used to go under the rubric of Ideology. Pure and Simple. What Marx to Sartre to Adorno and Jameson termed false consciousness:
False consciousness is a term used by some Marxists for the way in which material, ideological, and institutional processes in capitalist society mislead members of the proletariat and other class actors. These processes are thought to hide the true relations between classes and the real state of affairs regarding the exploitation suffered by the proletariat.
In other words they construct a narrative to hide the truth from the public at large, one that is then presented by the Media-Tainment Industrial Complex through news, papers, journals, reports, broadcasts, TV, movies, books, literature, art, music, dance, theatre, etc. Post-truth is nothing but a euphemism for the older Marxists notion that the Symbolic Order of the Economic World Order tries to Control the Reality Systems under its Laws and Regulations.
What many on the Left or Right will not admit to themselves is that they have both been duped. Yes, that’s right. The very narratives of the Left and Right are scripted and presented under the careful guidance of well-planned network of thinkers, foundations, think-tanks, academic and political groups that work both sides of the fence, while the average person is gulled into the illusion that what their being taught is learning rather than the propaganda that goes by the name education in America. This isn’t some conspiratorial theory, not magic men behind the screens pulling the wires. No Soros or Koch Brothers working the fabric of reality. All that is staged play more akin to such things as Alien History on History Channel of Gaia; or the libertarian front of conspiracy from Glenn Beck to Alex Jones. All these are well funded fronts to keep people off the real ball, the real power hidden not behind some secret curtain, but right in front of their noses, everywhere.
As Curtis is trying to do in his film, the immersive world of our everyday life is this conspiracy world fulfilled. We are so immersed in a false world of conscious invention empowered over the years by trillions of dollars in public opinion and advertising and front men of corporate and government Leadership that we no longer call it propaganda, because it is our lives. Of late one of the ploys is that we no longer need critique of society and civilization, that critique and theory are dead, mute. Where is this coming from? Who is instigating this non-interventional non-philosophy, non-theory, non-critique. I wonder what my old barbs Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. would say to all we see now. My touchstones has always been the great satirists who tried to punch through the facades and illusions that encompass us, that make us stupid. As Twain once admonished: ““Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.” One that sums up to me the truth we need most is this from Twain:
“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”
Even Twain was keen to realize why we’ve become stupid: “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made school boards.” On the media of his day: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” And on Education: “Education: that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge.”
These humorous quips had an edge that also spoke truth, a truth that we need dearly. We do not live in a ‘post-truth’ age, we live in an age that has forgotten that truth exists and we can know it and it can set us free of these Symbolic Chains encompassing us. There is no such thing as absolute freedom without necessity, which means we are social beings encompassed in immersive worlds of language and thought. No way around this. All we can muster is a way to build our Symbolic House where the inmates are no longer bound by the extremes of the Super Rich and the Desolate. We can and must encompass a world of change, that can see with open eyes the truth of the world, one that will openly understand the issues we face in the 21st Century without letting the few and powerful elites and Oligarchs control 98% of the world’s wealth. This must end… all the other major problems from Climate degradation to race, gender, and class war are secondary to the economic inequality of the World’s great populace.
- Daly, Glyn; Zizek, Slavoj. Conversations with Zizek (Conversations) by Slavoj Zizek (2003-12-30) Polity.
- Giroux, Henry A.. America at War with Itself (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 71-82). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition.