Watching my nephew, his wife, and their daughter all sitting on the couch, the TV blairing away while each of them gazed into their isolated technological worlds. Their cell-phones and eyes locked in a closed circuit loop, oblivious of the external environment or my conversation of five miniutes, I began thinking of this almost eerie truth: We are still the children of Kant, internalizing not only our gaze, but folding the world into our technological gadgets to live out our lives in an artificial maze of light.
The external world of the natural environment along with human senses of touch, smell, taste, hearing all focused to the empire of the eye lost in the gaze of our technological worlds, where our of emotions, the affective relations of the body itself is being eroded to the point that we are truly preparing for the moment when we will enter into these artificial dream worlds without so much as a remembrance of the external environment or our bodies. It is happening so slowly and subtly that we are even oblivious to our own process and complicity in this movement toward the eclipse of distance and the negation of the world for another one. For a technological world where the symbolic cages of our future desires will become part of a joyous new prison. We want even know we’ve lost our bodies in that world to come having become electronic ghosts or our former lives we’ll live out our days as bits of commercial feed-back in an endless economic game of holidays whose only goal is profit. Hell is a labyrinth in which one does not know it is so, there being no center or circumference; nor outlet. Only an endless vista for the eyes duplicitous gaze…
With the new VR tools that will become ever so refined over the coming decades (they being monstrous frog masks now!) we will forget that the natural ever existed, and will instead discover around us the merger of our technological dreamscapes and the outer world. We will be empowered by endless fantasies and technological entertainment systems that will lull us into our sleeping slavery happy and satisfied to be a part of the ever growing techno-commercial empires of our Plutocrats. Those who resist will be shown the door outside the gated and secure enclaves of the future, to ick out their bare existence as the denizens of a dark work world without the benefit of social interference or help. This darkling world we’re creating will not protrude too soon, but will happen as generation by generation the truth of the past, of history, of those alive who remember that reality was once different are all gone.
Even as I gaze back to my past life realizing how much has changed, and how my young family around me no longer sees or perceives reality in the way I do, knowing how far we’ve drifted from the 20th Century already I ponder this simple transition into the electronic void with neither fear nor trepidation. How can one fear what others see as joy and fulfillment of their deep seated desires? The concept of ‘joy’ must be understood here with a certain analytical coldness, emptied of the ideas of rapture, plenitude or jubilation that are commonly associated with it. One can experience joy at all levels of intensity, including very low ones, associated with the most ordinary; it can even go unnoticed, lost within a larger complex of affects that makes it hard to isolate. Once the idea of joy is purged of all connotations of effervescence and enthusiasm, it is perfectly correct to say that securing the money that allows the satisfaction of the basal desire causes joy – but in the same way that escaping death by becoming a slave causes joy.
This will be an age when the mass consumption of the consumer herself must be reached for the full scope of the Spinozist statement ‘they can imagine hardly any species of joy without the accompanying idea of money as its cause’ to become clear. The supreme deftness of capitalism, in this respect decisively the product of the Fordist era, lay in using the expanded supply of things to buy and the stimulation of demand to provoke this reordering of desire, so that from then on the ‘image [of money] … occupie[d] the mind of the multitude more than anything else’.1 Yet, in this new age of the symbolic order the image of money will have given way to the gift of life in the eternal now of the virtual worlds of machinic existence, a world where security is handled by the great AGI’s – artificial intelligences who will manipulate every aspect of our holographic lives.
Those of us living now scoff at such conclusions, yet we want be there to see it. I speak of a time without such as us who think and believe differently. Oh, one could trace the genealogy of thought that has brought us to this point, how Kant turned away from reality in favor of the Mind’s own knowing – the inner turn being none other than this epistemic gaze. At the end of the 20th Century the divorce between sign and its referent, mind and its outer environment (nature) was complete, and the end of the Kantian experiment was at hand. No longer believing that the external world exists, we’ve allowed ourselves to build artificial playgrounds where our need for symbols and symbolic action will play out their destiny. Even the scientists work not with the actual, but rather with its symbolic equivalent in endless mathematical models of the universe to which it can create algorithms to evolve a future unbound. Whatever reality was for our ancestors, whatever we thought of the natural is no more; instead is this symbolic realm of endless signs that do not so much as reveal reality as construct it. This was the great postmodern vision, which is even now falling into ill-repute as many turn back to some form of realist discourse.
Yet, even as philosophers beg the question of reality, the world of techno-commercial consumerism continues as if reality no longer mattered. All that matters is the game of reality, the Reality Studio that is constructed out of all the vast machines of the Mediatainment Empire. In this transitional period between the old world of stable outer natural environment, and the new world cut off from its supports in reality living on symbols that no longer refer to anything other than themselves we exist in a carefully managed world of artificiality. And, even if the very real consequences of climate change, social chaos, disease, famine, war, etc. continue to exist these are not the center of the new arrangements of the techno-commercial empire. Even as the pressure of the old impinges on the new the Oligarchs of irreality continue to portray the world as a happy holiday in the sun.
In my own mind I realize the difficulty of trying to bridge the gap in understanding. Trying to explain such notions (not my own!) that the world and the artificial are growing ever wider in their gaps and cracks to the point that the old natural environs will one day flood back into our electronic mindscapes with a vengeance. They laugh at me as if this, too, were just one more crackpot theory. I realize it is slowly dawning on me that it is already too late to convince people of what is happening. I’ve a library filled with books on every aspect of our current malaise: Anthroposcene, Neoliberalism, Post-Marxist radicalism, Deleuze, Zizek, Badiou, Non-human turn, Post-human thought, novels, sci-fi, noir, Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Pynchon, etc. all warning us of the coming natural collapse around our planet. Yet, in our socio-cultural game of illusions most people could care less as long as they are gratified in this immediate now. In an age when the truth has given way to a post-truth world we are truly lost in our own machiniations, unable to think critically or even register the outer terror of the coming catastrophe of our extinction.
- Lordon, Frederic. Willing Slaves Of Capital: Spinoza And Marx On Desire (pp. 29-30). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.