“Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see, the thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception.” —Don DeLillo
“Looking at this more closely, what have we produced that is more original, more specific, than this idea of nothingness, of absence? It is in the final analysis our most obvious cultural contribution. It is precisely this absence that I wish to interrogate, where is this void?” —Paul Virilio
What’s sad is the Left and Right political spectrum both assume all news is fake. We live in a cancelled age, a sit-com world that no longer provides canned music or laughs. A time in-between null and null, caught in a cycle of road kills we wander the maze of our own lures and allurements as the last guests at a death banquet for the West. Postmodern progressives suffer unresolved contradictions, while Traditional republicans live in a shoebox world built out of a 50’s noir thriller full of lust and paranoia. Progressive thinkers exalt post-individualism and freedom from Self or Subject Identity, while the reactionary turns into narcissist cartoon advocates in the lip service world of alt-right.
Ours is an age of untruth – or, in the parlance of our contemporary pundits, post-truth. Another euphemism to harbor unthinking thought on a world of chaotic and clichéd disinformation in which fake news is attributed to each team of the opposition, and all players hold a deck of cheats (facts). Even the fact-check sites are falsified by the political shibboleth, and depending on which team one is own: Left or Right, one is bound by the rumor mill of false witness and purveyors of politically correct arbitration.
Exposing lies has become an International pastime, an entertainment systems in which Hollywood gambles its index marketability on propaganda sessions at the Globe awards. Rather than facing the implosion of Western Civilization we’re brought the latest misnomers of Donald Trump as farcical ambassador of Corporate America. A President for the down and out middle-class whose last message is: “I’m Donald Trump, and you’re fired!” Not to mention the twitter war of DJT on Schwarzenegger. In Trumpland one gets a verbal tic or tit-for-tat grumble and feeback at twitspeed by Twits like DJT. They used to say: “Only in America…,” now they say: “Lost in Trumpland…”. But if that wasn’t bad enough the progressive newsfakes fill the void with cartoon images of Hillbilly slouch as if the new President were the worst thing since Joe McCarthy bit his tongue spouting his anti-communist slogans.
“As for the presumed perpetrator of this Perfect Crime, it’s a total mystery: it can be imputed to anyone. The process itself seems to be irreversible, for it is the very process of rationalization—what we proudly call progress and modernity and liberation—becoming exponential and chaotic.” —Jean Baudrillard
There was a time – oh, say, at least ‘five minutes’, when the web was a promise of shared knowledge, open communication, a new world of democracy. All that’s over now, now we have the daily corporate feeds, the dataclaves of a marketed consumerfest where everything you thought you were is wrong, and now you’ve become a marked commodity to follow and datafy into tidbits of global bits, a mere dividual datagram of a being with nothing more than your binary soul to vet the trollish climes. Yes, netizens are the tattooed slaves of a new capitalist market, programmed to gaze on the cesspool of techno-babble. Conformed rather than informed the postmodern digital mind plugs-in to the latest gimmick, tracing a culture built on nanoseconds rather than centuries. Acceleration is a mere mockery of time in which speed is no longer a Formula One automobile, but rather the automated message feeds that trip and trigger global epidemics of laughter and dismay.
We truly are the Clowns at the End of Time, jokes of a last tale in which even farce gives way to its broken semblance. True believers in nothing we fill the void of our lives with a daily Facebook echo stream hoping to get our thumb up ratings and microsmileys popping in blessed approval. The artificial construction of reality has become the perfect world – a utopia of global misinformation, where the group brain of the planetoids shifts among light-dunes and darkweb hollows, and the gaze shatters its mirrors into a thousand shreds. A realm where derivative human perception untainted by others’ influence does not exist.
“I was no longer in this urban desert of identical, repetitive, and fixed forms in a pseudo-eternity, I was in the arborescence of counterforms, I navigated through the hollows of intervals, in transparence…” —Paul Virilio
Walk down any major city business district in America. Everywhere you go we see the closed loop of a temporal anomaly, the human gaze no longer notices the outer environment. Nature has disappeared without a trace and been replaced by the interface, the mobile device that plugs in to one’s fleshly apertures like survivalist gear from a data enclave. We no longer communicate directly but spend 24/7 gazing into the light where sound and image encloses our lives in a looped world of endless trivia.
Langdon Winner in The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology describes John Glenn’s first voyage into space how orbiting high above the earth aboard Friendship 7 in February 1962, he noticed something odd. His view of the planet was virtually unique in human experience; only Soviet pilots Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov had preceded him in orbital flight. Yet as he watched the continents and oceans moving beneath him, Glenn began to feel that he had seen it all before. Months of simulated space shots in sophisticated training machines and centrifuges had affected his ability to respond. In the words of chronicler Tom Wolfe, “The world demanded awe, because this was a voyage through the stars. But he couldn’t feel it. The backdrop of the event, the stage, the environment, the true orbit…was not the vast reaches of the universe. It was the simulators. Who could possibly understand this?” Synthetic conditions generated in the training center had begun to seem more “real” than the actual experience.1
“For reality is but a concept, or a principle, and by reality I mean the whole system of values connected with this principle. The Real as such implies an origin, an end, a past and a future, a chain of causes and effects, a continuity and a rationality. No real without these elements, without an objective configuration of discourse. And its disappearing is the dislocation of this whole constellation.” —Jean Baudrillard
This notion that our experiences are out of kilter, that our simulated or artificial environments of learning, mobile devices, and interface VR and business or entertainment systems of communication and visual / sound displays have begun to reshape our perceptions and limbic system in ways as yet ill understood is at the heart of such experiences. Take the cerebral cortex, roughly 80 percent of whose nerves connect with each other, not with input from the eyes or ears. The learning device called human society follows the same rules. Individuals spend most of their time communicating with each other, not exploring such ubiquitous elements of their “environment” as insects and weeds which could potentially make a nourishing dish. This cabling for the group’s internal operations has a far greater impact on what we “see” and “hear” than many psychological researchers suspect. For it puts us in the hands of a conformity enforcer whose power and subtlety are almost beyond belief.
The limbic system is memory’s gatekeeper and in a very real sense its creator. The limbic system is also an intense monitor of others, keeping track of what will earn their praises or their blame. By using cues from those around us to fashion our perceptions and the “facts” which we retain, our limbic system gives the group a say in that most central of realities, the one presiding in our brain.
Social experience literally shapes critical details of brain physiology, sculpting an infant’s brain to fit the culture into which the child is born. Six-month-olds can hear or make every sound in virtually every human language. But within a mere four months, nearly two thirds of this capacity has been cut away. The slashing of ability is accompanied by ruthless alterations in cerebral tissue. Brain cells remain alive only if they can prove their worth in dealing with the baby’s physical and social surroundings. Half the brain cells we are born with rapidly die. The 50 percent of neurons which thrive are those which have shown they come in handy for coping with such cultural experiences as crawling on the polished mud floor of a straw hut or navigating on all fours across wall-to-wall carpeting, of comprehending a mother’s words, her body language, stories, songs, and the concepts she’s imbibed from her community. Those nerve cells stay alive which demonstrate that they can cope with the quirks of strangers, friends, and family. The 50 percent of neurons which remain unused are literally forced to commit preprogrammed cell death—suicide. The brain which underlies the mind is jigsawed like a puzzle piece to fit the space it’s given by its loved ones and by the larger framework of its culture’s patterning. (Drawn from several articles of Princeton Neuroscience Institute and others.)
“…capitalism appears here as that which tends to liquidate all forms of knowledge, to produce entropy and distaste, and to render the world insipid. We thus see how the cognitive industries place knowledge in the exclusive service of the economy, as the culture industries have transformed arts and letters into entertainment…” —Bernard Stiegler
The cues rerouting herd perception come in many forms. Sociologists Janet Lynne Enke and Donna Eder discovered that in gossip, one person opens with a negative comment on someone outside the group. How the rest of the gang goes on the issue depends entirely on the second opinion expressed. If the second speechifier agrees that the outsider is disgusting, virtually everyone will chime in with a sound-alike opinion. If, on the other hand, the second commentator objects that the outsider is terrific, the group is far less likely to descend like a flock of harpies tearing the stranger’s reputation limb from limb.2
When barely out of the womb, babies are already riveted on a major source of social cues. Newborns to four-month-olds would rather look at faces than at almost anything else. Linnda Caporael points out what she calls “microcoordination,” in which a baby imitates its mother’s facial expression, and the mother, in turn, imitates the baby’s.3 The duet of smiles and funny faces indulged in by Western mothers or scowls and angry looks favored by such peoples as New Guinea’s Mundugumor accomplishes far more than at first it seems. Psychologist Paul Ekman has demonstrated that the faces we make recast our moods, reset our nervous systems, and fill us with the feelings the facial expressions indicate.4 So the baby imitating its mother’s face is learning how to glower or glow with emotions stressed by its society. And emotions, as we’ve already seen, help craft our vision of reality.
“As of a certain point, history was no longer real. Without noticing it, all mankind suddenly left reality: everything happening since then was supposedly not true; but we supposedly didn’t notice. Our task would now be to find that point, and as long as we didn’t have it, we would be forced to abide in our present destruction.” —Elias Canetti
Yet, in our time the mother, father, and nanny are being replaced by gadgets, toys that speak, communicate, light-up, teach, verbalize, imagine, and hold our child’s attention in a world of technological adaptation. We are turning our children into robots in a generational bid to mechanize society into an automated utopia. An artificial paradise in which the culture and memory of millennia give way to the algorithms of a new datafied society of Uberchildren. Even as we squander the humanist heritage and set fire to its shared traditions we enter the brave new world of automated cybernauts awakened to a world where technology rather than people is reanimated into an animistic universe of smart cities and environs to accommodate the needs of the few rather than the many, the rich rather than the poor, the inhuman corporations rather than the faceless robots of its machinic being.
“As for knowing why we go on irreversibly toward this deadline, all we can do is grasp at fantastic hypotheses such as this one: the human species could be dedicating itself to a sort of automatic writing of the world, to an automated and operationalized virtual reality, where human beings as such have no reason for existing anymore.” —Jean Baudrillard
- Winner, Langdon. The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology (p. 3). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.
- Psychologist Daniel Goleman calls the family “a conglomerate mind.” (Goleman, Daniel, Ph.D. (1985). Vital lies, simple truths: The psychology of self-deception. New York: Simon and Schuster, p 167. See also pp 165-170.)
- Mead, Margaret. (1977). Sex and temperament in three primitive societies. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
- Ekman, Paul. (1992). “Facial expressions of emotion: an old controversy and new findings.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, January 29, pp 63-69; Levenson, R.W., P. Ekman & W. Friesen. (1997). “Voluntary facial action generates emotion-specific autonomic nervous system activity.” Psychophysiology, July, pp 363-84; Ekman, Paul. (1993). “Facial expression and emotion.” American Psychologist, April, p 384-92