As any number of radical theorists from Brecht through to Foucault and Badiou have maintained, emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order’, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable.
– Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
The American Left rather than digging into its own failures is displacing it, creating in a mediablitz saturation a multiplicity of metanarratives to replace that real and actual failure of the party, through a series of well coordinating obfuscations against Russia, Trump, the alt-right gang, etc. all in the name of clearing the Democratic Party of any responsibility for its own mistakes and failures. Rather than in creating a critical appraisal, diagnosis, and cure of its own misguided platforms it will for the next four years just continue to turn a blind eye toward itself, and program its constituents to see the rest of the world through the fictional lens of fascism, real or invented. This is not to say there want be a need for it, yet what I’m saying is that it will become overkill and a displacement of what it truly needed, which is a transformation of the Democratic Party’s own platform, along with the outmoded ideas and problematique of its current leadership.
In the book mentioned in the epigraph by Mark Fisher he describes Capitalist realism as that which cannot be confined to art or to the quasi-propagandistic way in which advertising functions. It is more like a pervasive atmosphere, conditioning not only the production of culture but also the regulation of work and education, and acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining thought and action. Our mediatainment industrial complex pervades the atmosphere as a mediator between the real and virtual worlds of politics in our world. From the mainstream Reuter’s to the most obvious examples of the Guardian (UK) to New York Times (US) to Washington Post (US) to any number of television and broadcasting stations, along with the various online ensembles of Facebook, Twitter, etc. A list that could grow into all the various international and nationalist news organizations around the globe.
Most average citizens do not have time to critically appraise every facet of the news, but rather take it all in stride: part cynical, part fantasy. It almost goes without saying that most people realize that the news is bent, is ideological in the sense that it is narrated through the lens of a specific viewpoint of political and social ideas and programs. That certain reporters are obviously of the Left or Right, and that people love to take sides with this sort of vague and undefined world of media crafted more for capturing attention blips for advertising dollars. Sensationalism is the order of the day, the more one can bash the other political party the better the ratings. So we’ve come to expect exaggeration and invective from our favorite media pundits, it just goes without saying. Yet, in the process of knowing this we pretend with ourselves that we don’t know this, so that we accept at face value what is reported as confirmation of our political hobby-horse. We love it to find out all the dirty details of an enemy opponent to satisfy our glib and cynical take on politics as usual. What this does is pacify us, turn us into cynical and passive normal who expect the world to continue down its course without us being able to change a thing. We just accept that the world is too complex and the leaders are all fools anyway, so what are we to do? We believe its all circus and clowns, so we just laugh and turn a blind eye; or, we sit on the sidelines our gaze turned toward the endless parade of media tomfoolery as if what is being portrayed is indeed reality. It’s not, and we know it, but we are too busy trying to survive in our actual real lives to do much about it. We see the protests and the violence and say: “See, there it is, violent youth blowing up banks, breaking glass… burning limousines…,” and shake our heads. And, do nothing, because we don’t think anything can be done. Isolated, alone, stuck in our separate cells, privatized and singular we feel helpless that anything will change. So fear pervades it all…
We ask ourselves is there a solution to this stupidity? We know there is, but we also know that we’ve been left out of the equation. That what we term representative democracy is a charade, it isn’t that at all. We are no longer represented by our leaders, all they do is spout slogans and in their actions do just the opposite. What we term holding them accountable is but to continue to vote for change the next time: an eternal rotation of useless leaders always spouting how they’ll change things for us, make our lives an easy road, bring us jobs, salvation, redemption… more bullshit as usual.
All the academic scholarship for the past hundred years has spoken to this in one way or another, but none have ever come up with a solution. Not one. Oh, they offer panaceas, certain reforms (isn’t that what the Progressive part is… the Reform party?). But what happens is that the reforms do not benefit the people but the Oligarchs, Corporations, and Bankers who back the politicians. People have almost begun to accept this, too. Sadly. As Mark will tell us in his book:
The result is a kind of postmodern capitalist version of Maoist confessionalism, in which workers are required to engage in constant symbolic self-denigration…. But don’t worry… any self-criticisms we make are purely symbolic, and will never be acted upon; as if performing self-flagellation as part of a purely formal exercise in cynical bureaucratic compliance were any less demoralizing.1
Of course he’s speaking of the politics of work and bureaucracy here, but one can read this as a fable of all politics. We have been taught that it is us, not the politicians that are responsible. Rather than a public forum, everything has been privatized, even the old notion of the Public. As Mark suggests “‘Being realistic’ may once have meant coming to terms with of a reality experienced as solid and immovable. Capitalist realism, however, entails subordinating oneself to a reality that is infinitely plastic, capable of reconfiguring itself at any moment.” (CR, p. 54) He’ll explain it as a fungible world, a world where the media acts a mediator between us and the Real, imposing its ideological screens as overlays to guide and instruct, indoctrinate and channel our desires for products, entertainment, and politics. As he’ll say it: “The ‘reality’ here is akin to the multiplicity of options available on a digital document, where no decision is final, revisions are always possible, and any previous moment can be recalled at any time.” (CR, p. 54)
Most people in our current blip culture no longer have the attention span of a mouse, everything becomes boring after a few sound bytes or images, much less the attention span needed to actually read or write something more than the space of a Twitter twit. Fake news has become more real than the actual truth of a story, people would rather believe a lie than the truth; and, in fact recently pundits argue that ours is a post-truth society. In a world that no longer has the distance or attention span to critically appraise the truth or validity of its news we are already living in a virtual tyranny controlled by powers over which we have no control.
Yet, we have to admit that a part of this is the blame of the very academics left that spawned the so called postmodern turn which undermined the whole tradition of critical reason itself. It’s attack on Kant and the undermining of classical metaphysics from Plato to now in deconstruction etc. was to end in an endless undecidability about anything whatsoever. Left in a world cut off from reality, the linguistic turn left us without an ability to think or even know what thinking is. Groundless and dancing in a figural sophistry of endless paradox and difference we’ve spawned the very fictional world we’re now living in. A refined skepticism, cynicism of irony endlessly churning in tis own surface world on non-meaning and virulent nihilism we’ve come to an end game where reality has turned inside out, and allowed the darkness outside in.
As Mark describes it:
If the Real is unbearable, any reality we construct must be a tissue of inconsistencies. What differentiates Kant, Nietzsche and Freud from the tiresome cliché that ‘life is but a dream’ is the sense that the confabulations we live are consensual. The idea that the world we experience is a solipsistic delusion projected from the interior of our mind consoles rather than disturbs us, since it conforms with our infantile fantasies of omnipotence; but the thought that our so-called interiority owe its existence to a fictionalized consensus will always carry an uncanny charge.(CR, pp. 55-56)
We’ve come to expect the scripts of reality to be written for us now in this late age. Rather than seeking truth for ourselves, we’d rather accept the scripted worlds of mediatainment fictions, realizing its more fun that way – we can laugh and joke at it and say it’s all entertainment, not real. But then we live through that moment of forgetting when in the quiet of our homes, staring at the face in the mirror we ask ourselves: “What is real? Am I real anymore?”
The point here is that the privatization of culture has blighted us. We are in that in-between state where everything is fiction, everything is narrative. Our cultural history, our memories are all mediated, filtered, spin crafted ideological positing’s that have no touch with reality, but are rather massaged and transformed in the lens of carefully crafted discourse and image narratives controlled by a blind bureaucracy that is faceless and out of site. In fact we’ve been under siege for a while now. The cultural forgetting of Western culture and civilization has been part of the academic left’s curriculum and project for a hundred years. The total annihilation of this two-thousand year old cultural matrix of concepts, ideas, and history has for years been under revision, castigation, modification, and deconstruction all leading to its demise. What we term humanism and humanity is a project for the Left in obsolescence. And, yet, there is nothing on offer to replace it but a slippery post-humanism that seems to wander through a thousand and one categories of if’s without any actual end in site. And, even then scholars can’t agree on just what this new beast is or will be.
Mark will suggest we are in that paradoxical in-between state of fear and terror of the present, because we can no longer make memories:
The memory disorder that is the correlative of this situation is the condition which afflicts Leonard in Memento, theoretically pure anterograde amnesia. Here, memories prior to the onset of the condition are left intact, but sufferers are unable to transfer new memories into long term memory; the new therefore looms up as hostile, fleeting, un-navigable, and the sufferer is drawn back to the security of the old. The inability to make new memories: a succinct formulation of the postmodern impasse…. (CR, p. 60)
This sense of living in a timeless present cut off from past or future is at the heart of our malaise. Comforted by a nostalgia for imaginary pasts we harbor childhood memories of a culture that never was, while living in a wasteland of impossible fictions in which nothing true can be retained or bound to a supportable memory. Because of this most people rely on the State not as either an Orwellian Big Brother, or as some kind of Paternal figure, but rather as a Nanny: “Although excoriated by both neoliberalism and neoconservativism, the concept of the Nanny State continues to haunt capitalist realism. The specter of big government plays an essential libidinal function for capitalist realism.” (CR, p. 62) This sense of someone who will just baby sit the world for us, who is there in the background picking up the pieces, setting things to right, cooking our meals, wiping our asses, doing everything but open our mouths and spoon-feed us.
But with the installation of Trump in the hot seat of the Presidency the Nanny State has gone bye bye, and now comes the age old Father returned from oblivion instilling the authority of the ancient lineage of power brokers: the androdominator as power monger who will now takeover and fix everything for us. Rather than the quiet smiley face of the Nanny State under Obama, we have the power brokers of yesteryear, the business and corporate efficiency of the black suit New Yorker who will rebuild the world from the ground up, or so the story goes…
Nietzsche in the 19th Century proclaimed the death of God. Foucault in the 20th Century proclaimed the dead of the Subject. Now we proclaim the death of the human itself at the hands of anti-human scholars. Yet, we are still here. Or are we? How can we know what to do about politics when we’re continuously told we no longer exist, that it is all passé, that the human Subject is but a neuroscientific illusion and delusion of a kludgy brain that through processes unknown entered into a an accidental production of consciousness (of which no neuroscientific or philosopher of Mind can speak to or definitely describe). We are told that this is nihilism: the age when all values are dispersed in a blank world of valueless judgments. Nietzsche prophesied and end to it when it would have completed itself. Which I assume he meant when everyone proclaims the end of all values and the acceptance that the world around us doesn’t give a shit one way or the other about humanity because it doesn’t even know we exist. Why? Because the universe is an agency, there is no Subject behind the screen, no fake Wizard of Oz of God speaking out of thunderstorms or mountains lighting rods of fire and brimstone. We are absolutely alone in a dark room with each other in a realm utterly devoid of answers or solutions. So this is ground Zero, the place of no place, the place from which we begin again… but this time with the knowledge of our utter desolation. Not despair as some assume, but desolation: the “condition of being ruined or wasted,” which is neither a place of despair or hope, but of reality. It’s from this desolation that we must begin and begin again to test the world against our words, our meanings. To wipe away the tears and sadness of our fictional ploys and narratives that have done much to lead us into this mess. We must build our words out of this desolation, for only then can we touch reality’s face and produce a community of shared values in a valueless universe.
At the beginning of the twentieth century W.B. Yeats said the “center cannot hold,” at the beginning of the twenty-first century the center is empty, the power and subject has vacated the premises and left a black hole of undecidability in its place. Politics is that black hole that the populism of Trump is supposedly a stuffing. But this center that cannot hold cannot be stuffed with supreme fictions or Reality TV stars. It will need something else… possibly just an acceptance that we don’t need the center anymore, we don’t need the Father, Mother, or Nanny to take care of us… that we are quite capable of pulling ourselves up by the sit of our pants and doing and thinking about what we really want rather than being told what we will get. Is this at all possible? Or, will we always depend and be dependent on some great Big Nobadday or Big Other to do for us what we will not do for ourselves?
As I finished that last sentence I added a question mark, realizing how much twaddle it was to expect people to ever free themselves of their delusions, desires, and deliriums, rather what will happen is the age old faltering and scapegoating of the other, of blame, of castigation and seeking someone to place the evil eye on; of displacement of responsibility and failure on the Other – whoever that other happens to be in the eyes of the media at any one moment. We are lazy and shiftless, we want our cake and eat it too. We’d rather depend on someone else to take on the responsibility of the world and our lives than we would. This is truth, too.
So for now the Left will place the Evil Eye on Trump because he is an easy target, a Reality TV bimbo billionaire that pop-starred his way into power through the very mechanisms of the Left’s mediatainment empire of signs. Rather than take on the responsibility to clean its own house, the Left would rather just dirty up the Trump house and fill it with all the evil under the rug of its resentment and shock at having been ousted from the seat of power (lessness). My mother used to tell my sister and I to look for a silver lining in the clouds after a storm, that that was a sign of hope in a dark time. My problem was that growing up in West Texas I’d look up after a hail storm and twisters to see not some silver lining on the black edged clouds, but rather the blotted face of a scorched red sun. I’d ask Mom about that, and she’d just whisper: “It’s a mystery!”
- Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (Zero Books) (p. 52). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.