The Reality Wars: The Invented World vs. the Outside

The conservative revolution, which is the historical reality of financialization, has globalized consumerism and taken it to extreme levels by destroying the processes of binding the drives in which investments in sublime objects of all kinds consist. But if so, the current and very recent hegemony of the industry of traces is what attempts to control these unbound drives through automatisms founded on social networks while at the same time functionalizing them, that is, making them serve a ‘personalized’ stimulation of the consumerist drive, via mimetic mechanisms that, however, only end up making these drives more uncontrollable, contagious and threatening than ever.

—Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society: The Future of Work

Of course the conservative revolution of financialization is what those on the far left love to term neoliberalism, a hyperbolic metaphor that for different scholars, talking heads, media pundits, academic thinkers, cultural critics, sociologists has become a label for almost everything that has supposedly gone wrong with our world. Since at least the eighties with the rise of those conservative leaders Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher this strange consensus that the world is driven by mad Oligarchs and Moghuls: a mafia capitalism if you will, pervades the mindset of the liberal reformists of the official progressive world view. What is usually left out is that this, too, is a grand narrative, a fictionalization and hyperstitional pun that has taken root in our collective psyche to the point that whatever may really go on in the real world is usually left out of the picture received by most citizens. Yes, we love to live in our fictions of the world, rather than in the world.

But that’s the funny thing about reality, whatever doesn’t fit the puzzle, fit the picture one has of the world, universe, or – yes, let’s have it: politics, then, yes, we just go with the flow, let the music of the pundits fly. We ate lazy animals, who live in our closed off shells of reality, an artificial world of symbols and language, a cultural order that replaces the world for our world. What philosophers love to term the Other is this untidy outside of our comfortable little cultural prison house of fictions. What they mean by the real is all that that provides obstacles to our pretty little pictures of the world, those odd things that break our vision, that want fit the puzzle, that seem to cause havoc with our systems of thought and our mental maps. Immanuel Kant was one of those that would stop all that, who labeled the untidy and unruly outside the ‘noumenon’ – an abstract word to cover over the stuff that doesn’t fit nicely into all our epistemic (intellectual and knowledge based mental images, our given world, etc.). The Idealists after Kant would take this motif to the extreme and invent a dualism of mind/world, culture/nature, etc. that would infiltrate most of modern Western culture and thought since the Enlightenment. We would come to know only the world for us, rather than knowing what things are in themselves we would become satisfied with what they are for us – that is, the world of the given.

This inward turn in philosophy would tear apart our trust in what is real, which over a period of two hundred years would break apart our world and the meanings we share about reality. We’ve all seen the subtle rise of the notion of nihilism, when the world has lost its meaning, become de-valued, rift from the human mind, etc., a world depleted of human knowing and left in a blank place of the unknown. Instead we were told by Kant and his followers that all we need be concerned about is the world for us – the phenomenal world of appearances. It’s this world of glitz and glitter, the world of things give to us ready made, the real world is this world we create out of our mental pictures, and whatever doesn’t quite fit that mental frame must be wrong, must be left out of the picture, exorcised, bracketed.

For the average citizen of most Western countries all this is just puzzles philosophers love to ponder, nothing more. Problem is that philosophers have usually been the ones to uncover the strange quirks in our human world, the errors and bad mental fallacies we can all fall into. Ezra Pound once said the poets were the “antennae of the world,” for me at least philosophers are the handy men and engineers of the reality machines that invent our world moment by moment. They tinker with the equipment, they pull the cranks, push the buttons, pop the wires that keep this old machine of the world going. But something happened along the way in this tinkering of the reality machine, a new tribe arose that seemed to take the philosophers seriously, who seemed better fit than the philosophers to actually uncover the mechanisms of the world order and understand just how much is real and fake. We call these wonder workers by the term scientists, after scientia, a Latin term:

mid-14c., “what is known, knowledge (of something) acquired by study; information;” also “assurance of knowledge, certitude, certainty,” from Old French science “knowledge, learning, application; corpus of human knowledge” (12c.), from Latin scientia “knowledge, a knowing; expertness,” from sciens (genitive scientis) “intelligent, skilled,” present participle of scire “to know,” probably originally “to separate one thing from another, to distinguish,” related to scindere “to cut, divide,” from PIE root *skei- “to cut, to split” (source also of Greek skhizein “to split, rend, cleave,” Gothic skaidan, Old English sceadan “to divide, separate;” see schizo-).

As you can see from the above etymology science is about knowledge, a way of separating, cutting, splitting, abstracting, dividing the true from false, of testing the mind’s tools against the world. Scientists are experts in knowledge of what is. Skilled investigators of the phenomenal realms. Rather than sitting back and contemplating the world from afar like philosophers, speculating and pondering the workings of the mind or nature, the scientists would take a more pragmatic turn and actually test the world against their speculations (theories). It is this pragmatic instrumentalism that pervades the sciences which have delved into both the largest (macrocosm) and smallest (microcosm) objects and things in the universe of the known. For scientist discover what works and what doesn’t. They invent instruments to probe the world and universe more subtly than the mind alone can do. Science uses artificial instruments, things invented by the mind to work the world. What is unknown may be there but science uses only the more subtle arts of mathematics to probe the edges of that difficult terrain. Scientists influenced by several thousand years of philosophical speculation have furthered the probing of reality not through pure thought and natural language, but through the artificial language of math and numbers.

Someday some bright young thinker is going to trace this whole artificializing process across the various cultures and civilizations, how humans over millennia humanized themselves through these various artificial processes of natural language and mathematics. A cultural history of the artificial planet we all now live in. In the past few decades some bright humans seemed to wake up and realize that we’ve all been duped, that we’ve been immersed in an artificial world for so long that we’ve forgotten it was invented by us to replace reality. Philosophers for some time now have been attacking this sleeping disease. Nietzsche would be the end game master of this process realizing that humans love their illusions, that they need their illusions to get on with life. That art and artifice are what humans need to live. Take away art and artifice, technics and technology and humans would rejoin the apes in the jungles. It is this artificial leap from the animal kingdom into a world of technics and technology that gave humans the impetus to invent themselves.

Philosophers have for two centuries not been too happy about this state of affairs, attacking this illusionary world we’ve all built for ourselves in various cultural forms. They to a tee are so upset about this strange state of affairs that they’ve argued from one extreme to another just what we can do to rid ourselves of these errors, fallacies, illusions, etc. There is something about humans that seem to love to dichotomize the world and each other. From speculations about life, politics, religion, history, culture, economics, etc. there seem to be humans on one side of an issue or the other. We have been at war over reality for tens of thousands of years. In my own little nightmare I sometimes think that our earth was seeded by a malevolent species from the stock of two ultra extreme planetary species who by a genetic quirk were able to transmit their heritage and intermingle. We being their descendants have been at war ever since, our psyches attuned to some gravitational pull of thought that seems in direct and diametrically opposing views to the other. We are our own worst enemies, vying with each other over the truth and validity of the other’s right to the Reality System.

Of course this is my own little fiction, my own way of making sense of the endless strife on our planet among conservative and progressive forces across the known cultures and civilizations.

Bernard Stiegler being on the progressive side of the line offers his slanted vision of the world, too. He speaks it as if his view is the ‘correct’ view, as if he holds the eternal truth, as if those who do not share his view must be on the other side of the fence – and, wrong. For conservative or liberal, the one or the other must be wrong-headed. Liberals hate conservatives, Conservatives hate liberals. The war goes on. A cartoon Hegel would say it’s just the dialectic working itself out. A cartoon Marx would agree but say it’s not people but the material base and superstructure working itself out. Of course both are right and wrong, and neither of these cartoon versions of Hegel or Marx are an accurate picture of those two subtle thinkers concepts. Yet, we live with the cartoons rather than spend time to understand the subtleties of both thinkers lives and works. So it goes (Vonnegut).

Like others I have my own hyperstitional mindset, a world of thought and feeling grafted out of a lifetime of reading and being-in-process (becoming). As a critical mind I’ve tried to distance myself from taking sides when I review and provide commentary, but even that is a little lie. For we all take sides: we take our own side in everything. Take for instance the notion of the Self/Subject. For forty years the ring of Foucault that along with Nietzsche’s “God is dead” (meaning nihilism reigns), he would broadcast the other notion that the “author is dead”. By this he meant that our human notion of Self/Subject is mute, that it is a non-entity, that the persona behind the mask of a writer, thinker, lover, painter, musician, husband, wife, etc. is all sham, a lie, a fiction, a meta-fiction. We’ve invented the self out of a tissue of fictions, mere rhetorical strategies of language; nothing more.

Freud would build on the heritage of 19th Century thought about the Kantian world of the inner man, the world of the Self/Subject and find madness and nightmares. He would uncover the irrational and mindless, even impersonal world of drives (Trieb). He would discover humanity’s tendency to entropy and death. That life was nothing but a long and circuitous route to death taken by the human organic energy system through a carefully orchestrated process of sublimation (i.e., the art of illusion making). He’d learn from the poets and philosophers that humans are irrational animals, and that Reason is an artificial control system built over this irrational beast of the inner man to regulate and control those dark and erotic, even violent drives.

If Freud were alive today he’d gasp at the stupidity of our thinkers in stripping humanity of its illusions. A realist, Freud knew like T.S. Eliot that humans could not bare too much reality. Naked of our sublime art and illusions we are mere play things of the irrational forces of our erotoviolent and inhuman inner processes. In an old religious iconic attribute: we’ve all become demons and demonized reality. We are living out our own irrational and daemonic nightmares in a literal death-driven world of hate and total violence. Psychopathy and sociopathy is our second nature. We have stripped ourselves of what Nick Land terms the “Human Security Systems” that have protected us from the truth of the world, and now that we are awake there is nothing new to replace this bare world of eros and thanatos we’ve entered. We are in the death throes of human planetary civilization. Of course there are paths out of this…

We need only return to the failed prophets, saviors, Buddhas, Christs, etc. to see that humanity has always had certain individuals who had the Truth, the Way, the Life. Someone else we could turn to and say, “Here, this guy knows what to do, let’s listen to him, let’s follow him…”. Problem is we never look to our own lives, we always think the other fellow over there has the answer to our deepest dilemmas. Rather than facing the music ourselves we cop out and hand it all to some other fellow who says he can save us from ourselves if we will only do this or that… but that’s another tale.

Isn’t this after all what Stiegler is doing? Isn’t he just one more intellectual thinker who thinks he has the answer to our problems, a sort of modern secular savior, a man who has found a scheme in all the past glories of philosophical speculation and formed his own little system of axioms, concepts, rhetorical strategies to tell us what has been told in various forms for millennia. We are all asleep in a fictional world that we created together to protect us from the truth of Reality? And, now that that fiction is no longer working, now that Reality (Climate, War, Famine, Genocide, the endless litany of entropy and death…) isn’t aligning with our image of it we are lost in a cosmos without meaning or value (a complete nihilism). The truth is that there is no Big Other, no Saviour, no Redeemer or God or Financier or Thinker or …. there is no one coming to fix the mess we all created together. And playing the endless blame game of conservative or liberal politics isn’t going to change things one iota, in fact the illusion of stage show politics is to keep us in the circle of non-change, keep us blaming the illusionary media hosts of the current world zoo of leaders. Blaming someone else for the state of the world. Of course it’s not me, of course it’s all too complex for little ole me, of course I’m powerless, of course I’m just one person…. I’m just human, after all. We invent our excuses to absolve ourselves of blame for the death of the planet and humanity. We believe we are not responsible, it’s those others, those conservatives, those liberals… it must be them – it can’t be me. Oh, but it is, my friend. It has always been you, and you, and… yes, me… we’re all guilty as charged. We all stand before the court of Reality charged with our escapes, our lies, our illusions. And the verdict is that there is no verdict. Reality couldn’t give a shit one way or the other about verdicts: it is absolute indifference, absolute impersonality, absolute force and drive and irrational blind energy. It is chaosmos.

And, of course, as usual, I went off on a tangent today… more tomorrow or…leave you with one final quote by Stieger,

The channelling of the drives through the application of mathematical algorithms to automatized social control can do nothing but push these drives to a highly dangerous level, by dis-integrating them – and in so doing creating what Félix Guattari called ‘dividuals’.28 With the advent of reticular reading and writing via networks made accessible to everyone through the implementation, beginning in 1993, of the technologies of the world wide web, digital technologies have led hyper-industrial societies towards a new stage of proletarianization – through which the hyper-industrial age becomes the era of systemic stupidity, which can also be called functional stupidity.(AS)

As we enter the bright new world of Automatic Society we begin to see that we are being automated and stripped of our exit strategies, made into functionally stupid idiots who will naively accept this new world through the enticements of gadgets, endless echo-chambers of chit-chat, MMO’s, repetitive games, media lies, all mindless and naked systems under the control of machinic intelligences so ubiquitous we will think it is a miracle. But even miracles are a stage show magician’s best act… but like any new show, the show becomes old and worn, people forget the cutting edge of its strangeness, it suddenly becomes a part of the background, accepted, a truism…. after a few generations people will no longer know that they were once human, they will have become other…