Smart Cities and Dark Neoliberalism

As I was reading an article on the supposed hidden ideology underlying the rise of the Smart City on e-flux blog: The hidden ideology behind the “smart city”  I kept thinking to myself:

Look at New York City for a model of the coming Smart City as total ubiquitous control, and then think John Twelve Hawks Fourth Realm trilogy. Already NYC is becoming the mecca for such ubiquitous smart worlds seamlessly enclosing its citizens in a web of intelligence that will think for them – watch them, protect them, imprison them for their own good… the Nanny Corporate City of the Future will do for you what you want do for yourself. A sort of Progressive City of Ethical Control bound only by the Imperialism of Economic Neoliberalist Stocks and Algorithmic Governmentality. Sadly this collusion of the Establishment Left/Right in Washington and in such corporate cities as NYC will become addititve – adding such smart devices and upgrades over the coming decades. While in China or other sites it will become part of the galloping rise of all new cities.

This notion that we can intervene and shape this future seems iffy at best, because the very government that could intervene and do that through reform and regulation has as we see here in the U.S.A. vanished… with the divorce of Capitalism from Democracy (or, as here, the Federal Republic) the world will look more like China with a group of Oligarchic Overlords pushing agendas and guiding capitalism toward intensified obsolescence even as they marginalize humans for machinic life.

Politics has become for all basic purposes a mass spectacle, a media-event or Reality Studio festival of cannibalistic or zombie-fest brokerage for the masses and their naïve realism and hopeful belief that someone will save them from the truth. Nothing real left in such realms touches our lives, least of all the party establishments that seem hell-bent only on blasting each other to smithereens in some apocalypse of the warring factions. For the Dems it is the Russian apocalypse – a media circus to keep the ball off their own inability to provide a viable platform, so that all they have left is a three-ringed circus of accusation, ridicule, and pompous ass ethical slices at Trump and his family of inept clowns, politicians, and advisors. For the Publicans its’ a sort of back-tracked vision of re-establishing its old line of mainstays against the populist rage of its outer alt-Right hardliners, even as it plays a conservative hand for its mainstream members, and plays jokers wild for the extreme hands of its populist base. Is this the Deleuzean sign of a schizophrenizing capitalism finally playing out its endgame, or rather the endgame not of capitalism but of the spectacle of democracy? I think the latter… democracy has been a media bump for decades, a sort of treadmill of inanity awaiting the moment the digital maze would open and they could silently vanish into the void. We’ve never actually had a democracy except as rhetoric and stories for our children in literature and schools, and now even that is finally being exposed for what it is a complete fabrication and lie. It’s this lying part that is surfacing in our time as we see the mongrel morons in Washington try to save face not in the presence of their constituents (since we no longer trust them at all!), but rather to themselves and their benefactors on Wall-Street, Banks, and Oil Moghuls around the world… a sort of Custer’s last stand against their failing systems of illusion. For it is the Reality Studio of mediatainment that is faltering on the global stage with its pretentious universal message of freedom and democracy being shown up for what it is: a dream turned nightmare as we watch the Presidency become stage-craft and vaudeville shame-fest, while the Congress and Senate and Justice department trade spy-craft envelopes hoping it will all just go silently away… it want, of course, instead we see the Talking heads bobbing up and down across the fatal shores of oblivion as they sail off into the fractured world on the last Ship of Fools!

Continue reading

Have We No History? Have We No Gumption?

With all our efforts, money, and good intentions, we have not yet achieved a theater; and we have not, I believe, because we do not see life in historic and dramatic terms. Even our greatest novelists and poets, sensitive and subtle though they are, do not think dramatically, and should not be asked to, for they express themselves and us in other forms more suited to their visions (and ours). But we have come very close at moments to having great plays, if not a great theatrical tradition. When the Tyrone family stands in its parlor looking at the mad mother holding her wedding dress and knowing that all the good will in the world cannot undo what the past has done to them; when Willy Loman, the salesman, plunges again and again into the past to search for the point where it all went irremediably wrong and cannot find any one fatal turning point; when the Antrobus family, to end on a more cheerful note, drafts stage hands from backstage to take the place of sick actors, gathers its feeble and ever-disappointed hopes, puts its miserable home together again after another in a series of unending disasters stretching from the ice age to the present; then we are very close to accepting our entanglement in  the historical process and our status as actors, which may in time produce a true theater.

—Alvin B. Kernan, On American Drama

Maybe we have no history because Americans unlike the Janus faced god of the Romans live in that in-between fantasy land of false Utopian hope – bound on either side by our progressive heritage we lay waste to the past and future before we can ever see it. Having no fixed point or distance from this ruination, the processual decay of America proceeds apace our mythic dreams and nightmares.

On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

—H.L. Menken

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his I Have a Dream speech once surmised: “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.” For us the past is a force of despair not absolution or redemption, so we turn our heads into the Abyss and move forward like the dead rooting in the earth of possibility hoping against hope that we will find a way. This American optimism has found its loam in the earth of the people, rooted to a rootlessness which drives us to seek something that will hold us against the decay and ruins of Time. Yet, like children we naively follow our Pied Pipers into the sea of nothingness instead of digging down into that dark earth from whence we came. Holy fools and Tricksters, Madmen and Prophets have always guided this mass of idiocy, and we like some blind beast have always followed these creatures to our doom. Even now as we watch on as our leaders in Washington earn their reputation for bloodguards and idiots, we stand amazed that we ever thought such creatures were saviors and redeemers.

Look at the tyranny of party — at what is called party allegiance, party loyalty — a snare invented by designing men for selfish purposes — and which turns voters into chattles, slaves, rabbits, and all the while their masters, and they themselves are shouting rubbish about liberty, independence, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, honestly unconscious of the fantastic contradiction; and forgetting or ignoring that their fathers and the churches shouted the same blasphemies a generation earlier when they were closing their doors against the hunted slave, beating his handful of humane defenders with Bible texts and billies, and pocketing the insults and licking the shoes of his Southern master.

—Mark Twain – “The Character of Man”

Our history is a forgetfulness and a death, we peer neither into its decaying light nor seek from its dark passages a truth to hold us from despair. When we do speak of the past it is only to awaken distrust and skepticism of its power over us. We are all haunted by the ghosts of America. Even our great literature is Gothic through and through, haunted by murder, lust, hate, greed, and war. Our desires are imperial, our lives the bitter fruit of conquest and expansion. We do not want to know the past because it is the embodiment of our sins against humanity and ourselves.

That indefatigable Romantic critic, Harold Bloom tells us that “our greatest novelists and poets continue not to see life in historic and dramatic terms, precisely because our literary tradition remains incurably Emersonian, and Emerson shrewdly dismissed both history and drama as European rather than American”.

The American literary mode, whether narrative or lyric, tends towards romance and rumination, or fantastic vision, rather than drama. Emerson, genius of the shores of America, directed us away from history, and distrusted drama as a revel.

—Harold Bloom

As Flannery O’Connor suggested years ago we follow Hawthorne who wrote Romances rather than those social novelists like Charles Dickens. We embellish life, we are additive rather than subtractive. We are in excess of ourselves always boasting and lying, telling our tall tales of the impossible. We live in absentia – “absent while present” as Heraclitus once surmised of his Greek brethren. Our Puritan heritage could not see the past or future, rather it existed in a state of fugue: in-between the ruins, in the dark kenoma of this vast wilderness, an emptiness caught in the meshes of religious need like vipers in a pit unable to free ourselves of some dark stain.

Maybe history does not exist for us because it is the force of destiny, and we above all have had this sense of exceptionalism, a sense of mission – as if we were the fulfillment of some ancient prophetic world. As Reinhold Niebuhr once put it Americans live irony rather than speak it,

Irony consists of apparently fortuitous incongruities in life which are discovered, upon closer examination, to be not merely fortuitous. Incongruity as such is merely comic. It elicits laughter. This element of comedy is never completely eliminated from irony. But irony is something more than comedy. A comic situation is proved to be an ironic one if a hidden relation is discovered in the incongruity. If virtue becomes vice through some hidden defect in the virtue; if strength becomes weakness because of the vanity to which strength may prompt the mighty man or nation; if security is transmuted into insecurity because too much reliance is placed upon it; if wisdom becomes folly because it does not know its own limits—in all such cases the situation is ironic. The ironic situation is distinguished from a pathetic one by the fact that the person involved in it bears some responsibility for it. It is differentiated from tragedy by the fact that the responsibility is related to an unconscious weakness rather than to a conscious resolution. While a pathetic or a tragic situation is not dissolved when a person becomes conscious of his involvement in it, an ironic situation must dissolve, if men or nations are made aware of their complicity in it. Such awareness involves some realization of the hidden vanity or pretension by which comedy is turned into irony. This realization either must lead to an abatement of the pretension, which means contrition; or it leads to a desperate accentuation of the vanities to the point where irony turns into pure evil.1

The one distinct form America has given the world is the great stand-up comedians. They know just how evil we are and that their is nothing contrite in our hearts, instead we are the epitome of vanity. We are like Koheleth, the Preacher: “For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.  Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”2

As one of the characters says of old dead Willy Loman: “I’m gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have – to come out number-one man. He fought it out here, and this is where I’m gonna win it for him.” (Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, Act 2) This mythic numero uno – Top Dog! What a lie? Competition – King of the Muck Heap! Thing about that old saw, the “rags to riches” story – it was a lie and delusion from the beginning, all it gave us was a mountain of skulls. We think Pol Pot was evil, he had nothing on the simplest shoe salesman who ever trod the jungle cement of America. No siree!!! Each and everyone of us has put more humans in the pit than the worst dictator ever did in history.

“The two real political parties in America are the Winners and the Losers. The people don’t acknowledge this. They claim membership in two imaginary parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, instead.”

—Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Ah! You say I’m an idiot, a fool for saying such bosh… yes, I’m a fool, a foolish old crazy man who has seen the abyss of this history we all deny. This ancestral haunt where our dead even now roam the broken cities of this land like hungry animals, insatiable. As that bad boy, Howard Zinn lambasts,

All those histories of this country centered on the Founding Fathers and the Presidents weigh oppressively on the capacity of the ordinary citizen to act. They suggest that in times of crisis we must look to someone to save us: in the Revolutionary crisis, the Founding Fathers; in the slavery crisis, Lincoln; in the Depression, Roosevelt; in the Vietnam-Watergate crisis, Carter. And that between occasional crises everything is all right, and it is sufficient for us to be restored to that normal state. They teach us that the supreme act of citizenship is to choose among saviors, by going into a voting booth every four years to choose between two white and well-off Anglo-Saxon males of inoffensive personality and orthodox opinions.3

It’s true, we’ve never trusted ourselves to do what needs to be done, instead we always believe someone else will do it for us. Followers, one and all, we follow our leaderless leaders to our doom. It’s always been our way. We work and live in a muddle, to tired to think we sit back passively and let the Talking Heads blather on about what these fake leaders are doing once again to make our lives miserable. But no, do we protest – well, some do, some go out into the streets and shout it’s all bullshit, and we’re being taken down a road to perdition and madness on a Ship of Fools. But it doesn’t matter how many gather in some city, or march on Washington because no one in that pure white monstrosity of a building gives a shit what we are voicing – our voice doesn’t matter to them. Their ear is plugged into the ass of Wall Street and the .01% of those pirates who have stolen our lives, our children’s lives, and our grand-children’s lives… and, possibly in our time the very lives of the species we once termed human: homo sapiens.

Maybe I am a wind-bag, just one more angry deluded Joe on the Street. So be it… I don’t expect much, just everything. I expect that if we don’t get up off our asses and do something about the stupidity up in Washington then we deserve everything we’re going to get coming our way. Destruction, chaos, death? You’re dam right… so what you goin’ to do about it? Huh?

Maybe we will all end like Joe Lon in Harry Crews A Feast of Snakes in a murderous rage on some dead end ridge in the killing fields where snakes and humans alike feed off each other in the eternal round of this hellish paradise; else in the silence of hopeless dreams or nightmares, where reality meshes with the stubborn truth of our deepest desires and fears:

Then he had gone carefully to sleep, a deep dreamless sleep, because he knew and accepted for the first time that things would not be different tomorrow. Or ever. Things got different for some people. But for some they did not. There were a lot of things you could do though. One of them was to go nuts trying to pretend things would someday be different. That was one of the things he did not intend to do.4

So which will it be for you? Nutsville? Or the path less taken, some dark road to oblivion all your own?


  1. Niebuhr, Reinhold. The Irony of American History . University of Chicago Press – A. Kindle Edition.
  2. Carroll, Robert; Stephen Prickett. The Bible: Authorized King James Version (Oxford World’s Classics) (Kindle Locations 21367-21369). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States (p. 631). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
  4. Harry Crews. A Feast of Snakes (Kindle Locations 2395-2398). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

 

Twelve Mortal Men

THE TWELVE MORTAL MEN

The Forks Falls highway is three miles from the town, and it is here the chain gang has been working. The road is of macadam, and the county decided to patch up the rough places and widen it at a certain dangerous place. The gang is made up of twelve men, all wearing black and white striped prison suits, and chained at the ankles. There is a guard, with a gun, his eyes drawn to red slits by the glare. The gang works all the day long, arriving huddled in the prison cart soon after daybreak, and being driven off again in the gray August twilight. All day there is the sound of the picks striking into the clay earth, hard sunlight, the smell of sweat. And every day there is music. One dark voice will start a phrase, half-sung, and like a question. And after a moment another voice will join in, soon the whole gang will be singing. The voices are dark in the golden glare, the music intricately blended, both somber and joyful. The music will swell until at last it seems that the sound does not come from the twelve men on the gang, but from the earth itself, or the wide sky. It is music that causes the heart to broaden and the listener to grow cold with ecstasy and fright. Then slowly the music will sink down until at last there remains one lonely voice, then a great hoarse breath, the sun, the sound of the picks in the silence.

And what kind of gang is this that can make such music? Just twelve mortal men, seven of them black and five of them white boys from this county. Just twelve mortal men who are together.

—Carson McCullers, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

Should We Take Slavoj Žižek Seriously?

Slavoj Žižek has always been a thorn in my side. Why? Between his being on the one hand a sort of modern Pied Piper leading the young astray – a sort of  Slovenian Socrates awakening the young to the wisdom not of Greece but of Hegel and Lacan. But what is this strange wisdom he would bestow on us? Dialectical Materialism? What beast is this that comes our way? Never shy about his stance he tells us dialectical materialism is the only “true philosophical inheritor of what Hegel designates as the speculative attitude of the thought towards objectivity.”1 Agon Hamza offers us a working definition of Žižek’s core philosophy, saying: “dialectical materialism concerns the most radical attempt to ground subjectivity qua subjectivity into objectivity—not merely to find the hidden “objective reality” of thought, but he uses Lacan and Hegel to ground subjectivity in its negative character in the real”.2

Whoa… not so fast, you say! What is this grounding of “subjectivity qua subjectivity,” and – even more, what is this hidden “objective reality” of thought, and why return to Hegel or Lacan – and, most of all, why ground subjectivity in its – what? – “negative character in the real”. What is this “Real,” you ask? Like most commentary on  Žižek, and even in  Žižek’s own commentaries, none of this is made easy or explicit except in long and tedious passages which seem to fold and unfold and refold in infinite circular patterns like a some Ouroboros eating its own tail or an opening of a mysterious portal into the impossible? One seeks clarification and is given instead obfuscation and a litany of concepts that must be traced back through the various sources both primary and secondary until in the end one is left with a conundrum rather than a solution to one’s query. But then again maybe its this sense that there are no easy solutions, no pat answers to the difficulties of dialectical materialism. Instead there are questions and more questions. But, then again, hasn’t this been obvious from the beginning, hasn’t Žižek himself said repeatedly that he has no answers, only more questions?

Continue reading