Utopian Speculation: Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown

UP TO NOW, it has been one of the principal tenets of the critical theory of society (and particularly Marxian theory) to refrain from what might be reasonably called utopian speculation.

– Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation

Emerson once remarked that Americans lived in the ‘optative mood’ – The Transcendentalist (1842):

Our American literature and spiritual history are, we confess, in the optative mood; but whoso knows these seething brains, these admirable radicals, these unsocial worshippers, these talkers who talk the sun and moon away, will believe that this heresy cannot pass away without leaving its mark.

Marcuse, a child of Marxian thought,  and native of Germany could have agreed with Emerson up to a point, but would have added only the communist dictum of Marx himself that the optative mood of communism is “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.” What Marcuse did say in his Essay on Liberation is that “what is denounced as “utopian” is no longer that which has “no place” and cannot have any place in the historical universe, but rather that which is blocked from coming about by the power of the established societies.”1

So it was the repressive/oppressive regimes of both the liberal and socialist states of his era that he saw as the problem that was causing a blockage to all those creative potentials that needed to be released through utopian realization. As he put it “the question is no longer: how can the individual satisfy his own needs without hurting others, but rather: how can he satisfy his needs without hurting himself, without reproducing, through his aspirations and satisfactions, his dependence on an exploitative apparatus which, in satisfying his needs, perpetuates his servitude?” (KL 69-71) That Marcuse was correct in his diagnoses but incorrect in the treatment is old hat. He saw that we needed a new direction, and new institutions and relationships of production, ones that would express the ascent of needs and satisfactions very different from and even antagonistic to those prevalent in the exploitative societies. Yet, he based his criteria on a malformed notion of ‘instincts’ and their liberation:

Such a change would constitute the instinctual basis for freedom which the long history of class society has blocked. Freedom would become the environment of an organism which is no longer capable of adapting to the competitive performances required for well-being under domination, no longer capable of tolerating the aggressiveness, brutality, and ugliness of the established way of life.(KL 74-77).

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The Global Cartoon: Empire in the 21st Century

Today, the new corporations and sectors associated with technocapitalism are influencing how we view human existence, life and nature, and are well on their way to impose new realities.

–  Luis Suarez-Villa

What I’m about to portray is the sort of open nightmare of a neoliberalist future, a dystopic vision of the control machine of this corporatist socio-cultural complex extended to maximum overdrive, an open-ended structure for an unfinished history of the future. As I think through many of the current issues of my dystopic novel trilogy I’m working through the layers of this world building scenario, stretching the canvas and extrapolating based on certain known givens in our present society and technologies.

As food scarcity becomes more and more apparent in the years to come, and as a result health, nutrition, and global food production take on ominous priority within the socio-political spectrum we will begin seeing technology and capital merging in ways that may become irreversible. The use of bioengineered seeds may introduce anomalies that in the short term resolves the food crises but introduces unknown variables into the genetic heritage of life on earth as we’ve known it. With the promise of bioengineering and synthetic life forms corporate entities are transforming inorganic matter into living organisms, all the while patenting them as private property for marketability in some future economic system. These corporate entities operations will very likely lead to the creation of myriad living organisms, from viruses that can generate disease to microbes that produce fuels, to human organs for replacement, to new animal species and possibly humanoids, all created as corporate property. A new industry and a vast new market may thus be created for synthetic life, affecting most any aspect of human existence and of nature.

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The New Cold War: Global Competition for Natural Resources

Competition for dwindling supplies of natural resources is at the heart of global economic and political conflict. It’s an open wound that will no soon heal. While the UN holds conferences on Sustainability the true power players are under the cloak of vying for the remaining resources of the world. Exploiting every region and its peoples, these nations and financial institutions could give a rats ass about human suffering. They hold their grand conferences while behind the scenes the keep on digging deeper, polluting more, toxifying what remaining water and food sources we have. Even in what they want for the future (here) you can see the actual non-commitment and non-cooperation in their continual use of such terms as “We acknowledge..”, “We recognize…”, “We encourage…”, “We view…”, “We note…”, “We reaffirm…”, “We underscore…”, etc. all leaving it up to someone else to actually do something, but for us we’ll just acknowledge, recognize, view, note, encourage, reaffirm, and underscore the need for such sustainability, but we reserve the right to not do it ourselves… Ah the modern diplomat, such a wonderful thing the United Nations, or should we term it the Disunited Nations and be done with it?

Spiegel Online says we’re already in the midst of a new Cold War over these resources. As Eric Follath remarks: “We live in an age of dramatic distribution battles over resources that are becoming increasingly scarce and yet required in ever-growing amounts. It’s also an age in which international politics are increasingly determined by questions of energy security. The cards are just now being reshuffled for potential winners and losers. Americans have discovered India as a new strategic partner, and energy-hungry China is making overtures to its old rival Russia.” (here) The Guardian reports that “the global battle for natural resources – from food and water to energy and precious metals – is only beginning, and will intensify to proportions that could mean enormous upheavals for every country, leading academics and business figures told a conference in Oxford on Thursday.” (here)

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Dubai – City-State of the Future: Globalism, Plutocracy and Social Exclusion

Nietzsche once warned us that if a State ever delivered on the promise of a good life for the greatest number that “it would destroy the earth from which a man of great intellect, or any powerful individual grows”(145).1 Our gurus and pundits of the Cathedral worlds of neoliberalism hype up these new City-States arising out of the sea of a broken democracy and communism as if we were already living in the future. JP Morgan Chase and the Brookings Institution have teamed up to launch the five-year, $10 million Global Cities Initiative:

Brookings and JPMorgan Chase will co-host a series of domestic and global forums in collaboration with local, metropolitan area leaders to drive discussions, build consensus, and catalyze action about best practices and strategies for regional economic growth. ‪ Using Brookings’ data-driven analysis and original research, metropolitan leaders will evaluate their regional standings on crucial economic measures and be exposed to best policy and practice innovations from around the world.

The City of the future will be based on a corporate model. “The goal is not perfection in  a single city, but more effective innovation and competition, so that the best  cities prosper and other cities emulate them. There are enough mobile people that one city’s success won’t harm others; on the contrary, it is more likely to  encourage existing cities to change, just as new market entrants force  incumbents to improve. Sometimes, in order for evolution to do its best work,  the individual components need some intelligent design.” (Urban Intelligent Design) Notice that migrant workers, and even the intellectual elite have become ‘mobile people’, and the now defunct comment on ‘evolution’ as a driver for economic change. And, even God gets his due: she allows the old conception of ‘intelligent design’ in through the back door.

As one pundit, Alan Berube, remarks: “The evolving idea of the  “global city,” coined two decades ago by the sociologist Saskia Sassen, further  demonstrates the city’s crucial position in global trade. Global trade is not pleasant;  it is fiercely competitive, and policymakers must address the short-term costs  that it routinely imposes on people and places.” (Return of the Trading City) Don’t you love these euphemisms: ‘short-term costs’, – military power, gun running, contraband and smuggling, slavery and human trafficking, money laundering and terror funding, etc. And, all this, handled with a smile by your friendly financial institution of choice in the free-zones of global trading paradises.

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J.G. Ballard: The Calculus of Desire and Hope

The narrators are in these texts caught in a triangular pattern of relationships in which they are drawn to authority figures who urge them to accept and embrace the twisted social logics they uncover.

– Andrzej Gasiorek, JG Ballard

‘Not really.’ Gould finished my coffee and pushed the empty cup back to me. ‘It isn’t only the psychopath who can grasp the idea of absolute nothing. Even a meaningless universe has meaning. Accept that and everything makes a new kind of sense.’

– J.G. Ballard, Millennium People

Have we entered the last stage of the game, a game-theoretic that has played itself out in ever more duplicitous cycles within cycles for the past hundred years or so? I’m speaking of the shifting sands of both economic and political ideologies as played out in the modeling hijinks of its greatest ideologues as each in turn has vied for the space of politics?  It was Henri Lefebvre who once, optimistically said to us that the declining State would be dissolved not so much into “society” in an abstract sense as into a reorganized social space. At this stage, the State would be able to maintain certain functions, including that of representation. The control of flows, the harmony between flows internal and external to a territory, will require that they be oriented against the global firms and, by implication, will also require a general management of a statist type during a certain transitional period. This can only lead toward the end goal and conclusion by means of the activity of the base: spatial (territorial) autogestion, direct democracy and democratic control, affirmation of the differences produced in and through that struggle.1 Do we believe in such myths anymore? Is this another throwaway idea that has had its day and gone under the crunch of globalism? Is Democracy like Communism before it running scared? Is capitalism like some dark infestation freed of a shadow substance leaving its cloaked narrative of freedom and democracy in the dustbin of history like all other lost causes?  What comes next? Will the totalitarian regimes of the future offer us everything we always wanted rather than depriving us of our livelihoods? The blueprints for our postliberal dictatorships are in the works even now: the totalitarian future will be subservient and ingratiating, catering to our every need, and only asking in return that we willingly give up our freedom for the security and comfort of a fully posthuman life. Cyborgs or transhumanists of a technocratic future we will live in the terminal zones of a paradise run by executives who are as affectless and apathetic as an alien from some machinic universe.

They like that. They like the alienation … There’s no past and no future. If they can, they opt for zones without meaning – airports, shopping malls, motorways, car parks. They’re in flight from the real.

– JG Ballard, from Millenium People

Yet, as Ben Woodard says in his new and excellent work, On an Ungrounded Earth: Toward a New Geophilosophy: Here we wish to subject the earth to pain – not as a somatized creature, but as a planet, the glob of baked matter that it is – in order to test its limitropic porosity and see how much ungrounding the earth can take before it ceases to be simultaneously and example of nature’s product and also its productivity.“2 Maybe we’re entering a new era, an era of planetary upheaval, of political and socio-cultural instability and transformation, that from one perspective might look like the grand collapse of civilization, but from another might tend more toward some form of breaktrhough in which the great wars for the earth take on a new and insidious meaning… Maybe what we’re seeing is the end of the Liberal worldview, with its system of enlightened governance that has ruled Western Civilization for at least two centuries. If this is so then what is coming our way?

A postliberal world of decay and decadence, fraught with both internal/external conflicts within science, culture, politics, and love? With the death knell of tyrannical communism and the slow death of liberal democracy is there something else on the horizon? We see the old guard  on both sides of the fence crying foul, saying that neither of these are finished, that there will always be one of these two views of life resurgent in our midst in one form or another. But is this true? Isn’t the devil out of the bag? Hasn’t capitalism in our time finally slayed the dragon of its own duplicitous  marriage to democracy? We’ve heard this before, haven’t we?

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Mencius Moldbug: A Short Lesson from a Sith Lord

America is the Jedi nation, and it’s natural that we fear the ancient peril of the Sith.

– Mencius Moldbug

Soon there developed in Western Europe two great political ideologies, centered around this new revolutionary phenomenon: the one was Liberalism, the party of hope, of radicalism, of liberty, of the Industrial Revolution, of progress, of humanity; the other was Conservatism, the party of reaction, the party that longed to restore the hierarchy, statism, theocracy, serfdom, and class exploitation of the old order.

– Murray N. Rothbard,   Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty

Mencius Moldbug would have us believe he is one of the Lords of Light, a Jedi Prince of the Right, a prophet of the new doom that hangs over America like some deadly Death Star. Yet, as we take a closer look we discover the error of our ways, if we look into the dark pupils we begin to notice another light, a darker light, the visible darkness of a Sith Lord. Yes, my friends, this is no naïve Jedi Master, this a veritable prince of darkness. One of the first lessons he teaches us on his now infamous blog is that “its goal is to cure your brain“. I kid you not. As he says in his first ‘general introduction’ there isn’t anything difficult about his message, in fact its as simple as realizing that Mencius Moldbug is the direct opposite of Noam Chomsky. “As a broad generalization, UR’s stance in any controversy will be the opposite of Chomsky’s.” Why Chomsky? Why not Badiou or Zizek, much more prominent and respected intellectuals in the philosophical world? Is it because Chomsky is American? Because he is a part of the American Elite Academia? Because he represent the old guard of the libertarian socialist traditions?

Well, as we know Noam Chomsky is a libertarian socialist which he describes against the backdrop of classical liberalism:

Ideologically, they are in agreement that the functions of the state are repressive and that state action must be limited. The libertarian socialist goes on to insist that state power must be eliminated in favor of democratic organization of industrial society, with direct popular control over all institutions by those who participate in-as well as those who are directly affected by-the workings of these institutions. So one might imagine a system of workers’ councils, consumers’ councils, commune assemblies, regional federations, and so on, with the kind of representation that’s direct and revocable, in the sense that representatives are directly answerable to and return directly to the well-defined and integrated social group for which they speak in some higher order organization-something obviously very different than our system of representation.1

What do we really have here?  As we study the above two things become obvious: 1) The State is the Enemy; and, 2) Power belongs to the Producers, the Workers, the People not the State. Other than that he seems to bandy about for some kind of organizational framework within which to allow for a free and open society of workers to govern themselves through democratic processes. What that may entail has been blueprinted by a score of previous thinkers in both the classical liberal and socialist anarchistic traditions. He seems to be non-committal about the specifics and details of such a system almost as if it were a grey zone, a sort of zero-point beyond which thought cannot go.

Now if this is libertarian socialism and Chomsky’s vision then what is it that Mencius Moldbug all hot about? Why does he feel it necessary to oppose Chomsky’s libertarian socialism. If one could define it in just two words, those words would be ‘property rights’. Along with the State the libertarian socialist would do away with private property. But never fear there is on the opposite end of the anarchistic tradition another theory: libertarian capitalism. As one of its latter day proponents Hans-Hermann Hoppe tells us that “private property is an inescapable institution in a world of scarcity”, and draws on the work of contemporary European philosophy – the Austrian School of Economics and their progeny – to make his claims more robust than any of his intellectual predecessors did.2 Hoppe stands with a long line of anarchist thinkers who see the state as playing a purely destructive role in society. But unlike the main line of thinkers in this tradition, Hoppe’s thinking is not encumbered by utopian illusions about society without the state. He follows Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard in placing private property as a central element in social organization. Hoppe in a recent interview tells us:

…there are rich people, mostly from the class of political leaders in control of the state-apparatus and from the state-connected elites of banking and big business, who are rich, because they have been directly engaged in, or indirectly benefitted from, confiscation, theft, trickery and fraud. Such people should not be left alone, but instead be condemned and despised as gangsters. The same applies to poor people. There are poor people, who are honest people, and therefore should be left alone. They may not be heroes, but they deserve our respect.(ibid.)

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Dystopic Thoughts: 21st Century Neurototalitarianism

On BBT, all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. Ironically enough, many have sought intentional asylum within that poverty in the form of apriori or pragmatic formalisms, confusing the lack of information for the lack of substantial commitment, and thus for immunity against whatever the sciences of the brain may have to say.

– R. Scott Bakker, Reactionary Atheism

In my previous post I centered on the statement all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. And that we know that informatic poverty is defined as that situation in which individuals and communities, within a given context, do not have the requisite skills, abilities or material means to obtain efficient access to information, interpret it  apply it appropriately. It is further characterized by a lack of essential information and a poorly developed information infrastructure.

I also want to return to the previous quote:

The epoch of intentional philosophy is at an end. It will deny and declaim–it can do nothing else–but to little effect. Like all prescientific domains of discourse it can only linger and watch its credibility evaporate into New Age aether as the sciences of the brain accumulate ever more information and refine ever more instrumentally powerful interpretations of that information. It’s hard to argue against cures. Any explanatory paradigm that restores sight to the blind, returns mobility to the crippled, not to mention facilitates the compliance of the masses, will utterly dominate the commanding heights of cognition. (ibid)

In the statement above I began to visualize a future where people were divided by genetic profiles and forced into dystopic conclaves of the stupid, the knowledgeable, and the players. This tripartite division came to me from Scott’s statement above about people through the power of science, and especially of neuroscience, being suborned into cognitive domains (“compliance of the masses, will utterly dominate the commanding heights of cognition”). One can imagine how our globalists and their corporate think-tanks would have a heyday with such ideas.

A dystopic society controlled through neuropathic or cognitive sciences as the basic premise. Obviously the horror of such a thing brokers our imaginations. But I think we have to assume such a possibility if we are to take seriously Scott’s and our investment in a society in which naturalism and science rule. If as he suggests in his original post that intentional thought is an illusion, and that thought itself may become a thing of the past, then what will replace it? Will we be controlled by neurosurgeons who divide the human species into workers that are more machine than human, devoid of emotion and thought they would become the perfect society of robots enabled to do all our work without thought or issue. Such a world of mindless beings, of zombies without the virus of cannibalism, who live to work, never complain, go about their lives with idiot smiles on their faces living to serve their masters.

While on the other hand you have the knowledge workers, those who have the ability to think (within limits), who can use thought (Math, language, etc.) as tools but no more. Manipulators of symbolic codes that no longer have the ability to feel, to love, to care only enabled to work the vast knowledge based systems of control for their masters.

And, the Masters, the elite of this society? What kind of power plays would be afforded to them? What kind of lives would they lead knowing that the majority of humans were enslaved within neuroprisons, free to move about and do their jobs and live out their lives oblivious to the truth of their slavedom. And what if these supposed Masters were conned into believing that they were truly free, that they were enabled to do whatever they liked but were in fact worse off that the suborned classes of stupids and knowledgers? What if these elite were neuropathically enabled with only a set of predefined emotional markers, enabled to love but only under controlled and manipulated forms, able to rule but only as the neurotoxins and neurosuregeries allowed for? What if these Masters were slaves as well to a system that their ancestors schemed up ages before and threw away the keys to such knowledge.

And, what if someone came upon this knowledge? What if someone accidently, as evolutionary thought has always supposed, became an enigma a new Eve or Adam and discovered that everyone else lived in a clockwork world thinking they were actually free and moral beings? What then? I can imagine this as a series of YA Dystopic Novels with all the antagonisms of young protaganists awakening from the long sleep within neuroprison. Reawakening all the old revolutionary ideologies etc. A tattered set of ideas, all, I agree… but what happens if Bakker is right… and such a neurotechnical society came about through the erroneous use of science without philosophy, ethics, etc. What then?

1. R. Scott Bakker, Reactionary Atheism

Zizek, Badiou, Kotsko: The Revolutionary Sociopath

 We must create new symbolic forms for our collective actions. … We must find a new sun…

– Alain Badiou, Philosophy for Militants

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

– Karl Marx, Critique of Goth Program

Why do we need revolutionary sociopaths? If the soldier is a figure who transfigures humanity, and if indeed it is through the deeds of such a being that we attain something eternal as Badiou suggests in his Philosophy for Militants, then why is it that this figure of a new heroism should be sociopathic? Zizek remarks that there is a simple reason for this: our society needs sociopaths if it is to function “normally”; only they can save it, that is, society’s rules have to be broken for the sake of society itself (126).1

Adam Kotsko admits that we need to draw a line between real-life psychopaths or sociopaths  and their fantasy portrayals to be seen on our nightly television sets or at the movies. For Kotsko the dividing line between the reality and the fantasy is one of social mastery.2 As Kotsko remarks, “The sociopath is an individual who transcends the social, who is not bound by it in any gut-level way and who can therefore use it purely as a tool” (Kindle Locations 142-145). Speaking of the dream worlds of our TV’s and movies and their impact on the modern conformist culture of our age, Kotsko remarks that what motivates the fantasy of the sociopath is the simple truth that: our society really is broken.

The question I would ask, however, is what we’re using as a point of comparison. Every social norm, it seems, even the apparently “natural” social order of the family, can be exploited for sociopathic ends or be caught up in the vicious cycle that generates and supports sociopathic behavior. This is because, as I argued in Awkwardness, there is no “natural” social order— all social norms are no more than functional guidelines that we use to help us cope with the anxiety and conflict that comes with being the fundamentally social beings that we are. Rather than coming down from heaven or being grounded in some kind of natural law (such as the biological or evolutionary imperatives that supposedly ground the family structure), our social orders are long-term strategies for dealing with each other, tools that are useful in a given time and place with no guarantee that they will last. (Kotsko, Kindle Locations 212-219).

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YA Dystopian Novels: Strange Tales of Youth

Of late I’ve entered the ranks of those who enjoy the YA Dystopian Novel. They offer strange new worlds for our dystopic reflections on love, politics, philosophy, society, media, etc. It seems that such fiction, written for teenagers, is becoming a wide-spread social phenomena and drifting into the academic world as well. Several years ago I began noticing works by writers such a Cory Doctorow whose fictions typify some of the best philosophical interplay of social criticism and dystopic reflection in the troposphere. His current novel, Homeland, features the ‘war of terror’ as permanent emergency:

A couple of years ago, it occurred to me that the emergency had become permanent. Declaring war on an abstract noun like “terror” meant that we would forever be on a war footing, where any dissent was characterized as treason, where justice was rough and unaccountable, where the relationship of the state to its citizens would grow ever more militarized.

Dystopia has become one of the most popular teenage genres. This sudden rise in YA Dystopian literature has gained as much criticism as praise. Reactionary conservatives within the neo-liberal world seen in these decadent fictions of dystopic mayhem a form of post-modern relativism and nihilism. While radical critics see the emancipatory visions of a post-capitalist vision of theory and praxis working its self out in the young minds of those who will inherit the wastelands of neoliberalist collapse. Young adults are the future leaders of the world and books that are written for them always have a specific purpose. YA Dystopian literature’s purpose is to teach teenagers about the real world by using young protagonists. These books are very didactic; their message depends on the real world truth that the author wants to teach. Because of this dependence on the author’s purpose, this genre changes a lot to keep up with the times. Yet, for all their didacticism what we discover in them is not a message to be learned so much as the possibility of a new mode of life, one beyond our present neo-liberal world of nightmare visions and re-visioning of collapse, waste, and dispersement into voidic voids economic slavery by a corporate socialism turned fascist. In these youthful expenditures of excess we learn how to transgress the frozen modes of this neo-liberal delusion and begin formulating other desires, other adjacent modes of life, a ‘vertigo of immanence’ that can at last give us hope of real change

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Fredric Jameson: The Utopic/Dystopic Imagination

A true opposite of utopia would be a society that is either completely unplanned or is planned to be deliberately terrifying and awful. Dystopia, typically invoked, is neither of these things; rather, it is a utopia that has gone wrong, or a utopia that functions only for a particular segment of society.1

Fredric Jameson in a provocative essay Utopia as Method, or the Uses of the Future asks us “How can a place be a method?” Most of the time we think of utopia as a place, or a separate non-place in the sense of a secondary world with its own sociocultural milieu. But what if such a place that is no-place formed the dialectical union of opposites we call utopia/dystopia? What if this non-place were the outcome of the failure of the myth of progress? With the failure of modernity and its supposed utopic teleology and the myth of progress we are now within such a non-place, a place between times, a moment of pure difference in which neither the positive nor negative forces hold sway, but the balance between the forces of life and the forces of death vie for our future. As Jameson notes:

As far as space is concerned, the rich are withdrawing ever more urgently into their gated communities and their fortified enclosures; the middle classes are tirelessly engaged in covering the last vestiges of nature with acres of identical development homes; and the poor, pouring in from the former countryside, swell the makeshift outskirts with a population explosion so irrepressible that in a few years none of the ten largest cities on the globe will include the familiar first-world metropolises any longer. (ibid.)

Mike Smith in Planet of Slums situates the utopic/dystopic conclaves within the superstructure of our Megalopolises. He offers us an advanced state of the late-capitalist hyperworld in 3-D vision, where slums like slime molds infiltrate the fabric of our very lives, and even the elite live lives like truant children who have just escaped from the hinterlands of some Lovecraftian nightmare zone leaving the rest of us to cannibal horrors unimagined by science-fiction or gothic troubadours. The cities of the future, rather than being made out of glass and steel as envisioned by earlier generations of urbanists, are instead largely constructed out of crude brick, straw, recycled plastic, cement blocks, and scrap wood. Instead of cities of light soaring toward heaven, much of the twenty-first-century urban world squats in squalor, surrounded by pollution, excrement, and decay. Indeed, the one billion city-dwellers who inhabit postmodern slums might well look back with envy at the ruins of the sturdy mud homes of Catal Hayuk in Anatolia, erected at the very dawn of city life nine thousand years ago.2

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Stanislaw Lem: Liberal Utopics as the Last Commodity – Being Inc., Redivivus

Innumerable stories bear witness to the fact that the desire for precisely such freely given emotions gnaws at mighty rulers and men of wealth; in fairy tales he who is able to buy or use force to obtain anything, having the means for this, abandons his exceptional position so that in disguise— like Harun al Rashid, who went as a beggar— he may find human genuineness, since privilege shuts it out like an impenetrable wall.

– Stanislaw Lem, A Perfect Vacuum

In this latter day of commodity travel one can buy almost anything: swim with whale sharks in Donsal in the Philippines, travel to Germany and become a race car driver (Nuerburgring), run the bulls in Tamil Nadu, India, try Heli-skiiing in the Chugach Mountains in Alaska, tow surfing the jaw break in Peahi, Maui, bike across the Sahara, ice climb in the Canadian Rockies, sandboard in Cerrano Blanco, Peru, or finally, take a private cruise into space, the last frontier of personal experience. Has experience itself become the final commodity?

So, then, the one area that has not yet been turned into a commodity is the unarranged substance of everyday life, intimate as well as official, private as well as public, with the result that each and every one of us is exposed continually to those small reversals, ridiculings, disappointments, animosities, to the snubs that can never be paid back, to the unforeseen; in short, exposed— within the scope of our personal lot— to a state of affairs that is intolerable, in the highest degree deserving a change; and this change for the better will be initiated by the great new industry of life services. (A Perfect Vacuum, Stanislaw Lem)

A society in which one can buy— with an advertising campaign— the post of president, or a herd of albino elephants painted with little flowers, or a bevy of beauties, or youth through hormones, such a society ought to be able to put to rights the human condition. The qualm that immediately surfaces— that such purchased forms of life, being unauthentic, will quickly betray their falseness when placed alongside the surrounding authenticity of events— that qualm is dictated by a naïveté totally lacking in imagination. When all children are conceived in the test tube, when then no sexual act has as its consequence, once natural, procreation, there disappears the difference between the normal and the aberrant in sex, seeing as no physical intimacy serves any purpose but that of pleasure. And where every life finds itself under the solicitous eye of powerful service enterprises, there disappears the difference between authentic events and those secretly arranged. The distinction between natural and synthetic in adventures, successes, failures, ceases to exist when one can no longer tell what is taking place by pure accident, and what by accident paid for in advance.

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