Information, Mudflaps, and Beer Are Commodities

“The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.” Guy Debord

“Kids who are twenty or thirty years younger than we are have a totally different experience in and manner of absorbing and processing information. How will this generation make decisions? How will they understand the big, looming debate about the legacy of entitlements and debt left by their elders? How do they understand the economy?” It was his suspicion, from his conversations here and elsewhere, that they may not understand it very well, or at least that polarizing rhetoric—fostered by social media, amplified by a cynical political class—may be corrupting their ability to discuss it in terms their elders can understand or abide. There’s a lot of intellectual confusion about the causes and culprits institutionally of the mess that we are in. The language and the thinking that have evolved after the financial crisis have had an impact on the way young people think. All this talk that companies need to change, and so on—it’s a misconception of the role that companies play. Shareholders risk capital. Banks intermediate capital. This is what keeps an economy going.” He went on, “The root cause of everything we’re experiencing is a failure of holistic thinking in a world of increasingly complex, fragmented, and ubiquitous information.” Daniel Arbes

This was the week when the phone rang and we picked it up only to find the most chipper of chipper public relations adepts on the other end. With breathless excitement the gent wanted to lift us up from our lowly state of ignorance by telling us he was ready to make the proper introductions so that we could be able to properly commune with his clients, the people bring healthy Chinese food to the people. During an ever so brief break in his pattern, which we can only assume he took to catch his breath and lower his blood pressure, I asked, Healthy Chinese? So that’s like what? Moo goo gai bran?”

Must have been a landline.

No one could slam a cell down like that.

Over time I have found that – while my personality has a rather long shelf life – it’s not much in demand which leaves it somewhere between an acquired taste and offal. Not that I’ve learned much over the years. Just a couple of weeks ago I exacerbated my plight by starting a Pinterest page that features nothing but quotes by McLuhan, Sluggo failing to find a fixed sexuality identity, and Situationist art. My renewed acquaintance with the Situationists left me with an odd perspective on the Sandra Fluke matter. This was brought into focus when I followed a couple of things on Twitter only to wind up here.

Marcuse was one of those Germans who kicked out tightly written tomes, but nonetheless it does help to flesh out the entire paragraph mentioned on the other web page.

Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left. As to the scope of this tolerance and intolerance: … it would extend to the stage of action as well as of discussion and propaganda, of deed as well as of word. The traditional criterion of clear and present danger seems no longer adequate to a stage where the whole society is in the situation of the theater audience when somebody cries: ‘fire’. It is a situation in which the total catastrophe could be triggered off any moment, not only by a technical error, but also by a rational miscalculation of risks, or by a rash speech of one of the leaders. In past and different circumstances, the speeches of the Fascist and Nazi leaders were the immediate prologue to the massacre. The distance between the propaganda and the action, between the organization and its release on the people had become too short. But the spreading of the word could have been stopped before it was too late: if democratic tolerance had been withdrawn when the future leaders started their campaign, mankind would have had a chance of avoiding Auschwitz and a World War.

The next paragraph brings things into sharper focus:

The whole post-fascist period is one of clear and present danger. Consequently, true pacification requires the withdrawal of tolerance before the deed, at the stage of communication in word, print, and picture. Such extreme suspension of the right of free speech and free assembly is indeed justified only if the whole of society is in extreme danger. I maintain that our society is in such an emergency situation, and that it has become the normal state of affairs. Different opinions and ‘philosophies’ can no longer compete peacefully for adherence and persuasion on rational grounds: the ‘marketplace of ideas’ is organized and delimited by those who determine the national and the individual interest. In this society, for which the ideologists have proclaimed the ‘end of ideology’, the false consciousness has become the general consciousness–from the government down to its last objects. The small and powerless minorities which struggle against the false consciousness and its beneficiaries must be helped: their continued existence is more important than the preservation of abused rights and liberties which grant constitutional powers to those who oppress these minorities. It should be evident by now that the exercise of civil rights by those who don’t have them presupposes the withdrawal of civil rights from those who prevent their exercise, and that liberation of the Damned of the Earth presupposes suppression not only of their old but also of their new masters.

But it’s more useful to sum the whole thing up by going to this which is found in Marcuse’s footnote.

In the United States, this tendency goes hand in hand with the monopolistic or oligopolistic concentration of capital in the formation of public opinion, i.e., of the majority. The chance of influencing, in any effective way, this majority is at a price, in dollars, totally out of reach of the radical opposition. Here too, free competition and exchange of ideas have become a farce. The Left has no equal voice, no equal access to the mass media and their public facilities – not because a conspiracy excludes it, but because, in good old capitalist fashion, it does not have the required purchasing power. And the Left does not have the purchasing power because it is the Left. These conditions impose upon the radical minorities a strategy which is in essence a refusal to allow the continuous functioning of allegedly indiscriminate but in fact discriminate tolerance, for example, a strategy of protesting against the alternate matching of a spokesman for the Right (or Center) with one for the Left. Not ‘equal’ but more representation of the Left would be equalization of the prevailing inequality. Within the solid framework of pre-established inequality and power, tolerance is practiced indeed. Even outrageous opinions are expressed, outrageous incidents are televised; and the critics of established policies are interrupted by the same number of commercials as the conservative advocates. Are these interludes supposed to counteract the sheer weight, magnitude, and continuity of system-publicity, indoctrination which operates playfully through the endless commercials as well as through the entertainment?

Like Foolish Reporter you have to give it up for some one who wrote that in 1965.

And what does it all mean?

If you participated in the Fluke matter by rendering up an opinion or putting something in writing you have two way at looking at what you did based on all that exhaustive copying and pasting. Either your part of the internal struggle of the classes to keep things the way they are or a willing participant in what the Situationists call The Spectacle.Put another way – if you went and Fluked it up you can either read all of this an feel like your part of something so Continental that you’re overcome with a warm Euro feeling like heated hardwood floors or you can think you’ve been played.

Either way you got played.

Given that SXSW is going on right now it’s as good a time as any to roll out the next point.

The Situationists and Marcuse intersect with his Essay on Liberation which was expanded by Charles Reich and turned into the American best-seller The Greening of America. In all cases the central idea is the surrender of the individual to the object. All of that was 40 years ago when manufacturing goods, specifically consumer goods, was the dominant part of the economy. While those things have not lessened in importance they’ve taken a backseat to their glamorous cousin, information.

What is social media but the commodification of the banal?

If we take the talk shows, pundits, blogs, and talking heads all together does that not reduce any ideology to nothing more than a fetish?

And young people see information much like a form of currency that can be carried about. Think of it this way – last Sunday you had no idea who Joseph Kony was. You might heard about the child armies or Uganda’s internal strife, but it took young people hopping on a bandwagon to make Joseph Kony a household name in less than 72 hours. So to speak to Daniel Arbes’s point – this is the next thing to study. A generation who has effortlessly traded music files and text messages all day will not be swayed by clothes and cars as was the case years ago. The mass visual shifts to the portable visual.

Which is different topic for another time.

By now you’ve some to say, “This is all nice ‘n stuff Trotsky, but the Sunday talk shows are on and why aren’t you and Mom at SXSW like normal people?

Because we have no interest in flying halfway across the country only to have to be social.

If we’re going to travel that far we’re going to find a beach and talk to no one.


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