Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Notes on the Spectacular Society 51-66: On 'The Way Things Are'

51. The materialized ideology-world of the spectacle is captured in the term ‘The Way Things Are’. The Way Things Are is the spectacle in its totality; as the monopolization of all visual space by non-reality; as the displacement of all real things such as that which is fake achieves reality only by the preponderance of its presence in a world that presents itself as real.

52. ‘The Way Things Are’ is spectacular separation converted to realize a more positive utility.  Just as the worker became a separate entity and subject to the disciplines of both markets and technology, the consumer, too, could not long remain outside the reach of capital’s specialization. The mere advent of the consumer left intact her relationship with purposiveness and Final Cause—associations which otherwise could reveal the inertial functioning of capital and the society of the spectacle. The consumer cannot be made perfectly orderable for the purposes of efficiency without having her life-world too, made subject to the same orderings of capital. The consequent subordination of the human life-world to economics is manifest in the artificial categories of human ‘non-work’ life within the spectacle but also the general condition in which the consumer-worker must actively internalize and enact her own specialization (self-funded schooling, training, and self-promotion) in order to sell her labor. Work as opposed to home, work as opposed to leisure and the increasingly specific categories of ‘time’ to which humanity is beholden are only a few of the specializations enacted upon the human life-world.

53. Centuries have been spent articulating the logic of the market, eventually congealing in the specialized discipline of economics which treats as external everything but the natural conditions of human work activity. Economics is the commodity-form of history engaged in a perpetual process of forgetting about humanity and the productive forces of economies, leaving intact only the architecture of the commodity as the basis for which the world can be constituted.

54. The earliest descriptions of economies understood the notion of ‘economy’ to be inseparable from the broader notion of ‘society’. Essentially, ‘economy’ was embedded within and among social forces; it was a function of human bodies and minds which have since been carved up into certain attributes and artifacts, namely ‘labor’, ‘incentives’, etc. When this notion of economy was met with the conditions of large-scale commerce and the force we call capital, it became the first subject of specialization and was freed so that it could reign over society externally as economics: the study of what is and what always must be. Economics was only able to arrive at its externality—indeed, at its disciplined state—through a process of liberation which freed it from its parasitic attachment to the social conditions of humanity. The birth of economics is coterminous with the reign of the commodity and its eventual overdevelopment into the spectacle.

55. Having renounced its position from within society, economics also surrendered its material relationship with it. Economics can only report the conditions of what it sees as it remains separate and distinct from the development of human life; its relationship with the world can only be described as visual. The separate economy must move according to its own laws for it can never know that which it is not connected to; this is precisely the reason why economics is able to articulate the immutability of its own observations: because they are not for anyone in particular, only itself. By definition, the economics which operates outside the normativity of the status quo ceases to be economics for it has reestablished a connection with human life.

56. It is in this vein of thought that one invariably arrives at economics’ spirituality. While properly understood, economics speaks on behalf of itself, this is only in the same way portions of humanity speak for themselves through conjured and invisible intermediaries. As a priest speaks on behalf of an omnipotent and angry god, so too does economics speak on behalf of a host of external forces, namely spirits, which act upon society from without. These deities and demi-gods take many forms, but most prominently appear today as an Invisible Hand: the Spirit of the Market.

57. The marketplace is necessarily hallowed ground for it is the place where the most spiritual happenings occur. The market—as an aggregation of individual human activities—becomes a powerful location only when an indefinite number of external happenings amidst and between humans realize some greater social good. Because the market does not intend, but only observes, the powers-that-be must exist somewhere beyond the human agents of the market. The Market itself is a god that appears only where humans congregate and supplicate themselves before its all-powerful dictates.

58. No individual human being can summon or channel the power of the Market. It is only as a non-descript mass of consumers that we can make The Market appear and even then we can never hope to control or possess its power. As a force that lies in the beyond, The Market possesses all of us.

59. The freedom of the consumer’s life-world is achieved only through the expropriation of her living time, the time neither spent nor accumulated but realized socially: historical time, time in context and contest. The Way Things Are is the inert-ia which maintains the essential separation of human life-time, keeping the pieces in isolation such that they become whole only in spite of one another. Freedom within the spectacle is not inherent or natural—it is a gift.

60. Time is privation, the ordering of life such that it can become insufficient in any particular capacity. Without time human life activity would be irreducible—there would exist no measure for the calculus of labor and there could not be ‘not enough time’—the proper badge of the American businessperson. Proudly displayed, the insufficient quantity of time is the mark of our spectacular success: to be so consumed with the tasks of work that we have not enough time. This form of specialization can only be described in terms of Debord’s notion of ‘enriched privation’. In this context, privation has—like separation—achieved a more positive utility in that we eagerly pursue it: to be deprived of our life-time so that we can restore something that we do not realize was robbed from us long ago.

61. The Way Things Are is the enervation of life within the spectacle; it is life succumb to routine.

62. The Way Things Are exists in direct opposition to the way things should be. The Way Things Are is the ongoing acquiescence of life to a force which is external to us. Inter-subjective reason has been vacated from social expression precisely because our daily labors amount to perpetual surrender. The purpose of dialogue is lost when one has already capitulated to the opposition.

63. An essential element of ‘the way things are’ is the paradox of the certainty of spectacular society with the uncertainty and contingency of man within it. The society of the spectacle presents itself as the end of history, as the final and eternal result of the development of productive forces of the economy. In the ongoing perfection of the spectacle, humanity is merely an exigency, a body whose welfare is of no particular import in the pursuit of The Way Things Are. This explains how individuals find themselves to be without food, shelter or healthcare in a nation that has an over-abundance of these things; the spectacle is the world made perfect through the expropriation of material, human reality.

64. Life made into the mere exercise of routine is its deterioration into the ‘Everyday’—the infinite iterability of daily life. Within the Way Things Are, any day is Everyday—we repeat the same days over and over again as an expression of our ongoing supplication before the empty idol named The Market. Everyday is all aspects of human life expressed as a pre-arranged category: Work, Home, Vacation, School, Weekday, Weekend—these are not places we go or unique times in the history of our lives, these are categories made constituent of life itself, the ordained functions of our activity as part of a grand ritual to gain the favor of a great and terrible God. This is the emptiness of our lives, the inertia which carries us through our days, the content of our hopes and fears; this is life drained of its meaning, made subordinate to something which we can never hope to possess. The Way Things Are is presented as life par excellence, as the endlessness of our present condition in which we as individuals remain a paradox of contingency in an oh-so certain world. As we are molded in the image of the Market we are made into nothing.

65. The triumph of the Everyday means the battleground has shifted to the daily lives of the subjects of capital. Our ordinary lives have been reconstituted in the interests of the Market and, consequently, ordinary life must become the site of resistance. Within the Way Things Are, even seemingly inconsequential acts like smoking or drinking late into the night become transgressive acts of autonomy as we resist the slavish inertia of the Everyday and its ongoing effort to order our lives in its interest. The Market requires nothing less than a tranquil, quiescent, and habitually sedate population in order to achieve its total displacement of human life.

66. Consumption is the passive relationship between man and reality; it is the assumed acquiescence to the present state of affairs; it is the a priori righteousness of ubiquitous and omnipresent commodity exchange; it is a social relation that lacks contemplation or thoughtfulness; it is a condition of being-alive that is disconnected and subordinated to the singular trajectory of ‘the way things are’; it is the Zombification of humankind.