There are no longer human beings, thinkers, lovers etc.; the human race is enveloped by the press in a miasma of thoughts, emotions, moods, even conclusions, intentions which are nobody’s, which belong to none and yet to all.
The market system generates misery, which, in turn, generates revolt. Misery and revolt must be suppressed. This is done through distracting and confusing people · · · The manufacture of distraction and confusion is not the conscious work of secret societies or corrupt bosses, but is an output of the system working normally · · · This ‘normal working’ does not just produce system-friendly news and culture, but, through intervening completely between the consciousness of the individual and reality (as the spectacle), filters out reality itself.
A persistent problem for the system is that market-dependence and the demands of infinite-consumption spawn immense misery, which, while playing a vital role in generating even more desire for market interventions (narcotics, security, psychiatry, etc.), has a nasty tendency to lead to mass refusal of constraints, widespread violence and, every now and then, revolution. It is essential, therefore, for management to keep the booze, sports, pills, upvotes and porn flowing, and, crucially, to keep the schools, universities, newspapers, websites, television channels and publishing companies pumping out pro-market propaganda.1
The ultimate result of such a colossal programme of misinformation, and the sine qua non of effective corporate rule, is confusion. Nobody must know what is going on, nobody must understand how the world actually operates and nobody must know who or what is responsible for their suffering. The fears and anxieties of the masses must constantly be aroused, their unconscious desire for attention and excitement continually stimulated, their belief that their unhappiness can be alleviated with a sale perpetually fuelled. They must be made to believe that pleasure is the sole aim of life, power equals security and expensive possessions (not to mention expensive qualifications) bring elevated status and self-confidence. They must be constantly reminded, explicitly and implicitly, that nothing is more important than how they are defined, what they know, what they like and what they want. They must be trained to divorce cause from effect; the demands of the market from war, urban life from misery, consumption of sugar from acne, the torture of animals from chicken nuggets and the horror of factory life from cheap tracksuits. They must be made to feel that humility, mystery, peace-of-mind, service to others, self-sacrifice, self-mastery, health and responsibility are either illusions, unattainable, ‘not my thing’ or available for £5.99 at the chemist. This way they will be malleable, corruptible, easily dealt with and, crucially, unable to perceive their own confusion; always pointing the finger in the wrong place, at their fellow prisoners, their genes, their gods, their neighbours, their mental illnesses, their parents, their bad luck, their bank balance and their rulers; never at themselves and never at the system.
It is hard enough maintaining such profound, debilitating and widespread confusion, but the work of capitalist ‘opinion shapers’ is made more challenging by the existence of people who are perversely determined to educate their fellows. Such ‘extremists’ (‘terrorists’ / ‘anarchists’ / ‘narcissists’) can be dealt with in the usual way, but in a Huxleyan system the threat they represent is neutralised before it has a chance to spread; for only those who are heavily credentialised (official term: qualified), heavily institutionalised (official term: professional), conspicuously unhappy (official term: famous) or shielded from reality (official term: rich2) can gain access to the means to speak; everyone else floats through an ocean of useless information in which it is almost impossible to discern quality or truth. Censorship is unnecessary in a system in which everyone can speak, but only those guaranteed not to say anything worth listening to can be heard. This technique, of system-constrained thought-control in a democratic society, is called ‘freedom of speech,’ ‘freedom of the press,’ ‘culture’ and ‘fun’.
It is extraordinarily effective. There is no central control, no proprietor ‘spiking copy,’ there aren’t even any — or hardly any — actual lies3. By simply allowing the system to select for system-friendly voices who automatically frame the news / PR in system-friendly narratives (excluding here, emphasising there), a single, unified image of the world is perpetually manufactured by the news media, one in which technological progress, economic growth, compulsory schooling and full employment are unquestionably good; in which our wars of aggression and sale of weapons to client dictatorships are either ‘mistakes’ or, preferably, invisible; in which insanely destructive weather events, floods, draughts, civil-unrest and distant wars just causelessly happen; in which the unmitigated horror of the system is filtered into mere ‘tragedy’ and, crucially; in which the host organisation, or the role of the media — particularly the left-liberal media — in supporting the system is never, ever, seriously criticised. A great deal of disagreement on matters of peripheral or trivial interest is tolerated. Journalists and academics can furiously disagree with each other about welfare-spending, interest rates, elections, corruption, sex-scandals, the terms of trade agreements, unemployment figures, what the royal family are wearing, who the new Bond is and even, at the left-most end of the little window, edgy topics like climate change, economic growth, civil liberties and the deleterious effects of specific technologies; but step out of the microscopic range of acceptable thought, write intelligently about how the technocratic market economy exterminates nature and culture, seriously investigate the endemic institutional bias of the entire press, left and right, hold our leaders to the same standards of judgement as theirs, throw doubt upon middle-class gods (relativism, professionalism, monogender and the market), endeavour to explore the entire technocratic system or its origins in the homeless mind, and see what happens to your career.
One of the most popular defences, made by corporate journalists and academics, is that ‘The Guardian’ (or the BBC, or the Washington Post or whoever), often ‘gets it right,’ that they ‘do great stuff on Brazil,’ or their more left-leaning journos write important critiques of corporate corruption and environmental breakdown, and so on. This argument is identical in essence to ‘our government is good because it has never bombed Wales’ or ‘the medical profession is good, because look at all the lives doctors save.’ Details, facts and framed generalisations are focused on, in order to avoid addressing the entire structure, filtering system, bias, market-subservience and calamitous harm of the institution in question. The whole, the big picture, the causes and effects, the entire truth… such things are not merely ‘taboo,’ they cannot be perceived by the hyper-focused modern-mind which the system represents and normalises.
The purpose of the news is not, and never has been, to tell the truth. It is to sell audiences to advertisers, to support state-corporate power, to normalise professionalism, to provide a voyeuristic window on far away sex and violence in order to distract consumers from their nearby frustration and unhappiness, to excite the restless and needy ego, to smear critics of the system and to bury what they say under an ocean of irrelevance. In fact if it is in the news, it must be irrelevant. Truth can no more survive in the media than cats can survive on the moon, or quality can survive in the market. Truth takes too long to generate, too long to express, requires too much attention and sensitivity, has disastrous connections to reality and tends to produces catastrophic effects in those who are exposed to it; such as insouciance, revolutionary inspiration, confidence in the future, love for humanity, weird understanding and spontaneous erotic splendour, none of which does the market any good at all.
Capital requires that consumers of news — indeed of any capitalist art-form — are titillated, entertained, upset, annoyed about the government, nod in sage-wonder at the pronouncements of Big Minds, desire the latest tech, are afraid of diabolic foreign powers, turn forever away from the implications of mortality, are amazed at magnificent cleavage, in complete ignorance about the true nature of the world, a complete stranger to the mysterious reality of their own conscious experience, regularly swoon over Obama and the Royals (yay!), are up in arms about the communists and fascists (boo!), or about political correctness, or about the damn immigrants… and conditioned to yibber-yabber about Today’s Themes with work colleagues during the coffee break. That is what capital requires, and that, you may have noticed, is what capital gets.
And yet the activity of the news media is trivial in comparison to the entire fabricated reality we experience via the televisions, computers, cinema-screens, loud-speakers, adverts, packaging, syllabuses, books, magazines, posters, meetings, laws, ideas, emotions and mediated experiences of the world. We do not experience reality as it is — a mysterious embodied totality — but a comprehensible mind-made topology of isolated individual subjects and objects, continually remoulding, reinforcing and reproducing itself in the service of itself. The proper name for this vast, abstract-emotional simulacrum is not ‘art’, and certainly not ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ (although it is taken as such), but the [phildickian] spectacle, the horrific, hypnotic dreamlife of the world.4
The system conceives the entire universe as a constellation of abstractions5, which in the autonomous ego seem as real as reality. In a capitalist system these abstractions are emotionally-potent (or ‘fetishised’) measurements of economic value (‘ooh! expensive!’), formal order (‘sexy’ designs and efficient networks), advertising (‘just do it’) and the multifarious productions of the public-relations ‘industry’ (press offices, awarding bodies, rating agencies, think-tanks, etc, etc). These combine with a self-replicating array of system-engendered and system-reinforcing impressions, beliefs, opinions, ideas and vague feelings (‘false-consciousness’) to form an ersatz unworld which doesn’t just conceal the reality of how people actually live or how the things they use actually come to be made, but the reality of everything in nature and society; the entire universe along with the totality of conscious experience. Community comes to be understood abstractly, other countries and cultures are understood mythically, nature is perceived through a sentimental prism, history is reduced to cliché or to quiz-friendly fact-fragments, the objects (and increasingly the ideas, feelings and experiences) which men and women produce appear in their lives as mysterious artefacts dropped from a spaceship (‘reification’), and society rises up before them not as a lived experience formed by their own actions, but as a monolithic thing which happens to them (‘alienation’). Life entire, which means our own lives, is naught but a schizoid phantasm. When the reality of it is encountered directly, actually, the result is inevitably profound shock and horror.
The chief identifying quality of the spectacle is its seamlessness. The witnessing mind passes from rom-com, to sci-fi, to car advert, to browser, to laptop, to the interior of the coffee-shop, to the t-shirts and bags of the customers, to their hugs and smiles, to the tone of their voices, to their conversations, to your own conversation with yourself, to earworms and sex-anxieties and the shoes you want to buy… and there is no interruption, no disruption, nothing that is actually, existentially, different. If anything real does present itself to the system-mind, it is either some kind of irritation or pain, or it is registered as such. There is no way for the system to tell the difference between reality and pain; so avoid both. Avoid everything which does not segue seamlessly into the man-made facsimile of nature, culture and consciousness that calls itself nature, culture and consciousness, or that claims to be generated by them, but which is, in fact, produced and managed by the system, which it serves and reflects.
This is an excerpt (myth 9) from 33 Myths of the System. If you would like to receive a digital copy of the whole book, which I’ll give away at the end of this year, please sign up to the mailing list above, or send me an email.
- And, if ever revolutionary pressure does build up, to release it with a few reforms.
- ‘Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.’ A. J. Liebling.
- Certainly a few — and complete whoppers at that — but generally they are avoided; ‘Everyone must know what the situation is.’ Joseph Geobbels.
- Art which serves something other than the spectacular system or the self-informed self, we call great. Not ‘high’ (although it might be difficult and out of the ordinary) or ‘low’ (although it might be easy and ordinary), but true, expressing artistic truth, the conscious source of the self and the contextual source of the world. See The Apocalypedia.
- Not that there is anything inherently wrong with abstraction, or simulation. The problem, as Zijderveld points out in The Abstract Society, is when ‘there is no homecoming’.