The Times: Free Speech, Captive Audience.
Observing the seemingly chaotic piontilist and stoccado-like character of contemporary events, one can become very discouraged and gloomy about the prospects for the future of life. Time present has less the character of a flux, of an ebb and a flow, than of the rapid machine-gun fire of news bullets (bulletins) and of talking-points thrust at you like a knife blade. We are daily being mentally mugged by infomercials, advertising, disinformation, buzz, spin, outright falsehoods, and other sundry competing propagandas seeking to capture our “hearts and minds” within a kind of Iron Maiden of “information”. The irony of the times is that we have “free speech” but captive audiences. Nobody seems to notice this self-devouring contradiction at the heart of Late Modern democracies, which is why they are collapsing and disintegrating.
What is called “information overload” is precisely this constant rapid-fire character of mass mediated info-bullets fired at us continuously. Right here, in fact, you see the truth of post-modernism’s “end of the grand narrative” in the seeming incoherent cacophony of advertising spots, infomercials, and news items. This is the Age of Analysis run amok and now running to ground. The penetration of the so-called “Free Market” in the name of “free speech” into every cozy non-commercialised private refuge has transformed the entirety of society, 24/7, into a constant battleground in a kind of war of all against all designed to capture hearts and minds (and wallets).
The near ubiquitous nature of contemporary propaganda and surveillance is less some sinister plot or conspiracy against the public to engineer a permanent captive audience than it is the fulfillment of a deficient logic inherent in the structure of modern rationality — feedback and control, prediction and control — extended now to the engineering of nature both human and non-human. We already live in a Technocracy, in fact — the World Machine called Global Economy. And for the sake of this World Machine nothing spontaneous must be allowed to exist or develop in its own terms; nothing must be left to chance in either Nature or Society (we must now even fear and manage asteroids). Everything must be “harmonised”, standardised, rationalised, assimilated, co-ordinated and synchronised with the requirements of this Brave New World, including politics and the Great Beyond.
This is the very meaning of the passage I quoted earlier from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy in The Christian Future, which even some his students also seem not to comprehend sufficiently. It’s worth quoting again:
“A powerful hand has lifted up the particles of the human race and now puts them down again under a new horizon of existence. We see this horizon as dimly as the eastern sky one hour before sunrise; yet it determines already the lives and livelihood of all of us despite our nation or denomination. Granted that twelve generations or so lived happily within “Church” and “State” (the very word “State” is not older than 1500) and got their orientation from these two sources of light; this no longer is true.
We are unemployed, impoverished, inflated, killed, moved around, in nations great and small, in Churches free and orthodox, because of a new ‘within’. Against this new ‘within’, the millions find little protection, either within their nation or within their Church. Global economic cooperation is the new ‘within.’ Neither the New Deal nor the GOP nor Hitler nor Stalin can guarantee prosperity because the globe is not governed by any one statesman. The Great Society, this speechless giant of the future, does not speak English (neither does it speak Russian). And it is this Great Society which claims all of us who have to make a living, as her material, her victims, her assets or liabilities in terms of capital and labor.
The two world wars were the form of world revolution in which this new future reached into everybody’s life; the nationalist and communist ideologies with their dreams of revolution were checkmated and are mere foam around the real transformation. The real transformation was made by the wars and it make the Great Society final. She is the heiress of State and Church.” (pp. 4 – 5).
What is here called “Great Society” is, in fact, the Global Technocracy. Some years ago, the American sociologist Daniel Bell wrote a book entitled The End of Ideology (which, I think, must have influenced Francis Fukuyama in announcing “The End of History”). Bell (much like the French sociologist Jacques Ellul in The Political Illusion) anticipated what became the reality in the troika of neo-liberalism/neo-conservatism/neo-socialism — that consensus of political formations that demonstated the impotence of human choices against the inexorable logic of the Global Technocracy. The ideologue has been displaced by the technocrat, and for the technocrat there are no political options or alternatives. There is logically only “the one best way”. And this is not even the techocrat’s choice. It is mandated by the necessary circumstantial logic of the System itself, which is our new “within” or global environment. (In some ways, too, our true “Second Nature” as the manifest unfolding, in spatial and temporal terms, of what was formerly called “Universal Reason”).
And wondrous strange it is that we have made real and actual in history what was only once imagined in the form of Universal Reason as the Clockwork Universe with God conceived as the Grand Architect. Fukuyama’s “end of history” is the realisation of the technocracy as the globalised World Machine of Universal Reason. Only, Mr. Fukuyama didn’t actually realise or understand this himself — “The imagined world made real”.
It is in the context of the new global technocracy as realised “Universal Reason” (albeit in deficient expression) that cybernetic feedback and control take the social form of surveillance and propaganda. The function of much of this surveillance and propaganda today is to adjust and assimilate human beings (all life, in fact) to the new reality of the technocracy as “Great Society” (through the co-optation of dissent, for example). We are given the illusion of choice without the reality of it. Lip-service is paid to old values because these old values are now irrelevant in the context of the new reality. As someone once said, “the future ain’t what it used to be”. But that future is already here without a great many people knowing or understanding this. Thus confusion and frustration abound, and this agitation and irritation with the times often takes the form of a futile (and often ugly) reactionary politics.
But the problem is, that we must either transcend the machine logic of the Global Technocracy or become enslaved to it as its “captive audience” in much the same way Rosenstock-Huessy describes above. We already speak of human beings in the new technocracy as “resources” where an older language once spoke of “souls”. The problem is to make the System serve the purposes and goals of life and the earth rather than vice versa. This radical devaluation of values by which human beings were gradually revalued from “souls” to “resources” illustrates the “boiling frog” syndrome in a nutshell. History has been the cauldron. The Technocracy has no need of “souls”. It only requires resources. And it especially has no need of “resources” with potentially unmanageable purposes and meanings of their own.
This is the great struggle of the time. It is something Rosenstock-Huessy spent his life working on: how to guarantee the survival of “a truly human and humane society” in the face of this “new within” — the globe-straddling Juggernaut that had now become a common fate for all of us. It was also something that engaged the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche. Both men were misunderstood (and still are). Also, however, both men did not go far enough in formulating the problem or formulating a response.
“This is a time that tries men’s souls”, Tom Paine once wrote. But our problem is made doubly difficult today by the dis-spiriting of the human — by his or her “soullessness”. Few believe that they are “souls”. They are literally dis-spirited. This dis-spiriting is what we call “apathy” today. Universal Reason translated into the World Machine has no need of souls. Therefore, there are no souls. The Global Technocracy has no need of purpose or meaning. Therefore, there are no purposes and meanings. There is just the logic of the System itself — the logic of Blake’s demented god Urizen and of the old savage god Moloch.
The transformation of the World Machine and of the Global Technocracy into a true Earth Community and Planetary Civilisation (globalisation into globalism) and into a genuine Life World is our great multi-generational task. Since the mental-rational structure of consciousness, conceived as Universal Reason (and in deficient expression, now functioning merely as instrumentalising “rationalisation” and as a debased technicism) lies at the root of the problem, we must learn to master this structure with its implicit deficiencies in order to make it serve life and the earth (and not just human life either). The problem remains, as ever, human narcissism. And if we don’t address that, we will not resolve the problem at all.
Fortunately for us, “where the peril is greatest, there lies the saving power [or grace] also”, and in Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values” lies the procedure for salvaging the situation. For it is very true that, as Omar Khayyam once expressed it, “only a hair separates the false from the true”. The alchemical transformation of lead into gold isn’t as difficult as most imagine.