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Socialisme et Barbarie

December 13, 2010

Today on the commuter train as I continued to ruminate on last week’s Scandale de la Semaine, Wikileaks, I wondered how long it will take for Assange to be absorbed into the politainment industry.  How long will it take for him to be on with Maddow, or worse, Olberman?

The train ran down the tracks and I read the following two concluding paragraphs of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle:

If the logic of false consciousness cannot know itself truly, the search for critical truth about the spectacle must simultaneously be a true critique. It must struggle in practice among the irreconcilable enemies of the spectacle and admit that it is absent where they are absent. The abstract desire for immediate effectiveness accepts the laws of the ruling thought, the exclusive point of view of the present, when it throws itself into reformist compromises or trashy pseudo-revolutionary common actions. Thus madness reappears in the very posture which pretends to fight it. Conversely, the critique which goes beyond the spectacle must know how to wait. ~Debord, Spectacle 220

Spectacle was published in 1967. Now, 44 years later it seems that the critique that goes beyond the spectacle is still in waiting, at least here in the U.S.

Suddenly, there seems to be a call for the “60’s generation” to finally do something, to live up to it’s (media revised) ideals, to overcome its 40 year malaise and address – in some spectacular fashion – the issues of economy and environment that confront us. Yet let us remember that Dr. King and his non-violent methodology did not own the political discourse or actions of the time. The Black Panthers had very different idea about organizing their communities by providing real services and real defenses of those communities. Puerto Rican nationalism moved through the bombing of Congress. At it’s peak, the anti-war movement tactics were often to shut down the government, the economy or both. Buddhists set themselves on fire. Daniel Berrigan and the Catonsville Nine poured human shit on draft records and set them afire with homemade napalm and served three years in prison for their efforts. What would be the reaction today to those actions, or even that enveloping anti-establishmentarianism that infused so much of the era? The Wikileaks revelations are a notable exception, but  their activity is a release of information only, and it has not been accompanied by social action. Indeed, the most aggessive actions taken in response to the Assange arrest has been a defense of the Wikileaks technology. Yes, the electronic attacks on economic targets like Paypal and Mastercard were in support of the ideology of free information, but it is the technology of Wikileaks that is also being defended – they are inseparable.

As Debord says (and I have been thinking a lot about authenticity lately) “the search for critical truth about the spectacle must simultaneously be a true critique.” In no contemporary search of the ongoing public dialogue can I find anything resembling an authentic critique that is comprehensively anti-establishment; one that is openly and completely counter cultural. The debate seems to be how to make the existing order either more efficient or more humane, while leaving the 400+ year old economic mentality of industrial scale accumulation and consumption intact. This behavior is not sustainable. Capitalism is killing us and socialism cannot save us.

That is not to say that there are not individuals, of course musicians and other artists who steadfastly work in a realm of anti-madness. Pauline Oliveros springs immediately to mind, and there are many others. But all seem to operate in the separated, siloed, and branded existence that is the hallmark of our epoch. The Buddha minds must be integrated.

Emancipation from the material bases of inverted truth – this is what the self-emancipation of our epoch consists of. This “historical mission of installing truth in the world” cannot be accomplished either by the isolated individual, or by the atomized crowd subjected to manipulation, but now as ever by the class which is able to effect the dissolution of all classes by bringing all power into the dealienating form of realized democracy, the Council, in which practical theory controls itself and sees its own action. This is possible only where individuals are “directly linked to universal history”; only where dialogue arms itself to make its own conditions victorious. ~Debord, Spectacle 221

Debord’s assertion that neither theory nor action, as separated phenomena, can become positively real, that is, firmly established in natural life unless they are a completely integrated whole; theory guiding action and action guiding theory simultaneously, that is precisely what is missing.

That is the sign of authenticity. That is how we will know. That is why, to go beyond the spectacle we must know how to wait for that authentic moment, like Cage Against the Machine, when the noise is the same as the music, when everything becomes melodic. Otherwise the madness reappears in the very posture which pretends to fight it.

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