An editorial published in November 2016 on the website of the journal, Argelaga, on the state of the “spectacle” after Trump’s election, claiming, among other things, that although recent trends indicate that “the spectacle of decomposition is not the decomposition of the spectacle”, in part because “the masses … only want to follow the person who assures them that their addiction to abundant consumption and security can continue”, “the end of the industrial cycle that began after the Second World War” nevertheless entails “constant outbreaks of resistance [that] indicate that, without too much memory and, therefore, with little lucidity, the struggle for emancipation continues”.
The Show Must Go On: A modest attempt to explain a world that has gone mad - Argelaga
The totalitarian reign of the global economy is decomposing and there are numerous obvious signs of its decline, revealed by maneuvers whose purpose is to guarantee the world’s supply of oil, adapt to climate change or control the population: the bursting of the real estate bubble, green capitalism, advances in surveillance technologies, the brutal end of the so-called “Arab Spring”, the proclamation of the Islamic State, wars in the Third World, the decline of social democracy, the refugee crisis, the rise of the extreme right and the civil society movement, the referendum in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union (“Brexit”), the sudden regressive turn in Turkey after the coup d’état, and, last but not least, Trump’s victory in the recent presidential elections in the United States. Diverse facts, but all of them are undeniably related by a common thread that is now becoming visible. Although the spectacle has merged with reality to the point where it has made reality unrecognizable, the bonds that hold them together have begun to fray, allowing for the appearance of contradictions offering various ways of escape, since they depend on local conditions. Liberal democracy is a phantom. The pot in which the clichés of political correctness were cooked has been overturned, which is why there are no longer any “red lines” in the spectacle, and now anything goes. The spectacle has gone haywire. The unexpected consequences of thirty years of capitalism’s absolute rule and unhindered progress have confusingly taken the form of an apparent crisis, a spectacle of rupture that, evidently, is not oriented towards the cause of freedom and consciousness. The absolutist regime of the commodity has nothing to fear from this trend: the proletariat has gone from one defeat to another until it has finally been deprived of its class character. When the integrated spectacle runs out of steam, nothing takes place in accordance with its usual rules, but nothing is the product of chance, either; things are logically the way they are, given the reality that is simply beginning to be manifested a little more faithfully.
From the crisis, which is in part real, in part simulated, bizarre figures, new political expressions and regressive programs emerge with a strong nationalist, xenophobic, racist and authoritarian content, signs of a phenomenon christened in the spectacular media as “populist rage”. All its variants converge in regressive regimes that appeal to the most sordid instincts and impulses of the masses, when not to fear, that potent factor of domestication and servitude. The elites call the tune, and that is why conflicts are directed towards spurious targets. The figure of the enemy is constructed, the enemy against whom it is possible to rally the abstract majority—the nation, the people, the citizenry, the folk—an enemy which is not the same everywhere. In some places this enemy is for the most part the “terrorist”, the “rapist” or the “drug trafficker”; in other places, you can choose between the Russian peril, Chinese expansionism, Islamic fundamentalism, undocumented immigrants, the neoliberal right or left, neo-fascism…. In opposition to a diffuse spectacle, a polymorphous enemy. Capitalism has no other way to overcome its contradictions than by gambling with them. The criminalization of the enemy contributes to this process. There can be no doubt that, having come up against the all-too-constraining limits of exponential growth and “sustainable” development, now that the military-economic hierarchy finds itself in the middle of a process of planetary restructuring, the competing powers are betting their money on a policy of continued development, completely unhindered by ecological concerns, implemented under the wing of a protectionist police state.
The market economy is no longer based on a unified system of rule, and its corresponding integrated form of the spectacle is on the verge of bankruptcy. The masses harmed by globalization are reluctant to play the role assigned to them in the game of appearances, since they do not feel that they are adequately represented by their current leaders. As a result, the dictatorship of the commodity can no longer be defended in a unitary way, by way of fidelity to the traditional political-social caste, supported by financial elites operating through the communications media (all of which are controlled by the banks). Nonetheless, the spectacle of decomposition is not the decomposition of the spectacle. The drastic increase of pauperization, the different actors on the stage and the profusion of impossible solutions are giving rise to a disordered spectacle. The spectacle is frantically diversifying to become credible, even at the price of letting the cat out of the bag: self-negation is part of its nature. Unfortunately, for a public that has been integrally educated in submission to the screen and to the supermarket for at least four or five generations, the negation of the spectacle is nothing but its replacement by another spectacle. The masses, who have ceased to believe in their customary leaders, without any emancipatory traditions to which they can turn, without the memory of past struggles, without any experience upon which their opinions could be based and without any mechanisms to express them, only want to follow the person who assures them that their addiction to abundant consumption and security can continue. In their insubordination, they seek nothing more than a more beneficial kind of obedience. That is why the spectacles of the messiah-leader, of the miraculous formula and of the party of salvation are making such headway. “Social” networks do their part to help this process along. Where there is no will to abolish slavery, the most that people can aspire to is a change of masters, which is possible with some technological assistance, but it is not an obstacle that can really stand in the way of the rise of movements whose supporters really want to escape from consumerism and the automation of life by doing away with guides and helmsmen. There can be no doubt that, in this spontaneous rejection of the spectacle, one may discover elements of a combative dissident culture, something that is necessary for the constitution of a community of struggle.
It is the end of the industrial cycle that began after the Second World War, which pollution, the depletion of natural resources, consumerist neuroses, the sovereign debt crisis and exacerbated inequality have not ceased to announce. We are witnessing the completely chaotic social eruption of those sectors of the population who were harmed and forgotten by the autonomous economy, impoverished wage-earning middle classes, indebted farmers, urban workers with part-time and temporary jobs, retirees living on inadequate pensions, homeowners facing foreclosure on their mortgages, ethnic and religious minorities, agrarian communities devastated by development projects, immigrants fleeing starvation, refugees fleeing from civil wars, etc. All of them have different interests and have no intention of going too far, but they all coincide in the rejection of the system as it currently exists: rejection of politics, of financial elites, of the metropolis, of the communications media, of the free circulation of people … but not of the spectacle. The winner is the one who has the biggest audience. Since none of them can transform their individual interest into the common interest of all, they cannot prevent it from being transformed into an image, and the impulse of every sector can be neutralized by opposing its representation with the interests of the others, old or new. In one way or another, the result is nothing but shoddy play-acting, ceremonial imposture, calls for closing the borders, demobilization and the turn towards authoritarianism. That is, isolationist populism, liberal fundamentalism or left-wing civil society ideology, or all of them combined, it makes no difference; in all three of them the system is still the same. Direct democracy, universal fraternization, community solidarity and combative zeal are all lacking from the beginning, except in some fortunate cases that endure: Kabilia, Rojava, Oaxaca, the Valley of the Cauca, the Mapuche people, resistance in the Brazilian cities…. Everywhere else in the world, the spectacle seeks to ensure that the figures of decomposition are still the greatest objects of desire within a servile society. However, the constant outbreaks of resistance indicate that, without too much memory and, therefore, with little lucidity, the struggle for emancipation continues.
The new breezes of the industrialization of the world are more and more polluted and opaque, the consequence of the disaggregation of global capitalism that, despite everything, is still determined to flee forward. Today, we can only define the conditions in which we find ourselves as a state of general disorder. Increasingly more people are questioning the necessity for the demands that emanate from its highest spheres, but without wanting to escape from their jurisdiction. There are no bonds of unity that are strong enough to maintain a credible sense of order, but everyone in the world fears chaos. Under such circumstances, divisions become wider, every man looks out for himself and separates from the others, but without ever taking the decisive step. The foundations that uphold the weight of the neoliberal system as a whole are no longer strong enough, the laws upon which it is based are no longer observed, but despite the threat of collapse, the residents of the building do not have enough power to replace them. The world order has ceased to exist in a unified way, and each fragment is trying to continue on its own account, without being able to do so. The final situation is that of an internal dissonance that, thanks to a relative pause in the collapse, preserves the appearances of solidity. A power undermined from within, which can no longer justify itself as a necessary good, justifies itself, at best, as the lesser evil, as something to which one clings when faced with a future that looks like it will inevitably be worse than the present. Fortunately, there are minorities that do not go along with this hogwash.
Given the difficulty of forming a historical force from this crisis that would be capable of opposing the forces of this chaotic order with sufficient reasons and enough people who share them, if violent indignation and a collectivist spirit will not remedy it, the perspective that is contemplated can be none other than that of an adaptation of the masses to constantly advancing catastrophic conditions. New messiah-demagogues, whether promoting the pacifying line that “nothing has happened here that cannot be fixed”, or whether they promote the line of apocalyptic preaching that maintains, “either us, or the flood”, will occupy the noisy spaces of non-communication. Flamboyant political showmen1 will tell us that we have to tighten our belts and postmodern professors will teach us techniques of adjustment to disaster while we remain deaf, blind, and, above all, asleep, in the face of everything that is happening around us. For the benefit of domination, the show must go on, unless the shocking glare of contemporary misery catches up to us, wakes us up, shines some light in our eyes, and instills us with rage.
November 17, 2016
Translated in November 2016. Original title: “The Show Must Go On: Modesta tentativa de explicación de un mundo que escapa a la razón”
- 1In English in the original - translator's note.