We had to know this was coming. It was always here, but now it can be seen more clearly through the unvarnished lens of protofascism. Retrenchment and revanchism arrive with a new pitchman, selling rollbacks disguised as opportunities and promising to reclaim that which has been lost after decades of social progress and cultural liberalization. This isn’t a “new normal” but rather an old one reemerging, and the only sort of normality it represents is that which is perversely defined by a type of mass insanity.
Things have been heading in this direction for a long time now, but the pace obviously has accelerated in the digital age. The lamentations about the demise of truth and the advent of bogus “news” are legion, as are the observations about the omnipresence of technology and the implications thereof. But all this hasn’t happened to us -- it has veritably been demanded. Obscured by the handwringing and finger-pointing is the deeper reality of a culture obsessed with on-demand indulgences, no matter the cost.
This is a manifestation of convenient compartmentalization, as if what happens in one realm has no bearing on another. Mass consumption of artificial foods, infotainment tidbits, contrived “reality” fare, and “brain candy” is seen as innocuous or just a guilty pleasure if it’s even thought about at all. Yet when politics are shown to be dominated by artifice, and when sensationalism trumps responsible journalism, suddenly there are waves of consternation and disbelief. How could this happen? Well, how could it not.
We don’t need to be in a graduate school seminar to appreciate the ways in which the baseline system we inhabit generates myriad forms of false consciousness.Buy this and be fulfilled! Wear this and be popular! Look like this and be loved! Work hard and realize the American Dream! And so on. It’s not so much that parts of this reality are false; on some level, it’s all false. An analogous notion is “the fruit of the poisonous tree,” indicating that when something is corrupt at the root it will also be so in the fruit.
So let’s consider those roots for just a moment. How far back do we need to go? Human domination of nature? Slavery and genocide? Manifest destiny? Plutocracy? Commodification? Prison-industrial complex? Mass surveillance? Perpetual war? We can do this all day, rattling off all the wrong turns along the way, and exploring how they’re based on false premises and outright untruths. Taken together, this convergent litany indicates the depths of the conditioning required in order for the operation to sustain.
Still, we’re not even talking about Orwell here, and it doesn’t take a smoke-filled room to perpetuate the apt mindset. This is a participatory process, one in which acceptance of the basic rank ordering of things is rewarded, or at least not punished. Even ostensible “critics” often remain within the confines of taking the pillars of this system at face value, at times offering parallel forms of misdirection as an alternative. Don’t trust them, trust us! They’re evil and we’re good! Just believe us and you’ll be wealthy and healthy!
It’s a pitch as old as the hills; we know it yet we still buy it. The movie is never as good as the trailer but you’ll watch it anyway. The label and logo are cool, so who cares if the product is any good. That well-dressed person speaking in serious tones on the screen must be saying something that’s informed and important. The corporation/government denies any wrongdoing, so that’s good enough for me. There are checks and balances in place to prevent disastrous outcomes, so all is well with the system. Indeed.
This all sounds quite acerbic, which seems about right for this era. And it may well be redundant to point out that we’re awash in a sea of faux friends, false impressions, and fake news. But this isn’t the Matrix (yet), and there’s an opportunity in this moment to turn things around -- starting with avoiding the fallacy that everything would be fine if only things hadn’t gone off the rails electorally. Business as usual produced this result, not some anomaly. The sooner we realize it, the more we can do about it. For real.