Published on http://www.counterpunch.org
One reading of the present shows us a hyped economic reality but also political and cultural realities hyped so far that simulacra is quite easily digested and regurgitated as reality. In a world of simulacra, reality is not only a vacated former presence, like a former tenant, but unrecognizable in any reappearance. It’s a war of every simulation of reality against every other similar displacement of reality.
And so, a feature of hyperreality is to declare and dismiss this reading as “fake news” or “disinformation.” More accurately, it would be called “fake/false interpretation.” This kind of reaction has legs now in this country, a tweet that flies viral to millions who tweet their own agreement.
Everything – meaning, too much — flies in a society of chaotic spectacle and spin, two outstanding problems in one sentence.
If I were to make a case that it’s too late to save ourselves from this low form of “conversation,” to use pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty’s ideal of how we can communicate with each other, I’d begin with my description in the first paragraph of how we do “communicate.” Not at all, anymore. Or, much less than any time since paintings were drawn in the Lascaux Caves.
Our hyped economic reality, so in need of deep structural changes to an economic system that went off the tracks in the second part of the last century with the presidency of Ronald Reagan, is a foundational bottom to our hyperreality, if such could exist. And it can’t. Hyperreality has no bottom.
The “Voodoo” nature of that economics – shape a vanguard elite that could compete globally and win for all of us and raise all boats, a kind of Neoliberal utopia – was transparent but there was already an empowered top quintile made flush by profits in the Vietnam “conflict” that could obscure that transparency. I mean that we already had in place a power class arising from wealth that was benefitting from “Voodoo” economics, aka, the “efficiency of the market.”
However, such a move on the chess board doomed a middle-class democracy that had been formed after WWII, an electorally powerful class that tempered a wealth divide that had brought Europe to revolution more than once.
The unregulated rule of the market gradually wasted that middle-class democracy and left us with the wealth divide we have now, plus all the consequences of that divide. Not the least of these is the persisting economic immobility of those who were caught at the bottom two quintiles at the moment of the Reagan launch, namely people of color. They were at the bottom while the middle-class democracy went on, economic and resulting social mobility restricted to white males. What a Democratic Keynesian economics did was allow a government intrusion into private markets to relieve an economic distress of an efficient market theory. This was not a direct mending of the inequities long standing.
Neither did a neoliberal economics complete the reconstruction that had failed following the War Between the States but exacerbated a divide between the races as both mediums for advancement — having money or finding a pathway to having money – were denied brown and black skinned people in what had already become quite transparently a plutarchy.
Wealth and the power coming with wealth see no need in redistributing either. That’s not a planned conspiracy; it’s axiomatic and the guiding axiom is return on investment. Le Roi.
What we have had with the Democratic Party over the course of two Democratic presidencies is no direct confrontation with Le Roi primacy but instead a return to unfinished reconstruction of just mercy to people of color, now extended to sexuality and gender equity. It took some time for Bernie Sanders to make a connection between his attack on unbridled capitalism and such an attack’s positive impact on all marginalized groups. Whether he has convinced people of color of this we will discover with the primaries.
Regardless of how single focused Republicans are and how absent such is with Democrats, our politics are now immersed in the hyperreal, immersed in fabrications that suit our chosen economics as well as our politics, all nurtured in the Dark Matter of cyberspace.
The visions of any form of socialism, the end game of an identity politics, or the Vichy-like conciliations of the Democratic Party play sadly and weakly in a hyperreal more dramatically owned by narratives that make no attempt to tack to the winds of reality.
Thus, perceptions of how great Trump’s America is, how like a warrior fighting The Deep State Trump is, how coddled minorities are by Democratic Party governing, and how fearful we are of illegals flooding across the southern border and transforming very rapidly WASP identity into an inconceivable otherness own the hyperreal stage.
Standards of evaluation and judgment regarding how well the country is doing are targeted on how well investors and dividend recipients are doing. Reportages of unemployment, of wages, conditions of employment, retirement security, and benefits are assessed in relation to an absence of workers’ share of profits that has been in place since Reagan. Any movement from nothing to something is a mathematics not a victory.
For example, the Native American population is doing well in all of these from what perspective? Within what historical accounting? The same can be said if we take a woman’s or any racial minority’s perspective.
If a worker formerly had a secure pension, a wage beyond cost of living, employee paid health benefits, membership in unions representing their needs, and the security of knowing that redundancy wasn’t a “new” reality, and then all that collapses so disastrously that a political party can make it a small plank in their platform, run on its recuperation, and a present administration makes a sham show of the same to keep the precariat from revolt, can we say workers are now doing well?
How our economic state appears to us, that is, its phenomenal reality depends on who the “us” might be. It also depends on the ways in which the “appearance arts” have expanded because of the melding of online and offline representations. Such arts have become so forceful in such a short period of time that we remain stunned by a hyperreality that seems always to have been with us. Images replace discourse; narratives replace critical reasoning; opinions replace factual evidence.
We have gone, following Baudrillard’s explanation, from a common recognition of what is truly reflective of reality and what is not to the perversions of reality economically, politically and culturally practiced and personalized by Donald Trump, to an acceptance of his fabrications and reality pretenses to a simulacrum where something is represented/narrated that, in Gilles Deleuze’s words “bears no relation to reality whatsoever.”
Political hyperreal has expanded and deepened since the House’s impeachment went down in a total defeat in the Senate. President Trump is now on a “Baby’s Peeve Purge” campaign, transparently baby peevish Stalinesque, that has elevated his popularity.
“I’d be able to do it if I wanted I have the absolute right to do it,” the President said this week when asked if he had directed Attorney General Barr, his stooge, to intervene in the sentencing of Roger Stone, one of his operatives.
There is now little need to hide the claim to absolute power, or to worry about the Constitutionality of such claims. The President of the United States is going to punish those who impeached him and the expectation that this too will be accepted as “perfect” is unquestioned in the hyperreal in which we find our stunned lives.
The reasoning that “maybe people should pay for that,” meaning impeaching Trump, was expressed by the Press Secretary as if this kind of statement is okay with everyone. This was formerly back room, behind closed doors Nixonian vindictiveness. It is now so totally “perfect” that we just stand by, curious as to who our President will humiliate next in his made for autocrat’s messaging medium, Twitter. Neither Orwell nor Huxley imagined such a fast track from Master Voice to “We, the People.”
There is no fear of outrage in response but rather once again a rise in the President’s popularity, no fewer swarming to his rallies, the intensity of his magnetism increasing as he goes Full Autocrat.
If you juxtapose the Iowa Democratic primary ruin with the President’s Oprah/Ellen State of the Union Reality-TV show, you get a sense of how weak and failing, how enervated any opposition to the President is now and, judging by the candidates vying to run against him in the election, will continue to be right up to that election.
Perhaps it’s not the fault of a party arguing among themselves over “kitchen table” issues, the “Vichy” Democrats like Buttigieg and Klobuchar for example, staking out a middle ground, set against deep structural economic change Bernie. Putting “kitchen table” issues ahead of what Bernie wants is reminiscent of Vichy President Pétain’s call to put work, family and fatherland ahead of continuing to fight the Nazi invasion wherever, whenever and, however. This is a fight Democrats have not engaged in since FDR.
What is clear, however, is that both factions are campaigning in a reality already dismissed by the hyperreal in which Donald J. Trump triumphs.
He’s not alone there. And this take us to our cultural climate which has very steadily and quickly softened us to the point that truth is not the truth in this hyperreal, as Giuliana astutely affirmed, facts are just yours and not mine, opinions are self-authorized and beyond rational challenge, and reality is what I see and say it is in my bubble of “social” updating and awareness.
I don’t know what the middle ground politics is within this regime of diverse and divagate knowing. I call it “Vichy” because its an attempt to live cordially within an encompassing regime focused on the usurpation of democratic power.
Trump earned his spurs in the hyperreal long before he became president. He’s now formidable because his replacement of reality and truth with himself and his tweets runs parallel with the entire culture’s displacement of shared ways of knowing with personalized links, kinks and apps.
This personalization/privatization of traditional ways of knowing, from armchair rational approaches of philosophy to the scientific method, is, ironically, not personal at all but a manufactured product of both a politics and an economics that is threatened by orders of common understanding, much preferring, as does Putin, the disarray of “personalized” realities.
Cyberspace is a too efficient delivery system of such.
This cultural temper then is running in Trump’s direction, not toward any opposition. I don’t know what authority would stand now in this country as a guide to extracting simulacra from reality. Can evidentially based language be reasserted in defiance of tweets?
We are in a reality that is applauded as new because the old was just so old school, not retrievable and who would want to go back to analog reality? We are inured in our wealth divide and careless of its consequences to the same extent that we are inured of our alternate reality lives in cyberspace. The latter carries over into the former and replaces its evils with the fascinations of the Digital Hyperreal.
The political state we are in has been created by the movement of both culture and economics toward conditions it will be difficult to replace because the forces of those movements are ongoing and now impossible to re-imagine.
Sadly, we have difficulty in imagining ourselves in the world that Bernie envisions or the world that Greta Thunberg envisions, nor can we imagine ourselves back in a world unsettled by the disjunctions and chaos of cyberspace.
These failures in the present may not proceed into a future in which other and new conditions force us to burst the hyperreal bubble we are in.
It’s also possible that the “Vichy” choice as Democratic presidential candidate can describe an appeasing, modulated path that will stand against the spectacles and spin of the hyperreal and its voice, Donald J. Trump. I have my doubts.
To have any chance at all the “Vichies” must move rapidly to convince a dividend recipient class that they will not, as Bernie would, erode their dividends, nor will they do anything more than return our “free” enterprise system to what it was before Trump, his tweets and his mano a mano brand of foreign relations, which promises an accidental war from which even the “Industrial/Military Complex” won’t profit.
The “Vichies” must convince those invested in fossil fuels that their dividends will not end because we’ve rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. And what stands as most difficult, they must convince on that hyperreal stage, which is our country now, a stage in which Donald J. Trump is the Master Voice, that there’s truth and reality in their “narrative.”
We must doubt, finally, given the description of our present surround presented here, whether a Vichy Democratic presidency will “cordialize” either the MAGA’s or the Bernie Bros.
More certainly, a re-election of Trump will make it more than difficult to salvage what is being economically, politically and culturally destroyed.