THE CAVE OF FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS, IX of IX

Posted by on July 23rd, 2010 at 12:01 AM

. . . The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas:
i.e. the class, which is the ruling material force of society, is
at the same time its ruling intellectual force.
–Marx, The German Ideology

It has been said that every time and place has its own despair.
The despair of California is the despair of people relentlessly
getting what they want.
—Jacob Needleman, The New Religions

Under the stupefying impress of an insidiously pollutive, crystallized ideology—a skewed “self-evidency” designed to make thickwitted personalities imagine their ingrained delusions to be merely their own, innermost intellectual incisiveness and agility–moderns everywhere mistake, as they are trained from their eighth or ninth month to mistake, what they “want” for what they “are.”  Every consumerist or self-willful desideratum is felt to be absolute, a divine passion or vital addiction; and from this blind madness of telegenic cravings, moderns proceed to extrapolate their life’s geometry, their putative “freedom” calculated from the axiomatics of their wholly controlled and slavish appetites.  The more intellectualized moderns grow, the less reflective they become,  confirmed in their ever-hardening conflation of pathos for will, of marketworld for ego and heteronomous capitulation for self-assertion.

Moderns have no concept of the possible modal distinctions between form and matter in a culture, and imagine therefore that all that circulates among them is abstracted “ideas” and rootless or fortuitous “information” which they are abstractedly free to take or to leave, as they may atomistically like.  In their relation to modern media, moderns are like witless children who find a partial piece of candy or half-chewed gum out in public and have no compunction about continuing the mastication of this unquestioned windfall.  All ideas no matter how tempting and seemingly aseptic got grown and formed, cultured or chiseled by freelance artisans or hirelings who “felt” or got “directed” in how this scheme for guiding thinking needed to develop.  Etymologies show us the historical paths of evolving tactics for extending the meaning of a word or family of words, but in modernity terms must also be tested for their family-scent, their genetic and chemical derivation from some ideological hierarchy:  the more abstract or sterilized a word may seem, the thicker its latent liabilities of implications and biases.  To think merely noetically or intellectively is to be oblivious to what is actually and immediately present and potent in one’s “toolkit” of grafted cognitive prostheses.

Within the circulatory system of ideologized culture, thousands of viral biases subliminally predispose how moderns orient themselves:  it is in truth a system of metabolism, skewing and charging and constantly stealing or draining energies from their clueless wits—only one of multitudes of way in which the self-supposed modern “consumer” is himself getting consumed by what he ingests.  Above all, we cannot permit ourselves to take Marx’s accusation obtusely:  it is never bluntly, overtly or coercively that a scheme of “ruling ideas” rules.  On the contrary—it dominates unresistingly and implacably, because its pivotal preconceptions are positioned at the blind-spots, the most ineffable vortices of irresolvability behind the eyes and mentalities of its subjects.  Capitalism’s feudal subjects, ferociously self-active and all-critical “egos” in their own view, can rebel and assert their blatant “freedom” and self-defined self-interest all they like:  the modern economic order is a Logic, a System or Racket in which, like a casino, the house never loses and nothing is more vital to its prevailing imperatives than the incurable gamblers’ itch of self-ingenuity and some new tactical angle for the pursuit of generically idiosyncratic self-interest.  Capitalism works by making “individuals” everywhere into types, living abstractions who centuries ago lost the art of communicating with their own concrete or existential natures and intuitions—types flensed of all sensibility for assessing what is abstract and what is concrete.

Modernity’s organized scheme of always-diversionary or misdirected rage and self-frustrating self-stupefaction is the bite buried within Marx’s insistence that “objective” forms of domination extend profoundly and intimately into what we imagine to be “subjective.”  That is to say, as The German Ideology continues:  “The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.” In late modernity, “Let’s you and the scapegoat fight!” and “Here, you poor wretch, have some more distractive miseries” have utterly become scientized “imagological” or “mediological” disciplines for the manipulation of fertilized and nicely tensioned irrationalisms.

How ironic that Marx and Engels would have opened The Communist Manifesto talking satirically about the bugaboo, the Europe-haunting “specter” of what padronism/capitalism/feudalism had inflated into a demonized Godzilla, the Red Menace of unions, free public education, public health care, universal suffrage, women’s rights, and other nightmares of the miserly and reactionary moneylords.  –Ironic because capitalism itself is precisely and profoundly such a nakedly organized phantasmagoria of SPECTERS, i.e. the normalization of delusions and  untruth or “false consciousness,” the totalitarian compulsion of subjectivism as the natural and righteous condition of all human-serfs:  among capitalism’s stupendous but uncredited accomplishments are the “sweet nothings” of lying rhetoric that politicians murmur for public consumption who are wholly owned subsidiaries of corporations and moguls, no less than the ever-anxious marriage of capitalism with “democracy” (a union far more noted for its cheating and murder-for-hire than its fidelity); and the opium-dream of “instant wealth” for gamblers/lottery-players/insider-investors and conmen, the sweet-American-Dreams of stability and security for small business-owners or retirees, the imagined “haven from the storm” of financial turbulence to be found in bonds/T-bills or gold, the stock-market’s “securitized assets” of junk-mortgages, the “irrational exuberance” of speculators in that wholly manipulated market, the inexhaustible delusion of materialist “gratifications” that the capitalist market promises its ever-credulous crop of consumers-born-every-minute, the duplicitous democratist illusion of easy money and la dolce vita for all who regard themselves as exceptional and privileged (i.e. everyone), the demented infantile faith in “happiness” as a universal entitlement, political salvation for the Many in the form of every year’s round of pseudo-legislation and pseudo-regulation from which corporate sponsors turn out to be ever-so-exempt, and certainly the outright pious fraud of “education,” “informational media” and indeed “science” itself generally and for the most part.

–Is there even a conceivable end to the Fountainhead of Mendacities that the machine-world of the universal and all-engulfing Market, the secular and mechanized Father-of-All-Lies, has spawned?  Among the ancient Greeks, Anacharsis best focused the misanthropic contempt that the materialist- and money-minded deserve:  “A market is a place set apart for men to deceive and to get the better of one another.”  It took modern capitalism’s no-holds-barred totalitarian amoralism and laissez-faire anomie to incarnate to the bitter end the dementias that Aristotle could already well perceive among the unscrupulous and abysmally self-interested sophists.  A world in which there are only means, instrumentalities and utilities—a world projected to be the utter correlate or complement to banausic or sophistic mentality—is a meaningless, worthless, valueless, and purposeless scheme of existence (Nicomachean Ethics I.i.1094a.20), impotent as a “state” to induce or inspire values, wisdom or conscience in its own populace (Politics III.ix.1280a).

“Alienation,” the organized and systematic expropriation of all that is strategically or humanly or economically valuable/good/useful/vital—thus, above all else, the usurpation of power, authority and wealth–is not just grossly and objectively detectable in the modern world; it is as well subliminal and intimate, subtly and all-pervasively corrupting the actions, perspectives and feelings of modernized personalities no different from the insidious diffusiveness of designer narcotics.  Not even moderns’ own views, ideas, dreams, hopes, intuitions, language, vocabulary, conscience, internalized “culture,” etc. belong any longer to the multitudes or the elites who have been trained like dogs to put their faith in the materialistic and media-celebrated “successful,” “rewarded,” “recognized,” “well-reputed,” “influential,” “professional” and “respected” minions of a system of universal and obligatory human/personal/cultural destitution.  Not only are “expertise” and professionalism vital to this system’s orchestrated con game, so indeed is the “spontaneous” and “grass roots” expression of manipulable mass-opinions (now termed “Astroturf” for its artificiality).

It is a de facto and negligible incoherency that so many “winners” in modernity’s games of wealth, power and celebrity are such reiteratively sorry specimens of personality, such human basket-cases.  But as American TV, movies and politics more and more arrogantly demonstrate, even lackwit-imbeciles can be set up as “idols” to manage and distract the direction and quality of attention among the slack-minded, the purposeless and valueless multitudes for whom life at best is a vicarious mode of fantasy-indulgence in the deliria of others.  The essence of “bread and circuses” is not its literal or graphic form—which varies from age to age—but its vulgarity, its “mind-blowing” spectacle and diversionary power:  William Burroughs aptly analogized modern politics for this reason to the dance of the matador, the red cape designed as misdirection from the saber–“That is what politics is for, to teach you the cape.”

In Plato’s allegory, all but a single exception sit chained in place in a great cavern, their heads fixed so they can see nothing but the projection-screen of the wall in front of them on which shadow-images are thrown from fires at the obscure rear of the cave.  To the multitudes—the Many—nothing is evident or interesting or true except those manipulated spectral projections, which are indeed the only idiom or vocabulary in terms of which these imprisoned parochials can formulate the “pseudo-events” that are so infinitely more significant than their own miserable lives.  Who would willingly or knowingly squander his life in such an opium-den of image-mongering, such a prison-term of truthlessness and infantilism? Plato’s dismal vision was morally or essentially true when he wrote it two and a half millennia ago, but it took the triumphs of Edison and Farnsworth and the cinematic-televisual technology/ideology/economy of modern society to realize to the nth degree of literalness this life of subcritical or anticritical dysculture, these organized platoons of addicts to “virtualities.”  To be modern and certainly to be American is to be viscerally allergic to truths that run contrary to the troglodytic system of behaviorally perfected “false consciousness.”

In The Politics of the Family, R.D. Laing captured the ambivalent knuckle of a connection, a pivot-point in the way controlling cultures and especially scientized dyscultures carry out their magicians’ ploys of misdirection (“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”):  the whole social field is governed by rules that, at their most acute and most strategic self-obscurity, define for us what we are and are not permitted to notice and to understand, because of course “consciousness” and “comprehension” are unfailingly controlled by forces (ideology, orthodoxy, conformity, culture) about which the vast majority of any population has not even the most meager clue.  The actual rules moderns are governed by achieve massified false consciousness because they absolutely deny their subjects any permission to recognize what those rules are, how they operate on their subjects, and whose interests they ultimately serve.  As Nietzsche astutely perceived, no morality likes having its skirts looked up—but most of all, massifying, uniformitarian or totalitarian moralities do not like this; absolutist and alienative moralities even moreso, because the whole object is that they must rule impersonally, metaphysically, like a foregone law of physics.

Laing writes, in a deft exploitation of a key ambiguity, “Unless we can ‘see through’ the rules, we can only see through the rules,” i.e. only what is officially accredited or ideologically approved will then exist for us as meaningful or evidential or apprehensible.  “Thinking” and consciousness will flow as naturally as water seeking its own level and taking the path of least resistance.  Such rulebound “seeing” ultimately isn’t “seeing” at all; it is sheerly slavish accommodation, an infantile or a pathetic acquiescence to an authoritarian fantasy, a dream dreamed for us from on high, a delusion to which one’s entire life will be witlessly mortgaged.  Systems of organized orthodoxy must control somehow the entire spectrum of human perception and comprehension, from the most primitive grasp of what is immediately going on to the most cosmic or consummate insight into the mechanism of our perfidious and fraudulent “whole.”

I quote over and over E.R. Beadle’s acerbic remark, “Half the work that is done in the world is to make things appear what they are not,” but in actuality, within their own private shells of idiotist self-orientation, the vast majority of any population has already reciprocally conditioned its “private” self to accept nothing other than the narcotic pablum of true-believing, right-thinking, institutionalized mendacity.  So mass-deception is ultimately no work at all but merely giving society’s automata “what they want.”  False consciousness for this reason truly has a systemic monopoly on the modern “marketplace of ideas.”  Useful idiots are by their very concept and rationale for existing the tools through which this monopoly is enforced, threatening every heterodox or heretical—every fully individual and originative–perspective with their imbecilic emotions.

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