Disenchantment

Chris Arkenberg ( @chris23 ) from the Institute for the Future posted this to his Twitter feed the other day:

“The enclosure of the commons by sociopathic corporate elites ensures conversion of inherent value into manufactured scarcity.”

As I read this I thought about a post I had seen earlier. Frank Chimero wrote a post called Holiday containing his ruminations on the often unrewarding life of a designer. Chris lead me to reflect a bit more on this issue in light of corporations ‘encircling’ the commons and manufacturing scarcity, in this case scarcity of meaning. It made me realize our aesthetic value, and the power that it holds, is also being encircled. Orpheus played such as to seduce the gods themselves, the cathedrals and temples brought down the spirit of divinity for the masses to reflect on. What’s that Pepsi logo doing for you? Had any moments of sublimity with that one?

Folks who oppose abortion rights like to bring out the argument “What if Bach was aborted…” What if Bach was consigned to write crappy commercial jingles or produce the next Lady Gaga album?

Someone might say “Well that Lady Gaga album sounds nice…” Really? Does it? Or are we so lost in the forest of consumerism that we can’t hear the hollow drums of societal collapse pounding in our ears. While Lady Gaga is flouncing about giving her call of freedom we’ve got some serious issues at hand. I don’t think freedom in fashion is going to do much when the tensions between the West and Iran finally lead to conflict. Something tells me those Afghani civilians getting blitzed by unmanned drones aren’t too worried about whether or not they have the right to gussy up in Bowie drag and get their freak on.

Look at a Kurdish Sufi ritual. Is that music there to justify a fashion statement? No, the beat of those drums reflects the movement of life, the dancers become one with the movement of constellations and society is held together by the shared breath of their heart sung prayers. Lady Gaga, as an admited corporate brand device, is actively manufacturing a scarcity of meaning in our society. For all the freedom she claims to foster with her act, what she fosters is a vacant hole where a real message could be housed. This isn’t about hating pop music, this is about the responsibility of the creative class.

In the U.S. we’ve got racist militias grabbing guns to take on narco armies strong enough to kill gubenatorial candidates with impunity. La Familia Michoacán is laying the decapitated heads of their enemies out as a sign for more. And guess what…they believe in magic. They know the real power of the creative class. The leader of La Familia, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, known as El Mas Loco, or the Craziest One, wrote a spiritual manual for his followers. He’s not dancing around in glam drag, he’s running a violent force that reaches all the way up to Chicago.

Disenchantment is a sociological idea that Max Weber worked with, and when I read something like Frank’s post on his disenchantment with being a designer I look at it in a societal way. This isn’t just a matter of being “disenchanted” on a personal level, Frank’s post points me to how disenchanted the whole sloppy world has become. “What’s the point of design?” Frank asks. Magic my friend! The whole point is magic.

It’s a bunch of slack minded executives who’ve made creative folks think that their output is simply to beautify a cheap marketing scheme. People talk about how beautiful the designs are in the caves of Lascaux. Those cave paintings weren’t there to decorate the walls. The term caveman is a fictitious term, there were never any cavemen. Our ancestors weren’t living in caves. The cave is a place of initiation. Go to any traditional culture and look for cave dwellers. If you find someone living in a cave it’s going to be a shaman or a monastic.

Those cave paintings weren’t the equivalent of cheap reproductions you pick up at Ikea to give the room some dubious class, those were painted to aid the hunt. The real hunt, for direct sustenance, sustenance not off put by capital where you re-buy your labor with interest so you can head to the 7-11 for some doritos and a coke.

While the creative class in the West is relegated to the socially acceptable version of designing tags for Heroin packets, we’re teetering on the verge of a complete cultural transformation. Forget the BP spill, forget the burgeon tensions in the Middle East, the narco armies in Mexico, forget every drop of weaponized Uranium floating around on the black market, even our positive progress is reaching a point that some serious thinking is in order.

Our scientists and technicians are building things that require deep thought before we put them into play. The Singularity sounds stupid to every reasonably minded, well adapted, citizen. It sounds stupid because genius is not reasonable, nor well adapted, genius is the spark of change. A key note speech at the World Future Society’s annual convention brought to light some of ethical and practical concerns that the Singularity raises. The ethical implications of smart drugs, Artificial Intelligence, surveillance, cybernetics, life extension technologies and all of the other developments that define the Singularity movement need to be better understood. The surprising political ramifications that came out of the development of nuclear weapons shows us that this kind of technological advance is best accompanied by serious thought.

In a situation like this why are our creative thinkers being wasted on designing websites for businesses?

Can we at least get a couple of the best and brightest to work on a project or two that will help guide our limping society back into shape before the whole thing blows up in our face? We need some cave paintings for the hunt, our hunters are ill equipped and someone’s been fattening them up with potato chips.

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2 responses to “Disenchantment

  1. Really interesting post, and I agree with many of the sentiments. Still, will write a little contrariwise.

    I thought it very interesting that you brought up Lady Gaga and Singularity. I tend to interpret her as a second generation of artists who have grown up backstage of of the Reality Studio, along with Christina Aguilera and maybe Gorillaz. They seem to actively search for ways to embrace a hypermedia environment and thrive.

    Michael Jackson stands tall as a highly intelligent, creative individual who struggled to embrace his role as avatar; ultimately he could not transmute the force and had to withdraw, to have his children go in public faceless.

    Children have very few examples in projected-image manipulation that do not have abuse and exploitation as their guiding purpose. If we avoid collapse, these lessons will save minds. In other words, I like to believe that Lady Gaga intentionally works towards a positive Singularity scenario.

    • Excellent points Cole. As a creative interacting with the reality of technology, propaganda and hypermedia Lady Gaga is definitely a skilled strategist. Jason Louv’s article on Lady Gaga as “a kind of posthuman life strategy” gives a pretty good assessment of that facet of her persona. You’ve made me think more about this, she’s a low hanging fruit example and I have to admit I used her because it was easy. : )

      After delving deeper I would still question if her strategy is actually successful. Does she succeed in surviving the environment? Or is her example merely a seductive compromise?

      In one of the William S. Burroughs Naropa Lectures he gives a good run down on his take on ‘the devil’s bargain’. I couldn’t find it tagged, but an excerpt from his “Words of Advice for Young People” has a decent summary:

      Now some of you may encounter the Devil’s Bargain, if you get that far. Any old soul is worth saving, at least to a priest, but not every soul is worth buying. So you can take the offer as a compliment.

      He tries the easy ones first. You know like money, all the money there is. But who wants to be the richest guy in some cemetary? Money won’t buy. Not much left to spend it on, eh gramps? Getting too old to cut the mustard.

      Well time hits the hardest blows. Especially below the belt.

      How’s a young body grab you? Like three card monte, like pea under the shell, now you see it, now you don’t.

      Haven’t you forgotten something, gramps? In order to feel something, you’ve got to be there. You have to be eighteen. You’re not eighteen. You are seventy-eight. Old fool sold his soul for a strap-on.

      Well they always try the easiest ones first. How about an honorable bargain? You always wanted to be a doctor, well now’s your chance. Why don’t you become a great healer and benefit humanity? What’s wrong with that? Just about everything. Just about everything.

      There are no honorable bargains involving exchange of qualitative merchandise like souls for quantitative merchandise like time and money. So piss off Satan and don’t take me for dumber than I look.

      An old junk pusher told me – Watch whose money you pick up.

      In an article I ran across through The Revealer , Jeremy Biles presents his reading of her cultural position and draws on Baudrillard, saying that the ‘occult’ secret she posesses is “the secret that “there is no longer any reality or truth beneath the simulated image.” Baudrillard was not ashamed to say that he pursued a Manichean dualism in his philosophy, and I think this raises questions over whether what we are seeing with creatives like Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga and the Gorillaz is actually a new phenomenon.

      I think that performers like Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson and even the Gorillaz represent resources to be examined and ‘stolen’ from in the sense that Brion Gysin outlines in Here to Go. A sort of Promethean theft, or like the theft of Hermes taking Apollos lyre. Taking what is effective for the moment, but not engaging in a long term imitative strategy.

      Thinking about our concepts of ‘hypermedia’ and ‘hyperreality’, I wonder if ancient Egypt or Babylon were any less effective in their transmedia strategies. Were they in some ways more effective? Imagine those temples, shrines and oracles at their height, the heady incense, chanting, all elements aligned to cosmological patterns that permeated the society’s ideas of harvesting, reproduction and health.

      That’s where I think Lady Gaga as a life strategy breaks down. If we’re theorizing based on the Singularity as a full event, the reality of the interim stage, the violence that will come before that kind of drastic change occurs, Lady Gaga is making herself completely unviable for survival. Even though her stage persona might skew the ability of facial recognition software, it’s not going to help her escape a pissed off rioter with a molotov cocktail, resource depletion, increased solar radiation and all of the other potential disasters that will parallel, come from, or negate positive technological growth.

      Even the narratives in her videos don’t portray her as overcoming a situation of exploitation, merely changing places with the exploiters. Does Lady Gaga represent a positive scenario? Or the surreal face of future oppression?

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