We must begin with a series of banalities, the first being the observation that mass entertainment (television, movies, pop music, tabloid newspapers, paperbacks, video games and tapes, computer games, etc.) has recently undergone a spectacular transformation: it is no longer secondary to or relatively distinct from the general political economy of the United States; the production, distribution and consumption of mass entertainment is now central to American industrial capitalism. As the New York Times reported in an August 1995 Week-In-Review article,
Even those who haven't seen the film "Waterworld" probably know that it is the costliest movie ever made and has been widely pronounced a flop despite opening-weekend box-office receipts of $21 million. Few Americans could say who runs General Motors, but no one needs a regular Monday night table at Morton's to be in on the feud between Michael Eisner, the chairman of the Walt Disney Company, and his once-trusted lieutenant, Jeffrey Katzenberg. . . . The airwaves are flooded with shows revealing the machinations behind various movie deals. Newspapers across the country, as well as CNN, routinely report the 10 highest-grossing movies of the weekend.
Those who display a pronounced fascination (even obsession) with the images of mass entertainment include both the owners and managers of our society, as well as its "citizen-consumers." As Tom Frank has pointed out in a recent and symptomatic essay (to which we will return),
No longer can any serious executive regard TV, movies, magazines, and radio as simple "entertainment," as frivolous leisure-time fun. . . . Every leader of business knows that the nation's health is measured not by the production of cars and corn but by the strength of its culture industry. . . . The shift has been a gigantic one, altering the way we appreciate the world around us. . . . We have entered what the trade papers joyfully call the "Information Age," in which culture is the proper province of responsible executives, the minutiae that were once pondered by professors and garret- bound poets having become as closely scrutinized as daily stock prices.
Consequently, we are experiencing a profound world-wide crisis, because "entertainment" had been humanity's last refuge from oppression. In the words of Lawrence Wilkinson, director of the Global Business Network (now there's a name with a future!),
just as during the Enlightenment "the nation-state" took over from "the church" to become the dominant seat of action, so the nation-state is receding, yielding center stage to "the marketplace"; the action in the marketplace is, interestingly, everywhere: local, global, wherever. And "wherever" is increasingly dictated by "pure" economics and interests. . . .
Though he would no doubt disagree, Wilkinson's words are a thumbnail sketch of the history of slavery. After the Pope and the Republican comes the Capitalist, the most dangerous master of them all because s/he is heir to all the weaknesses and none of the strengths of her/his predecessors.
The ascension of mass entertainment (that is to say, the historical victory of the marketplace over humanity) has been a long time in coming; though the pace of its climb has been gradual, its progress has been relentless. The foundation for its conquest lies in the Great Depression (in the crisis of commodity over-production in the 1920s). Ever since then, but especially in the years following the end of World War II, political economy has been engaged in a campaign to produce markets where none existed before, and thereby to artificially create demand for commodities not yet needed, conceived of, nor developed. Precisely because of the ever-increasing over-development of the technical forces of the economy, it has been far easier, simpler, and more profitable to hastily produce shoddy new commodities in answer to falsified (artificially-created) needs, than it has been to sell shoddy new versions of basic commodities to people who already have what they need to survive. And, precisely because the face of the entire planet had already been seized and colonialized, political economy had no choice but to try to extend its reach inwards, into the mind and consciousness -- that is to say, into the domestic realm of everyday life, everything that had previously been outside of or irrelevant to the "serious business" of industrial capitalism. There was a certain "logic" to this endo-colonialization: everyday life is the realm, among other fleeting moments, of dreams, desires, wishes, fantasies, encounters, adventures, escapes and reversals of perspective; all of these "things" (provided that they could indeed be reduced to things) appealed to political economy because it is itself founded on the absolute condition that its subjects "willingly" suppress the potential of everyday life after they have "freely" sold their labor-power (their creativity and the time necessary to develop it) to employers and have begun to work. The double regime of social control engendered by endo-colonialization has thus permitted capitalism to gain in the sector of consumption what it loses in the sector of production; everything is now raw material, that is, capable of being commodified, distributed, and consumed -- even dreams of never working (just buy a ticket from some municipal corporation and win the lottery!). Mass entertainment was always intended to be an apparent escape from the alienation produced by industrial capitalism, and a sure-fire way of reproducing, fine-tuning and intensifying it on all levels -- that is to say, to be a supplement that would reproduce the lack it was originally said to fill, satisfy and negate.
The outcome of the campaign to create, maintain and expand a "culture industry" (defined as both commodified entertainment and popular knowledge) could be seen clearly in the 1960s, during the crisis of capitalist super-abundance. In his 1967 book, The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord declared that,
A culture now wholly commodity was bound to become the star commodity of the society of the spectacle. Clark Kerr, an ideologue at the cutting edge of this trend, reckons that the whole complex system of production, distribution and consumption of knowledge is already equivalent to 29 percent of the annual gross national product of the United States, and he predicts that in the second half of this century culture will become the driving force of the American economy, so assuming the role of the automobile in the first half, or that of the railroads in the late nineteenth century.
Certainly the elections of Hollywood actor and television pitchman Ronald Reagan to the governorship of California (in 1966) and to the presidency of the United States (in 1980 and again in 1984) were clear signs of the speed and thoroughness with which the culture industry has been re-casting American political economy in its own image (and vice versa). Who knows what percentage of our GNP is now derived from the culture industry? The exact number, no doubt, is a state secret; perhaps it would be disinformative to speculate upon it.
Without exaggeration, all products and services -- explicitly "cultural" or not -- may be described as "spectacle-commodities." Indeed, a certain "cultural" luster now serves as the indispensable packaging for every commodity, as a general gloss on the rationality and intelligence of the capitalist system as a whole, and as the chief product of that system. For this to have happened, all of culture must first have been stabilized, homogenized and integrated into something called "entertainment." Once it may have been upsetting to contemplate the idea that "guerilla war struggle is the new entertainment." Today, the all-embracing spectacle of televised entertainment (mass culture) includes even (and ever) more exotic forms of social practice. Wars, riots, law enforcement, criminal justice, elections, political scandals, investigative journalism, expert opinion of all stripes, predictions and forecasts, and news, traffic and weather reports (to name just a few) are produced, distributed and consumed as entertainment products. Even commercial advertisements for products are produced to be consumed as entertainment, as integrated "info-tainment."
The spectacular integration that produces "info-tainment" presupposes that both entertainment and information are capable of and are now being created with the needs of the marketplace "in mind." Information -- without regard for its subject matter -- must be as easily conceived and comprehended as a bar of soap or any other commodity, and it must contain or lead to nothing harmful to the logic or regime of the commodity. Data must be narrowly re-cast as "information" and strictly defined as a source of value and a form of merchandise before it can be integrated into "info-tainment." But, unlike culture, which is "the locus of the search for lost unity" (Debord), data is concrete knowledge about particular facts or circumstances. Won in the course of the struggles of everyday life, data is local and subjective by definition. As such, it poses a problem for the marketplace, which can only circulate "objectively" valuable goods that have "universal" appeal. Data can only circulate productively after it has been "raised up" (or abstracted) to the level of the objective and the universal. When the process of abstraction works according to the "logic" of the commodity -- that is, when the process isolates what it produces from its context, its past, its original intentions, and its consequences -- the end result can only be irrational. And yet there is a certain "logic" to the systematic irrationality of all information: if theory can define information as "a measure of the probability of a message being selected from the set of all possible messages," then the probability of information containing a "commercial message" (an advertisement for a commodity) is, in a capitalist society, very high indeed. But because "raised up" data remains knowledge about particulars, it is also essentially totalitarian: information as commodity is the imposition of a fragmentary vision on the totality of social practice. Therefore, there is nothing "objective" or "universal" about information at all, except for its relationship to power, which is absolute. (Despite its apparent diversity, information in all its forms says the same thing: Just do it why ask why!) The interest of a neologism like "info-tainment" (which is applied to a lot more these days than just half-hour-long commercials) is that, like a spectacle-commodity, it is as easily conceived and comprehended as a bar of soap: its meaning -- such as it is -- is immediately clear to a broad range of people. Though essentially it is an empty phrase, "info-tainment" grows more valuable as an object of exchange the more the term can be filled with references to other easily-comprehended spectacles. An example: the rhyme of the neologism "edu-tainment" (presumably a shortening of the phrase educational entertainment) with "info-tainment" suggests that integrated edu-tainment is "education for the Information Age" and that "info-tainment" can't be so bad because it can mutate into something called "edu-tainment." Literally speaking, edu-tainment is unthinkable without info-tainment, which is its role model. Industry has long regarded the school systems (the main repositories and sources of popular knowledge) as an important potential entrance point into the minds of children and, thus, into the minds and pocketbooks of parents. But advertising has wisely been forbidden in textbooks and on school grounds, thus depriving the marketing specialists of the beach-head needed for their invasion, so to speak. And so they have had to produce "informative" videotapes specially designed for use in the classroom, produced by the likes of the Cartoon Channel, the Discovery Channel, CNN in the Classroom, and Turner Broadcasting Systems. The degree of the commodity's colonialization of edu-tainment generally can be gauged by the title of TBS's very popular edu-tainment tape, Just Yabba-Dabba-Doo It!, which plays on both Fred Flintstone's cry of falsified happiness and the command-slogan of the Nike Corporation (itself a recuperation of the Yippies' slogan "Do it!"). Such integrated works may indeed be the "effective teaching tools" that their sellers proclaim them to be, but it seems clear that what they teach is to how to be a good "citizen-consumer" of the reigning spectacle.
There are always plenty of fresh examples to hammer home the point that there is no other choice but to be a good "citizen-consumer." In the context of the global imposition of edu-tainment as the (only) pedagogic method, no more compelling a lesson could be imagined than the current campaign in New York State to shrink drastically tax-derived funding for the State University of New York system and then to commercialize and profit from decentralized access to all of the individual components and everything that they each contain -- the "in-house" libraries, museums, and archives -- in the names of "learning productivity," an obvious rhyme with "worker productivity," and "distance-learning." (In a certain sense, the Governor of the State of New York -- presumably on behalf of the People of the State of New York -- is claiming that SUNY just isn't entertaining enough to be subsidized, or rather that SUNY can only be entertaining in its current fashion if its component universities charged enough in tuition to allow them to pay for their own spectacles. In other words, let the word go out: the People will only entertain the shows that they personally like to watch.) These are an ominous developments -- "commercialization" and "privatization" are taking place in an increasing number of important municipal entities and functions, such as sanitation, security, correctional institutions and park maintainence -- but especially because of the conditions in which all of the other libraries, archives and museums are now forced to operate.
Faced with severe budgetary restrictions and declining in-person usage (both in their respective ways symptoms of widespread illiteracy and stupefaction), public and private knowledge centers have had, some more willingly than others, to begin the long process of digitizing and commercializing access to their entire holdings (and to promote the corporations that so graciously allowed them to do so at such a good price). Such a process is nothing less than self-annihilation, for it was capitalism that had originally and widely disseminated the rigorous mentality of the museum, the original and unreproducable object, the authentic document and precise historical criticism. According to the director of the Whitney Museum, David Ross, his museum is now so much a "part of a process in which capital is transformed into aesthetic experience" that it is "logical" for the Whitney to be better integrated into the general process in which aesthetic experience is transformed into capital. In the name of "public access," libraries, archives and museums are going on-line (integrating themselves with one of any number of computer networks) with whatever they've converted into information, and, again, dutifully promoting the corporations that graciously allowed them to do so. The key here, as elsewhere, is the reductive translation of knowledge and experience into spectacular information. Some programs allow the person entering the information to attempt to copy perfectly the appearance of the original manuscript or document. But the Standard Generalized Mark-up Language (SGML), which is coming to be "the industry standard" (and thus the standard for everything and everybody else), only produces the appearance of an exact copy of the original when it has been given the command to print. If the information is, say, accessed through an on-line provider (that is, without any print command being given), it will be indistinguishable from any other block of digitized text, be it the Declaration of Independence or the latest news on Monica Seles. Though it will have "circulated productively," the information will have completely lost both its context and its aura, that is to say, both its logic and its humanity.
It is true that computers allow their users to run rapid and extensive database searches for keywords, titles and authors, and thus to "learn everything" there is to learn about a given subject. But users only learn from what has been entered, which must be accurate and complete (otherwise it wouldn't have been entered in the first place). If the data hasn't been entered, it can't be "information," and therefore (and literally speaking) doesn't mean anything. Worse still, users will never learn who entered the data, when and where it was entered, and on whose behalf -- that is to say, the things that matter most. Consequently, soon absolutely no basis will remain for the relatively independent judgment of those who make up the world of learning, those last few who base their self-respect and sense of purpose on their abilities to verify assertions, produce relatively impartial histories of the facts. In their place will come -- in addition to such new personal bonds of dependency and protection as secret societies, militias, gangs and organized-crime "families" -- vast, unchallenged networks of info-tainment, propaganda and falsification, and large-scale clandestine operations such as those hinted at by the so-called Iran/Contra scandal. If threatened, the networks' agents will be all too happy to blow up the Uffizi Gallery, for example, with the intent of showing just how fast and completely the spectacle can reconstruct what is genuine; technical abilities are such that reality itself can now be put into a museum, if need be. With the general destruction of the possibilities for independent verification, it is now only necessary to control the relatively few so-called experts and specialists who are active in their fields. Such control is easy, especially if it is simply a matter of convincing some citizen-consumer that the article on his or her TV screen is an authentic reproduction of something he or she has never seen before. Look how easy it has been to do the hard stuff, for example, keeping the members of the AMA and other "professional" organizations from clearly and exactly indicating just how sick our poisoned environment is making us (look at the silence concerning the very high incidence of breast cancer on Long Island and the obvious correlation with chemical pollution of the water supply).
There has been, nevertheless, great resistance to the undisguised colonialization of human thought and experience by what now passes for entertainment, information and education; real life simply refuses to die. As a result, more than the very visible ("Lights! Camera! Action!") dream-machines of Hollywood, advertising and television -- the falsifiers of what had once been culture -- have been needed to transmute data (uniquely qualitative in nature) into information (quantitative, just like everything else in a capitalist society). The job has required the aforementioned and uncanny machine known as the computer, which is so abstract in its functions and operational principles that it must simulate an interface known as "cyberspace" -- the two-dimensional "terrain" occupied by such conventionalizations as "windows," "icons," and the "mouse" -- in order for human beings to use it. The importance of these conventionalizations to the spectacle should not be under-estimated: they are more than just (very) promising areas for the research and development of new products. As Bruce Tognazzini (the designer of the interface pioneered by the Apple Corporation) has pointed out, the vocabulary of any interface is what he calls "gesture."
Overall [he says], the human body has more than 200 ways it can flex itself. Imagine you could use all that flexibility to communicate with your computer. Imagine you could move your hands over your computer's surface to manipulate an onscreen document or pull a spreadsheet into a report. Or that flicking your fingers over a passage brushes it away like crumbs.
Then -- using the same "logic" that led him to the invention of the mouse -- Tognazzini goes on to say of consumers' ability to adapt to the radical new interfaces that are now being developed, "We have a natural vocabulary of gestures, so the learning curve would be slight." Correction: we have a naturalized vocabulary of spectacular gestures (and a spectacularly impoverished vocabulary of natural gestures). It is only for this reason that "interfacing" with computers has been and will continue to be easy to learn.
The computer was first used in the cybernetic automation of industrial production. In automated factories (of which there are now a great many), workers are no longer responsible for running the machines, but simply for overseeing their operation by computers. The workers no longer process materials, even indirectly. But -- contrary to the implications of the popular definition of cybernetics -- these workers are not simply replaced by the machines. The workers become surveillants who process data about the work the automatons are doing, communicated to them by the automatons themselves. From the point of view of the labor process (the science of gestures), human beings and technical machines are henceforth equivalent, cogs in the same vast machinic network designed to productively circulate information. In this way, both the speed and the over-all level of "productivity" grow higher. Such would seem to be the appeal of computers to industrial capitalists.
But computers were primarily deployed because they constituted an effective means by which large, centralized, and increasingly class-conscious worker collectives could be neutralized and dispersed. On the one hand, computerized production depends on the performance of machines and therefore tends towards a continuous, twenty-four-hour-a-day process. Since human workers only intervene in the event of a malfunction, there is an inverse relationship between labor time and production time. These workers must be re-trained in the absolute "political and economic necessities" of their new conditions of utter passivity and separation. (If they bitterly resent their re-training, but don't know what is behind the necessity of it, they may end up like one of the hundreds of postal workers who kill their co-workers while on the job; if they welcome their re-training and indeed become well-trained in the new conditions, they will be of no use to any organized labor collective, which would certainly be predicated on the principles of action and solidarity.) On the other hand, computerized production decreases the need for large numbers of in-house, full-time workers. These workers are expensive to train and employ (they require employment and health insurance) and they can strike, call in sick or take legal action if their "reasonable" demands are not met. Automation thus represents freedom from labor -- and thus total freedom -- for the capitalist.
But automated production also confronts political economy with a contradiction that must be resolved: the same technical infrastructure that is capable of abolishing labor entirely must at the same time preserve labor as a commodity and as the sole generator of commodities. The solution has in part been found in the creation of a new segmentation in the work force, which is also a new dispersion of the work force. Computerized production makes possible the extensive use of inexpensive off-site "subcontractors" and part-time unskilled workers who are responsible for maintaining and repairing any machines that do not work, and other menial tasks. (In the case of the Mexican "subcontractors" recently exploited by Texas A & M, those menial tasks included groundskeeping and "assisting" in agricultural production.) Unlike the in-house workers, these poorly-paid off-site workers don't have to be covered by any insurance, do not have the organizational back-up or the job stability necessary to call a strike or work slow-down, do not make any money if they use absenteeism as a weapon, and do not have to be concentrated together as a kind of reserve army of unskilled laborers. Their employers generally have no compunction about paying them poorly, firing them when it is profitable to do so, and cheating the government out of its payroll taxes and the employees out of their social security benefits. To preserve labor as a commodity, without abolishing the socially imposed necessity of labor, computerized production calculatedly fires in-house, full-time employees, only to re-hire them temporarily, at substantially reduced costs, as "freelancers" and "subcontractors," even "consultants." These off-site workers must be given quick and easy access to "information" about the spectacular flows and flights of capital in proportion to what they have lost in wages, benefits and job security; in the event of a strike, the off-site, part-time workers will need to know in an instant where "permanent replacement workers" will be needed. Otherwise computerized production will backfire on both levels of its operation: it will create large and dangerously uninvolved groups of unemployed workers; and it will damage so-called consumer confidence (that is, blind faith in capitalism's divine plan), which lies at the cold heart of the convergence of the labor and commodity markets.
Ironically, opponents of the widespread use of computers have long feared that it would eventually lead to massive centralization, that is, to huge and impersonal databanks that would control all of human life from a few, crucial locations, if not from a single location. It is quite true that networked computers can execute "global" commands (to -- all at once and everywhere -- delete, replace or alter what is no longer "valuable," as well as reproduce and distribute or search for and bring together what still is "of value"), and thus appear to be centralized, exactly in the same way that the mainframe computers themselves are controlled by central processors. It is also quite true that the more "radical" computer designers and programmers are on the verge of advancing the idea that "the computer" should be used to run the very economy that produced it and was produced by it. Thus, "the computer" will soon represent the total liberation of the capitalist -- not only from labor, but from the economy itself as well. In the words of Microsoft physicist and software designer Nathan Myhrvold,
A human programmer comes at a problem with a mind-set that causes him or her to solve it one way: in fact, there's a large space of other solutions - and [computer] evolution can find them. . . . We're getting to a point where there has got to be a way for us to understand the dynamic processes in economics at the same level we understand dynamic processes in computers and the physical sciences.
Thus "the computer" emerges as both the process and product of the spectacle of information -- as a functioning, automated tautology. But it has taken the invention, distribution and widespread use of "personal" microcomputers (commonly known as PCs) to make visible the real social implications of the computer. In the analysis of Myhrvold, PCs are virtually unthinkably-sophisticated pieces of equipment: he points out that if the Boeing 747 (an interesting comparison) had followed the same rate of development that the computer has followed since the 1950s,
it would travel a million miles per hour, it would be shrunken down in size, and a trip [across the country] would cost about $5. Those enormous changes just aren't part of our everyday experience.
In a society that is in part characterized by incessant technological renewal, perhaps it is needless to say that Myhrvold believes that the power of the PC will increase by a factor of a million within the next 15 years. Today, PCs integrate within one unit the functions of word processing, data processing, electronic mail, mathematical analysis, and game-playing -- that is to say, the PC brings together into one integrated circuit the formerly relatively distinct areas of work and leisure. Ever since the mid-1980s, political economy has found it to be in its interest to encourage the use of PCs as interfaces that permit "tele-commuting" to work without leaving the home, and as tools that transform (recuperate) the workers' desires for independence into a "healthy business spirit" that satisfies capital's growing need for satellites. Therefore the PC decentralizes and expands the time-space of industrial production (the factory) into the home and everyday life. The difference between work and leisure is no longer spatial: it is now temporal, a division between "billable" and "nonbillable" time. Conditioned by many years of invasions and endo-colonializations, the human mind comes to accept, even welcome such ergonomic assaults into its home. The spectacle proclaims that soon, very soon, we will be able to do everything we once did in a variety of locations -- work, shop, bank, entertain ourselves, visit with friends, see the sights, and so forth -- through our PCs, which will be integrated into a variety of telecommunications networks. These proclamations are nearly always accompanied by the images of children, who seem to have a "natural" ability to produce the gestures necessary to run a PC. Thus we are presented with the spectacle of a glorious future in which all computer-literate children (be they white or black, yellow or brown) will grow up to be (sigh!) responsible, well-informed and "productive" adults. But this is also a refracted image of the present, in which the truly natural gestures of children are already being systematically molded into or replaced by spectacular gestures. Indeed, the naturalization of the spectacle is the prime function of so-called edu-tainment software, which the nation's public schools will soon purchase at an annual rate of over $1.5 billion a year. Stored on CD-ROMs, which are rapidly coming to replace printed textbooks, these edu-tainment products are quite productive, for they provide glorification for the general spectacle of information and excellent advertising possibilities for the huge publishing and technology companies that produce them. Billed as better baby-sitters than the television set, these CDs are increasingly being bought by the parents of kids in school.
But as the PC and the proliferating networks into which it is integrated grow in practical importance, the time-space of the factory imposes its authoritarian regime on all of social life; the relation between human being and machine comes to be one of reciprocal surveillance; and the only possible basis for thought becomes spectacular information. The circle of domination grows ever closer to being completed: networked PCs integrate their dependents into the identity of the corporation, which in turn integrates them (both the networked PCs and the humans who are functionally equivalent to them) into the global network of the information economy, which in turn determines the quality of everyone's life, wherever they are. One does not need to be a believer of "conspiracy theories" to accept this vision of the future. Even professional mystifiers such as Jay Kinney, publisher and editor of Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner Traditions, are able to see that,
like the Internet, the process of global integration may have no directing center on which to pin the blame, but merely its own internal logic and the confluence of self-interested economic and political entities. In an ad hoc fashion, [even] the big players end up with an unseen agenda that may be quite sufficient to overturn the old order of politics.
But such writers consistently refuse to reach the inevitable conclusion that the "new order" of global political economy, if successfully established, would mark the final denial of humanity.
In the era that has recently ended, there was a practical separation between the business of providing "content-oriented" commodities ("software," as the various forms of mass entertainment are coming to be called) and the business of providing "delivery systems" for that "content" ("hardware"). This division of intellectual labor was maintained by the state in order to facillitate, supervise, regulate and profit from the "horizontal" monopolization of industry, predominantly in the sphere of communications-delivery systems (the various forms of transportation, telephone companies, printing presses, movie theatres, radio and television stations, cable television companies, et al.). For if one were to monopolize the delivery systems, one would also gain effective, albeit indirect control over the notoriously difficult-to-control forms of content that are broadcast or otherwise delivered for consumption. But the reverse does not hold true; thus, delivery systems have "traditionally" been over-developed, and at the expense of content and its cadres of specialists, both of which has lagged far behind, decomposed and grown decadent.
We live in an age that pretends to believe that "information wants to be free" (though it privately regrets to announce that it can't be). This age loudly proclaims to have figured out how to "liberate" content ("the human mind") from its shackles and to allow it -- in the manner of the world economy -- to grow "without limits." All power to the imagination?! All imagination to power! The timing is curious, for it coincides with -- and thus seems to be a tacit admission that the economy is in -- yet another period in which the monopolized domestic market is saturated with shoddily-made commodities that it doesn't really need, and can't absorb any more, no matter how spectacular they are made to seem. Endo-colonialization must now become a truly world-wide condition to be successful locally. Not surprisingly, the tool that will allow the "liberation" of content turns out to be the computer, which is capable of integrating the culture and communications industries to the extent that these industries' respective products are forms of information and are thus capable of being computerized or being integrated into existing computer networks. In the name of promoting the "international competitiveness" of the products and services of American businesses, political economy now encourages and rewards the rapid vertical integration of the telecommunications and culture industries. "Companies are going vertical!" proclaims a recent USA Today article about the "media industry." Precisely because the last 15 years have seen the neutralization, evasion or outright repeal of many of the most important federal rules against and regulations of horizontal monopolizations of the "content" and "delivery" industries, the big "media firms" are braying about "competition" and "free trade" on the vertical level. They are ready for a "free" fight because they know they are already positioned to win it (example: Microsoft's entry into the on-line business through Windows 95 software). It is as if there never were any prohibitions against the vertical restraint of trade. Spectacular mergers, takeovers and buy-outs proliferate; the accumulation of wealth and the concentration of power in a few hands proceed undisturbed. A "big seven" will eventually control the global knowledge/culture/entertainment/information business, just as a group of big seven oil companies controls the global energy business. All the laws can do is say, "The days of the Republican are finished; today I sleep," for they were made for production techniques that were new in the 1930s and are now easily evaded in distribution by new types of "legal" agreements and arrangements. Judging from the provisions of the pending telecommunications deregulation bill (sure to be passed over Clinton's veto, if he's still President when it comes to his desk), soon there will be no way of reversing, not to mention preventing any further spectacular concentrations of ownership or monopolizations of discourse.
But rest assured, money will be made: note the recent, highly-publicized wave of spectacular increases in wages paid to such "stars" (providers of high-profile content) as professional athletes, TV personalities, supermodels, Hollywood actors, pop musicians, videoclip and advertising directors, software, user-interface and graphic designers, etc. The intent is obvious: to indicate that the spectacle is quite willing to bribe the groups most likely to be hostile to the intentions and methods of industry, so that they will happily plug into the information economy, rather than skirting or attempting to destroy it. (Significantly, the image of the implacably hostile, socially marginalized enemy of the spectacular order is not dispensed with, far from it. It is retained and made ever more attractive, as both a role to play in the spectacle and as a spectacular plot device.) Just as the workers of the 1930s and 1940s found themselves suddenly treated like grown-ups, with a great show of solicitude and politeness, by a capitalist society that had previously shown nothing but contempt for them and their humanity (but now wanted to sell them commodities as well as to have them produce commodities), so today are the "content people" given access to expensive, high-powered computers and state-of-the-art software, and are encouraged to let their imaginations run as wild as they like (so long as their imaginations produce commodities that enrich the people who own the computers and software applications).
The truly interesting thing about the attempt to integrate the so-called content people into the spectacle of information is that, precisely because the spectacle of information is a global one, the attempt will only work if "content people" all over the globe are successfully recuperated by it. Unintegrated pockets are and will continue to be dangerous to the world spectacle; none must be over-looked or allowed to exist for very long. And so it would be a tactical mistake to over-emphasize the differences in the methods by which the "content people" of the world are being solicited and recuperated in advance, that is, before they've shown any revolutionary inclinations. The similarities in the methods are significant indeed. Today's new class of executives, managers and specialists -- the "knowledge workers," the "symbolic analysts," the "buccaneering breed of entrepeneurs and visionaries, men and women from the entertainment, communications, and computer industries, whose ambitions and influence have made America the one true superpower of the Information Age," the industry celebrities such as Rupert Murdoch, Michael Eisner, David Geffen, Ted Turner, Bill Gates and Jeffrey Katzenberg -- are inevitably drawn from the generation that came of age in the 1960s. Of course, the new rulers have brought with them their favorite cultural commodities, in particular and most famously, popular music. Because pop music (in all its forms) is still played by a few artists of real integrity, the appearance of the music (and the clothes, hairstyles, poses and gestures that are associated with it) in television ads and other spectacles bothers a lot of people. There is indeed something deeply disturbing about "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" being used to sell junk food (to pick one example from among a great many). But "cultural" commodity choices are not necessarily accurate indications of socio-political orientation, and this was as true in 1965 as it is in 1995. There is no reason to assume that any and every child of the 1960s was a rebel "back then" and has become a yuppie in the 1980s or '90s.
Whether or not they are former "hippies" (little "hipsters" or Beatniks), the new rulers have come into power trailing a tapestry of tattered leftist cliches about such presumably noncultural subjects as "self-governing structures," "chaos theories," "innovation" and "economic democracy." The use of 1960s-style political rhetoric to sell spectacular information (whether "ironic" or not) is even more disturbing and ominous than the use of socio-politically aware songs from the 1960s to sell junk foods and other nourishing spectacles: while 1960s protest songs still have their adherents and defenders, 1960s-style political rhetoric does not. There is something monstrous about the fact that the announced ideology of the Internet, the World Wide Web and other computer networks -- merely because their information flows are non-linear, rhizomatic and decentralized -- is "libertarian," even "anarchist." The Arpanet, predecessor of what is now called the Internet, was originally established and funded by the National Science Foundation, an arm of the state, because it was claimed that private companies would be unable to invest the amounts of capital needed to meet "consumer demand." Indeed, the NSF still subsidizes the Internet. If the Congress of the United States -- motivated by concerns about "cyber-porn" and so forth -- is now contemplating government regulation of the content of the information carried along the Net, it is not proposing to enter into "cyberspace" as an outsider: the state has always been on the "inside" of the Net, laying out public subsidies for the profit of private entities. Today, more than 80% of the Internet's users are white English-speaking males in North America, Europe and Australia; any of them would probably agree with Jay Kinney's observation that "the new political infrastructure of the Net is as handy to Shell Oil as it is to a bedroom publisher of politically incorrect 'zines." We live in an era in which the most visible adherents and defenders of "libertarianism" are right-wing politicans, capitalists and media personalities. We know that the spectacle depends upon turning revolutionaries into secret agents and secret agents into revolutionaries; thus it wouldn't necessarily be significant if the new rulers are "really" anarchists posing as members of the Culture Trust, or if they know that their "go-your-own-way" propaganda is an oppressive embarassment. What is significant is the difference in tactics between the new rulers and their predecessors, who were obsessed with cliches about order, control and tradition. This difference tells us in a fairly precise and comprehensive way what, henceforth, the spectacle will permit and what it will forbid. In a recent interview, info-politician and exemplary baby-boomer Newt Gingrich was asked, in regards to the Internet, how he would control "offensive behavior" while making sure to "maintain freedom." He responded that,
the rule of law has been the primary way: the self-governing capability to set rules. Your bias is always first in favor of freedom, and second focused fairly narrowly on the suppression of disorder rather than the establishment of order -- a very important distinction.
Indeed, this is a very important distinction, for the simple truth of the matter is that order has already been imposed. The goal of the spectacular suppression of disorder is quite simply to keep things as they are.
In "Dark Age: Why Johnny Can't Dissent," Tom Frank notes that, "The most intriguing aspect of these [Information Age] developments is not the unprecedented magnitude of cultural power being amassed by American business, but the singular imbalance between the size of the change and the comparative silence of protesting voices." In his estimation, the reason why Johnny can't dissent is that,
"for the past thirty years people in music, art, and culture generally have had a fixed, precise notion of the enemy and the ways in which he [sic] is to be resisted." In a quick step, Frank goes on to say, "it is the obsolescence and exhaustion of this idea of cultural dissent that accounts for our singular inability to confront the mind-boggling dangers of the Information Age." The Information Age has most certainly internalized, recuperated and re-deployed the spectacle of cultural dissent in its own interests; this is its way of suppressing disorder.
For Frank, the originators and "patron saints [sic] of the countercultural idea" were the Beats (he includes Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs, all of whose images have, not coincidentally, recently appeared in commerical advertisements of one sort or another).
The verdict of the Beats [he writes] is the centerpiece of the countercultural idea to which . . . aspiring poets, rock stars [and] anyone who feels vaguely artistic or alienated . . . still ascribe such revolutionary potential: the paramount ailment of our society is conformity . . . [which is] a stiff, militaristic order that seeks to suppress instinct, to forbid sex and pleasure, to deny basic human impulses and individuality, to enforce through a rigid uniformity a meaningless plastic consumerism.
In a well-chosen example, Frank quotes from Ginsberg's great 1956 poem "America," in which the poet says that Time magazine is "always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me." Forty years later, things are obviously quite different in America: our boxershorts-wearing, saxophone-playing, Elvis-loving President is clearly unconcerned about not appearing "serious"; today, nobody wants to be perceived as (too) serious. Perhaps the turning point came in 1979, when then-President Carter made the politically disastrous "mistake" of correctly observing and soberly reporting the simple, easily verifiable fact that there was a serious "malaise" affecting the country, which -- though Carter didn't say so -- derived from the spectacular perpetuation of class society and the market economy. And so there is no problem with asserting, with Tom Frank, that, ever since the Reagan years, "the countercultural ideal has become capitalist orthodoxy, its hunger for transgression upon transgression, change for the sake of change, now perfectly suited to an economic-cultural regime that runs on ever-faster cyclings of the new; its taste for self-fulfillment and its intolerance for the confines of tradition now permitting vast latitude in consuming practices." Indeed, the fate of the "Beat Generation" has been the fate of all the Youth-oriented "countercultures" of the second half of the twentieth century.
But it is not logical to conclude, simply because the ideology of consumer society is now based upon "difference" rather than conformity, that "advertising teaches us not in the ways of puritanical self-denial (a bizarre notion on the face of it), but in orgiastic, never-ending self-fullfilment." (It is on the basis of this erroneous conclusion that Frank completely dismisses the "annoying ravings" of Camille Paglia, which are clearly based upon the supposition that American society, with the exception of the "pagan" forces of popular culture, is still rigidly "puritanical and desensualized.") There is no reason to believe that ideologies of "difference" cannot co-exist with puritanical self-denial; the abolition of the ideology of "conformity" does not necessitate the abolition of puritanism. This is especially true in the United States, where one of our founding myths is that the nation was established by Puritans who wished to be different (in religious beliefs and practices) from the English. Our society, racist as it is, has always been ethnically and racially heterogenous in composition. But America has also always been a puritanical place, and it still is, despite the reigning spectacle of a world without conformity, limits or rules. The references here are several: to the numerous commercial advertisements that (still) cynically play upon the "immorality" of body odors, bacteria, cockroaches and the like; to the fact that the "perks" of being a corporate executive are increasingly limited to personal and financial security measures; and to the global reality of the HIV, which was invented and introduced into the general populace for the express purposes of reversing the advances of the "sexual revolution" and re-vitalizing Puritanism's greatest weapon, the fear of God (i.e., death). It would be a great understatement to say that both the fear and the reality of a world-wide AIDS epidemic have been extraordinarily effective tools in the post-1960s "pacification" and re-puritanization of the United States, and in the more recent endo-colonializations of the entire world. (Gee, how neat is it, Mr. Science, that the HIV is said to have come from Africa, the continent most exploited and damaged by colonialism as it was practiced in the past, and that the HIV's target groups are precisely those groups that Puritanism has always hated the most?) In short, Puritanism in America has never been stronger or better equipped than it is today. For a moment, let's focus on the current status of personal liability insurance as a perk in the "business world." Significantly, personal liability insurance appears to be the least understood of the three major types of security "bonuses" given to top executives listed by the New York Times in an August 1995 "business section" piece. About personal liability insurance, only the following is known by our trusted "experts," despite the fact that this is reputedly the Information Age:
[It] is a perk that insulates executives from another sort of danger: financial [the first sort of danger was personal]. This coverage, which protects executives from business-related lawsuits, is cheap, and companies consider it to be worth the money.
"In a world where anyone will sue everyone," said Ms. Edelstein of Hewitt Associates, "this is the kind of often-overlooked perk that can save managers from disaster."
The mild-sounding category "business-related lawsuits" presumably includes those few areas of the law in which executives can still be held personally liable for the torts they (in the name of their companies) have committed. These lawsuits -- which are, to the modern executive, simply one of the overhead costs of doing business in this world -- include products liability cases (the class-action suits brought against the "providers" of poisonous commodities) and personal injury or death actions (the suits brought by individuals against the perpetrators of such "accidents" as illegal dumping of toxic and nuclear wastes, wrongful death at the hands of private security forces and etc.). In short, "business-related lawsuits" brings together into one ugly category many of the real events about which the spectacle gathers and stores far more information than it ever intends to make available.
These lawsuits are quite costly to the capitalist. On the one hand, these suits, even if settled out of court for a pittance, "tarnish" the public image of the company by disseminating what the company would certainly call "disinformation" about its products and activities, and sometimes force its executives to release information during the discovery process that they would rather keep secret (as has been the case in the current round of class-action suits against the manufacturers of cigarettes). On the other hand, these lawsuits -- if they come to trial and end in a verdict for the plaintiff(s) -- can lead, among other things, to the awarding of large cash settlements and the imposition of sizable punitive damages. What the business writer for the Times plumb forgot to mention is that the Republican-controled Congress has been working all year for "litigation reform" measures that would make it nearly impossible for groups of injured consumers to win certification as a "class," reduce the number of lawsuits filed by individuals, and put very low ceilings on the amounts the plaintiffs can recover and the defendants can be fined. If and when these measures are signed into law, personal liability insurance will be even more available and desirable. It will be increasingly inexpensive to buy, and it will indirectly protect the company as a whole from "freedom of access to information" and other potential sources of damaging leaks. And so the executives who now receive personal liability insurance as a perk are being cheated: there is nothing intrinsically valuable or enjoyable about any form of insurance; this perk can never be as directly enjoyable as the perks of old, which were intended to enrich the executives' everyday lives; and, in this case, the company bought the new perk on the cheap, thus generating a little more profit for itself (certainly someone other than the executives).
To return to Tom Frank's essay: if its thesis is correct -- that the dominant culture has recuperated the Beats and their conceptions of youth revolt, and is now using them in an apparently non-puritanical way to sell commodities to people who empathize or identify with the Beats for one reason or another -- then one would expect Beat literature to include potent, explicitly anti-puritan passages and rhetoric. Otherwise there would be no compelling reason for the spectacle to try to recuperate that literature: it would pose no harm to the puritanism that everybody acknowledges to have been a central characteristic of the 1950s. It is undeniable that many examples of "anti-Puritanism" can be found in the writings of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs. But these examples, no matter how spectacular they are, will inevitably be enveloped and thus neutralized by what the situationists called "the rotten-egg smell exuded by the idea of God." "Mystical cretins" to their more clear-headed contemporaries, Kerouac and Ginsberg (Burroughs must be considered separately, for he never was a Beat, i.e. a spectator of the Culture of Religion) did indeed denounce Puritan, that is, radical Protestant America, but they always did so in the name of other, more exotic opiates: Catholicism and Buddhism in Kerouac's case and everything-but-Christianity in Ginsberg's case. To the extent that they justify and supervise the rejection of everyday life, that they promote what E.P. Thompson has called the "chiliasm of despair," all religions are essentially "puritanical" and thus well-suited to the society of the spectacle. It's clear that, at certain times, some religions are more useful to capitalism than others. The so-called Protestant work ethic has, of course, been extraordinarily useful to American industry for a very long time. But it isn't any longer: there isn't much in it to help capitalism adjust to the changed conditions brought about by the events of the last thirty years. The same could be said of Christianity as a whole: it is so thoroughly teleological and certain of the orderliness and rationality of the divine plan that it can't adequately explain (that is, lull people into passively accepting) social disarray in any other than apocalyptic terms. But capitalism has never been comfortable with the very idea of "the end of the world," though its atomic scientists, toxic polluters and power-drunk political leaders have flirted with the reality of it for decades. Capitalism would prefer not to have to grant that the 1960s both represented and triggered a "sea change" in the way people perceive their society and their own lives in it. Capitalism would prefer to say precisely the same thing that it had been saying before its desirability (that is, its idea of happiness) was widely contested -- something along the lines of "It has always been thus, and thus will it always be" -- for its strategy is to make us forget that it has, in crucial ways, only just arrived, and that it, too, shall someday pass. And so, in a kind of vindication of the Beats, pop Buddhism is now pressed into service as capitalism's co-pilot. In Tom Frank's wording, "even the beloved Buddhism of the Beats has a place on the executive bookshelf" as countercultural rebellion becomes corporate ideology. Let's go further than that: especially the beloved Buddhism of the Beats has a place on the modern executive's bookshelf; there has always been a special place on the executive's bookshelf for the Beats, precisely because of their love for Buddhism. In 1955, the Beats' pop Buddhism -- that is to say, their apparently subversive way of justifying passivity and non-interference in the name of honest, industrious, self-denying and "beatific" poverty -- was a general or sufficient precondition for recuperation; in 1995, it is a particular or necessary precondition. Take, for example, The Leader as Martial Artist (1993), in which Arnold Mindell advises today's rulers in the ways of the Tao, to which -- in an interesting turn of phrase -- he compares "surfing the edge of a turbulent wave."
Change is . . . an incomprehensible, complex phenomenon; we have no way of knowing what creates change or when it is to occur. . . . Albert Einstein would cite the principle of nonlocality. . . . C.G. Jung would speak of synchronicity, and Rupert Sheldrake of morphogenic resonance. We could just as easily call it chance, the Tao, or a miracle.
It would not matter, one supposes, if Karl Marx would speak, apropos of "change," of class struggle and proletarian revolution. For the corporate executive/martial artist/pop theologian could say, "it is only pop Buddhism that provides a home for the co-existence of Einstein (physics), Jung (psychology) and Sheldrake (biology), as well as for your bitter and contentious Karl Marx (political economics)." More and less than a religion, pop Buddhism can be all things to all people, if need be: it is an ideology that contains within its packaging a cosmology, a world view, an ethical system, an art form if it is practiced correctly (that is, yields to a higher rate of profit), and a science of economic management. Insights into the theological and cosmological natures of "perpetual change" can easily be applied to the boardroom and workplace: "since agreement and antagonism are inevitable, the leadership position in a group should plan on being opposed or attacked"; "even a harmonious and balanced system must have a dynamic fluctuation between equilibrium and chaos if it is to grow."
IBM, following what its executives think is the model for Japanese corporations, has been organizing itself in accordance with the "Oriental" principle of perpetual change for years. Surely it can't hurt the multinationals to know something of the ways of the Orient, which they would love to and indeed need to colonialize; as everyone knows, more than half the world lives in India or China, both of which are defined by capital as huge labor and commodity markets that have hardly been brought under of the sway of and exploited by the global spectacle. There remain formidible barriers to total integration: the Internet, the World Wide Web and software such as SGML are only "universal" applications in countries where two conditions are met in advance (the alphabet is based on Latin characters, and English is the standard Latin-based language); though English is a common second language in India, it is not in China and probably will never be; India and China are widely considered to be even more corrupt than Italy and Mexico, a fact which requires potentially major adjustments to the ways of local politics and organized crime; more so than any nation on earth, China has been an autonomous power, "closed" to "the outside world," for a very long time; and again, more so than any other nation, China -- the best example one can find of what Debord has called the society of the integrated spectacle -- has both the economic strength and the strategic power to become a "Superpower of the Information Age," that is, to become a rival of the United States on the world stage, whether Britain, Japan, the United States and Tawain like it or not. The significance of the fact that Buddhism was born in India and raised, so to speak, in China is obvious: pop Buddhism might very well be the only common "language" (the lowest common denominator) in which all of the citizen-consumers of the global spectacle might be able to speak to (that is, produce and exchange spectacular information and commodities with) each other; it seems clear that no other "language" or shared cultural heritage stands much of a chance.
But an information-based corporation need not "re-structure" itself according to the model of the Japanese corporation or pray to the Buddha for that big government contract to come through. "Chaos" captures the image of a world in which disorder is quite real. Ever since 1971, when then-President Nixon's "New Economic Policy" ended the United States' role as international banker, the world economy has been in a state of productive disarray. Tenets about chaos are now taken as "articles of faith" by all kinds of management theorists, even or perhaps especially by the "secular" ones. Religion or "the church" must somehow figure in all current appraisals of the state of capitalism: as the title of Charles Handy's 1990 self-help guide for businessmen indicates, the spectacle of the information economy inaugurates an "Age of Unreason" in which irrationality appears to be "natural," but must somehow be managed (but not resisted) in the name of "sanity." A totally new kind of consciousness is therefore necessary for (personal and financial) "survival"; once achieved, that New Consciousness will allow us to see global capitalism's divine plan and to understand why global and systematic irrationality is necessary in the first place. In "A World Turned Upside Down" -- an oft-repeated catchphrase in Tom Peter's best-selling management text Thriving on Chaos, published in 1987 -- an epistemological revolution is called for, one that allows for "Thinking Upside Down." To remain (mentally and financially) secure, the authors of Reengineering the Corporation (1993) counsel their readers, one must immerse oneself in the spectacular madness of ceaseless change, rather than trying to manipulate it from a relatively safe distance.
Business reengineering means putting aside much of the received wisdom of two hundred years of industrial management. It means forgetting how work was done in the age of the mass market and deciding how it can be best done now. In business reengineering, old jobs titles and old organizational arrangements -- department, divisions, groups and so on -- cease to matter. . . . At the heart of business reengineering lies the notion of discontinuous thinking -- identifying and abandoning the outdated rules and fundamental assumptions that underlie current business operations.
In other words, what religion and ideology already were (kinds of intellectual schizophrenia), society has now become (schizophrenia in material form).
In the corporate sponsorship of the Buddhistic "heap of broken images" we have a recuperation that certainly reaches back beyond Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation of the 1940s/1950s to which he belonged. The recuperation reaches at least as far back as T.S. Eliot and the Lost Generation of the 1910s/1920s. They make an interesting pair, Ginsberg and Eliot: the former has been a devotee of the Culture of Religion, while the latter had been a devotee of the Religion of Culture. Before today, it would have been impossible to imagine them serving the same interests: while the former has railed against academics and the banks in the Holy Name of all that is good in the religions of the world, the latter had been an academic darling, in part supported himself by working in a bank, and fancied himself a bulwark of High Culture. But the total integration of both Religion and Culture into the world of the commodity has brought them together. Our bankers are now just as likely to be pony-tailed, tattooed, ear-ringed and otherwise "culture smart" white men as they are to be short-haired, conservatively dressed and otherwise "culturally snobby" white men. The university students of 1965 used to print up broadsides including apparently appropriate quotes from Ginsberg's "Howl"; the university students of 1995 create World Wide Web home-pages that include apparently appropriate epigrams from T.S. Eliot (such as "We shall not cease from exploration, and of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time"). In the society of the spectacle, we do indeed come back to the same place over and over again, only to misrecognize it, which forces us to start our "explorations" again: we dance round in the night and are consumed by fire. To escape the Wheel, so to speak, we must come upon the place of our departures and arrivals, and know how to open a breach in it through which history might again begin to flow, memory might again awaken to itself, and life might again be lived directly and passionately.
Today, the very idea of unified social revolution seems unthinkable. In the words of Jay Kinney, "the only political opposition not vulnerable to having its electricity shut off [in the manner that the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms metaphorically shut off the electricity of the "withdrawn" and "self-maginalized" Branch Davidians] may be quirky Third World despots like Muammar al-Qaddafi who stand and heckle the advancing new world order from the side of the road." That is to say, terrorism is apparently the only "invulnerable" political opposition to the spectacle of information. But it would appear that, even if it is invulnerable to counter-attack, terrorism is completely unacceptable; it is, in Kinney's smugly understated words, "not a comforting thought" that all one can do is kill people who are involved in activities one doesn't like. As Debord wrote in 1988, the citizen-consumers of the world spectacle must come to know that terrorism represents "the grossest and least acceptable error" in comparison with which "everything else," no matter what it is, "must be acceptable, or in any case more rational and democratic." Thus terrorism must be envisioned as something "quirky" that takes place at or from the side of the "Information Superhighway," and not down the middle of it.
Let us look at the example of the still-unclaimed 19 April 1995 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The first round of news reports were swift, confident and unanimous in their conclusion that the bombing -- like the 1992 bombing of the World Trade Center -- must have been, indeed could only have been, the work of Islamic fundamentalists sponsored by one irrationally "anti-American" Middle Eastern state or another. These reports were just as quickly, confidently and completely "proved" to be wrong: the bombing was actually (allegedly) planned and executed by a few "white" men closely associated with the far-right American militia movement. That is to say, the bombing wasn't part of an external, off-to-the-side plot to attack and terrorize the citizens and government of the U.S., but part of an inconceivable, internal, right-down-the-middle plot to attack and terrorize. As a result, the story has long since ceased to be a daily or even weekly opportunity for outrage, speculation, denunciation and calls for justice, unlike the O.J. Simpson trial. There are no leaks of prejudicial information. This bizarre, nearly complete disappearing act has taken place despite the facts that -- as we heard so many times during the Cold War -- internal enemies are, in general, far more insidious and dangerous than external enemies, and that these particular internal enemies are apparently well-trained, well-armed and confident that (our) God is on their side. It is clear that certain "rogue elements" in the widespread militia movement have declared a holy war against the United States government and the illuminist "new world order" of which it is supposed to be a tool. Perhaps the authorities do not want to reveal the extent and degree of coordination in the war against the U.S. government between all of America's militias, Ku Klux Klans, Men Against Women groups, armed "white supremacist" groups, Aryan Nations and so forth, for fear no doubt of alarming the general public.
There is a profound symmetry between the two unproven scenarios for the planning and execution of the bombing. Whether it was Islamic fundamentalists from Iran or Christian fascists from Michigan who did it, the state will write and tell the story of the bombing in either case. The conclusion of this story will always be the same, no matter who the antagonists are: the protagonist (the state) will always use the story to justify and reinforce its monopoly on violence. Certainly the state would prefer the antagonists to be irrational "foreigners" rather than irrational American citizens, despite the fact that the state itself is the ultimate supplier of weapons, funding and training for both groups. For one thing, according to the ideology of the country, irrational Americans cannot possibly exist, except in the delusional and disinformative ravings of communists, leftist radicals, anarchists, so-called "politically correct" academics and other irresponsibile elements. For another, it is far more damaging to "national security" if one proves (or even suggests) that the ultimate source of the irrational Americans' weapons, funding and training is the very same United States government to which they are so violently opposed, than if one suggests (or manages to prove) that the U.S. government is the ultimate source of the weapons, funding and training of irrational "foreigners." Note in this context the absolute inability of the state to answer, not to mention disprove the militiamen's apparently illogical and paranoid claim that it was in fact the United States government that bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City with the intent of creating a pretext for the suppression of the militias. There are great dangers for the government if it tries to contradict such an unanswerable lie, rather than simply ignoring it. For the fact of the matter is that the bombing has indeed produced more, stronger and more secretive "anti-terrorism" measures. In short, the bombing has been smoothly integrated into the long-term process by which -- to quote from a 1948 CIA text -- "citizens of the United States will have to accustom themselves to the ubiquitous presence of the powerful secret police needed for protection against sabotage and espionage." It would, no doubt, be impossible today to specify or describe which "powerful secret police" the writer had in mind at the time, or to indicate what organization that secret police force has evolved into over the course of the last 47 years.
Miraculously, our powerful and ubiquitous anti-terrorist secret police force has shown itself to be quite powerless to stop the numerous attacks reputedly made since 1978 by the terrorist(s) the FBI has dubbed "the Unabomb." Originally an indication that several apparently unrelated bombings were in fact related to one another, the name today reinforces the notion that there can only be one (or "una") bomber, and not several of them, working in concert. The Unabomber, we are told, identifies his own bombs with the initials "FC," short for "Freedom Club" -- not "Fuck Computers," as had been reported in some publications -- which is said to be the name of the organization to which he says he belongs, though the authorities claim that he is a proverbial "lone gunman." Perhaps he has had such a long career because his work is so useful, on so many levels, to the society of the spectacle, and not simply because he is an especially cautious and cunning criminal "genius." We are allowed to know that he crafts his bombs in certain unique and apparently archaic ways, that he targets certain "important" figures in the business and academic worlds, and that he, like any good surrealist, likes to keep things "interesting" by calling in bogus bomb threats.
Most importantly, we are allowed to know that the Unabomber is an anti-technology anarchist and a writer of long thereotical texts, much like John Zerzan, whom -- the NY Times is strangely happy to tell us -- he apparently admires. In December 1985, the Unabomber tried to explain the aims of the FC in an open letter to the S.F. Examiner, which never printed it.
1. The aim of the Freedom Club is the complete and permanent destruction of modern industrial society in every part of the world. . . .
2. The hollowness of the old revolutionary ideologies centering on socialism has become clear. Now and in the future the thrust of rebellion will be against the industrial-technological system itself and not for or against any political ideology that is supposed to govern the administration of that system. All ideologies and political systems are fakes. They only result in power for special groups who just push the rest of us around. . . .
3. No ideology or political system can get around the hard facts of life in industrial society. Because any form of industrial society requires a high level of organization, all decisions have to be made by a small elite of leaders and experts who necessarily wield all the power. . . . Even if the motives of this elite were completely unselfish, they would still HAVE TO exploit and manipulate us simply to keep the system running. Thus the evil is in the nature of technology itself.
4. Man is a social animal, meant to live in groups. But only in SMALL groups, say up to 100 people, in which all members know one another intimately. Man is not meant to live as an insignificant atom in a vast organization, which is the only way he can live in any form of industrialized society.
5. The Freedom Club is strictly anti-communist, anti-socialist, anti-leftist. . . . This does not imply that we are in any sense a ring-wing movement. We are apolitical. Politics only distracts atention from the real issue.
A real hash this is, composed of leftover bits and pieces of populism, situationism, pop anarchism, long-discredited anthropological/religious illusions, and post-1960s "movement" theory. It gives every indication of being thrown together by a graduate student-turned-FBI agent who decided to "put to good use" all the subversive little books published in Semiotext(e)'s "foreign agents" series in the 1980s, but not to give up his dreams of making it big in the straight world.
In June 1995, in the course of negotiating the publication of a manifesto of more than 35,000 words, the Unabomber declared,
Penthouse is basically an entertainment magazine that contains also some serious commentary. In such magazines the serious commentary to some extent serves as part of the entertainment. We are down on the entertain industry because it is an "opium of the masses" (see paragraphs 147, 156 of our manuscript). So we don't like the idea of playing footsy with that industry by allowing our writings to be used as entertainment. Therefore, if possible, we'd like to get our stuff published somewhere other than in Penthouse.
If his manifesto is published somewhere "respectable" (he himself puts the word in quotation marks), the Unabomber claims that he is quite willing to stop his murderous campaign against modern industrial society in general and the managers of computer culture in particular. He is said to have admitted that he only started to kill people when he realized that it was the only way the aims of the Freedom Club could be achieved: "in order to influence people, a terrorist group must show a certain amount of success." In a certain limited sense, he is correct: no one pays serious attention to the motivations of the hundreds of thousands of (no doubt) like-minded, anonymous virus-programmers, computer hackers, software bootleggers and counterfeiters who attack the information economy every day from within its circuits. But in a broader sense, he is dead wrong: in part thanks to the Unabomber, no one has focused on the real "real issue," that is to say, on the facts that 1). the spectacle of information -- though it can do without this or that individual -- cannot do without a steady, cheap and dependable supply of electricity to run the computers and the air-conditioing systems that allow them to function efficiently; 2). this electricity must somehow be generated and distributed in mass quantities; and 3). the mass production of electricity depends on technologies that, with the exceptions of solar and hydroelectric power generation (the latter widely used in China), destroy or quite seriously pollute the environment.
Significantly, we are told nothing of importance about what the Unabomber's alleged targets really have in common, save for the tautology that they all were determined by the Unabomber to be important managers of the unfettered rule of the computer. Thus we are encouraged to believe that each of his targets were unfortunate and unrelated victims, that is, innocents selected for no other reason than the fact that they happened to be associated with computers in the mind of the Unabomber, who hates computers. Precisely because he is (portrayed as) an outsider to the computer industry, the general public seems to believe that the Unabomber cannot possibly know with any certainty that the people he's targeted are in fact the people who "deserve it" the most. This would seem to be the heart of the spectacle's critique of terrorism: though it might have valid points to make, it kills innocent people; that is to say, it confuses the general structure (which might be indirectly guilty of committing certain regrettable but understandable "mistakes" and "oversights") with the innocent participants who make up the general structure and cannot be held personally responsible for the damages "unintentionally" caused by it. And yet it is the general structure that directly benefits from the terror produced by the Unabomber's spectacular murders of individuals.
In the course of describing home security systems -- that is, one of the three big puritanical perks that are now increasingly given to corporate executives -- the New York Times has recently stated that "the Unabomber, the escalation of workplace violence and a general fear of crime" have all made executives more concerned about their personal safety. Of course, there have arisen a variety of businesses that provide "security" for these harassed executives, both on the job and at home. The wonderful thing about home security systems, private chaffeurs and bobyguards trained in defensive tactics, and so forth is that -- though these provisions no doubt make one painfully conscious on a day-to-day basis of how little one can actually enjoy the rewards of being a member of the ruling class -- they are tax deductible expenses (they are private expenses that can be subsidized by the public, though the public derives no benefits from them). All an executive or a company needs is a threatening letter or two from a recently laid-off employee or someone who has been seriously injured by a faulty product for the IRS to look favorably on the security measures that might be taken in response. The problem, of course, with such letters is that they must be traceable to someone in particular; thus, they cannot easily be faked. Indeed, most perpetrators of "workplace violence" and "crime" generally speaking would prefer to remain anonymous and untraceable. But what if a threatening letter is signed "FC" and authoritatively attributed to the Unabomber? It wouldn't matter to the person threatened or the IRS if such a letter was faked or not: the damage done by the so-called Unabomber is an undeniable fact, and so nobody would question the wisdom of using a letter that purports to have been written by him as a reason for taking the very best in high-end, tax-deductible security measures. Ironically (or perhaps quite significantly), the only people for whom fake "FC" letters pose a problem are the professional investigators/reporters (the FBI and the New York Times) and the members of the Freedom Club itself. As the Unabomber stated just a few months ago, "No communication from FC should be accepted as authentic unless it is verified by means of our secret identifying number, which is known only to the New York Times and the FBI." There's a truly suspicious echo here of the "secret" PINS (personal identification numbers) we all use to convince the banks' automatic teller machines that we should be allowed access to our funds and information about our accounts.
But one doesn't need a taste for "conspiracy theory" to see that, if the Unabomber didn't exist, it would have been necessary and expedient to invent him. Ideally, he would be selected and trained according to the progression signified by the words misguided, provoked, infiltrated, manipulated, taken over and subverted; he would have to be someone who could be thenceforth trusted to kill only those people who were expendable or perceived by the managers of the information economy to be internal "de-stabilizers" of it, without knowing that this was in fact what he was doing; he would have to have excellent and continuing access to the latest personnel records; and he would have to have excellent security measures of his own, so that he could evade detection and arrest for a period of time long enough for his actions to be truly effective on all intended levels. Just as long as he was a diligent worker who believed in the value of what he was doing, it wouldn't necessarily matter if he had been originally motivated by anti-ideology ideologies, for the state wins in any case. Perhaps the recent publication in the mainstream press of excerpts from his texts indicates that, whether he knows it or not, his personal mission has been or will soon be completed. But he will eventually, of course, have to be eliminated and replaced by another theorizing terrorist, for "the great game" of social control is never ended.
The most significant aspect of the spectacle of information is that it dazzles, blinds and causes social hallucinations in everyone, not just the masses who are ruled, but the cadres of rulers as well. Ironically, we are indeed all in this together. For if it is true that history has been buried in culture, then the permanent and massive shortage of historical knowledge affects everyone's ability to think and act strategically; if it is true that power has maintained itself by advocating and assisting in the wanton destruction of the general ability to think logically, then it, too, can no longer think straight; if it is true that there is a growing contradiction between the increasing mass of available information and the time and intelligence necessary to analyse and use it, then this situation affects the consumers of both classified and non-classified information; and if it is true that there has been an astonishing proliferation of surveillance, disinformation, investigation and security activities, then it is also the case that this society's various specialists in secrecy and professional conspiracy -- as well as its non-specialized masses -- are now being continually spied upon and plotted against without really knowing why, by whom or for what precise purpose. "It is in these circumstances," Debord wrote in 1988, "that we can speak of domination's falling rate of profit." Because so many conflicting "special" (that is to say, partial) interests want to obtain absolute control of all of life, absolute control itself has become temporarily impossible. But it is not clear for how much longer "old prejudices everywhere belied, precautions now useles, and even the residues of scruples from an earlier age" will continue to "clog up the thinking of quite a number of rulers, preventing them from recognizing something which practice demonstrates and proves every single day."
An important case in point is the United States' relations with China. From every quarter, we hear that the bringing of "economic democracy" to China will necessarily entail the bringing of "political democracy" to the world's biggest police state. Ironically, the precedent for this intended development is not the United States (where "economic democracy" has in fact not yielded "political democracy," but has substantially eroded it), but the former Soviet Union, which was reputedly defeated as much by Western commodities as by Western ideologies and military expenditures. But, as the Soviets knew better than anyone else (certainly better than its ultimate conquerors), China is not your average "Communist" country. It has a thriving -- indeed, the world's only thriving -- economy, and thus seems quite capable of indefinitely forestalling the widespread dissatisfaction with the impoverished quality of life that eventually led to the various anti-Communist "velvet revolutions" in Eastern Europe. And yet America's business and political leaders act as if the ruthless and total suppression of the rebellion in Tianamen Square was not the untrammeled success that it has obviously been. Media magnate Rupert Murdoch has recently entered into a $10 million deal with The People's Daily, a publication of the Chinese Communist Party, that would set up large-scale electronic publishing, digital mapping and on-line database operations on the mainland. Murdoch, mind you, is the one who has, in the words of the CEO of Tele-Communications Inc., singlehandedly "established the norm for the worldwide, vertically integrated strategy." This most recent deal was built upon the grand economic successes Murdoch and the Chinese have shared since 1993, when the Chinese constitution was amended in favor of the permanent establishment of something called a "socialist market economy," thereby insuring that Deng Xiaoping's "liberalization" policies ("To get rich is glorious") would outlive him. But in 1994, when Murdoch's telecommunications satellite carried a BBC transmission about Mao Tse-tung that displeased Beijing, Murdoch was forced not only to strike the offending story and to cut all BBC transmissions out of China, but also to remove all BBC transmissions from his satellite's entire East Asia footprint. To quote Murdoch: "They say it's a cowardly way, but we said that in order to get in there and get accepted, we'll cut the BBC out." In other words, profits are far more dear than any political ideology, unless that political ideology happens to be that of the biggest group of citizen-consumers in the world. Consequently, even in such "politically democratic" countries as Japan, viewers have thenceforth been limited to the programming (on Murdoch's satellite, at the very least) that is acceptable to Beijing. This is far from an isolated example, of course. The Chinese Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications has made it clear that any and all Internet providers that are active "in" China -- a provider "active in China" might have its headquarters anywhere in the world, possibly even in Oklahoma City -- must restrict access to any "undesirable" political discussions, and that the China Internet Corporation will see to the removal of all newsgroups, file transfer protocol (ftp) sites and other on-line services that it determines are "not related to business." Quite obviously, the flow of "democracy" here is directly opposite to what our neoliberal political and economic leaders believe it to be.
The common denominator for the entire world will not be Western conceptions of "economic democracy," even if these conceptions seem to have a Buddhistic or otherwise "oriental" flavor to them; the common denominator will be Eastern conceptions of "political democracy," even if there are no political democracies in the East. If the United States-dominated world economy wants, indeed, needs to gain access to China's 1.2 billion citizen-consumers, the former will have to acclimate itself to the political climate of the latter, not the reverse. If the Chinese do not like the political "contamination" of their culture by ours, they will threaten to deny any further commercial access to their country; they already have the military and strategic power necessary to back up such threats. Do not be deceived: international capitalists such as Murdoch -- never known for their enlightened political views or support for the working classes -- will only be too happy to be thought of as cowards, just as long as they are rich and powerful cowards. In the informatic future, absolutely no one anywhere will hear what the BBC has to say about Mao Tse-tung if the Chinese do not want their own people to hear it. And vice versa: if the Chinese do not want the rest of the world finding out about the next Tianamen Square or peasant uprisings in Fujia Town, they have only to convince the world economy that it is in its interests to suppress any "information" on these subjects with which it might come into contact -- which shouldn't be too hard, given the fact that no capitalist likes "instability," no matter who they are or where it is "breaking out." Note, in this context, the disturbing fact that the average citizen-consumer in China is as likely as you or I to know anything about the (as of 18 September 1995) nine-week-old strike against the union-busting Detroit Free Press/Detroit News monopoly.
It is astonishing that American political leaders as sharp as Hillary Rodham Clinton cannot see that the Chinese are plainly preparing to fight against the proletarian classes the world over and are not about to be persuaded by any arguments in favor of "human rights"; it is mortifying that the only American political leaders who can see that this is the case -- and are positioning themselves to take full advantage of it -- are kind and gentle fascists such as ex-President Bush. In 1988, Debord predicted that "a changeover is imminent and ineluctable in the coopted cast who serve the interests of domination, and above all manage the protection of that domination"; that soon certain world leaders would "clearly see what obstacles they have overcome, and of what they are [now] capable." Former CIA Director and ex-ambassador to China George Bush may be one of the first. In any event, it is quite clear that international fascism (or integrated "national socialism," if you will) is the spectacle's destiny. There will be no 21st century: it will be the 20th century that will begin again in 1997, when Hong Kong is returned to the Chinese. It will be then that the next and final "Cold War" will begin. Neither demonizing nor apologizing for the Chinese Communists will help, for both approaches -- as we saw during the first Cold War -- merely strengthen the world spectacle and weaken everyday life the world over.
We remember that the defeat of spectacular power "calls for commitment to practical struggle alongside the spectacle's irreconcilable enemies, as well as a readiness to withhold commitment where those enemies are not active" (Debord). The difficulty of the current historical situation is two-fold: within the G-7 core industrial nations, the spectacle's real enemies have been so thoroughly deprived of coherent theoretical critique that they were dispersed and replaced in the 1980s by enemies of the spectacle's own choosing (so that the forces of spectacular surveillance would continue to have groups "committed" to creating "instability" and thus have a reason to exist and grow); in the "underdeveloped" -- that is, former "Third World" -- countries, the spectacle's irreconcilable enemies are quite active, but they have not yet abandoned rejections of the global spectacle based upon nationalism and other illogical premises. Quite clearly, the best solution to these problems would be a reciprocal, international one.
Negation within the "developing" nations must theorize the totality of its own activity, much in the same way that groups in Europe and North America tried to do in the 1950s and '60s. Let's look at Bangalore, which is considered one of the most favorable cities in India for foreign companies "taking advantage of India's [recent] economic reforms" (as the newspapers would say). The various autonomist and nationalist groups in Bangalore agree that foreign companies should not be allowed to "participate" in areas in which India's economy -- thanks to ruthless 19th and early 20th century British imperialism -- is able to provide for itself. "India does not need foreign investment in junk food manufacturing," says a leader of the farmers' group that is reputed to be the leader of the protests; India is apparently quite willing to and capable of producing its own junk food and other nourishingly spectacular commodities. But the various protesting groups are even less rigorous when they come to ventures involving high technology, which appear unlikely to them to succede without massive foreign investments. (Bangalore is already a major center for franchises of US-dominated computer software and aerospace companies.) The protesters do not seem to realize that genuinely autonomous high-technology enterprises based in India will not succede, even if foreign companies do invest heavily! For "investment" is a misleading description of a process in which foreign companies simultaneously appear to support and actually secure effective control over local industries by allowing them to use -- but not compete with -- the patents, copyrights and trademarks owned exclusively by the foreign companies. (Note in this context the functional similarities between the "green revolution" of the 1940s and the "information revolution" of our own decade.) For India to be truly autonomous, it must not only reject all junk and other neo-foods (without regard for which country invested in and produced it) in favor of real food, but must also develop competitive "intellectual technological properties" on, for and of its own.
Negation within the G-7 core nations must certainly follow the example of revolutionary groups in Bangalore. In the last two years, admirable attacks have been carried out there by an assortment of nationalist, anti-capitalist and farmers' groups on the offices and store locations of such appropriate targets as Cargill Inc., the Coca-Cola Company, McDonald's, the Kellogg Company, and the Pizza Hut and Frito-Lay units of Pepsico. (One wonders when attacks on these same companies will begin in Moscow, Prague and the former East Berlin, and will be renewed in New York, Amsterdam and Paris.) But the biggest successes of these falsely-labeled "anti-American" or "anti-Western" groups have come on the terrain of international finance: only last month, they forced the state government of Maharastra to repudiate a contract for a $2.8 billion power plant near Bombay in which the Enron Development Corporation of Houston, Texas, had already invested $300 million. Such a victory isn't simply a victory against the endo-colonialization of the world by spectacular industry; it is also a victory over the monopolization of the world economy by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which had arranged for and provided the loans that were to fund the project and thus guarantee G-7 control over it. As Noam Chomsky has recently asked,
Who [in the G-7 nations] follows the crucial decisions of the GATT negotiators or the IMF, with their enormous impact on global society? Or of the transnational companies and international banks and investment firms that dominate production, commerce, and the conditions of life worldwide?
In other words, who follows the decisions of the groups by and for whom the "information revolution" is being staged? As Chomsky himself implies, only Noam Chomsky does. And that's both a big problem and a place for us to begin. Again.
[Editor's note: this text was completed on 18 September 1995 and was published in NOT BORED! #24, September 1995.]