Without understanding the underlying sociological principles we can never understand what’s going on – the world seems like a carnivalesque madhouse or random events. But it only appears this way if we have no language to talk about the prevailing socioeconomic system in which we all live. Theorist Mark Fisher called this “capitalist realism” which is a deceptive name meaning that a capitalist realist is a person who believes that the one and only system that is possible is capitalism. It’s the system that is here to stay forever and ever without a rival or a successor. As a culture, we have deprived ourselves of the language and tools of social introspection. We’ve robbed ourselves of the critical tools of Marxism.
And so in place of being able to discuss how and why things are happening, culture has filled the void with all kinds of mumbo jumbo and hokum. And it’s not just the so-called left and right, but both factions are bickering under the same big circus tent. Imagine all of this occurring under the same big circus tent. Stuff like prosperity gospel, austerity politics, consumerism, non-stop television, paranoid conspiracy theories, Proud Boys, QAnon, 4chan and 8chan alt-right trolling, resurgent nativism, racism, nationalism, evangelism, and the lizard brain atavism all forged together under the cult of the Great Cheeto. And that’s just the conservatives, while the liberals of the same big tent are undergoing these purification rituals, knee jerked p.c. purging, reactive outbursting, consumer binging, non-stop television, fear-baiting Facebooking, celebrity worship and Kremlingate hysteria. It’s a place where politics and the rest of life are so fused together as to be no longer separable, realities as liquid as social media. It’s a place where the contours of social space have become entirely dictated by mass media, by a world obsessed with the dramatic, with entertainment six to eight hours a day.
But as button-pushing and emotional as all of these events are, they are all occurring within the same great big circus tent, a madhouse of distorted realities and hysteria we’re calling the post-literate, post-truth world. As much as there has been talk of hyperpartisanship over the last twenty years or so, the partisanship – perhaps tribalism is more accurate – isn’t real partisanship because politics are not real politics, it’s rather a simulacrum of politics, a simulation of difference. It’s not real difference because no one is really challenging capitalism. All that’s left are identity politics and its attendant symbolic attacks and affectations.
And all of this can be defined by the social conditions of neoliberal capitalism that handed the levers of society to the market, that monetized not just all material things, but ideas which views life in entirely transactional manners, that has shown to always bail out the wealthy at the expense of the public trust. But it becomes this cynical exercise of exchanges because everything is monetized, and we expect our political class to be on the take. Why else get into politics but to line your pockets? What else is there but self-interest? What else is there but private self-acquisition? The benefit of nature, society, culture, knowledge, creativity – these are meaningless terms today. There are no people – only profit. That’s how cynical this society is. Little wonder Americans elected the world’s most famous celebrity grifter to their highest office – and somehow, against all reason or sanity, believe every word.
In this madhouse carnival of our society, we’ve seemed to be able to discuss everything except the economic and ecological calamity on the brink. It’s an event everyone can feel – though to be fair, Americans have long had a flair for the apocalyptic. But the masses are despairing for good reason within the cultural madhouse despite being robbed to the language to actually critique the big tent itself, robbed of even discussing the possibility of another way.
The great derangement in this society is precisely the manner in which a culture falls apart. And this is why there is no easy fix. It’s like we’re approaching a socioeconomic event horizon. In physics, the event horizon is the zone where time and space and reality are warped beyond all recognition as one enters into a black hole. We’re in the middle of this process sociologically, approaching the singularity of capitalism, entering the final acceleration where the fabric of this social reality will become more and more insane, reality turned upside-down, where the earth really does seem flat and fascist, in-real-life social reality molded by Facebook algorithms. Where we see all the paranoid tropes and fears and desires whiz by faster and faster so that we can never keep up with the 500 television shows we can’t seem to turn off vying for our ever shorter attentions, where our deranged reality becomes spaghetti-fied and ripped apart at the seams.
After the wheels fall off – who knows? An apocalyptic revelation of truth? A reign of terror? Will the contradictions of capital be revealed? Myth and history suggest this might be, if we’re to believe it. The lingering question for me is, what kind of world will be left after such violence, ecological degradation, social decay and derangement? Will we leave a livable world behind? There’s no messiah, no hero, no goddess, and certainly no Oprah which is going to do this. It’s up to us. We’ve got to snap out of it.