We are necessarily impatient. We can’t stand paying rent one more month. Being forced from cradle to toilet to classroom to cubicle to grave makes us boring. We hate ourselves and our condition even more.
But what to do? We are not so naïve as to believe the leftist line about ‘revolutionary’ groups like the Weatherman. We don’t accept that the problem with their strategy was a lack of mass base. We see their problem as lack of ambition.
Not only can you not bring down the castle walls by running full speed into them but it may be that this world has become sophisticated enough to no longer need castles or even physical presence to a large degree. This is the problem with most critiques of postmodernity. They assume that the postmodern would be a device used by the dispossessed in our arsenal against this world. This is not the case. What is the case is that the postmodern (and its accompanying condition) is yet another tool in the arsenal of this order. Postmodernism is the terrain upon which this order’s current travels can be mapped. This can particularly be seen in discussions of virtuality, identity, and the politics of deconstruction (as relevant tenure track pursuit and little else).
The first premise of postmodernism is that there are no ‘meta’ narratives. There is no single history or anthropology or system that enables us to know the real. While this is great news if you’re sick of the blowhard Marxist and Republican orators of the workers’ or entrepreneurs’ Coming Emancipation, it also leaves us very alone. On the one hand we now have a language to understand that every truth coming out of the mouth of our leaders, teachers, and specialists is suspect but on the other we are no longer presented with a Golden Brick Road towards the world of our desires.
The group who is best prepared to take advantage of this information is not the group with nothing to lose but the group with the most resources to bring to bear. If we are no longer interested in combining ourselves with others into shapes that can be placed on the board of politics and business, then those who do can have the board to themselves. They understand that the postmodern condition keeps us apart. Alone. They have trained us to believe in nothing and to accept the conditions of this world as universal.
The second premise builds on the first. If history is no longer a ‘true’ story (in the grand epic sense that Western Civilization classes or Marxists speak of), then progress is no longer that story extended into the future. If progress is no longer assumed on the world stage it may be that it wasn’t the right mechanism (or meta-narrative) to understand the material world, humans’ role in it, or much of anything at all. Where does that leave evolution? Isn’t evolution just an idealist-materialist ‘proof’ of progress in biological systems?
If we abandon progressive notions then we should, it would stand to reason (sic), abandon inclinations toward democratic institution building (as a partial step towards what we want), including participation in humanizing such institutions. Instead we are informed by the specialists of knowledge, if we don’t accept the progress modality, that we are at ‘the end of history’ where the present conditions are universal, fixed, and unconditional. This is another example of those who control ideology planting their value system onto the space burnt out by the postmodern controlled fire.
Another premise of postmodernism is that culture is the means of social transformation in a media rich world. This is mostly a rhetorical device alluding to something obvious (if you accept the premise). If the world is indeed media rich, cybernetic, illusory, and entirely without mooring on the foundations of the 19th century, including 19th century prejudices about labor and progress, then engaging with it must be in this new vocabulary. If you do not accept this, if you recognize it as a tragic mis-reading of Debord, most of the consequences of thinking of culture-as—transformative-lever can be seen as based on a faulty premise.
This is how postmodernism works. It takes a premise, let’s say that “Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation” (Debord) and turn it around “Representation is everything directly lived” and you have a clear argument for non-engagement. Why bother living in time and space? If life is merely representation then media is living on a greater scale than would be otherwise possible.
I recently attended a speech where one of the questions asked of the presenter, who was arguing against representation generally, went along these lines. “I am a computer graphics student and I have spent long days precisely measuring and evaluating a blade of grass with the goal of reproducing the form within the computer environment. How can you say that my work, both in the observing and the reproducing, is wrong?” This is a classic example of accepting the premise and basing, in this case, an entire career and life path on it. If we live in a media environment then oh, what a time savings that I myself do not have to go to a field to experience something called field. Instead I can download the Field Experience volume 1 and know field. Who are you to tell me differently? Do you have ownership of the concept of field that you would lord over me?
The point being made here is simply this: abandonment of understanding the mechanisms of control disarms us. In the case of postmodernism, confusing a set of academics with the actual power brokers who enact their ideas is a paralyzing problem.
What’s next then? If there are no castle walls because domination has found a way to succeed without necessarily materializing, then our project no longer looks like a siege. If virtualization has become part and parcel of the dominance matrix then single points of attack are no longer effective. There is no letter bomb large enough.
The simple answer is that we have to be patient. We have to have an engaged patience that is incomprehensible to the lethargy of the revolutionary left. Our role should not be to lay in wait for some mark to come stumbling along because that is never going to happen. Instead we must have total engagement in the social and political processes around us. Nothing should escape our attention. This could look like, and is not limited to, attending church (especially politically active churches), going to shareholder meetings, attending city council, toasters, Elks lodges, civic organizations and even leftist meetings. The idea is not that our efforts should be particularly supportive or even destructive to these groups (although pushing the boundary in both directions should be part of the process) but to understand how it is that modern acculturated civil society works. What does a social group look like and how does it react to the kind of stimulus that can be brought to bear? If you play the game how easy is it to integrate into an organizational form? To what extent do these forms accrue power, negligence and momentum? We need more information.