[iDC] activism now and

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr
Thu Dec 8 12:57:34 EST 2005

Comment on Debord:

Well, someone who has a powerful writing style and tells you 
that things are very bad indeed, is likely to be quite 
convincing today, no? When things are so inarguably bad 
indeed? Particularly if that someone is validated by entire 
aesthetic and academic industries, as Debord is.

Debord is very strong on conditioning, collective 
brainwashing, what he here describes as the eternal present, 
which is a theme that had already been developed before him 
by another great stylist, Walter Benjamin. Behind that he 
wants to expose a conspiracy of incessant technological 
renewal (today it's biotech, yesterday IT), integration of 
state and economy (military-industrial complex plus Wall 
Street-Treasury complex), and incessant lies (today, the 
Republican propaganda machine; yesterday, the Democratic 
one). The thing is, each of the current American realities I 
have put in parantheses (and their European and East Asian 
counterparts) are huge and complex, and swiping at them with 
super-general formulas doesn't get you much of anywhere. The 
reason it doesn't is that just denouncing a conspiracy isn't 
enough to change anything. Hence the whole weakness of 
Debord's theorizing: he believed that the revolution would 
happen through a combination of a. subversive cultural 
destabilization, and b. the formation of a spontaneous 
movement of worker's councils! May '68 supposedly vindicated 
him on that, but then in August, you see, all the 
spontaneous councils spontaneously left for their 
traditional vacations at the mountains or by the sea...

We live in societies that are deeply sick (has anyone ever 
heard of peak oil?), and which cover their pathological 
conspiracies, just as Debord says, with deliberate lies. 
Therefore maybe one useful thing to do is to work at the 
nuts and bolts, the hardware and the deep logic that 
structure one of the pathology zones. For instance, the one 
that Dick Cheney is at the center of is pretty urgent right 
now (and behind Cheney you find similar figures like 
Schultz, Caspar Weinberger, McNamara, to name a few). But 
then you have to confront another problem: the political 
system of interest-group constituencies functions very well 
in the rich countries to provide an electoral base for the 
conspiracies. So when you do get out the truth on something, 
often the majority doesn't care. Especially in the USA where 
the process of making people cynical and self-interested (on 
someone else's terms of what's interesting) seems to have 
reached the status of a fine art (cf. the fad for SUVs, and 
especially Hummers, in the context of Iraq and the approach 
of peak oil). The incredible thing is that the USA 
re-elected Bush.

What results from all that is that you get occasional 
windows of opportunity, where it is possible to break 
through both the ignorance and the cynicism, and then they 
close down. Here in France where I live, big window from 
around 95-98, with subsequent tail-off to about zero right 
now. Very interesting windows in Spain and Italy, you know, 
from around 2000 (a little earlier in Italy, later in Spain 
where it's still ongoing). Global window from 1999-2001, 
very interesting despite someone's concern about the mixture 
of "left" and "right" in Seattle (not exactly the worst I've 
ever seen in that department, but there would be a lot to 
say on that - cf the earlier post on deep tradition, I 
wouldn't put it just that way but found it interesting 
nonetheless). For those of you in USA, I think we're at the 
start of a window right now, as George-the-Son acts like 
Nero and people get scared.

So I would say, rev it up and go a little further than 
Debord in the near future! But not further in terms of 
super-radicalism. Trebor in his first post was quite right 
about that. What people need today are deep explanations of 
how the world works, and alternatives to it. Otherwise (the 
most likely thing) we will just coast along until the real 
contradictions provoke true fascism. Which is of course the 
possible outcome everywhere in the western world over the 
next decade.

Whether IT can do anything about this... I guess not. 
Distributed creativity, maybe. There is a big confusion 
between IT as hardware and the utopian feelings that it 
sparked during the experimental phase of its emergence. The 
utopianism and the experiments were, from my perspective, 
super positive. They can obviously be continued today. 
However the pall of normalization has long since set in, and 
basically it left a kind of subculture still hanging onto 
the utopian/experimental aspects. My belief is that the 
possibility of instantaneous cross-continental communication 
and self-made media is still pretty strong. But only during 
the windows of opportunity. One has to prepare for those, 
sweetly, softly, acidly, collectively, persistently. Debord 
is maybe useful because he helps you remember what 
conditioning wants you to forget: that there is a tomorrow.

best, BH

Christiane Robbins @ Jetztzeit wrote:
> Just wanted to add to the conversation with Guy DeBord's statement from 1988:
> The society whose modernization has reached the stage of integrated spectacle is characterized by the effect of five principle factors:   
> incessant technological renewal, 
> integration of state and economy,  
> generalized secrecy,  
> unanswerable lies 
> and eternal present.
> Much of this seems uncannily familiar and easily sums up where we find ourselves today.  And it is precisely this easily summing up which is makes me feel increasingly uncomfortable ( for lack of a better word at the moment.)  This easy access summation itself represents the ideological mechanisms and screens at work making any strategic "coming to terms" with what is happening in the USA itself a seemingly glib enterprise.  I am not at all certain whether either resignation or self- indulgence ( as in Saul's observation of his students)  that is motivating this last sentence - perhaps it was just the headlines in the NYTimes indicating that Bush's poll #s are "lifting" as the US economy supposedly improves.
> In any case, I'd be interested in repsonses to DeBord's statement relative to the issues at hand.
> Chris
> -----Original Message-----
> From: saul ostrow <sostrow at gate.cia.edu>
> Sent: Dec 7, 2005 10:21 PM
> To: john sobol <john at johnsobol.com>
> Cc: idc at bbs.thing.net
> Subject: Re: [iDC] activism now and
> my comment  concerning resisting our assumptions arose out of a number 
> of observations I have made concerning my students that  have received 
> some predictable as well as unpredictable responses among my peers --
> My observations revolve around what appears to be their attitudes as 
> being that of resignation, or passivity.  The fact that it might not be 
> that simple  has stimulated me to try and  explicate their situation.  
> If  I do not, I expect that I will project upon them a judgment 
> premised on some readymade agenda. I wondered what this situation would 
> look like if I thought  that it was not  a product of their failure to 
> understand or act but perhaps  rather ours to comprehend.  What if 
> their attitude is a product of the very goals our critique of modernism 
>   had set  in which all standards, criteria and  conventions came to be 
> viewed as  hierarchies created by institutions and therefore not based 
> in any objective criteria.  As such, is their attitude an 
> acknowledgment of  the power of institutions  on one hand and on the 
> other   that to think through or in accord with such systems 
> constitutes for them a limit on their freedom to act in accord with 
> their desires, volition, or experiences? no matter how limited and 
> limiting these may be after all they are their's.  This re-enforces 
> their general feeling that it is no longer possible to contribute to 
> historically or critically grounded discourses and at best they need 
> only satisfy themselves or wow an audience. Subsequently it instills in 
> us a fear that in worst case scenario we get to the point where 
> everything is the same and we cannot differentiate between one act and 
> another, one artist and another, one issue and another. On the other 
> hand, for the moment it seems to offer them a certain freedom and that 
> is critically important ? though seemingly aesthetically and 
> conceptually narrow and often to our minds conservative. The problem 
> though is we, those of us who beleive in activism and resistance  tend 
> to either generalize or psychologize this condition ? as if they we're 
> in jeopardy because they are playing out their freedom, while others 
> have been taught to act on a belief system in  which it is in everyones 
> best interest to their own seek control and dominance over others, this 
> latter position these days more identified with the right then left  ? 
> in other words, is this sector of the present generation vulnerable and 
> is this a situation we did  not, could not foresee, because the myths 
> that sustained us in our beliefs, did not allow for it.
>                       JETZTZEIT 
> " ... the space between zero and one ... "
>                  Walter Benjamin
>         Los Angeles _ San Francisco
>                      California
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