The Spectacle

Way back in the 1960’s the French activist Guy Debord talked about The society of the spectacle, which is a simple idea, but the book is quite hard to follow. Capitalism needs us in order to exist, but it also needs us to go along with its bullshit. Given that it’s one of the most destructive things human beings have invented, it has to really break our ability to see it for what it is. It needs us not to question political systems that are incapable of delivering the things we need, industrial systems that are destroying our ecological base, endless profiteering wars that suck resources out of poor countries, poor countries themselves being forced into credit-based economics where the debts will never be repaid but the people living there are always paying off their abuser first before they can do anything else … and so on, murder, theft and destructive mayhem all the way down. So it creates this surface of consumerism, of commodities, a shiny happy dreaming spectacle of beautiful and interesting things, a cornucopia where we are all contented and happy. It hypnotises us to go along with a convenient dream that doesn’t disturb its true intentions. This is the world the small L liberal or small C conservative thinks we live in, this magical world where the life-destroying actuality cannot be seen. It’s a world where the rule of law protects everybody, rather than only those who can afford it. Indeed the whole murderous charabanc isn’t there, it isn’t being driven at breakneck speed off a cliff and taking everything we know and love with it.

Vast swathes of ideas, of the things gven to you that you were asked to take for granted and make up your world view, come from the magic of capitalism. They come from the spectacle that we are all forced to live with. The spectacle that is choking us and helping us pretend that we are alive at the same time. We are are lied to, or more often just not told about, the imminent collapse of the systems we need to survive all the time. When their system is predicated on infinite growth but it sits inside another system we all need to survive that is, in fact, finite, you’re a bit fucked. Actually, now that you’re on the edge of things going exponential, a lot fucked.

Consider the following bits of magical bullshit:

The spectacle is there to make us passive and put up with what we’ve been given, and put up with it being taken away without a fight. Everything is turned into a commodity, for example the reverse R revolution over the entrance to the bar, or the pictures of the fervent anti-imperialist Ché Guevara tee shirts being worn by imperialist royalty.

The social commentator Mark Fisher wrote Capitalist Realism in which he describes how we live in a world where we are told there is no alternative, as per Thatcher’s dictum. It’s taken as a given that things cannot be done any other way. We are told that private enterprise and markets can solve everything, whereas the reality is they’ve put us deeply in danger. Like all human endevours you can see capitalism as a technology. It is far more deadly than any nuclear device, they only devastate some part of the world, if we continue as we are capitalism’s demands for infinite growth in a finite system will do the whole thing.