Spectacle, Ornaments and Marionettes

marionettes illustrating a shakespearean quote, "...The seeming truth which cunning times put on To entrap the wisest"“Thus ornament is but the guiled shore
To a most dangerous sea; the beauteous scarf
Veiling an Indian beauty; in a word,
The seeming truth which cunning times put on
To entrap the wisest.”

(Merchant of Venice, act 3, sc. 2)

When I sat down in the coffee-shop, the conversation between the two clients at the next table was ongoing. I did not want to intrude and ask their names. I will call them A and B.

A. Surely by now, you must have a preference among the candidates for the next presidential elections?

B. I may neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom I dislike (1). A few months ago, in this so-called contest, I thought I had decided – but inside the short time-lapse involved, those were “my salad days, when I was green in judgment.” (2)

A. How so?

B. Because, for a moment I had forgot, as many, consciously or unconsciously forget that, especially in this arc of the XXI century, life is only and exclusively a spectacle. Which, in turn, translates into a philosophy condensed as follows, “Everything that appears is good; whatever is good will appear.” Where ‘good’ transcends and incorporates both the traditional more-or-less accepted notions of good and evil. Said it another way, content is irrelevant. The spectacle has monopolized the world of appearances.

A. Even if I wished to agree with you, don’t you think that your generalization is unproven? For certain strains of human behavior are not the product of XXI century evolution.

B. “…make not your thoughts your prison” (3). This is exactly what the society of the spectacle wants you to think. By suggesting and accepting that man is a quintessence of dust, (4) impermeable to improvement, you are becoming, not only physically, but morally, in your very being, a prisoner of the system – however you may like to think otherwise.
Certainly, “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill go together: our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipped them not, etc. etc.” (5) But the issue is not one of absolutes but of relatives. Economy has always dominated social life. Ever since the establishment and consolidation of a patriarchal society, the essence of being was converted into having – which has left a stamp on all human endeavor.
But the shift from having to appearing has (relatively), more recent historical roots – say from the French Revolution, the revolution of the bourgeoisie. There lies the prototypal triumph of the spectacle. For at the end of the spectacular revolution, it was found that everything was bad with kings and nobles but there was nothing wrong with an emperor (Napoleon).

A. That seems to me too remote a time, to draw comparisons from.

B. Only if you forget one element of the prevailing ideology of the XVIII century, that even the French revolution did not destroy. I refer to those religious mists in which men located their powers – or were soothed by thinking so.
In contrast now, the absolute denial of life, in the shape of an ethereal paradise, is no longer projected onto the heavens, but is found within material life itself. The spectacle is the impersonation of the technological version of the “next world.”
At the same time, the spectacle acts as a diplomatic representative of the hierarchical society for all the spectators. And it is the only discourse that society at large can hear, including you and me. Meaning that content is the metaphysical null.
For the spectacle is an artificial form of the ultimate reality, of the sacred. A sacred that can invent, deny and re-invent itself at will. By imposing itself, the new sacred destroys any lingering link of critical awareness. It is the ultimate tool for the proletarianization of the world, including, as a bonus, the mass manufacture of alienation. Why do you think that the “mood enhancement” drug industry is so prosperous, notwithstanding the spectacle’s spectacular ‘war on drugs’? They all try, in their own way, to
“…pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the suff’d bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart.” (6)

A. But what has this to do with the selection or the candidates in the presidential elections?

B. It does, because you cannot separate the elections from the historical moment when they occur. Each moment has its own markers. The spectacle hides, but cannot erase them. Whereas the spectacle, by its very nature cannot nor doesn’t need to hide – … for “the quality of nothing hath no need to hide itself.”(7)
To identify the key marker of our times, we should remember the phases of the economic history of the world, as pointed out by Marx. Namely, that

  1. The class struggle organized itself into competition.
  2. Competition in manufacturing led to capitalism
  3. The growth of capitalism led to monopolies
  4. Capitalist monopolies interacted with banking leading to the formation of finance-capitalism.
  5. At first, national finance-capitalisms expanded through colonization. Then, when the earth ran out of colonies, national finance-capitalisms fought each other, leading to the two world wars. For the next step in the natural evolution of financial-capital is imperialism.
  6. An unforeseen event halted the uninterrupted march of imperialism, namely the Soviet revolution, much as the presence of an astronomical object curves space and warps time. But that was no more than a blink, in the triumphal march of capitalism through its natural imperial evolution.
  7. In its final phase, finance-capital imperialism substitutes the so-called parliamentary democracy – dictating the laws, manufacturing customs and warping the culture towards a globalized consumer ideology, with no boundaries between nations, the elimination of individual cultures, languages and even sexes. Do you really think that millions of people opted to see on TV men revoltingly kissing and having sex with each other? And the same for women?

The current historical marker is truly the end stage (of capitalism). And it is the objective of the falsifying spectacle to induce stupor and stupidity to prevent and strike at the roots any awareness of the phenomenon. Thus, by the globalization of the false, the spectacle has also achieved the falsification of the globe.
Consequently, to answer your question, you can judge the candidates either as you would judge marionettes in a puppet theater. Or, in a coarser comparison, determine among piles of dirt – in “the rankest compound of villanous smell, that ever offended nostril “ (8) – the one whose odor is less foul.

A. Let’s assume that I accept your characterization. How would you choose among the current marionettes?

B. In the contest for foulness, the victory, no question, goes to the woman “whose sole name blisters my tongue.” (9). The disgust arises from the revival of the images with which she is associated. At the cost of repeating myself, I invite anyone not as yet convinced, to watch this 5 second video-snippet – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fgcd1ghag5Y – where this perambulating quintessence of the anti-woman laughs her head off at the barbarous killing of a head of state, guilty of having brought some reasonable prosperity to his own people.

A. But do you really see no difference among the candidates?

B. At first I thought I did, but now I don’t. In the end, the prize will go to the candidate who can demonstrate the highest degree of Zionism and allegiance to Israel. The woman whose sole name blisters my tongue declared that, when president, she will elevate the relationship of America with Israel to a whole new level. Which, remembering the exchange that her husband had with Lewinsky, should elicit a sneer and a snigger.
All declare, in carnivalesque gayety, their reverence to the theocracy of profit, to exceptionalism with its annexed ostentation of loud and bullying despotism, to authoritarian muscularity and to the religion of development, let alone the suicidal support of fossil fuels.
They share a conceptual system founded on the theology of the market, an unshakable faith in the progressive and magnificent future of neo-liberal capitalism, professing the religion of inequality and privilege.
Besides, the dominant classes, which all candidates represent, have learned one lesson from the regime of permanent crisis. They need an enemy to effectively resist the consequences of the social regression they impose. It can be Russia or ISIS, the latter being actually ideal. For, as a US/Israel/& others’ creature, it can be simultaneously fought against and supported. Not even Orwell thought of this. Foreign policy makes and will continue to make approaches towards ruin, while the populace passively accepts without any sigh of solicitude or struggle to object or escape.

A. It seems to me that you are denying the value of democracy.

B. If by democracy you mean the government by the people, you couldn’t be more delusional. It does not exist here, nor anywhere else. It is a fiction, based on the astuteness of a few and the gullibility of many. More specifically, in this historical moment, as even President Carter has repeatedly said, “We are no longer a democracy, but an oligarchy.”

A. But all you suggest is despair, short of another world war or a bloody revolution.

B. On the contrary. True democracy existed long ago and only briefly. In the Athens of old, public offices were drawn by lottery among those who qualified – in the instance, the heads of a household. Names were mixed in an urn and a boy with a scarf on his eyes drew the names. The process was called ‘sortition’, that is, the selection of officers from a larger pool of candidates. And they were changed regularly.
Aristotle said it clearly, “Democracy arose from the idea that those who are equal in any respect are equal absolutely. All are alike free, therefore they claim that all are free absolutely… The next step is when the democrats, on the grounds that they are all equal, claim equal participation in everything.”
And he was even more categorical on elections, “It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.”
There you have it. Sortition is the only and true democracy. At elections time, there is a lottery. Your next door neighbor can be President, the postman Minister of Defense, the milkman Minister of Agriculture and so on till the last public office.
True democracy is a lottery. Every other political structure, including voting-based government is camouflaged aristocracy, though given the times, even aristocracy is a misnomer. The Greek word “aristo” means “best”, hence government by the best. A closer definition, to borrow again from the Greek, would be “coprocracy”, or government by the shittiest.
In any event, aristocracy or coprocracy, it is still oligarchic, as per the Aristotle whom I just quoted.

A. You like exaggeration and paradoxes. You know well that only experts in their field can govern.

B. If you say so, but then I tell you, look around. How many of the elected are qualified experts in their field of governance and how many are plain politicians, learning of a problem when they are already deep into it? How many are experts, and how many are but masters of cunning?
Furthermore, you attribute to your vote an importance it does not have. What you call democracy is actually the negation of the individual. When you vote, you are part of the public. And the public is a phantom, a monstrous abstraction, a mirage. As such it cannot even be represented because it is an abstraction – as equally abstract is the “average man”, a statistical invention by the XIX French mathematician Adolphe Quotelet.
It is a fiction much as the “public” is. A man is part of the public only when he is nothing. For when he is really himself, he ceases to be the inexistent “average man” (however much he may think he is). Therefore the electorate consists of inexistent average men who are part of a fictional public.
Do you wish to have a practical example of what I am saying?

A. Yes

B. You will no doubt have noticed that politicians, in their speeches or public declarations, treat the public with respect, deference and even flattery. But when you, as a member of the public, attempt to contact the politician, he will probably not even see you, unless he knows you are bringing a big check or that you can influence his next elections. In summary, you were nothing as a member of the public, because the public is an abstraction. And you are nothing as an individual, because you are no longer a member of the abstract public.
Therefore, when you vote, you just “spread the compost on the weeds, to make them ranker.” (10)

A. That may well be so. But if I follow your reasoning, all that is ahead is confusion, when not pain or despair.

B. That is why, as I said earlier on, the Spectacle is designed to confuse our thinking. Or perhaps, quite cunningly, to offer “if not a present remedy, at least a patient sufferance.” (11)

  1. Merchant of Venice
  2. and 3. Antony and Cleopatra.
    4. Hamlet
    5. All’s Well That Ends Well
    6. Macbeth
    7. King Lear
    8. Merry Wives of Windsor
    9. Macbeth
    10. Hamlet
    11. Much Ado About Nothing

In the play (first quote). The fair Portia will marry him who solves a riddle. Before attempting to do so, Bassanio meditates on some important truths.

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  • David F

    Brilliant summation!