Contemporary Nihilism

“With the emergence of a privileged mediocrity, the innocent life became accessible to the masses.”

One of the more interesting essays in the Media Archive collection is on Contemporary Nihilism: Innocence Reorganised. I have elsewhere described a quality of this as ‘performative stupidity’. From ‘Contemporary Nihilism’:

The innocent thrive on everyday ritual; it’s what makes them happy. A failing washing machine suffices to drive one up the wall: The bloody thing simply must function. The plight of materiality is that it’s always breaking down, failing, malfunctioning and generally behaving in odd ways, and that it cannot be quietly replaced. Untrammeled consumption holds a promise that from now on, nothing will ever happen.

Foucault points out how the neoliberal mode of governance seeks to control events (plague, recession, etc.) more than it attempts to control a population. Contemporary anaesthetics sets up populations on autopilot (or perhaps alienpilot) so the aggregate system (and constituent distributions of greater access to opportunity for some over others) reproduces itself. ‘Innocence’ is this anaesthetic nexus; an assemblage of human and alien being.

[Desire] is tempted by the offer of a secure existence. By displaying good behaviour, one is assured that the ongoing changes in the vast world outside will not cause any catastrophes. Rebellion is punished and virtually pointless.

Rather than rebellion, my response is to always accelerate beyond the current implicit demands for productivity to the space of opportunity that exceeds the requirement to be functional: I’ll do my 8 hours of work in 6 hours, then do 4 hours of my ‘own’ work. I do this because I am a child of neoliberalism and because I can. It is all possible, if you are a freak (and childless, familiness and even friendless in extreme circumstances). There are other ways to accelerate beyond the structural demands of the system, however. For example, harness the surplus value of others to maximise the freedom from the burden of maximal-productive functionality. This is a neo-marxist rearticulation of the neoliberal discourse of ‘opportunity’ that properly locates entrepreneurial-nodes in their place. Hence, the ideological function of The Pursuit of Happyness. The maximising-functionality mode of anaesthetic control is failing however; as the modulating system of constraints continually accelerates and individuals and class cohorts reach to the future to free up time in the present with credit and so on, or despair.
As I’ve witnessed in various workplaces, those incapable of accelerating beyond the system of control, or keeping up with the increased demands for functionality, are therefore attacked on two fronts: 1. from within the system for “rocking the (anaesthetic) boat” and 2. by those that are capable of accelerating beyond the system of control. “Tolerance means envy of the other’s simplicity.” Is there a tactical anaesthetics? A return or reversal, to revel in the dynamic cell you’ve been given? Acceleration-beyond is too hard to maintain, it lapses into a resolute ironic accommodation and becomes absolutely cynical. The use of revolutionary soviet era motifs by creatives in the advertising industry is a deployment of irony so as to cope with one’s intimate implication in the anaesthetic mode of control. Witness Twitter.
Hence the travesty of contemporary journalism. Journalism is a profession organised around always-already reaching beyond the anaesthetic status quo. It needs to get the ‘story’. Yet, contemporary news-based media have very little interest in disrupting ‘innocence’. Scandal is a resource for reproducing the anaesthetic conditions that delivers an audience cohort for media to sell to advertisers as much as it delivers a voting-bloc of citizens to politicians.

The others are scrutinized distrustfully, in a form of surveillance which it is impossible to sanction since there no longer exists any common exchange to define a norm. Normality can no longer define any aberration. Only drug-related nuisance, streetwalkers’ districts, travelers’ sites and refugees’ centers may now temporarily unite citizens in mobs, for fear of declining property values.

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