Tag Archive | dystopia

Nothing New under Digital Rain

UntitledOne hand on a remote Control, a joystick, a keyboard,  a touchscreen, itching with a need to turn over stones. Nothing ever matches up, but I feel so wired up that the urge to carry on searching wins every time.

To begin I have to talk about how uncomfortable my disinterest in a recent discovery breakthrough made me feel. News of the Rivers of Mars’  (the headline on the shitbag-from-nowhere The Metro) left absolutely no stain on my train of thought. There seemed to be this lingering sense that it should mean something to me, that the news should run right through me as if I was an electrical rod. Of course, I want it to mean more – I’ve been reared through decades in a society where the words ‘science’ and ‘progress’ are nearly always used in an evangelical light. Yet there is a near total collapse in our faith in the idea that we are progressing to somewhere/something better, all-the-more impounded by the sickly sound the word ‘growth’ has when spouted from the mouths of our world leaders.

The partnership between economic prosperity and civilisation is probably most visibly now defunct in our ambivalence towards discoveries, new technologies that would have, at one time, served as star signs to a better world. Something has turned our radars towards such horizons well-and-truly off. Certain forces have set in, serving as a ‘slow cancellation’ of our faith in the future, making us “oppressed” as Mark Fisher writes (in his book Ghosts of My Life) “by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion.” Yet we are still forced to get out of bed in a morning. We have no choice but to go through the motions.

Despite being laced with hypocrisy like an old oak beam is laced with woodworm, Victorian and postwar Britain sustained a collective belief that we were turbulently sailing the seas towards a better world. These pacts that endured through their hypocrisy were torn apart by the emergence of the neoliberal (or market fundamentalist) political economy, and it’s hammering home of its vision of individual guile amidst failed social projects.

Untitled (800x789)There is a synonymous relationship between the move towards neoliberal economics in the 1970s and the rise of the dominance of computer (digital) technologies. It is beyond doubt that they both serve and strengthen each other’s stronghold over reality. In fact the anthropologist and general all round bullshit-buster David Graeber argues that the “profound shift, beginning in the 70s, from investment in technologies associated with the possibility of alternative futures, to investment in technologies that furtheres labor and discipline and social control” was instigated by the then-emergent New Right (with their perfect storm-broth of Neoliberal economic theory with Neoconservative politics). He suggests that the economic program they would eventually set in motion under Thatcher and Reagan was motivated by their ‘concerns’ over the potential of a less-work-more-leisure, less economically-driven, and less competitive Western world in the wake of the cultural revolutions and hippy movements of the 1960s. Graeber argues that the Right had finally caught on to the somewhat truth behind the Marxist conviction that “capitalism’s very need to continually revolutionize the means of industrial production, would eventually be its undoing”. Spooked by the social and political progress of the 1960’s they helped put the brakes on this by leading us into an age where one technology would underpin the rest, limiting possibilities and forcing us into an even more work-orientated structure. 40 years later when our ability to contemplate anything, never mind alternative social systems, is literally broken up by our craving to use the devices at our fingertips to find ever-more tasks to complete, we can see who won the war of ideas in the 1970’s.

The premise here isn’t that nothing new is possible (I dearly hope the opposite is true), but that the proliferating digitisation of life into security codes and distributive media, that is aggrandized as offering us limitless discovery, actually does more than merely limits our horizons, but actually makes us increasingly tired of life. Computer technologies foreclose all other horizons, compressing them into the same one dimensional blocks of information as everything else, who’s production and distribution, despite promoting difference, hammers down a sensory-attack of the ever-same. There’s Nothing New under Digital Rain.

IMG2_0001 (2057x3000)Unending apprehension. Nothing sticks. 2015 doesn’t really exist.

The words Nothing New under Digital Rain came to me last week whilst hurriedly walking to work, as I end up doing nearly every morning. I have to enter the rural gap between the disjointed conurbations of West and South Yorkshire to get here – hardly the epicentre of cyberspacial connectivity. Digital Rain is a track by the music artist Zomby (from his 2011 album Dedication), who’s very sound takes the one-time-euphoric sound of late 20th century rave music, and takes it under the digital downpour of the 21st century, from where it literally sounds like a disintegration, a collapse of all narrative into an abyss of disbelief.

Even in this relatively broadband-free area, I still exist in a state of apprehension, anticipating unanticipated interruptions to the here and now, and thus having no sense of the here and now. Indeed I am occupied daily by a sense that nothing sticks anymore, that I have no real memory of the past few years, an era in which cyberspacial dependency has increased in conjunction with austerity-age-fueled survivalist anxieties. This clearly isn’t an isolated sensation when 2015 exists as as CGI-version of the 1990’s – the final full decade before the digital downpour. 2015 doesn’t believe in itself. Perhaps here, away from the warm glow of screens, as I walk feverishly quick in order to avoid the embarrassment of being late for work,  I can more noticeably recognise that I (we) have been perpetually put to work. Perhaps the term ‘The Cognitariat’ (which came to my attention through the writings of Italian thinker Franco Berardi) is the best at hand to describe the residual psychological exhaustion of a continuous and largely unrewarded work-life.

In a performance piece myself and Leeds-based curator/artist John Wright undertook earlier in the year, called Non-Stop Inertia: a Stuck Record (named after a succinct account on the contemporary work-life predicament by Ivor Southwood), we concluded that you no longer need to be in the midst of an interruptive Non-Stop environment to be in a state of perpetual apprehension, and that this continual anticipation of the unanticipated may itself be altering our ability to concentrate on the here and now, perhaps more so than computer devices themselves fostering it, which we largely scapegoat the younger generation with, accusing them of speaking in soundbite form. Indeed Jonathan Cary in his book 24/7, suggests that the 24/7 life “has produced an atrophy of Individual patience and deference that are essential to any form of direct democracy: the patience to listen to others, to wait ones turn to speak.” This spreads into every corner of physical life in the all-against-all fixed-race of up-to-our-neck-in-it neoliberalism, where “the waiting that one actually does now – in traffic jams or airport lines – acts to intensify resentment and competitiveness with those nearby”. A work colleague was literally physically attacked in a unprovoked incident recently as a motorist got out of her car and hit her on a seemingly calm autumn morning.

If we aren’t utterly detached, continually sharing ‘buzzfeeds’ and cuddly pics like an electronic-Eloi, then we’re snarling and swearing at those who languish in the very same predicament as us from behind our steering wheels, or within ticket queues. The system is literally sending us mad, and we need to find an exit strategy.

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Backwards to go forwards. An acceptance of defeat?

Seriously, is it not possible that the recent craze around the 21st October 2015 being the date when Marty and The Doc traveled into the then-distant future in the 1989 hit film Back to The Future 2 may have been motivated by a longing for us to be able to go back, an then forwards, again? This time onto a better course? Like much retro-phenomena, we are potentially missing the point: that our obsession with them may be down to them alluding to different futures than the one that became our present. One thing is for sure, even if some of the technologies predicted in Back to The Future 2 did arrive, they could not have predicted the depressive nature and lingering sense of broken promises that constitute our digital Dystopia. In 1989 the neoliberal idea was only just beginning to vanquish all other ways of living among each other, and was still far off creating the reality we endure today.

Speaking to my friend/artist Dave Jarvis recently, amidst the initial clarity of drinking, he said “maybe we need to admit we’ve failed?”. This was no knee-jerk reaction. It was a reaction of someone (like myself) who is almost pre-programmed to defend the benefits of contemporary technologies, yet who’s found himself soberly coming to the conclusion that computer technologies have got us so ‘stuck’, in the face of some of the biggest human and ecological crises in the history of our species, that we may have to admit we’ve failed. Concluding that we might have to stop looking for the answers within this technological framework, (which is admittedly hard to do when you’re doing almost everything you do within it), and if not take a step backwards, then at least try to move sideways, out of the way of the glare of the screen.

http://www.versobooks.com/books/1570-24-7

#Haven’t had a dream in a long time#

“One of the standing affronts of disempowerment within 24/7 environments is the incapacitation of daydreaming or of any mode of absent-minded introspection that would otherwise occur in intervals of sloe or vacant time.”

Jonathan Crary’s 24/7 is one of the most moving pieces of prose I have read in a long time. There is an unflinching devotion to the human condition running through the book. He is clearly captive to the longing to see our species transcend capitalist relations. The subtitle of 24/7 is “Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep”, and the book warns us that “sleep is a standing affront to capitalism”, due its unproductiveness, and it is being systematically eroded. Yet Crary isn’t just talking about sleeping per-se, it’s about the space to dream, concluding his book with the suggestion that “in many disparate states, including reverie and daydream – the imaginings of a future without capitalism begins as dreams of sleep.”

Such a sentence moved me profoundly, as I suddenly realised how much I shared this sentiment. We are all seeking arrival, a moment when we can finally fucking ‘log out’ for good. Nobody is on the social media all the time, job searching sites in their spare time after work (continuing the daily commute of physical space into cyberspace), because that is where they want to be. They want to be where media platforms promise but never allow them to final arrive at. Over recent years blogs, Facebook posts, and Twitter trends have revealed how the majority of us share the same distress about the world we live in. Social media, unlike Television and Newspapers before it, has allowed us to see that most of us basically want the same things (even if some are led into the destructive demonisation of other social groups). But even if it helps as an initial platform, computer technologies must finally be moved away from as the dominant technological force within our lives.

Acceptance of this does not mean running to the forests, away from the 24/7 world, it means accepting that computer technologies, as David Graeber argues, may not actually be true progress at all, not in the sense of the epoch-defining breakthroughs that went before it. If we can accept that, we may be able to pick up the new tools, ideas, products that have been probably created in-spite of the digital downpour. As my friend John Wright suggests, it’s more than certain that they do already exist, but possibly just can’t be seen by us at the moment: that the tools towards a tommorrow cannot be understood amidst an eternal present under digital rain.

Whilst We Were All In The Eternal Now… (2014)

Whilst We Were All In The Eternal Now  (1959x3000)Whilst We Were All In The Eternal Now… (2014)

The future returns from the past. Yesterday’s future left unchecked, comes back to haunt.  Not the great expectations of that high modernist period, but those dangerous potentialities and instrumentalist horror that ran alongside it.

Nothing much feels real any more, at least not in the way I’ve grown to expect real things to feel. Even events that directly concern me are experienced as if they’re behind a screen placed there to transmit the spectacle. The anguish of unreality is most acute when you try to sense the sadness and horror caused by  “the planet’s little wars [which are] joining hands” (Sweet Bird of Truth, The The), and the world’s little climate disasters which are joining hands, and yet it somehow doesn’t feel like it’s happening. You know our species has a shared interest in preventing such things, and even as you protest, one banal social media post can distract you and make it feel like it can’t really be happening anyway.

P1010252Banality reigns supreme, at the same time as situations that should deeply alarm us collectively unfold. And as information sharing speeds and increases, we find it far easier to share things that reassure us/things that make the world seem childish, a depolitised, dehistorised ever-present of fun/funny/adorable things.

Re-repeats of our alcohol-based social events, which (if all goes to plan) usually result in a -re-laugh and re-listening to old-time favourite songs, now (I would argue) work alongside the social media banality, and life is lived as if in an eternal now. As the dynamic of capitalism requires ever-faster and ever-more intrusive cyberspace technologies mediating life, life feels so fast that it no longer feels like we are moving, just on a stuck record, going round and round. This has lumbered us in the eternal now, or at least, what feels like an eternal now…

P1010253 (3000x2391)The night after yet another heavy weekend night’s drinking in town, feeling more content than usual due to the passivity caused by the numbness felt the day after, I was hit by an unexpected reality check whilst I lay in bed. With the intensification of conflicts in areas in a land mass, generally speaking, between Europe and Asia, bringing all the superpowers into potential conflict, whilst I lay in bed in this supposedly post-Cold War world, I suddenly thought “is it plausible that nuclear war could actually escalate at any moment?”

As much as we know it has always remained possible, it doesn’t feel possible any more, it feels like it fell with the Berlin Wall, and was cosigned to books after Francis Fukuyama’s proclamation that we’d reached ‘the end of history’. But at that moment it did feel possible, I was momentarily jolted from the laughing/sedatory gas of the banal. Remembering the alcohol-soaked walking down a street in a town with the highest concentration of pubs in the UK (at one point,  apparently), depicting this reality check felt like a necessity.

Underneath the street-scape is a near past of activity and desire to change the world. Theorist Slavoj Zizek described this period (2011) as the year of dreaming dangerously. Since then this impulse seems to have been covered over, drained and exhausted by the very media-scape from which it gained its initial collective body. There as been a noticeable intensification of information sharing even from 2011 onwards, coupled with the disbelief and apathy the powers that be have brought about, with an ever increasing influence over the shaping of our opinions and reactions in the information age, whilst they the impose an ever-more draconian economics onto us. No wonder we wish to drink to reach the reassurance of passivity, and share reassuring information via cyberspace.Yet, within this depicted landscape, the covered-up near past still offers a glimmer of a way out of this.

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…Coils Tightening (2014)

…Coils Tightening

(2014, ballpoint pen and collage on paper, 80X120cm)

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Moments when we realise we are amidst the future we were warned of

“It was a slippery, slippery, slippery slope

I felt me slipping in and out of consciousness
I felt me slipping in and out of consciousness”
Lyrics taken From Harrowdown Hill, from Thom Yorke’s 2006 album Eraser

This collection of thoughts were brought together in the midst of hearing of the British ConDem government’s plans to extend powers of security services to monitor the web, meaning “(t)he authorities will be able to establish patterns by seeing who we send texts and emails to and how frequently, which websites we visit and what we download and the people we phone and how often” (from blog page A World to Win: http://aw2w.blogspot.co.uk/) and hearing about “courtroom secrecy proposals which would allow “ministers to decide what material could be concealed from the public, the media and even claimants during civil trials” (The Guardian, 4Th April 2012) which parliament’s human rights committee criticised for, among many things, causing harm to “the principle of open justice”, thus basically potentially allowing certain trials to to be undertaken behind an iron curtain of sorts.

David Cameron added his defence, saying the government needed to take every step to make the country safe (The Guardian, 4Th April). Despite this being highly hypocritical, by proclaiming safety and peace are his highest priority, in a month when he jetted off to East Asia to try to persuade countries such a Japan and Indonesia to buy British-made weapons, the more pressing questing is what do they see as being a threat to safety? Teresa May added ‘ordinary people’ have nothing to fear. But again, what is meant by ordinary people? The contrasting of a fictional do-gooder with a devious monster creates an image in the cultural imagination which allows for a simple binary, frozen in time interpretation of innocent next to guilty. From this you get the common rhetoric on the street of “if you’ve done nothing wrong, then what’s the problem?” which sends shivers down the back of anyone who cannot dismiss these things so clearly.

They only need to look back 10 years or so to see how flawed such rhetoric is; to see the frightening advance of the security and surveillance complex following the terror attacks of 9/11. Despite the news that anger from back-bencher’s in the coalition has stalled these plans, one only need to look back to see that there’s little doubt as to where we are heading. Writing about the growth of the security state, once the social state had begun to dissolve, sociologist Zygmunt Bauman writes that “once visited upon the human world, fear acquires its own momentum and development logic and needs little attention and hardly any additional investment to grow and spread – unstoppably” (Liquid Times, 2007). We are in the midst of this swelling.

These plans for tighter security extend much further in their aims than merely watching the spectres of terrorism or paedophilia which haunt our society; they will have to watch many more, who up to now believed this nation was one with the eternal right of free speech. It seems to me as if the entire anti-capitalist movement, which incorporates many more than what the media would suggest, isn’t quite sure yet what to do next, after a 18 month period in which the idea of a Left and a belief that capitalism can be challenged has gained credibility (at least outside the mainstream again). I think this is because it realises the challenge it must now face is much larger than (most camps) expected.

The government, protecting an ever more clean cut type of capitalism, will obviously find this (rise in anti-capitalism) alarming. ‘Safety and security’ for many with vested interests will require the silencing of such voices, as the cuts really begin to bite. What we may now possess as potential for a better future, is more than equally matched by a fear of what those who would wish to prevent this would do. In my darkest moments I fear to what extend our still-viewed-as democracy could descend.

But we forget the threat so fast, more or less as soon as it falls from the media’s gaze (I’m finishing off this blog over a week now since I heard of these threats, and I too feel worryingly less concerned about it, precisely because it has fallen from the front page and so fallen from our topics of debate). Like with the way we don’t fear climate change as much now it’s on the news significantly less – due to the drug addict-like obsession our world has with economic growth post-recession crushing anything that may stand in its way like sustainability – we feel much calmer, as if it must all be OK now; like sheep sitting back down now the dog is no longer in the field.

The aforementioned song lyrics are taken from Harrowdown hill, by Thom Yorke (The Eraser, 2006): they repeat over and over in my mind when I start to become concerned about how we all forget about frightening indicators of Power’s capabilities, as they slip to the back of the cultural memory as new news stories, of a more trivial and more thought-numbing nature push more troubling stories right to back, like old clothes you forget you have. Harrowdown Hill was where David Kelly, whilst under intense pressure, being a weapons inspector looking for evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Husain’s Iraq hence being a liability for the government’s need to maintain The Lie post-invasion died, from (officially) suicide, or was (as is suspected by many) bunked off.

This is possibly what is the most frightening about all of this: collective amnesia, and how any story, no matter how damaging to the power structure, can be pushed away from sight. This needn’t be done through techniques similar to an Orwellian memory hole, but just by maintaining the course for the vast majority of the information we receive with an abundance of what is more distracting rather than informative. And it is so hard to remember, to keep on ones mind on events which bear significance to our own liberties. I think this is what scares me about the recent new legislative plans: that one day people may go missing in the night, be detained without rights, but it will just slip from cultural memory, again and again: the spectacular society needn’t have ways of deleting unfavourable information, because the Memory hole is in every citizen’s mind.

Returning (historically) to how we got here, surely once it has been stated that “there is no alternative” to a way of running our world (no matter what particular way that may be) the totalitarian potential lurking behind the statement will eventually, over time, be enacted in brutal repression of anyone/anything that disagrees with it. Looking at it from this angle, are the current “constraints imposed on certain freedoms – some of them unheard since The Magna Charta” (Bauman, Liquid Times, 2007) inevitable out-comes from the final ‘triumph’ of capitalism, achieved in Britain in the 1980’s?

A dictatorship isn’t actualised in one clean sweep, it takes years of gradual erosion, manipulating a culture’s ability for memory-loss, to maintain an illusion that everything is the same has it has always been. Already maintaining a pretence of democracy, don’t be so sure that our western ‘democracies’ still couldn’t descend further. If it’s a one-way process, then we need to pull the rug from under the entire process.