MUSSOLINI’S Italy in its undisciplined, messy totalitarianism couldn’t effectuate the kind of state and personal transformations that Hitler’s national socialism did. The Italians just couldn’t subordinate themselves either to the state or to a demagogue leader to the same degree that Hitler could conflate a Deutchland uber alles with his own will to power mania. Neither ideology nor charisma seemed able to subdue a kind of chaotic anarchy dispersed in stubbornly different regions of Italy, an instability resistant to what Blake called ‘one law for the oxen and the lion.’ A good product of this Italian chaos is the fact that Italian authorities undermined Nazi extermination plans and clandestinely protected Jewish residents and refugees. A fractal site was resistant to an epitome of fascist and totalitarian order.
It is true that we have a demagogue as a leader, Donald J Trump, but he’s stateless and ideology free, and so a very typical mega-narcissist personality that the US produces. It probably does so because when a society is riven so drastically between well-being and anxious dysphoria everything real needs to be transported to the hyperreal. For the privileges granted a few by the neoliberal order, the many need to be distracted from the realities of their own diminishing condition. In the realm of the hyperreal, celebrity life shines, one’s own ego takes the stage, vicariously identifying with media luminaries, and collapsed, immiserated lives spin in a state of yearning to be on that stage. It probably had its start with Hollywood, Disney, ‘Mad Men’ on Madison Avenue, and then by means of our cyber-techno infrastructure, cyberspace ‘influencers.’ Donald J Trump on a 15 seasons’ run became a TV ‘influencer,’ destined with that many ‘followers’ to become president of the hyperreal.
In short, the inflation of egos and vicarious transport become a cultural defence against working class revolt. Everything in the hyperreal is personalised, and everything personalised seeks the greatest expansion of the personal. The personal is preferred to social solidarities and so, unfortunately, severed lives meet fatal ends, like honeybees who lose track of the hive. Regardless to what extent Americans confer on themselves superpowers of personal autonomy, the byproduct of all that just leaves them easily seduced, exploited, distracted, just as state power has no power against multi-national corporate power.
The form of free enterprise we have, which has ironically led to freedom on a day to day survival level for many, has no need of aggregating, communalising aspirations, of solidarities and unionisations pushing for all manner of redistributions and retributions such as wealth dispersed from top to all over, racial privilege from white to all over, meritocracy from brave new world alpha/epsilons to all over, from artificial hyperreal to the great outdoors, from profit to people, from corporate ownership to mutual aid and worker ownership.
There is a living relationship going on between the realities of a zero-sum competitive economic game and the illusions of individual autonomy in which our own personal choices affect our economic winning. In reality, it’s been a death and dying relationship for the individual autonomy crowd but the freedom to self-design your life, to choose your own reality and other inanities offered on cyberspace and within the hyperreal if offers has interrupted a ‘shock of recognition.’ A totalising, individual autonomy is illusionary and the fabric of order promised by ‘the networked brain of semiocapital’ is not whole cloth but rather full of gaps where there should be connections, fissures where there should be common understanding, and wide chasms between those whose lives are ordered in drastically different ways. There are places in both human consciousness and the social body which algorithms cannot represent. Or subdue.
Although there are so many islands of isolated seeing and knowing representing themselves on and offline, across so many platforms of narrating, none are prepared to admit that their uniqueness exists in a compliant relationship with the mission and goals of every hedge fund, private equity, bank and brokerage in the country. None are prepared to admit that they are not independent realities but in service to financial plundering and immersed to greater and greater depths within the hyperreal of simulacra, connected to a synthetic, automaton life that displaces the fractal realities of ourselves and our planet. Everyone, from infant to septuagenarian, now carries in hand the link to synthetic life.
We need a politics to salvage whatever we can, for ourselves and the planet. Unfortunately, we have one compliant political party, Republocrats, which the Democratic Party is now seceding from to fight Trump, although it remains unclear if a president Biden will take the fight into the free play, aka globalised looting, of our financialised markets or whether he can free humanity of the logic of the algorithm. These are wide eyed hopes because as much as we are hoping for a Pax Biden, neither he nor the Democratic Party is thinking about fulfilling either of these suggestions.
Some destruction, either in the streets, within cyberspace, within the oligarchy and its financialised looting are more likely the fractal sites of change than are any branch of government.
It is in the interest of financial looting to distract the looted, as was done in the Great Recession, but confusion also serves. I would say that confusion will prove to be the breakout fractal point, and not distraction. I say this because if the reality of this novel coronavirus as described by our epidemiologists is presently being challenged successfully by some 40 per cent of the population, Trump’s immoveable minds, who prefer the fables, conspiracies of cyberspace, then resistance cannot find its path in cyberspace. Sowing confusion is different.
Because such a free play of the market master narrative is not a centre that can hold but rather leaves us ‘on a darkling plain/Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight/Where ignorant armies clash by night,’ it succeeds only in intensifying both social and psychic disorder. In the 170 years since Matthew Arnold wrote ‘Dover Beach,’ our darkling plains have proliferated and have replaced cliffs, seas and pebbles for digital plains where we have greater confusion and greater struggles than he could have imagined.
Any order of things, an order of discourse, practices and institutions in such a weakened state is, like a diseased plant, of compromised resistance, susceptible to, in the political realm, an invasive, undemocratic demagoguery or the easily accepted binaries of passion of hyperreality. But because there is no consistent weave to American culture but a pockmarking of as many reality frames as there are people, some 330 million, the invasion either by demagogue, algorithm or simulation cannot sweep and seep into every corner. This lack of total reach frustrates the intention of the authority of totalitarian regimes to control every aspect of life, once again, all discourses, all practices, all institutions. At the same time, fractured, fissured and unstable conditions in both the social order and the American mass psyche, the two in a debilitating co-dependent relationship, gave Donald J Trump entrée to the American presidency. Fractures created by our financial-digital domination megaphoned via cyberspace are fractures in an Enlightenment inherited order of the absolute, the universal, the causal coherent, the continuities that form an all-encompassing unity. A fractal order is resistant, but not in any one place but in discontinuous places, mirroring the multi-sited dimensions of conscious and unconscious mind, where domination is always usurpation.
The sort of frazzled, fractured order of things in the US cannot lead to an autocratic totalitarianism but that same weakened order, especially of the hyperreal kind that is ours, can be seduced or, in the case of Donald J Trump’s presidency, conned into a kind of false compatibility, a liaison both dangerous and pathological, just as some trope of consciousness finds a temporary détente relationship with all that overspills it.
This dangerous liaison is what we see in the ‘Make America Great Again’ Trump contingent, people who are living within this spurious relationship between themselves and the billionaire megalomaniac Trump. The pathological state of this is revealed, as well as the deceiving power of cyberspace, in the fact that some 40 per cent of the population do not escape the affinities of this bonding regardless of how clearly the falsity of the bond may be exposed. You cannot replace the real with simulacra and not expect pathological results. The media, on and offline, is exploding with such, and, perversely, is feeding on such.
There is then a percentage of Americans living in one district of the fractal coastline of America, call it Trump’s America, or his narration of the truthful order of things. You can say he created for them the reality frame they are living in. But, once again, Trump’s presence is a manifestation of an already existing distressed American order, a presentation of a tumour emerging from a body already cancerous. Trump will go as will all the sound and fury that draws many to him will but the underlying conditions in which many are being feasted upon, victims of financial predation, while still alive and which democratic governance has not stopped will remain.
Captured within the noise of the hyperreal, a growing number neither see this predation nor the synthetic logic of the algorithm that is corrupting their personal and social being-in-the world. What they do see is what Trump cleverly manipulated, namely, a smug, condescending, disdaining order of liberal constraints and hypocritical magnanimity and humanitarian acceptance mouthed behind privacy gates. And the slight swerve among Democrats toward socialism which Americans have always seen, long before Trump, as a redistribution of their wealth to the undeserving packaged with a federal government takeover of their lives, an enforced secularisation of religious beliefs, and, most significantly, a transfer of personal will and freedom to state bureaucrats. In the hyperreal it does not matter if the many have no wealth to redistribute, or that Trump has clearly shown us that democratic government is no Leviathan but a weak push over, or that capitalism needs religion in order to have its profitable wars against Islam, or that individual freedom in the hyperreal has only a hyperreal status.
Anger and the lust for revenge on the humiliation suffered at the hands of forces to which too many are blind but instead rage against the ready-at-hand simulacra that Trump has rallied with the help of his cyberspace megaphone. With that megaphone he’s outdistanced McCarthy, Buckley, Goldwater, Reagan, Gingrich, Helms et al in setting up as clay targets liberals, progressives, socialists of any stripe, who, in turn, have responded with a politics that further infuriates those who are not members of the professional-meritocratic-gentrified ‘woke’ elite.
A DANGEROUS presumption with focusing on Trump as the Prince of Darkness is that these feelings of being cheated and humiliated which provoke anger, brutality and violence out of which Trump has sprung would disappear with his disappearance. Admittedly, getting rid of Trump is like staunching the bleeding, a first and necessary step, or, removing accelerants from a fire scene. In both cases, we need to disclose causes, and here the ruined state of socius and mass psyche parallels planetary ruin caused by global warming, both the tragic byproducts of financial predation and algorithmic domination of the human and social life worlds.
A related serious problem then is not identifying causative conditions but rather fixating on societal and mass psychic damage that became fields of operation for Trump, who has gone far beyond Lee Atwater’s dog whistling strategy to clear declarations of racism, bigotry and sexism. There is so much here repellent to any humane response that our responses are passionate and thus confused. Either Trump is the prime mover of the darkness Biden says the country is cloaked in, or what darkness of the id Trump has used is culturally structural.
However, if a fractal societal and a mass psychic state are in any way structural then what we have is contradiction bordering on paradox because an indeterminate structure, one that cannot be predicted, cannot at the same time be a determinate one, or one in which its presence is pervasive throughout, as the structure of a Gothic cathedral or the capitalist mode of production.
An order in such disarray as our own can only display a lack of structure or myriad opposing structures. There is no continuity nor coherence in a fractal order. On a fractal coastline of mind and world there are domains without any bridges to racism, that is, it’s a fractal and not a structural situation. A hyperreality serves our neoliberal governance and overloads and at the same time replaces with automaton/algorithmic domination our own human, subjective processing of the world. This hyperreal mapping of our fractal territory has made structural and systemic the worst devils of our human nature by spawning a digital/financial domination. What we have in our fractal reality is a disorder of indeterminacy and not structural determinism, polyphony and not monologue, carnival and not algorithm.
Here we face the fact that neither empirical, rational or consensually validated ways of knowing are universally available to universal satisfaction and therefore cannot be directed to identify, stage and treat the underlying causes of the many presentations of our disarray.
The assumption in what is said here is that we’ve gone beyond Trump as Prince of Darkness as the prime mover, as the centre on a map of his own ego, although he clearly sees himself as all of this and more, and gone beyond assuming the stability of totalitarian or structural orders. We are, instead, facing the dilemmas of a fractal disorder operating in us and outside us. We are without the needle and thread we need to patch the holes in the fabric of our cultural or mass psychic disorders, culture as Raymond Williams described being a whole way of life.
That wholeness is preempted from creation by the replacement of the real by simulacra, reality for hyperreality. This is a hyped wholeness that the appetites of financial looting need to keep unfinished, everyone staying hungry, everything yearning for more. This is a realm in which our marketing and branding works best but it is also a realm from which we cannot mend the holes in the real world. It is a realm which fabricates and spins fearlessly because it has no need to touch ground, there being no ground, no boundaries, no conditions of contest. This a phenomenal space occupied by phenomenal perceptions creating phenomenal realities. Everything is as it appears to a YOUniverse of you. Connections and continuities are preempted. The mind of the perceiver forges the illusions of such, a mind perceiving through the lens of those illusions.
Conspiracies triggered by paranoia that pockmarks the American mass psyche are fabrications of the hyperreal. And neither paranoiac conspiracies nor the hyperreality that fashions them are brought to the hard ground of objective reality in the hyperreal of cyberspace. What seems to be the case is that the whole cloth of a culture is not so much mended or merged into a common grasp of things in cyberspace but rather granulised, siloed and tribalised to the nth degree so that rapprochement can never extend beyond deeply divided online communities.
This is a kind of weak, vulnerable heel that Trump has found and exploited, shattering all the utopian dreams of an expanded, direct democratic order grounded in cyberspace, a space, like interplanetary space, that has no ground.
If Trump didn’t create the fractured order we are in, but it brought him forth, then we can expect others to follow, unless the conditions of such birthing are eliminated or at least drastically changed. The vulnerabilities in a cultural disorder that has lost any shared means of understanding the nature of that disorder remain with us. Any foolishness or idiocy can be proposed and allowed to muddy the waters of an already crippled cultural mentality.
Unlike Trump who has no ideological programme to crush all opposition but just personally cannot tolerate being challenged and whose paranoia sees threats everywhere and in every one, it is possible, in the sense that so much is possible in a foundation and reality free hyperreality where an ideological right-wing fascism can enter the White House. It would, however, not be a determined, coherent fascist order emerging from our present confused, incoherent, factionalised, on and offline war of words cultural disorder. A fractal reality in which any order of the real or the hyperreal emerges cannot be constrained within one fractal, just as we have discovered that the movement of subatomic particles cannot be constrained within the laws of classical physics. The resistance of inherent what we can only see as disorder permeates mind and reality.
Whether you find the resistance that such disorder offers comforting in this instance or alarming beyond its usefulness here as an armour against any fascist regime of order depends on your paradox tolerance. Regardless, neither totalitarianism nor fascism, right or left, can find the nourishment they need in the US in which we now live. The rising nationalist and totalitarian regimes we now see, Duterte in the Philippines, Modi in India, Putin in Russia, Xi Jinping in China, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Orban in Hungary, Duda in Poland, Lukashenko in Belarus represent a turn to fascism given the collapse of democratic politics to subdue the predations of globalised capitalism, predations that have generated great insecurities and fears, humiliation and anger that seek revenge against not abstractions but human players, culprits, bad actors that strong leaders and the strong order they impose can name, prosecute and eliminate.
Other societal orders in Europe thus far have no totalising Goldman Sachs-genre of domination, are less immersed in hyperreality than the US, and thus have greater capacity to achieve consensual understanding, no need as yet to replace democracy with demagogues, and provide more fissures and lacunae for the disorder of dissent to penetrate the real and not hyperreal conditions of the world. For example, the European Union has done what the US’s autocrat, Trump, has prevented: respond to the reality of global warming rather than allow the lunacies of the hyperreal megaphoned via social media play with this existential threat.
What cannot be nourished in the American hyperreal is a sane, rational, coherent, continuous, unified understanding capable of resisting the emergence of any usurping presentation of order, and, in the past, capable of keeping a con man out of the presidency, capable of impeaching him, and capable of defeating him in a landslide in November.
Such a foundational failure has led to a many pocketed frock of disorder in which there are pockets of every known disease of mind and body. Our infosphere is awash in information and facts obscured in an endless war of narratives, on and offline, that we cannot sort through to separate the kernel from the chaff, but at the same time, there is a metanarrative at work that has neither ideology nor personality but only a mission of expanding marketing frontiers, profit to shareholders and return on investment. This is a ruling order that dismisses the exigencies of the real by replacing them with the simulacra of a hyperreal that preserves and augments that order and its beneficiaries.
THE master voice then in a cultural field in shatters remains market rule and so everything within our shambles must be understood in reference to the voice of this rule. Such market rule is both totalitarian and fascistic in so far as it rules in the American mass psyche, but ‘rule’ here is both complex and devious.
What is ruled is an unrulable fractal anarchy, a carnival of incoherence lacking any universally accepted universal rule of understanding and judgement. This situation seems, in retrospect, to be clearly fed by both the anarchy of cyberspace as well as by the needs of bottom line economics to plunder sanity and salaries lost in such disorder. We cannot forget, however, that the takeover of the American mass psyche by the hyperreal is a much broader and deeper development than either the chaos of cyberspace or the productions of hyper capitalism can explain, although the law of bottom line profit has seen everything advantageous and profitable in the culture’s move from reality to hyperreality.
China’s and Russia’s reconciling capitalist play with their own illiberal order tells us that illiberal ideologies are irrelevant to capitalist play. Illiberal and liberal orders remain, as in a radiological report, unremarkable to a remarkable degree in market considerations. However, the Chinese arrest of Zhu Xinglian and Russia’s arrest of Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky, super wealthy businessmen, is a warning, among many, to American tycoons that it’s best to do their business in the US where government doesn’t arrest them or intervene in their lobbying efforts.
What is not unmarked in illiberal cultures, however, is the invasion of a hyperreal generating a disarray, which we in the US already possess, that could be undermining of any monologic order, liberal or illiberal. The materialist foundations of Marxism, even as distorted as they are in China and Russia, can permit just so many steps into the illusions of the hyperreal.
Neither Russian nor Chinese regimes are oblivious to the link between great wealth and great power which amounts to a competing fascism of market rule. Neither this connection nor such rule registers as fascistic in the American mass psyche. Even as astounding as the present wealth divide is in the US, it remains unremarkable within the mass psyche. The Democratic Party still finds more traction with racism, bigotry and sexism than with the empire of market rule.
Because racism and the need for diversity in an egalitarian order must weigh heavily in any pretensions to such order, they are heavy investments of Democrats. In so far as racism has been consistently used to bring the unwealthy, ruled by unfortunate passions and not reason, into the political party of the wealthy, racism is a useful tool market rule will not give up. Racism is not systemic in the way the coronavirus is, but it infiltrates here and there on the jagged coastline of the American mass psyche. It is, however, bankrolled by the resident economic order of things which means that such an un-egalitarian order finds its counterpart in racial discrimination. Both achieve a presence in the hyperreal that misrepresents their status in the real where neither has a justifiable or humane raison d’etre. Racism becomes a necessary part of the structural framing of a hyper-capitalist order while at the same time increasing impoverishment of mind, body and socius which are products of this order as well as structural components.
While a personal failure to ‘win’ is theorised within a hyperreal hyper-capitalism, a hyperreal displaying itself increasingly within what Berardi calls the synthetic logic of the algorithm, and seems therefore to have some explanatory/alibi value, racism remains raw and without any explanatory value and thus repeatedly appears as the site in American culture from which the fury of the real in the face of the injustices of the hyperreal explodes.
Because racism has gone on for so long and been renewed with such passion in the US, it seems fair to say that racism here is a kind of corner stone in our chosen economic system, a kind of foundation to the privilege that such economics has established. It’s heavily invested in. Racism is therefore structural within a hyperreal framing of reality built by our hyper-capitalism, riffing on a first edition lyric played as the anarchic Dude, in The Big Lebowski, makes an entrance in 1998 through a fractal doorway in a ‘Greed is Good’ United States of America.
What we have seen in the Black Lives Matter protests is an outbreak from our fractal reality into the artificial order of the hyperreal, a kind of volcanic eruption that has been building wherein the substratum of the real emerges and exposes the falseness of our immersion in the hyperreal. Whether we go on to trace the hyperreal to the domination of the economic and the synthetic, to human and social reductiveness of zero sum economics and a digitalising of consciousness itself is not merely a political matter but, given the threat of global warming, an existential one. We cannot expect dissent and disruption, rips in the order of things, to come from either our market rule order or the hyperreal it keeps us within.
CounterPunch.org, October 23. Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies and popular culture.