The dilemma of hypermodernity (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
An earlier, academic version of this essay has appeared in This World: Religion and Public Life (Culture and Consumption) no. 31 (2000) (New Brunswick, USA and London, UK: Transaction Publishers), pp. 29-45. This is the 16th anniversary of the appearance of the academic version of the essay – which had also appeared in various, different, non-academic iterations in the 1990s, including in Polish translation. The essay had also appeared in three parts on its 15th anniversary, in Quarterly Review (UK).
Through the instrumentalities of the technological media, and a co-opted heterogenous lumpenproletariat -- which is ever-ready to be deployed against the legitimate claims of the heartland -- an extraordinarily narrow, socially liberal, economically capitalist, hyper-urban elite dominates North American society. The social liberalism of this elite is nothing more than a justification for greater and greater hypertrophic consumption for the entire population; as well as for bringing into existence innumerable pseudo-countercultural "tribes" based almost exclusively on expensive commodity fetishes (as described by Guillaume Faye in La Nouvelle Société de Consommation).
The webs of urban-and-technology-based domination, control, and influence by media reach deep into the heartland -- creating through various technological means and simulacra, a whole "other" dimension, an electronic environment, which has never hitherto existed in humanity's history. Along with the commodity-structure they support, the media constitute the major part of the interlocking grid of what French social theorist Jean Baudrillard terms North American "hyperreality".
The media, far from being liberating, hyper-centralize power -- for those who have access to them -- hence the absurd income-figures of persons who, in earlier societies, might well have been petty street-hawkers or street-singers. The electronic and other media dominate the sociophysical environment to an extent never before achievable or imaginable. As Aldous Huxley wrote, "one thousand repetitions make one truth". And one picture (i.e., riveting visual image) is worth a thousand words!
The media do not use "inefficient" coercive methods, but rather all-pervasive normative control of virtually all societal vocabularies and imageries. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell had asserted that "Newspeak is Ingsoc, and Ingsoc is Newspeak", i.e., that the key to capturing people's minds was to monopolize the various "languages" current in society. The apparatus of torture and repression drawn in the book was ultimately secondary. Aldous Huxley's society -- to which our own world seems closer to than that of Orwell's vision -- can therefore be seen as a "refined" version of Orwell's police-state.
Understanding the nature of semantic and symbolic control allows one to see North American society as both generally non-coercive and normatively totalitarian. The mass-media and its complementary mass-marketing, mass-education, and state-therapeutic systems construct the sociophysical environment in which we all live, and the societal norms most of us accept. But there is a kind of hollowness and mendacity to this mediated picture of the world, a sort of prevailing miasma which has to be seen through.
What does the promised land of hyperurban North America really amount to? At the upper-most levels of Manhattan, or in its cavernous underground play-pens, corporate controllers, cynical media figures, "successful businessmen" (i.e. drug-pushers), highly-placed government apparatchiks, and decadent pseudo-dissidents, pseudo-artists, and pseudo-intellectuals commingle freely, indulging in their variegated pleasures -- bought at the expense of exploiting and corrupting the heartland, and the decencies of the human heart. The scene is similar in L.A. and its environs, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Miami, Detroit...with minor local variations and colour.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.