The twenthieth century was special, because so many people survived the first time. Penicilin and other scientific and medical advances increased the lifespan of the average (Western Hemisphere) citizen considerably. The beginning of the twenthieth century with it’s world wars and subsequent cold war drive a focussed and serious effort to eliminate big problems for humanity. Working hard payed off and people where respected for their significance in building up our society. Science and technology as well as engineering and a good education enjoyed high regard.
What you watch you become
The twentieth century was also one in which big lies where sold for the first time. Although Napoleon did a good job selling his non-existent successes in Egypt with devestating results for many french soldiers before, in the last century marketing really became the primary tool to control society. Selling sigarets by portraying them as a symbol of emancipation, or selling presidents by appealing to the things people felt most passionate about, even if these where unimportant childish impulses. The idea the advertised lifestyle is in reach of everybody created a population in constant cognitive dissonance between what they wanted and what they had. Marketing approaches slowly permeated almost every corner of our society mainly because it is simply easier to lie than to perform.
Where the first mass propagandists had to deal with important hard working, well educated citizen, these days that is much less the case. The wealth of a society with low automation and low use of external energy sources depends on the individuals. These individuals are recognized and recieve respect and power. Today most people are either salespeople, in logistics or stewarding some kind of semi automated production process. Most goods are not hand made and if they are the people that make them are anonymous remote powerless slaves. There’s definitely a counter movement and this definitely only goes for parts of the ‘world economy’ but nonetheless this changes the ease with which individuals are captured and influenced by marketing.
The principles of economics and modern capitalism, recently even lamented by Goldman Sachs, have separated people as much as possible from what they need. A model family has no land to grow their food, no hobbies that allow them to trade, yet own cars and houses and have a world view that ties them to jobs and makes them waste as much fossil fuel as possible. The ‘consumer’ really is a destructive endpoint for the incomprehensible amount of wealth we have been able to create with the stored solar energy reserves of coal, gas and oil. People need to carelessly destroy goods and services or we would not need to keep selling fossil fuels, and we need to keep doing that or the banks would have no business. This is what i call the CarbonCredit model (which everybody slowly starts to aknowledge, even Steven Keen). It is important to note that the fossil-credit dependency is the driving force that shapes our society today and that renewables would create a totally different society.
There is one aspect that amazes me about this outcome, and about where it is headed, namely a world in which we wonder in a semi dream state through a barren sensually augmented reality so as to maximize our consumer role, until fossil fuel runs out and all collapses. It is the lack of drive to survive. The focus of our iives has shifted to the threat of our own death and demise to the threat of social poverty. We fear each other more because we can take ‘the life’ away from each other, than we fear the dangers of being distracted by what comes down to meaningless tantrums of egoism. We plow forth towards our destruction because we no longer know or have experienced what is needed to feel dangers to or lives and that of others.
The pro fossil right wing politics have eroded the education system to a degree that it produces people that really don’t know much or understand much more than what is local and real to them in every day life. The economically necessary hardship also forces people to focus on what’s in front of them, and if we wait war and the problems caused by climate change will do exactly the same. Yet the response to this process of encapsulation is not a revolt or new movement to break out of it, because the state does not offer instructions how to escape. May of us have been defeated because we don’t carry the knowledge or behaviour that allows us to change and become our own agent of freedom.
Getting the fuck out of this hologram
It can not be a bad thing for a person to try to secure his health or that of others, or to try to escape a wastefull process of disenfrachisement. Even if it doesn’t do any good, it still saves more fossil fuel and other resources for others. Wait until scarcity drives people to ‘take their fair share’ even if they don’t need to. The number of ways in which human nature can be led to (economically profitable) abuse is endless. What makes the difference is when people get serious. Serious is under attack because what does serious mean? It means that we are ready to act based on what we consider a serious issue. If we know we are going to be really worse off because of something we do or say we will become serious about it. One can easily see the number and types of issues people are serious about today is different from that which people where seriou about say 50 years ago.
Serious is under constant attack by the media. Serious is the enemy of wastefull economic activity, because serious has degrees. Serious is about the protection of our agency, not our individual identity but our individual power to shape our own lives. For most consumers there is no threat to it if they play by the economic rules, but once someone starts to think it is very important what such a person takes seriously, and what ideas and knowlegde one has. A serious moment can make our existential predicament gradually clearer and in the end force us to change our behaviour. You blow a puff of sigaret smoke, you think about the smoke and what people say about it, that it may kill you, you consider you don’t want to die just because you smoked, to much other things to enjoy, and you quit. Just like that your seriousness got the better of you, and you won over the many messages to not care or care about other things like the lifestyle of the Marlboro man (who died of lung cancer). Serious is a serious threat to marketing and to economics.
So in the US and increasingly in Europe the media have developed a format which keeps us from being serious. It is comedy applied to real life news. It is also comedy applied to our own morals. The combination of Jon Steward, Stephen Colbert and Louis CK is destroying a generation of potentially serious people. Not that you should not laugh at things that embarres you, or things you can’t change, but some issues are serious and should mobilize your reflex to protect your agency. As a dutch person I can see the shamefull copying of the Steward format (Lubach, joking about gays thrown from buildings by ISIS), and slowely it becomes more clear that this form of humor throws out the baby with the bathwater.
It is not clear if the audience starts off without the ability to be serious ourside running their consumer lives, or that the comedy makes these people lose their edge because they are tought to laugh about everything. Family guy and the Simpsons is also highy demoralizing comedy, you can not watch Family guy and go more than one minute without being invited to imagine some disgusting acts, leaving your judgement and self trust eroded. We don’t have to be moral cruisaders so don’t think its about advocating parental control, but why are we so desensitized by our comedians? Is it time to kick the humor addiction and go serious at least for some issues?
We are invited to enter an era of augmented reality, where we see stuff in our every day environment that is not there, where all services are gamified, where we study for points, where the promise of reward is ever present but where real reward can not exist, real freedom, real control, because that’s not what the people that create this artificial environment want for us. You are fine playing a VR video game as a distraction from a long day of work, but what if your entire life becomes a game. Already the economy is designed to make it really hard for anyone to escape it, unless of course they want to live in a shack in the woods. If you don’t want to play the ability to control your life without you notecing is bigger than ever. How to get back if not only your life is a complete designed hologram but your beliefs about the way to free yourself are such holograms as well.
We need to get serious about our consumption of media, about our control over our environment. We don’t have to go back to basics, but we need to ask questions like ‘What is the five and ten year security of my food supply’,’How am I going to educate my kids so they have a sense of reality’,’What am i serious about?’,’Why is it always others that create my environment and job opportunities, and not me’,’What if I did not have to pay anyone to live, how do I get there’, ‘What if stuff breaks down and there is nobody else to fix it’. etc. A good exercise of seriousness is just for fun trying to answer any one of those questions. Drop the comedy diet, drop the virtual reality, find people that think this is actually a challenge that is more fun and eventually reap the benefits of your serious freedom.