Situating the Problem of the Present Moment
This chapter is an effort to show how the last eight years of rule in the United States have been an intentionally created simulacrum to pull off a criminal heist upon the American people. It must be understood that the term simulacrum is defined as "a material image, made as a representation of some deity, person, or thing," as "something having merely the form or appearance of a certain thing, without possessing its substance or proper qualities," as "a mere image, a specious imitation or likeness, of something" (OED). The material image, or person, in this case, is George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States of America, "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. (Lincoln, Gettysburg Address) In my usage of simulacra, it is Jean Baudrillard's meaning intended as "the representation precedes and determines the real. There is no longer any distinction between reality and its representation, there is only the simulacrum." (2)
Historical contexts leading to this moment
The first disaster in the twenty-first century was titled 9/11. This was a strange neutral moniker for something so clearly enormous in scope, horror and death. It seemed worthy of more than a nine, two ones and a silly slash. 9/11 seemed as unreal as the thing itself. Think D-Day, The Triangle Shirt Fire Disaster, The Oklahoma City Bombing, The Columbine Disaster, The World Trade Tower Bombing, Pearl Harbor Day, Why is that they get a name? This is the historical context from which I begin. The time was 2001. The places where planes were crashed and people young and old were killed were Pennsylvania, New York and Washington. The sites were the Pentagon, the World Trade Towers, a field in Pennsylvania, thanks to the heroic efforts of civilian paid flyers with wives, children and checked luggage aboard. People in the air must have been experiencing their time quite different from yours and mine, and from the people in the airplanes who were controlling the time and space of those inside the planes confined in the air. Their day is commemorated with a number a slash and a couple of ones.
I suppose, because of its linguistic neutrality with the constructed horror attached to the numbers that now bring chills down many spines as do the numbers 666, spin doctors in Washington achieved their task. I wonder if the disastrous image the doctors of spin truly avoided during the hours following 9/11 were emerging headlines of the Commander in Chief photographed opportunely at this historical time with headlines reading "The Day the President Read a Book Upside Down to Kindergartners Even After He Learned a Very, Very Bad Thing Had Happened."
The Patriot Act was created while hiding behind the simulucrum Bush, with added allowances of Homeland Security to deny constitutional rights to American citizens under the guise of protecting We the People from those nefarious terrorists hiding behind bushes planted amid the carnivorous gardens for their own for reasons having little to no connection to the reason for the Act in the first place. Native-born citizens who supported lawful activities were deemed terrorists and stripped of citizenship. American Muslims, by virtue of their faith, or non-Muslims, could be and were arrested, electronically surveilled, followed, and interrogated inside the United States, and are continued to be, without the judicial orders required under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
The Administration's continued refusal to share with Congress information about its activities necessary for Congress to carry out its legislative and oversight responsibilities shuns the checks and balances our government has had in place to function since the time the Constitution was first written and enacted. So much has happened right under our eyes, since the day Bush Read the to the Kindergartners Upside Down Even After He Learned a Very, Very Bad Thing Happened.
As Baudrillard would have seen it, neither Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Gonzalez or their cronies would have had to imitate or reduplicate or parody what they wanted to hide. Baudrillard would have said it was simply a matter of substituting signs of the real for the real. (Simulacra and Simulation, 166) In so doing they had successfully created a false image to replace the real one, so far removed from the unreality it may have been intended to mask. As Baudrillard, in 1981, would see it, preceding this terrible event was already the shredded and scattered remains of Empire, perhaps visible or not beneath the fraying map where all this ruin presented itself. If there is a simulacra, a perfect map laid over that which no longer exists, along with a map that no longer exists, what remains is that which engenders the real. The only vestiges of reality are not the world that the map represented, but the shreds of desert. We are the shreds of the desert and we are all that is.
I see these eight years through the double vision of Baudillard's abstraction and David Harvey's view of the postmodern condition. Back in 1990, when Harvey wrote of economics with mirrors and voodoo politics, he spoke of the biggest export coming out of New York being the world's cash being shipped over the telephone lines. He saw the illusory nature of this, as Baudrillard did, though Harvey called it the production of fictitious capital, carefully pointing out that there were highly paid professionals getting paid to carry out this charade of manufacturing fictitious capital. (331-32)
Fictitious capital became an interesting unreality-reality growth industry producing nothing of real value: stories, gambling havens, self-aggrandizing solids and non-solids. Realities like Yuppies and homeless people were produced, more shred from Baudrillard's map. The first premonitions of Marx's shibboleth, all that is solid melts into air were being made apparent.
In 2001, the claim to the American people and the world that there was indisputable evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq is one example of George W. Bush substituting a sign of the real for the real. He masterfully used the information network, his uninterrupted satellized presence with his audience, relentless interface, masterful use of speed and displacement of imagery flashed as performance pieces, all for the consumption of the masses to buy the unreal as real. The reward, of course the great show, the bombs, the dusty caves, the captures, the five inch cadavers being pulled from nine inch tanks, via satellite on television. What is hyperreal from my couch in New York City is real for the families in Baghdad. One person's hyperreality is another person's death.
Baudrillard's four symptoms of a couch potato's Simulacrum's hyperreal-time of the nail into the coffin of the death of an image would look something like this, as quoted by Baudrillard:
"These would be the successive phases of the image:
1. It is the reflection of a basic reality.
2. It masks and perverts a basic reality.
3. It masks the absence of a basic reality.
4. It bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum.
In the first case, the image is a good appearance: the representation is of the order of sacrament. In the second, it is an evil appearance: of the order of malefice." Any image of a maimed or dead bombed baby, starving American, new nuclear threat, Nuremburg-like rally in the United States under the guise of Presidential campaigning should suffice. "In the third, it plays at being an appearance: it is of the order of sorcery." Recall Bush's Skull and Bones Club. "In the fourth, it is no longer in the order of appearance at all, but of simulation." It looks likes it looks like democracy, but it is really Imperialism bordering on despotism. (6)
The real is not held against a model of an ideal or negative image. It is operational. Period. It is not real any more. Recall the simulacrum upon the surface that is no more. Neither is the map that enveloped it. What remains is hyperreal.
Here is what this means:
· Artificial resurrection in the system of signs
· Material more malleable than meaning: lends itself to all systems of equivalences, binary opposites
· No longer a question of imitation, duplication, or parody
· It is a question of substituting signs of the real for the real, e.g. an operation of deterring every real process via its operational double
· "A programmatic, metastable, perfectly descriptive machine that offers the signs of the real and short-circuits all vicissitudes." (2)
· "Never again will it have the chance to produce itself""such is the vital function of the model in a system of death." (2)
In each case God is invoked and fought with on each side, killed for, argued about, whether he exists or not. The iconoclasts see mirrors of reflections of representations that stood for nothing, playing the mortally combative game of smashing and unmasking the image that throughout history prevented billions from miserable nihilistic meaningless lives.
Those clever Jesuits wrapped up this dilemma with the idea of transcendence; poof He is gone, no signs, no alibi, just the concept of faith with the caveat of the necessity of doubt as the opposing balance to have true faith. Baudrillard gave props to the Jesuits. (4)
Chuck Barris, the game show host once said the ultimate game show would be one where the loser would have to die.[i] In a sense, we are in the ultimate game show. What kind of reality game show is the question, and what are the stakes? Here, it would no longer be in the order of simulation, it would be in the order of appearance, and the type of reality.
Significant problem in the present moment
This chapter situates itself in an exact location of time and space. I have determined that the total population of the World based upon the U.S. Census Bureau's estimation on October 4, 2008 at 16:13 GMT (EST+5) to be 6,727,897,811. (U.S. Census Bureau) From this data, I extracted the fragment of the United States of America's population and found it to be 305,331,617. (Ibid) The 2006 estimate of New York City was 8,214,4263. This was the nearest I could come to 2008, but it serves my general purposes.
It was an example of capabilities within time and space, between 1945-46 after WWII, Berlin was rebuilt in three years with the Germans and Americans joining forces to claim victory over an evil tyrant and rebuilt a glorious city under the Marshall Plan. This proves that one and one can equal more than the sum of its parts.
In its success, the Marshall Plan accomplished two things. It highlighted change over a contracted period of time and the use of potential good upon the use of space.
The transferability of technological progress alters the time to achieve desired ends, but does not, as I see it, affect the inherent goodness or evil, or motivational intentions, that lead to the impetus to action.
We are finding lots of our stolen items and sneaky people that have been hiding behind the Bushes for eight years. That is a lot of filthy lucre stuffed behind some pretty powerful pedigree belonging to a lot of people, as well as hidden damage and damage control. Included back in that tarnished landscaping job is a lot of war, refugees, dead Americans, dead foreigners, all who could be alive and living productive lives. There have been spies who have been caught selling information they taped under bridges near bushes when they lost faith in their country or suffered from the same greed that America's leaders suffer from and act with impunity. Not too many of these people that did these bad things went to prison or got punished. Even when Dick Cheney told a bad secret and revealed Valerie Plame's name, an American spy for our side, Cheney's side, because he had a beef with her husband, he didn't even get sent to the President's office for a scolding.
Everything today is bigger, stronger, and there is a lot more of it. Technology, terrorism, global warming, economic failure, our government's highest level of control over civilian's rights in the history of our country, precarious geopolitics, even planned obsolescence is bigger because it is shorter.
Poorly secured nuclear material in the former Soviet Union, secrets from a scientists in Pakistan could help build a bomb that detonates in Paris, the self-righteous posturing of America toward torture in South America and countries overseas, "here today, gone tomorrow" friendships with leaders of countries in the Middle East when their friendships no longer serve our political needs (Pakistan), an overextended military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
How does this fit into a manifesto of George W. Bush's last eight years and the flotsam and jetsam of the last eight years? There is a new Cold War with Russia, Pakistan was allowed to have nuclear benefits while America and Pakistan were cherished allies following the day Bush Read the to the Kindergartners Upside Down Even After He Learned a Very, Very Bad Thing Happened. America has now become indifferent to Pakistan because it needs nothing from the country presently. America has lost legitimacy as a pro-human rights country following the day Bush Read the to the Kindergartners Upside Down Even After He Learned a Very, Very Bad Thing Happened, and the atrocities reported at Abu Ghraib and Guatanamo Bay, as well as by Homeland Security under the guise of the Patriot Act.
It's nice to grab one's balls to check up on the little soldiers, but with all the balls out in Afghanistan and Iraq there won't even be a few nuts left to go into Venezuela or Pakistan if Putin or Al Q'aeda decide to detonate the regions with their little political wads of weaponry.
The proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world, amassed over decades, as countries and borders have been redefined, put deadly atomic weapons and materials at the disposal of countless countries who may capitalize on their bounty or hold on to them as they wish.
Technology and cyberwarfare have reached new levels of concern. In 2007, Estonia was massively attacked on multiple fronts over a period of days that brought the government to a virtual standstill. By the use of botnets, which are millions of hijacked computers, in as many as 75 NATO allied countries, the autonomous attack paralyzed Estonia and served as a clear warning to the world that cyberwarfare could shut down countries as readily as bombs and classic warfare. Government operations, banks, media and over a million computers were affected and put out of service. Russia was suspected but never proven responsible. What this attack did was point out a clear vulnerability in a global technological world.
Bush has initiated an offensive program titled the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI). It will constitute the largest single request for funds in the U.S. President George W. Bush's classified 2009 intelligence budget, now under consideration in Congress. This is in the realm of postmodern futuristic, possibly annihilistic, if not apocalyptic reality. Situated among these terms is what I believe the last vestige of reality, the postmodern self.
For someone like me, born in the age of black and white television, when Tupperware was still a novel concept, the postmodern self is replete with annoying little quirks and problems of its own, mostly traceable to the tendency to forget the human aspect of being postmodern. Technology's broad advances have created a posthuman self, not in the cyborg sense, but in the sense that at least in today's urban society, nearly every person is wired with some type of phone, text messaging, e-mailing device, and that is just to walk across the street. Then there is the PSP with wildly realistic interactive games to play on the move, seducing and luring gamers like sirens luring Odysseus with their beautiful sounds and images causing him to veer off his intended course. Laptops or desktop computers have demonstrated the power to become prosthetic extensions othe the human body. They are not arms, but something other. They are not replacement. They are something in lieu of. They have the power to augment. They have the power to usurp and essence common decency. Human essence is being extracted by these machines. Katherine Hayles said, "human essence is freedom from the wills of others," but, I add, not from gaming technology and technology that entrances. By entrance, I do not mean doorway; I mean hypnotize. Postmodern is "post" not because is necessarily unfree but because there is no a priori way to identify self-will that can be clearly distinguished from another will. Although these examples foreground the cybernetic aspect of the posthuman, it is important to recognize that the construction of the posthuman does not require the subject to be a literal cyborg." (4)
One posthuman trait I experience and abhor is a lack of manners and common decency. Returning telephones in timely fashion, giving voice time, face time, doing what one commits to do, these have become quaint colonial-like behaviors and expectations of days gone by. In today's electronic emails, text messages, Facebook, Myspace, you just cease to exist, like Pakistan, like electronic devices with a new upgrade, when you no longer serve a purpose. When there is a 2.0 version of you, you are obsolete. Country, spy, family member, coworker, classmate, printer, telephone, laptop. It is easy to forget that people are still real, but to my mind, it is not understandable.
Bold, imaginative directions for the future that depart radically from current beliefs, practices, and norms.
I propose that Marx prophesized correctly when he said all that is solid melts into air. I believe that unregulated capitalistic greed, with full knowledge from the Commander in Chief downward, that laborers were being robbed of their money, property and savings as sure as the Nazis knew authorized plundering the Jews during World War II, as sure as property was destroyed in Europe during World War I, as sure as Fidel Castro gave the okay to take property and money from Cubans after ceasing control from Batista.
I look toward the past and present for possible solutions to immediate situations. I am not out for blood. I am for reparations.
· I look at the Treaty of Versailles. In 1921 an Inter-Allied Reparations Commission was set at 269 billion gold marks, roughly equal to $393.6 billion US dollars in 2005. (wikipedia) Make sure these are government funds and not taxpayers funds.
· Freeze the assets of all the CEOs of the banking institutes and trustees, as well as family members who have received gifts from them during their years or employment at the banks. Seize their assets. They are stolen assets. Arrest the CEOs, top executives, Board of Directors, and Trustees, and auction off their assets. Those assets will certainly help feed the $700 million dollar kitty. For the $700 dollar bailout on Wall Street, falling largely upon the figuratively and literally raped and plundered taxpayer they ought to be arrested, and brought to trial. If they are found guilty, send them to jail. A citizen's arrest is not out of the question.
· Arrest the Commander in Chief and his Executive Committee, Alan Greenspan, and power brokers recommending deregulating practices as enemies of the country, systematically undermining the constitution, deleting our freedom until the day comes when criticizing our government will cost us our jobs and livelihoods, assuming we have not already lost them in this recent financial debacle.
The enemy is the politician, the public servant elected to protect us who scoffs at the Constitution, spitting upon the spirit and mindful sense it placed upon support and restrictions on government powers to "act against individuals." (devilsdictionarydefined, October 9, 2008)
Treason is defined as betraying one's country. Bush's 8 years of hyperreal leadership and Constitutional detonations push the limits.
David Harvey reminds us that Modernity is a "paradoxical unity of disunity; it pours us all into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and renewal, of ambiguity and anguish." (10-11)
To that, I say, if plan A, as I have presented, does not work, I propose plan B, and let us go retromodern*. Inflict the maelstrom and disintegration upon the spoilers in the name of renewal. In the name of retromodernity, and in the hope of promise, adventure power, joy, and transformation, lets get retromodern on their gluteus maximi.
Baudrillard, Jean, Simulalcra and Simulation. 1981. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan
Haraway, Donna, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,"? in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp. 149-181.
Harvey, David, The Conditions of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, 1990, Blackwell
Lincoln, Abraham. (1894). The Gettysburg Address
Marx, Karl, (1976). Capital, Volume 1: A Critique of Political London: Penguin Classics
Trumble, William R., Oxford English Dictionary: Sixth Edition (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary)
U.S. Census Bureau, Worlds POPClock Projection, International Programs Center, October 4, 2008
[i] As this trend continues, however, we should always remember the words of Chuck Barris, MC of the brutally rude Gong Show: "The ultimate game show," he said, "would be one where the losing contestant was killed." Just how far are we ready to go?
I do not believe retromodern has been used before as a word. I think retro-modern and retro modern have been used to describe a period of art and architecture, also know as mid 20th century modern. I use retromodern, I mean to return to the meaning of modern as David Harvey quoted "Bermans's (182, 15) description, and apply it in 2008 as a counter-response to futility, decay, and death sentence that resonates for me from Baudrillard's exploration of postmodernity.
There is a mode of vital experience--experience in space and time, of the self and others, of life's possibilities and perils--that is shared by men and women all over the world today. I will call this body of experience "modernity.'" To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises adventure, power. Joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world-- and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we know, everything we are. Modern environments and experiences cut across the boundaries of geography and ethnicity, of class and nationality, of religion and ideology; in this sense, modernity can be said to unite all mankind. But it is a paradoxical unity, a unity of disunity; it pours us all into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish. To be modern is to be a part of a universe in which, as Marx said, "all that is solid melts into air.' (10-11)