[Paleopsych] Ted Rogers: The Revolution Will Be Televised

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The Revolution Will Be Televised

    Richard Stivers, The Culture of Cynicism: American Morality In
    Decline, (Oxford, Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 1994).

    [1]W. Ted Rogers

    What Guy Debord calls la societe du spectacle[2]1, what Jean
    Baudrillard calls la societe de consommation[3]2 , what R.H. Tawney
    calls the acquisitive society[4]3 , what Istvan Meszaros calls "a
    metabolic system of control"[5]4 , what Arthur Kroker and David Cook
    call the postmodern scene and excremental culture[6]5 , what Jacques
    Ellul calls the technological society[7]6, Richard Stivers calls the
    culture of cynicism. What is it? How did we get here? Stivers offers
    an important analysis that proposes an answer to these questions.

    "American society is experiencing a moral decline, the critics say.
    [M]ost critics [from both the political right and the political left,
    respectively] seem to think [social problems] can be solved by a
    greater exercise of moral authority or by political reform." (p.vii)
    Stivers counters these prevailing views by adding that "the decline
    runs much deeper than this. For it is not signaled by a series of
    discrete moral problems that the conventional morality can no longer
    control, but by the Very Morality Itself, a morality that encourages,
    even promotes, cynical and self-serving behavior." (p.vii) The
    conventionality of Stivers' perception is highlighted by its echoing
    of Solzhenitsyn here.

    Although Stivers contrasts the relative positions of Kierkegaard (an
    ethical position) and Nietzsche (an aesthetic position), it is evident
    in some fashion that Stivers would agree with Nietzsche's assertion
    that the Moral God is dead because we have killed him: "the nation
    [America] has conquered the god of American Christianity [sic] and
    become one itself in the process." (p.33) If the Moral God is dead,
    what has the new god given us in his stead? Stivers responds: "Modern
    American morality in its totality (content and form) is an expression
    of the marriage between technological utopianism (mental structure)
    and technological power (material structure)." (p.166) If this new
    morality was only America's, Stivers' thesis might be of limited
    interest; but he expresses agreement with Baudrillard that America is
    the realised utopia towards which the rest of the world is headed:
    "[A]s the most technologically advanced society, America is the future
    of all modern societies." (p.viii)

    As societies based on capital develop, they become more technological
    and exalt the "virtues" of productivism - echoes of Baudrillard's
    analyses in Le miroir de la production. This exaltation of
    productivism leads to an emphasis on technique [technical rules] that
    are extrapolated to all social action. Citing Jacques Ellul's The
    Technological Society: "'Technique is the totality of methods
    rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given
    stage of development) in every field of human activity.'" (pp.71-72)
    The invasion of technique into all human action has a telling result
    for Stivers' story:

      Technical rules are rapidly supplanting moral norms by making them
      irrelevant. A technological civilization is one in which the means
      absorb the ends. Traditional norms place limits on power; technical
      norms are a form of power. (p.74) [...And, important for a society
      of the spectacle:] Ethical meaning [derives] from a limitation of
      power. [...] Power is more spectacular than the limitation of power
      [!]" (P. 154)

    This "power-play" has detrimental effects in that it breeds either
    cynicism or idealism - one more piece of evidence in support of
    Nietzsche's assertion that we have killed the Moral God and his
    ethical system. "Ethical action has a source other than reality
    itself, whereas cynicism and idealism both draw their inspiration from
    reality in the very act of deceiving us about it. [In other words,
    they cause us to enter into the hyperreal]. They are thus
    ideological." (p.ix)

    The ideology is power and the good that is sought is success. The goal
    is accomplished through a naive belief in technological evolution.
    "With evolutionary progress perceived as a deterministic process
    [technique], power and goodness become identical. Success [the bitch
    goddess, Stivers tells us, that Americans exclusively worship] is not
    the result of moral character; rather it is moral character itself."

    The emphasis on technique makes technology into a system, a
    bureaucracy, which recharacterises the nature of power: "to the extent
    that technology becomes a system [...], power becomes objectified and
    abstract." (p.91) Therefore, a simulacrum of power leading into the
    hyperreality in which we find ourselves. Borrowing from Owen
    Barfield's Saving The Appearances, Stivers explains:

      The equation of reality and truth is the most pernicious aspect of
      the onslaught of technology and bureaucracy. It is not enough to
      say that science has become the arbiter of truth in the modern
      world, for the value of science today lies in technology.
      Technology becomes truth. This represents the materialization of
      truth. Perhaps this is what Heidegger meant when he called
      technology the metaphysics of the twentieth century. (p.88)

    This metaphysics works to replace "reality" with Baudrillard's
    hyperreality which is more real than the real. Reality is destroyed!

      Atomistic science has produced in effect a universe of random
      facts. [...F]acts and reality are one, and our approach to reality
      is purely aesthetical [therefore, hyper-aesthetics!]. We are
      detached consumers of interesting facts. Reality is the sum of all
      facts but is known one fact at a time. Therefore reality is
      experienced as both fragmentary and interesting."(p.107)

    Power as simulacrum, reality fragmented, destroyed, then metamorphosed
    into hyperreality, a weltanschauung of hyper-aesthetics where
    technology is truth [anti-truth] - voila! the new morality
    [anti-morality]! A nightmare desert where the both the subject and the
    social are corpses, victims of this society's brutal sign-violence.

    "Technical rules, public opinion, peer group norms, and visual images
    [spectacle], therefore, converge to create a morality of power,
    morality without meaning. This morality of power, morality without
    meaning, is, of course, an anti- morality from the perspective of
    traditional morality, for it destroys symbolically- mediated
    experiences. Technology and the visual images of the media tend to
    destroy meaning, without which all norms become exclusively norms of
    power. (p.167) [... And a]s technology attenuates a common morality,
    the competition for the fruits of technology - increased consumption -
    becomes more brutal."(p.165)

    Therefore, a landscape of empty signs marked with a monument to
    anti-morality and the graves of meaning, the subject, and the social -
    all of the characteristics of the postmodern scene!

A Modest Proposal, Or Is Resistance Futile?

    In the final chapter of The Culture of Cynicism Richard Stivers pleads
    for a new ethic of opposition to the anti-morality, "a life-affirming
    ethic instead of a self-destructive ethic. This ethic, however, must
    be as unrelenting as the civilization it opposes. A life-affirming
    ethic today must be an ethic of non-power and freedom." (p.180) A
    total resistance to manipulation and forced conformity, a total
    opposition "to technology as milieu and as a system out of control."

    Beyond Stivers' analysis of the morality of postmodern technological
    society, Stivers lends his voice to the slowly growing chorus calling
    for total resistance, a resistance even to the appropriation of
    resistance and its subsequent transformation into spectacle: "Were it
    ever to attempt to become a morality rather than an ethic of
    individual love and freedom, it would be swallowed up by the very
    civilization it had chosen to oppose." (p.181) The revolution will be

    But, if the alternative to resistance is the nightmare Stivers and
    others describe, then maybe Stivers' modest proposal, far from being
    feeble and naive, deserves consideration. Therein lies its real
    importance. Although Stivers is somewhat vague about how to implement
    this resistance [is he referring us to Kierkegaard?], other voices in
    the chorus are more specific, if not more blunt:

      Why not get together with some friends soon and say NO! Say no to
      the draft, or work, or religion, or authority figures, or school;
      say no to television, patriotism, political ideologies, any of the
      thousand and one ways in which this society keeps you from
      realizing your own needs and desires. You'll find the more you do
      it, the more you'll like it! JUST SAY 'FUCK OFF.' YOU'LL GET A LOT

    However, there is a common theoretical position today that all
    resistance to this anti-morality of the society of the spectacle is
    doomed because it gets caught in the "doubling logic" of said society,
    viz. it is coopted by society through the violence done on all signs
    by the spectacle. Although Stivers is not explicit on this position,
    he obviously rejects it. Echoes of Cornelius Castoriadis come through:

      Someone who is afraid of cooptation has already been coopted. His
      attitude has been coopted - since it has been blocked up. The
      deepest reaches of his mind have been coopted, for there he seeks
      guarantees against being coopted, and thus he has already been
      caught in the trap of reactionary ideology: the search for an
      anticooptation talisman or fetishistic magic charm. There is NO
      guarantee against cooptation [...] Everything can be coopted - save
      one thing: our own reflective, critical, autonomous activity. To
      fight cooptation is to extend this activity beyond the here and
      now; it is to give it a form that will convey its content for all
      time and make it utterly impossible to coopt - that is, capable of
      being conquered again and again, in its ever-new truth, by living

    Len Bracken would agree that this is also the position taken by Guy
    Debord, another theorist who rejects the Lyotardian position taken in
    The Postmodern Condition - i.e., the death of the metanarrative of
    liberation: "More serious play along the line of a
    Bakhtinian-parasitutationist dialogue needs to be done rather than
    following the nihilisticly cynical path of Baudrillard [...]"[10]9

    Debord recommended doing violence to the signs of the society of the
    spectacle through detournement among other strategies of negation - a
    negation that saves Stivers' politics of total refusal from

      For the society of the spectacle to be effectively destroyed, what
      is needed are people setting a practical force in motion. A
      critical theory of the spectacle cannot be true unless it joins
      forces with the practical movement of negation within society; and
      this negation which constitutes the resumption of revolutionary
      class struggle, cannot for its part achieve self-consciousness
      unless it develops the critique of the spectacle, a critique that
      embodies the theory of negation's real conditions - the practical
      conditions of present-day oppression - and that also, inversely,
      reveals the secret of negation's potential.[11]10

    The revolution will be televised but that, in itself, can be a weapon
    against the tyranny of the culture of cynicism. The alternative is an
    implicit endorsement of this culture.

    W.Ted Rogers is the Serials Librarian of Old Dominion University,
    Norfolk, Virginia. He discovered the politics of postmodernism when he
    read two books: The Ecstasy of Communication by Jean Baudrillard and
    The Postmodern Scene, by Arthur Kroker and David Cook, and moved on to
    discover one of its sources in the International Situationiste.

    [12]1. Guy Debord. La societe du spectacle. (Paris: Buchet-Chastel,
    1967; Paris: Champ Libre, 1971).

    [13]2. Jean Baudrillard. La societe de consommation: ses mythes, ses
    structures. ([s.l.]: Editions Denoel, 1970).

    [14]3. R.H. Tawney. The Acquisitive Society. (New York: Harcourt,
    Brace and World, 1920).

    [15]4. "Marxism Today: An interview with Istvan Meszaros", Radical
    Philosophy (62: Autumn 1992).

    [16]5. Arthur Kroker, David Cook. The Postmodern Scene: Excremental
    Culture and Hyper-Aestetics. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986).

    [17]6. Jacques Ellul. The Technological Society, trans. John
    Wilkinson. (New York : Vintage, 1964).

    [18]7. Anti-Authoritarian Anonymous. "Midge and Cindy", Semiotext(e)
    (13: 1987).

    [19]8. Cornelius Castoriadis. "The anticipated revolution", in
    Cornielius Castoriadis, Poltical and Social Writings: Volume 3,
    1961-1979: Recommencing the Revolution: From Socialism to the
    Autonomous Society trans. and ed. David Ames Curtis. (Minneapolis :
    University of Minnesota Press, 1993), p.132.

    [20]9. Len Bracken, [21]The Spectacle Of Secrecy, [22]CTHEORY (17:

    [23]10. Guy Debord. "The Society of the Spectacle" trans. Donald
    Nicholson-Smith, Thesis (203), p.143.

    [24]Baudrillard on the Web


    1. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#bio
    2. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#note 1
    3. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#note 2
    4. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#note 3
    5. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#note 4
    6. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#note 5
    7. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#note 6
    8. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#note 7
    9. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#note 8
   10. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#note 9
   11. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#note 10
   12. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#text 1
   13. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#text 2
   14. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#text 3
   15. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#text 4
   16. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#text 5
   17. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#text 6
   18. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#text 7
   19. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#text 8
   20. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#text 9
   21. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/R-Spectacle_Of_Secrecy.html
   22. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/ctheory.html
   23. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/revolution.html#text 10
   24. http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/baudweb.html

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