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Aesthetics of Collapse
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There is something rotten in the state of global capital – record inflation, looming recession/depression, stock and crypto markets hanging over a cliff, a quickly collapsing economic super bubble, quantitative tightening by the Federal Reserve, unsustainable peak real estate and commodity prices, quickly deteriorating standard of living, housing and homelessness crisis – not to mention a loud but soft civil culture war being waged online, whose spoils will determine the direction of tech in the near future, though nothing suggests that this future will result in more, rather than less, online freedom. Everything is seemingly in a crisis, from a collapsed water treatment system in Jackson, Mississippi, to the mega drought in the American West. There is a small town in New Mexico called Las Vegas which had at the beginning of September roughly three weeks of fresh water supplies, the steadily decreasing water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell and Saudi Arabia buying land and water to grow alfalfa in drought-stricken California. Germany is rationing firewood for a winter without Russian natural gas and heating oil, and oh yes, there is Ukraine, an ongoing conflict, that began in 2014 which has since turned into an ideological hot proxy war between the US and Russia. But while Europeans are shutting down businesses because of skyrocketing costs of energy and living expenses, and while thousands of Ukrainians and Russians are dying on the battlefields, Ukrainian President Zelensky is posing for Vogue and ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, suspiciously receiving a similar presidential treatment once afforded to Muammar Gaddafi for his feigned servile service to the Western corporate military industrial machine, the same machine that will eventually grind him down when he’s no longer useful. There is high level corruption, insider trading and a popular online pastime to trade like Nancy Pelosi, Trump and Mar-a-Lago, Hunter Biden and his gratuitously obscene laptop contents, an obsession with political conservatives so potent a movie about it was already released, and then there is Dark Brandon. The pandemic is over, or maybe it’s still on- it really depends on who is talking –either way Pfizer and Moderna will certainly do their best to maximize their corporate profits from the continual imposition of emergency measures, in the same way that Exxon and Shell once profited heavily from the Iraq war during the American special operations there. The perennially evil coffee corporation Starbucks certainly seems to think that the pandemic is over, having already taken away Covid sick leave from its employees. And beyond all this, monopolies like Apple, Microsoft and Amazon continue to tighten the screws on the retail crowd with higher fees, increasingly paywalled content, subscription models and elimination of ownership. The only escape seems to be the latest version of the American Dream - to get filthy rich in some get-rich-quick scheme like the Crypto Queen and hope that one doesn’t end up like Do Kwan, Jack Ma or the Bed Bath and Beyond CFO. The Age of the Grift is slowly grinding to a halt and the world is inching ever so closely to a globalized totalitarian existence that it’s impossible to see it from within.
From the Dark Brandon meme we learn that most Americans care only about one thing when it comes to politics - the aesthetics. One may argue substance all day long, but in the end, all political campaigns are run along aesthetic lines and what one says rather than what one actually does. Americans want to be soothed or whipped into a frenzy by the words of their politicians, only to be wooed back into their beds where they can Twitter and doom-scroll the night away in a state of hazy contentment. Many of these Americans have been recently ‘rekt’ by the imploding crypto mania and meme stocks that culminated in the bizarre spectacle of the Crypto Bowl in early 2022, with prices of everything from Bitcoin and Ether to Luna and Doge collapsing between 70 to 99%. When the policy that Joe Biden recently passed turned out to be a heavily watered down student loan debt forgiveness (a campaign ‘promise’ he was almost surely not going to keep), it should not be a surprise that a flood of resentment poured out of the masses. Friedrich Nietzsche, the theoretical edge lord of resentment would certainly have a field day with diagnosing the American public’s fetishisation of debt. Nobody is happy with Dark Brandon’s handling of the situation - any situation for that matter. But the resentment is, like the fetishisation of the images of Biden and Trump, an aesthetic problem rather than a substantive one.
David Graeber’s ‘Debt: The First 5000 Years’ is a monumental work of anthropological research into the dynamics of debt in which Graeber attempts to demystify the mechanisms built up around debt and the social norms that ensure its continuation. In all social formations debt forgiveness and jubilees were a baked-in part of a leader’s political tool kit and therefore not that unusual. As if to assuage public resentment and appease the banks, the Biden administration is finding every way possible to reverse its initial mission for student loans, in a similar way that Obama made massive concessions and reversals during his tenure so as not to anger the financial class when he initiated Quantitative Easing producing a massive wealth effect and exacerbating problems stemming from public indebtedness.
It is possible we are witnessing one of the greatest shifts in modern history. Extreme weather events like massive decades-long droughts, mega fires and floods will result in massive internal migration, creating refugees within one’s own country. Money that has over the last two decades flowed to the top in an unprecedented wealth transfer from the poor to the rich, a perverse Robin Hood event, will find it difficult to stave off crises and prevent a collapse under its own weight. Having too much money is just a bad as having no money. There is nowhere that the ultra wealthy can put their money without causing ripple effects across economies and creating economic refugees and adding millions to the ranks of the homeless. It is much easier to create fake economies rather than fix the existing ones. It is also much easier to ignore problems than to fix them. What to make of the massive floods in Pakistan, floods so apocalyptic they’ve created a new inland lake 100 miles long? And what about the massive drought in China, coupled with a murderous heat wave that’s killed harvests and livestock by the thousands?
Public discourse has been caught and ensnared in an aesthetic politics of collapse with images serving as historical documents within an increasingly ahistorical post-postmodern world – the Biden fist bump with the Saudi Prince, AOC’s Tax the Rich gala dress, January 6 and the Qanon Shaman, the Canadian Trucker protests, Hurricane Ian and Ukraine. The very public cancellations of prominent art world figures perfectly illustrate the current political impasse of our context-obsessed but largely context-free world. This way of thinking is what I’ve come to call the ‘brain fog lizard,’ a type of hypernormality, where memory-holed content is continually replaced with a hierarchy of symbolic and information-free images to stand in for reality.
Despite the bad news – and there is always plenty of bad news – I cannot but think of the classic Bill Hicks joke that goes something like this: ‘do you ever watch CNN for more than, say, 23 hours a day? I gotta cut that out! All day it’s war, famine, death, AIDS, homeless, recession, depression, war, famine, death, AIDS!! Then I look outside and it’s - *cricket noises*’
For the next few editions of ‘a secret plot’ issues such as these will be taken up and interrogated in the usual style of ‘a secret plot’ - a mix of theory and story telling. What is new is that ‘a secret plot’ will now have a new masthead, so, hurray for branding! In the works are articles on the Society of the Spectacle, Grief, the author Karel Capek, Dead Internet Theory, the coming ‘Tipping Economy, and a guest post about conspiracies by Thomas Travers among others. This new content will be released very soon.
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