East and West

The Twin Towers of Civilization

"At the height of the uprising, people marched in Bonn, Rome, London, Tokyo, New York and dozens of other cities around the world; students in universities revolted..."

The Twin Towers of Civilization

I've always been obsessed with ambiences and aesthetics as well as dérive, détournement and other ways of changing the tone of my everyday life. Guy Debord and the Situationists are my heroes. They were the first to sense that something had gone terribly wrong at the heart of our culture – that a stultifying boredom and sameness was creeping into our lives. They plotted a revolution to overthrow "the society of the spectacle." Their approach was very effective: don't argue with people, make them live!

And in 1968, people suddenly did. In Paris, they took to the streets, erected barricades, fought with police, occupied offices, factories, hospitals, railway depots and universities. They sang songs, issued manifestos, and sprayed slogans like ‘Live Without Dead Time' and ‘Down With The Spectacular-Commodity Culture,' all over their city.

"Art students demanded the realization of art; music students called for ‘wild and ephemeral music;' footballers kicked out managers with the slogan ‘football to the football players;' gravediggers occupied cemeteries; doctors, nurses and the interns at a psychiatric hospital organized in solidarity with the inmates," wrote Sadie Plant in The Most Radical Gesture. "People who had worked in offices and factories all their lives suddenly broke from their daily routines and… lived."

"People who had worked in offices and factories all their lives suddenly broke from their daily routines and… lived."

At the height of the uprising, people marched in Bonn, Rome, London, Tokyo, New York and dozens of other cities around the world; students in universities revolted. For a few heady weeks, a tantalizing question hung in the air: Could this be the beginning of the first global revolution?

But the spell broke. The moment passed. This revolt against consumer capitalism was not to be. And since then, for the past 40 years, we've descended deeper and deeper into the spectacle. It's omnipresent now. We're in it and it's in us. We're living in what Debord, in the last years of his life, described as the "integrated spectacle," characterized by "incessant technological renewal; integration of state and economy; generalized secrecy; unanswerable lies; an eternal present."

If we could see beyond the incessant commercial chatter of our everyday lives, we would realize that our Western way of life has reached a dead end… that the twin towers of our civilization – scientific rationality and individual freedom – crashed to the ground a long time ago.

And we would realize that the only thing that can save us now are infusions of new blood from other civilizations: heavy hits of spontaneity from Brazil, inspirational flows of group consciousness from Japan, fusions of filial piety from China and India and constant whiffs of religious devotion from the Islamic world.

In this issue of Adbusters, we sift through the detritus of Western civilization to see what we can salvage. If you find something, let me know.

For the Wild, Kalle

80 comments on the article “The Twin Towers of Civilization”

Displaying 31 - 40 of 80

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Paolo

I think the point has something to do with a certain level of enlightenment. The anonymous poster that states people are just doing what they want to do is making a very lazy argument, well actually no argument with any kind of thought, perhaps this even illustrates the point.
Through endless consuming of the thoughts and ideas of others people lose the ability to judge for themslves and become like sludge, their sludgelike expectations fulfilled by sludgeproducers interested only in returns on production, thus the search for profit becomes the only genuine impulse in modern culture, all other impulses being subjugated to it.
Culture as a forum for reflection, providing society with potential for self improvement is suffocated and becomes an empty reflex aping the supposedly genuine moments that preceded it in the search for revenue for invisible decision makers in the background.
The lack of genuine intention in the resulting cultural produce is self evident on a subliminal level to the viewer and thus contributes nothing but a continued erosional mass dulling of the senses of those unfortunate enough to be exposed.

Paolo

I think the point has something to do with a certain level of enlightenment. The anonymous poster that states people are just doing what they want to do is making a very lazy argument, well actually no argument with any kind of thought, perhaps this even illustrates the point.
Through endless consuming of the thoughts and ideas of others people lose the ability to judge for themslves and become like sludge, their sludgelike expectations fulfilled by sludgeproducers interested only in returns on production, thus the search for profit becomes the only genuine impulse in modern culture, all other impulses being subjugated to it.
Culture as a forum for reflection, providing society with potential for self improvement is suffocated and becomes an empty reflex aping the supposedly genuine moments that preceded it in the search for revenue for invisible decision makers in the background.
The lack of genuine intention in the resulting cultural produce is self evident on a subliminal level to the viewer and thus contributes nothing but a continued erosional mass dulling of the senses of those unfortunate enough to be exposed.

Anonymous

I think it's a fairly considered statement. I'm not advocating that lifestyle, in fact, I think trendy people are really mundane and worthless.

But I recognize that, most people aren't interested in thinking for themselves. This is just an element of our biology. Not everyone in a tribe NEEDS to be thinking or asserting themselves as individual. They just want to contribute to the tribe and raise their offspring.

I'm not saying that they should live that way, or that mainstream American culture is of any value at all, I'm just saying that if someone genuinely wants to live like a bubble head, who is kalle lasn to deny them that?

Anonymous

I think it's a fairly considered statement. I'm not advocating that lifestyle, in fact, I think trendy people are really mundane and worthless.

But I recognize that, most people aren't interested in thinking for themselves. This is just an element of our biology. Not everyone in a tribe NEEDS to be thinking or asserting themselves as individual. They just want to contribute to the tribe and raise their offspring.

I'm not saying that they should live that way, or that mainstream American culture is of any value at all, I'm just saying that if someone genuinely wants to live like a bubble head, who is kalle lasn to deny them that?

J

It is the lack of rational thinking and inability to exercise individual freedom by many people that fuel consumerist culture. As long as you allow someone else to tell you who you are, what you need, and what you should do you will be a part of it. Take time to be alone and decide these things for yourself instead of following the herd. People have the ability to overcome their destructive tendencies, but it takes courage.

J

It is the lack of rational thinking and inability to exercise individual freedom by many people that fuel consumerist culture. As long as you allow someone else to tell you who you are, what you need, and what you should do you will be a part of it. Take time to be alone and decide these things for yourself instead of following the herd. People have the ability to overcome their destructive tendencies, but it takes courage.

CargoCult

As you say, but let's consider the deeper mind-body (physical/psychological) implications of that notion:

"It is the lack of rational thinking and inability to exercise individual freedom by many people that fuel consumerist culture. As long as you allow someone else to tell you who you are, what you need, and what you should do you will be a part of it."

Rational thinking tells us that our emotional responses and so-called ego responses have an evolutionary component. Fear sharpens the senses and causes one to focus on the local environment, and a "big ego" might allow a wounded animal to survive when another might have collapsed and died.

To follow this argument, you do have to accept that our fellow mammals have emotions and egos that are fairly similar to our own, although less complex. The main difference at that basic animal level is that we humans, unlike animals, can describe our emotional states using written language. Animals communicate their emotional states using chemicals, sounds, verbal signals, facial expressions, etc. (but so do humans!).

Religious theologians would tell you that these core emotions are dangerously destructive, and might allude to the role of Satan in human affairs, or point to the example of Eve and the serpent. Secular atheists might tell you that such emotions are also dangerous, in that fear and anger can override rational thought processes and cause people to behave like wild animals.

Some will tell you that love and happiness are always beneficial emotions, but others will point to Orwell's "Ministry of Love" as evidence that any emotional state can be twisted to serve less savory agendas.

What we have now, along these lines, is an entire class of professionals who make it their business to override rational thinking by the use of emotional manipulation - first, fear, greed, lust, rage, arrogance, and second, happiness, love, family affection, and national patriotism. All come into play in the world of advertising and public relations.

The first category is the coercive one, based on "negative emotions". The standard definition is:
"Coercive persuasion attempts to force people to change beliefs, ideas, attitudes or behaviors using psychological pressure, undue influence, threats, anxiety, intimidation and/or stress."

The second category is the seductive one, based on "positive emotions". You really see this in pharmaceutical ads. They are never detailed or technical or negative - no dying patients in hospital rooms - but are rather light, fluffy and free-flowing - images of smiling happy people holding hands, walks through fields of grass, and not much else.

These techniques of emotional manipulation are common to all societies. They've been used by priests and politicians for centuries, but have reached new heights of sophistication in the 20th century, but as you say, they all have one thing in common:

They don't work well with rational, self-aware people who have a good grip on their emotional states.

I sometimes wonder if the high rate of mental illness in U.S. society is a reflection of this... maybe the last thing that some people want to see is widespread cures for mental illness - because emotionally unstable people are much easier to control?

CargoCult

As you say, but let's consider the deeper mind-body (physical/psychological) implications of that notion:

"It is the lack of rational thinking and inability to exercise individual freedom by many people that fuel consumerist culture. As long as you allow someone else to tell you who you are, what you need, and what you should do you will be a part of it."

Rational thinking tells us that our emotional responses and so-called ego responses have an evolutionary component. Fear sharpens the senses and causes one to focus on the local environment, and a "big ego" might allow a wounded animal to survive when another might have collapsed and died.

To follow this argument, you do have to accept that our fellow mammals have emotions and egos that are fairly similar to our own, although less complex. The main difference at that basic animal level is that we humans, unlike animals, can describe our emotional states using written language. Animals communicate their emotional states using chemicals, sounds, verbal signals, facial expressions, etc. (but so do humans!).

Religious theologians would tell you that these core emotions are dangerously destructive, and might allude to the role of Satan in human affairs, or point to the example of Eve and the serpent. Secular atheists might tell you that such emotions are also dangerous, in that fear and anger can override rational thought processes and cause people to behave like wild animals.

Some will tell you that love and happiness are always beneficial emotions, but others will point to Orwell's "Ministry of Love" as evidence that any emotional state can be twisted to serve less savory agendas.

What we have now, along these lines, is an entire class of professionals who make it their business to override rational thinking by the use of emotional manipulation - first, fear, greed, lust, rage, arrogance, and second, happiness, love, family affection, and national patriotism. All come into play in the world of advertising and public relations.

The first category is the coercive one, based on "negative emotions". The standard definition is:
"Coercive persuasion attempts to force people to change beliefs, ideas, attitudes or behaviors using psychological pressure, undue influence, threats, anxiety, intimidation and/or stress."

The second category is the seductive one, based on "positive emotions". You really see this in pharmaceutical ads. They are never detailed or technical or negative - no dying patients in hospital rooms - but are rather light, fluffy and free-flowing - images of smiling happy people holding hands, walks through fields of grass, and not much else.

These techniques of emotional manipulation are common to all societies. They've been used by priests and politicians for centuries, but have reached new heights of sophistication in the 20th century, but as you say, they all have one thing in common:

They don't work well with rational, self-aware people who have a good grip on their emotional states.

I sometimes wonder if the high rate of mental illness in U.S. society is a reflection of this... maybe the last thing that some people want to see is widespread cures for mental illness - because emotionally unstable people are much easier to control?

B. Renniegade

Here is what I am doing for myself, to combat empty spectacle. I recommend the steps I am taking to others.
Take these three books:
The Definitive Book of Body Language by Barbara Pease
Influence by Robert Cialdini
Power by Bertrand Russel
1. Photocopy every page of these books and then cut each page into sections which would fit comfortably on top of the area of an index card.
2.Tape each cut section to the lined face of an index card. Tape only along the top end so that the photocopy fragment may lift to reveal the lined index card below, an ideal place to put questions phrased to invoke the important information of the photocopy fragments, and to make other notes.
3. Arrange neatly on faom boards with two thumbtacks to each index card so that they don't move around. These giant foam boards of answers and questions regarding the function of human consciousness makes the ultimate vaccination against mood disorder.
4. Master these three books and a magical expansion of your consciousness towards how and why your mind does the work it does is guaranteed to occur.

B. Renniegade

Here is what I am doing for myself, to combat empty spectacle. I recommend the steps I am taking to others.
Take these three books:
The Definitive Book of Body Language by Barbara Pease
Influence by Robert Cialdini
Power by Bertrand Russel
1. Photocopy every page of these books and then cut each page into sections which would fit comfortably on top of the area of an index card.
2.Tape each cut section to the lined face of an index card. Tape only along the top end so that the photocopy fragment may lift to reveal the lined index card below, an ideal place to put questions phrased to invoke the important information of the photocopy fragments, and to make other notes.
3. Arrange neatly on faom boards with two thumbtacks to each index card so that they don't move around. These giant foam boards of answers and questions regarding the function of human consciousness makes the ultimate vaccination against mood disorder.
4. Master these three books and a magical expansion of your consciousness towards how and why your mind does the work it does is guaranteed to occur.

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