Friday, April 15, 2005

Cultural Feedback

My roommate often asks, “When did the Democrats become the Fun Police?” Given that he worked with me and some mutual friends on Clinton ’96 but now regards politics as a whole with a visceral and well-reasoned cynicism, it is no idle question.

I do not know when the Democrats became the “Fun Police,” but I strongly suspect that one would have to at least discuss at length the difficulties brought about by the Yippies to address the issue in contemporary language.

In modern times the question of bridging discontinuities ‘twixt Lakoff’s nurturing frame and the wilder inclinations of the headstrong “youth” motivated by activist concerns is one that is far from being answered. When the volatile ferment that is our contemporary cultural story-play is added to the mix (and the activist-minded respond with pointed critiques of the same), there can be little hope for a beleaguered and compromised political party that can muster a spirited stand only once (for Social Security) in ten or more years.

The fact is, of course, that our activist hotbed of passion is anything but uniform, in age or anything else. There is also the noteworthy fact that there is a strong contingent of activists whose attitude towards cultural hegemony is easily twisted to sexist stereotypes of feminism (when in fact the fringe who would “emasculate” pop-culture given a chance is quite small).

The bottom line, regardless, is very simple. There will be no movement other than mach schnell, more faster.

The rules of cybernetic systems apply here. There is no response without feedback. In this case there is a positive feedback loop created by sales, advertising money, manufacturing money, manufactured consent and political power. There are no checks on this system. There is no existing way any checks may be imposed. The only vector by which checks on this dynamic could have been introduced, namely the mainstream media, have abdicated en masse or been purged and are now mortally complicit.

The naysayers of culture, James Dobson, Joe Lieberman, unbathed EarthFirst!ers or middle-of-the-road concerned parents are all impotent to change the sex and violence soaked ways of late-stage American Culture.

Culturally this places us at an endgame. Feedback loops of this sort are profoundly incompatible with the long-term sustainability of a system. Our culture, then, will increase steadily in its themes and tendencies until there is some kind of discontinuity.

At this juncture, it seems overwhelmingly likely that figures feeding on the eschatological energies of the Christian “flock” are consciously profiting enormously from a continued exacerbation of these trends and tensions. When death anxiety is publicly stoked (a la Terri Schiavo), the sheep willingly respond.

(The big danger of the current situation, the atavistic passions of mob mentality stirred up by such agitations, is yet mitigated by such governors as I outlined here.)

For us today, the point is that we need to strategically plan on the undeniable fact of these dynamics rather than futz about distractedly. Why try to figure out what to do “about” this when the only answer is to adapt and move on.

To put it more ironically: Why is it that the creationists are, for the moment, better at evolving to meet the situation?


At 1:06 PM, April 15, 2005, Anonymous Luke said...

This is a pretty tight and interesting piece, Sam. The Lakoff camp seems more intent about the theoretical means by which a compelling left-wing consortium can be achieved, whereas many activists are more end-based/Utopian. I'm more of an art guy myself, so I feel my wierd little theories about the potential of a future avant-garde might not help and anyway the mass-media is already ahead of the game on any shock an aesthetic experiment might produce. Where was I headed with this? I dunno. I'm planning to throw a happening where a bunch of people get together in a park and blow bubbles. I'm not sure that's going to help consolidate the Dems. We're living in a big fun house of power and image and spectacle. Put a few critical mirrors in the fun house and make it more spectacular, I guess. Is culture jamming just feeding into the feedback loop? Is that good or bad? I do know one thing: we need better parades.

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