In the 1960’s, the French social critic Guy Debord inscribed his magnum opus The Society of the Spectacle, where he argued in Wittgenstein fashion that capitalism — as it was in the 1960’s — impressed upon the world a shift from a society that seeks to ‘have’ to a society that seeks to ‘appear to have’. In practical terms this could be perceived as the physical manifestation of the American Dream of the picket-white fence, two-car garage, two kids and a dog. Or, in a contemporary example, you can see the facade of wealth that is showboated in pop culture (in both sports and the music industry) — as exploited in the two HBO series’ Entourage and Ballers — as another example of striving for appearances over actually ‘having’. In other words, the semblance of wealth-obtainment gains more social clout than actually achieving wealth obtainment. That is not to say that wealth obtainment has no weight in society, as it does, but only that the appearance of wealth has gained stature to the point that the sensible demarcation is nonexistent.
This process was and is completely predictable in Marxist literature — specifically in the works of György Luckács and Antonio Gramaci — as the Marxist’s argue that capitalism forces upon all objects — broadly construed — a systematic process of objectification. This process goes as follows, first you begin with something non-tangible: the non-tangible object needs to be reified — which is converting the abstract into the concrete — then the object needs to be commodified — which is to grant it market value — then the object needs to be fetishized — which is to convert it to something to be desired. An example, from a marxist feminist slant, would be the abstract concept of ‘woman’ — the beauty industry works very hard to reify the idea of woman into a very concrete and marketable concept, to which they impress upon the world from every possible angle to force on both men and women alike this commodified and fetishized idea of ‘women’. This process in whole, is a process of objectification.
In violence theory — as posited by myself, Žižek and Benjamin — there are three modalities of violence: symbolic (violence of language), objective (objectification) and subjective (brute physical violence). And these three modalities of violence are arranged in logical priority, insofar that they feed into each other like three cascading waterfalls. A surplus of symbolic language increases objective violence, a surplus of objective violence increases subjective violence and then, lastly, a surplus of subjective violence becomes the outward impression of violence that usually forces conditions of social bulwarking. Retaining the feminist critique, it could be argued that high levels of sexual assault and explicit misogyny in modern culture (especially on college campuses) is a product of both the aforementioned objectification process and the tacit symbolic violence that dictates both the medium and the discourse of engagement.
Guy Debord — which I consider to be his most contentious premise — also noted that prior to capitalisms fixation with ‘having’, society (in pre-capitalism) arranged itself around the concept of being. Maybe it could be argued that in the middle-ages — before social mobility had reasonable efficacy — people put more emphasis in life on purely being human (maybe that is not true in some hard-nosed buddhist sense, but it is reasonable to argue that it was more-so true than now). But, nonetheless, if I accept Debord at face-value then it should be noted that the next logical step for capitalism was to collapse in on-itself and move beyond the ‘appearance of having’ to the ‘appearance of being’ — and this, as I posit, is how social media grew legs and social energy.
The advent and full maturation of social-media in modern culture has moved beyond just giving us an outlet to ‘appear to have’ but it also allowed us to fully reify, commodify and fetishize our own ontology. This project — which is adapted more seamlessly and intrinsically by the millennia generations — is the philosophical muster to the colloquial expression of ‘the me generation’ that is outwardly portrayed and straw-manned as the narcissistic generation. The millennial generation is the first generation to live their entire life under the heavy weight of neoliberal economics and, in that sense, they are the absolute personification of the Ayn Rand influenced philosophy of selfishness that politicians like Paul Ryan laud when it is economically advantageous and loath when it manifests as a selfish millennial who has no understanding of family values or the intrinsic social norms of the Paul Ryan generation. Is it any surprise that the fastest growing industry is one that allows you to commodify your own ontology?
Going back even further in time, it was Ronald Reagan’s bed-fellow Milton Friedman that argued that since economics — as a positive science — cannot infer, model or predict human behavior, it would be better to assume all behavior is in self-interest and hopefully if that is assumed and accepted as fact hard-enough and long-enough, then maybe they can forcefully evolve society into a notion-of-being that is altogether self-serving and self-interested. The me, me, me generation is, indeed, the social monster that was born of the Frankenstein laboratory of neoliberal economics and instead of loving their monster and giving it safe-places to reflect and wonder the world to come, they demean, downgrade and perceive them as weak because they have the audacity to challenge the austerity of their creator.
Economics 2.0 is praised as the technological response to the brutish false dichotomy and objectification created under capitalism. But, this is nothing more than allowing the individual-as-such to own their virtual-socio-ontological character (online reputation) and profit off their own commodification. And, as this scenario was played out in Black Mirror, it could also be the case that we eventually fetishize ourselves as selves. Our deepest and darkest desires will eventually become only the desire to be real. Maybe we are mad that Facebook owns our identity and dictates how it manifests in the world, and maybe owning our ontological-appearance is better than not, but the true end-of-capitalism is the return to a society where being is being-in-the-world, and nothing more. Authenticity cannot be mass-produced.
Capitalism — as the child of both economics and violence — is, and always has been, inclusive of its own critique. To the dismay of Marx, Capitalism will never collapse as he predicted, as the only critique that will ever gain social energy are the ones that honor the violent presuppositions of capitalism, which is — at it’s worse — the violence of self-infliction, the violence of social-media. To be beyond, we must dream of being beyond what it is to be, now and tomorrow. Converting ourselves qua ‘the self’ into the internet-of-things, is not the solution — it’s the problem.
The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord
On Violence: six sideways reflections, Slajov Zizek
On the philosophy of selfishness, Ayn Rand
Illuminations, Walter Benjamin
The Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci
History and Class Consciousness, György Lukács
On Positive Economics, Milton Friedman
NoseDive, Black Mirror, Season 3, Episode 1
Economics 2.0: The Natural Step towards a Self-Regulating Participatory Market Society, Dirk Helbing