The muted consciousness, Sustenance of the Society of the Spectacle

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.
- Guy Debord - the Society of the spectacle.

Modern life is filled with contradictions, but certain awareness, rationalisation, education and critical observation can bring this unreal to light. There have been writings, thoughts and movements opposing the effects of these modern conditions of production. But the unreal has prevailed and sustained ? Why ? How?

“The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images. The spectacle appear as its own goal. The spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life. The spectacle is affirmation of appearance and affirmation of all human life, namely social life, as mere appearance. The spectacle is nothing other than the sense of the total practice of a social economic formation, its use of time. It is the historical movement in which we are caught. The spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible, The attitude which it demands in principle is passive acceptance which in fact it already obtained by its manner of appearing without reply, by its monopoly of appearance”

Freedom from the situation
It seems as if people move in and out of an awareness of the existence of the situation. The Situationist theories came up during the 60’s in matured economies and the yet the developing counties of the present seem to have not been introspective about it’s own direction and there seems to be individuals who live within this situation as hypocrites. What is that nature of humans or the situation that enable its sustenance? By nature (intrinsic qualities of something or somebody) of humans or communities we are talking about a sense of consciousness(the state of being awake and aware of what is going on around you )

What hinders that realisation which should enable societies to move away from this unreal spectacle and achieve a sense of freedom? Do we believe that this mode of production is a necessity? Do we believe that its resultant world is a necessity?

Hegel was the first to state correctly the relation between freedom and necessity. To him, freedom is the insight into necessity. Freedom does not consist in any dreamt-of independence from natural laws, but in the knowledge of these laws, but at the same time "mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, and therefore work before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion etc." There is a need that has to be met to for societies to move into a reflective existence. But is the present mode of production the only answer? Is the current model of development the only path? The inequalities and hierarchies that are present in the current model are definitely regarded as a vice and critiqued at the moment, but could they be just representations of older systems? They are definitely representations from the feudal age, but are they natural systems hard wired to the human brain? What was different in the natural order that existed in primitive societies.

Consciousness and modes of production.
Societies divided into classes has existed for no more than about 10,000 years-one hundredth of the time mankind has been on this planet. For the other 99% of the time there was no class society, that is, no enforced inequalities, no state, and no family in the modern sense.

This was not because primitive people were unaccountably more noble than us, but because production relations produced a different sort of society, and so a different 'human nature'. Being determines consciousness, and if people's social being changes--if the society they live under changes--then their consciousness will also change.

"it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness." - Karl Marx

This social existence is directly affected by the mode of production .

“To each stage in the development of the productive forces corresponds a certain set of production relations. Production relation means the way people organise themselves to gain their daily bread. Production relations are thus the skeleton of every form of society. They provide the conditions of social existence that determine human consciousness.”
- Karl Marx

Is it necessary to move through different methods of productions to enable humans to experience different forms of consciousness. Is that how they will realise the shortcomings of each and evolve to the next?

Within a free market or mixed economy such as ours more than one type of competition is possible. One can compete in a friendly, relaxed way, always bearing in mind one’s values and rational self-interest. Or one can madly, obsessively, irrationally compete for ends set by other people whether ‘society’, the
company, the government, or parents. This second type of competition is truly a “rat race”, a scrambling for advancement where one’s self-interest and values are lost sight of. It is not competition between those pursuing their rational self-interest that is bad. It is the competition between those trying to fulfill their irrational whims (perhaps for wealth or fame), or to conform to standards set by others.

The question is why conform to these standards set by society? An individualistic objective rational inquiry can illustrate that it is unnecessary, unless it hampers ones own survival in the present social structure. Has the dominant world view become so strong that it directly hampers survival? Is that why we are so afraid to question the constructed situation or even realise it? Is that why people believe in the apparent collective values without critically analyzing it? Are people just yearning for a sense of belonging as a reason for their own existence? So if the collective is painting the wrong image, why cant the individual think for himself? Is it discouraged by society? Maybe the values associated with a selfish process carries it own issues.

The idea of ‘exploitative’ capitalism is only made possible by the usual definition of ‘selfish’which, as we’ve seen, implies that one can only gain at another’s expense.

Since capitalism itself has become a tool for the selfish objectivist to procure gain from the altruists. But here we are discussing how the individual is discouraged to critically inquire the situation. This is the situation where false altruism is sold to be good. So that one moves along with the crowd.

“The objectivist ethics holds rationality to be the supreme virtue from which all others derive. Evasion, the refusal to think, the refusal to recognize reality, is man’s basic vice. Some of the other virtues deriving from a commitment to reason are independence, honesty, integrity, productiveness, justice, and pride. this view of selfish morality is not one of hedonism, self-indulgence, manipulation of or trampling on others, nor does it mean the egoist is self-centred in the sense of not considering the feelings and interests of others.”

The possibility of the selfish thinker challenges the mob mentality on which the situation rides upon. The selfish thinker is not the same as that of selfish businessman. Their pursuits vary in direction and can have completely different relationships with the society. But on the contrary

“It is altruism which promotes overly strenuous (and misguided) effort since the individual does not matter — only the good of the company/government/society/one’s parents matters. The rationally self-interested person has a great deal of self-esteem. The altruist lacks self-esteem. And it is lack of self-esteem that leads to neurotic, inappropriately competitive behaviour since the esteem of other people must be earned at all cost to fill the gap. (See Branden’s The Psychology of Self-Esteem for the importance of this factor.) If one has no self-worth one must compete hard to prove oneself to others. Rational people do not need to win, since that implies that you can’t be happy without defeating someone. There is no need to win. To play the game of life according to one’s values, in pursuit of one’s happiness, one’s self-interest, is all that matters.”

Here it still doesn’t point out how the individual need not be a profit hungry capitalist. But it addresses the issue where people pursue economic success under pressure from society. The situation sustains by creating images and spectacles which lower the self esteem of individuals. But in this collective pursuit of advancement does societies go through a process of optimization or castration?

In order to survive, humans are "docile," in the sense that our fitness is enhanced by "the tendency to depend on suggestions, recommendations, persuasion, and information obtained through social channels as a major basis for choice" (Herbert A. Simon 1993, p. 156). In other words, we support our limited decision making capabilities by receiving inputs, Perceptions, data, and so on, from the social environment. The social context gives us the main data filter," available to increase individual fitness.

However, human beings are social individuals where being social means to be docile. If docility will appear to foster altruism as a way to enhance the general social fitness, then altruists (the intelligent ones) will be fitter than the selfish individuals.

Altruism integrates a sort of social identity, manifested at the single individual level. The individual behaves altruistically because it perceives that being part of a social group involves taking direct actions toward an increase in the total fitness (i.e. the whole group fitness).

If we look at this through a Darwinian lens where evolution and adaptation becomes a necessity for survival we see this altruistic spirit as reaction to this situation. We cannot completely negate the fact that humans can live in total independence but at the same time there need not be a compliance to hierarchy or propagate this social phenomenon. The objectivist that is proposed here becomes just a path to realise the conditions and free themselves from it. Furthermore, if the “survival of the fittest” should be substituted by the “survival of the more adaptable” view, then we cannot exclude selfish behavior as it can be the “more adaptable” in relation to eventual future social dynamics. So is that what we are to expect next within a society that is moving through a capitalist mode of production? Does it suggest that this form altruism under discussion is a manifestation of a selfishness?

Enabling consciousness
To think independently and to become aware of the different forces in play in a society an individual requires a certain amount of education or knowledge. How do we impart knowledge? One might say that an altruistic spirit is required for successful sharing of knowledge and wisdom. Here we enter a different type of altruism all together. There are modern versions of this which have manifested through infrastructure made possible by capitalist societies. They might be subversion within these backbones but have only been realized because of globalization which is again a result of these modern modes of production. There are new emerging knowledge sharing technologies that might be accelerating human development, but at the same time this imparting happens within the situation and therefore clouds the goal of the system. We could embrace these new technologies but the context in which it is consumed remains the same. It might not be the key to a sense of liberation but we cant completely ignore the fact that there is potential.

Power vs. Knoweldge
The awareness of the situation brings can result in a sense of freedom or it could work to the advantage of the power hungry niche. As different centers(religion, governance) of human societies are crumbling the power seeking individuals are looking for new methods of control. The situation presents itself with many opportunities since it exists on the principles of mediated images, appearances and propaganda.

Why would anyone preach the virtue of altruism, the goodness of self-sacrifice? If you are a religious functionary, or a politician, you have nothing of value to offer anyone. You wonder how on earth you are going to get people to give you power, an income, and prestige. Then you come across a ready-made doctrine called altruism and you see the answer. “Don’t be evil, don’t be selfish, pay your taxes, submit to my control and don’t complain. You must give up your autonomy, your self-government, so that I can force all those greedy, selfish people to help those in need.” “You cannot enter heaven unless you give away what you have ... and why not give it to the church which will use it unselfishly?”

The capitalist create profits with an understanding of these social values with which they insert their goods and services. These services continue to propagate within the ideas and anything created outside the situation becomes bad business. The business creates a noble aura since the situation appears as if its goal is development. Therefore the opposition cringes in the debate because this mode of production seems to be the only route to emancipation but at the same time clouds the repercussions as if they are insignificant.

The pursuit
What is the fundamental human pursuit ? Were we trying to minimize labour and exercise our thinking selves? Instead the mind is now offered activities of leisure and entertainment. This mode of production doesn’t necessarily lead to any development of the consciousness even though it has created knowledge bases and free time for societies to reflect. The void of life is inverted into a spectacle so that everyone has something to do, or pursue all the time but at the same time trying to redefine human life from ‘being’ to ‘having’. Where the pursuit of knowledge and awareness reflects in ‘being’ but not necessarily in the domain of material having.

Can modern human communities completely move away from the dynamics with which they had existed. Human evolution has been a process of mutation of abstraction of all that was directly lived. All living organisms co-exist with certain underlying forces due to the characteristics and role of each entity. Are these representations those same inequalities and traits which our species are wired with? Or are these modern conditions of production a totally alien system that we have brought upon ourselves. The only argumentative claim would be that the modern condition of production is not an abstraction of any natural mode of production. Does that mean humans are capable of thinking up systems which are not human? Or has this process of accumulation really churned out an accumulated abstraction of reality or nature that is completely out of the natural world as we know it. Maybe not everything that is human is necessarily good but are we being subjected something that is actually unnatural?

References and citations from
Davide Secchi
Altruism and Selfish Behavior.
The Docility Model Revisited


Historical Materialism
by Mick Brooks

The society of the spectacle - Guy Debord

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