The Mediated Imaginary

The common misconception of utopian collectivism arises in the elucidation of the imaginary by which power mediated its control, only to replace this image with another. When the divisions of consciousness begin producing incompatible imagery in a contest for the survival of their medium, the psychodynamic philosopher will call this schizophrenia. Once socialist democratic capitalism fully rationalizes and isolates the production process of mediated images, it feed the images back to the population, hiding the rise of bureaucratic totalitarianism. The mediated imaginary, automating its oscillatory precession, simultaneously comes under total control by the State apparatus; but the apparatus itself becomes meaningless as it completes the efforts to automate its processes. Meanwhile, the burden of responsibility diffuses into the bureaucracy, every action become its opposite movement, revolution and cyclical change lose any distinction, leaving no one capable of a reversal.

Society of the Spectacle

As Guy Debord’s 1967 Society of the Spectacle elucidates, postmodern or “late capitalism” not only separates individuals from one another by making images primary in all economic relations, it further separates everyone by demanding their attention to the mediated imaginary, thereby making image primary in all social relations as well. An automated State apparatus mediates each image. Prior to mass monetary exchange, globalization of the division of labor, mass media, and the internet, individuals experienced the real with each of their senses on equal primacy, always secondary to the milieu and its objects. When images, typography, iconography, films, contracts, bank notes, treaties, mass media, advertisements, and propaganda replace all economic and social exchange, images and the visual become primary in every activity.

This is the Society of the Spectacle, in which an image always precedes the real, making reality secondary to the virtual. For Debord, this implies that control over the image gives up control of society; between the regulatory bureaucracy of the State and the financial reification and valorization of protectionist capitalism, autocracy isolates and controls the masses. The sign of money precedes the action of both capitalist and labor, the contract of the corporation precedes the possession of the factors of production, the image of the object precedes its mass production and consumption, the image of reality precedes the experience of any lesser attempt to reproduce this imaginary within the real. While the virtualization of exchange value allows the acceleration of capital, it also makes the movement of immense fortunes impossibly fast for the individual to control their own wealth under crisis conditions. While the mechanization of production allows the acceleration of labor, it also leaves the corporation in a constant anxiety that subsequent disruptive technology will displace them, just as the machines displaced animal and human labor. The alienated masses become dependent on the State control of the monetary virtual and on the Corporate control of the mediated imaginary, isolating each unnecessary laborer in a pre-packaged identity based on debt, consumerism, and passive acceptance.

The society that no longer experiences events directly will likewise lose the significance of all experiences. Without any natural anchor for the significance of reality, we no longer experience events at all. Corporations and the State mediate the images of every event, enframed by technology, so that society experiences fashion, war, politics, fiction, and murder all as an equally insignificant imaginary stimulation. We experience more images of the mediated virtual than we experience touch of nature and other, sounds of birds and singing, or smells of trees and seawater. Even war, murder, and revolution become merely viewed. The society of the mediated imaginary loses its reality in the spectacle, every isolated viewer unable to act, part of an audience that becomes increasingly accustomed to passive observation.

Mediated images deliver a spectacle of consumable reality. Just as the utility of a natural resource becomes utterly buried in the virtualization of commodity exchange, the reality of the society becomes enframed and enshrouded in the subtle power of the medium and the producer. The camera does not show the full reality of some geographically distant moment, the production process changes the image, filtering, fixing, and distorting it to increase commodity fetishism. The voiceover, underscore, cut shots, lensing, panning; all the techniques of compelling media distort reality into a virtual that the spectator controls without having any power. The movement to a new television station, to a new job, or a new home, is not an action that causes any change, precisely because any alternation of experiences, mediated in advance, became homogenous in their automation.

Debord’s criticism extends to the bureaucracy in American politics, the false consciousness of Leninist dictatorship, and the anarchist’s reinterpretation of Hegel. In this way, he represents an innovative approach to the communist ideology, willing to look at anarchist, communist, and libertarian predecessors as revelatory but fallible. This approach continues in contemporary discourses of collectivist mysticism, relinquishing entirely the notion of a concretized proletariat and bourgeoise. Instead, these two forces of social progress that collide repeatedly to produce socioeconomic evolution. On the one side, the bourgeois mechanization paradigm automates division, rationalization, isolation, and deterrence, giving primacy to the image, aggregating it for the masses in a society of the spectacle. On the other side, the proletariat machination paradigm reveals this loss of reality, patiently awaiting the phase of society in which automation turns into liberation. Meanwhile, this force of social progression continues to learn from mechanization everything that machination requires to overcome bureaucratic socialism.

This phase-space of the imaginary real, or the realist virtualization, begs multiple questions of metaphysics, epistemology, and ontology. The postmodern communism axiomatizes these in advance, drawing from the dualism and dialectic of German Idealism. Descartes distrusts the real to prioritize the imaginary, making the images of mathematic and logical constructs primary. Kant obscures the dichotomy of mind and matter by placing the complete power of virtualization in the mind. Hegel takes the virtualization as a homogenous totality, in which the particularized portion contains the universalized reality of the whole. Mind and matter, phenomena and noumena, spirit and history, bourgeois and proletariat; then, at last, Spectacle and Society. In every dichotomy the division placed by the Observer mediates the image of the real. To admit that virtualization leaves no distinction, that action, objectivity, and responsibility may resume freely is more troublesome than a belief in sinister machination; better to have a real enemy to resist than to realize a sentiment of powerlessness stems from an actual absence of active power.

The mechanization automates into virtualization, stratifying the real into planes of observation. The radical empiricist may axiomatically declare the incompatibility of these pluralistic universes of discourse, content to leave each specialization on its own branch. The radical rationalist will axiomatically declare that single theory of everything will treat these branches as false, distortions of universality, the rational is the real. To the transdisciplinary observer, each argument falls flat. The emergence of one strata from that of another, the presence of continuous irreducibility of rational forms emerging from subterranean chaos and contributing to macroeconomic power-law constants; the empirical gives a space to look, the rational gives us a time at which our probability density will peak.

The isolation of a mind within an imaginary, mediated by invasive ideology, reproduces an automated society of the spectacle, but this production process predates recorded civilization. Those who fear responsibility cannot cope with a meaningless death or a meaningless life; they gladly coordinate together to produce an immense pageantry, a matrix of false consciousness, to entangle the fiction so comprehensively that it becomes inescapable. Whether a monastery or a political movement, ideology privileges the believer ahead of time. Three primary machinations result in a society of the spectacle. First, the reliance on images as instruments of expression prioritizes instrumentalism itself, making utility and functionalism the only standard of value. Second, the experience of the image prior to any event creates a predetermined meaning for any really lived experience. Third, the alienation of the spectator forces their passive access to commodity fetishism to increasingly rely on reproduction of entire narrative roles. The shortcoming of every utopian, collectivist, eternality, and universalization ideology is its inability to anchor the virtual within the real power-law dynamic of the cosmos; the progression is unconscious and cyclical, the mind is material, death is necessary to life, and the cosmos itself is a capitalist system.

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