Democratic Domination

Zwelethu Mthethwa

“The spectacle’s social function is the concrete manufacture of alienation…”
Guy Debord

“When in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, he boldly proclaimed that distribution according to need, rather than strict equality, would herald the crossing of “the narrow horizon of bourgeois right,” Marx meant what he implied: that equality was an extrapolation from the presuppositions of capitalism. He had said as much in The Holy Family, declaring that the idea of “‘equal possession’ is a political-economic one and therefore still an alienated expression.”
Patricia Springborg

“The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and strengthened in this estrangement, it recognises estrangement as its own power and has in it the semblance of human existence. The latter feels annihilated in estrange­ment; it sees in it its own powerlessness and the reality of an inhuman existence. It is, to use an expression of Hegel, in its abasement the indignation at that abasement, an indignation to which it is necessarily driven by the contradictions be­tween its human nature and its conditions of life, which is the outright, resolute and comprehensive negation of that na­ture”
Marx (The Holy Family)

“Marx believed that the working class was the most alienated class…. [He] did not foresee the extent to which alienation was to become the fate of the vast majority of people…. If anything, the clerk, the salesman, the executive, are even more alienated today than the skilled manual worker. The latter’s functioning still depends on the expression of certain personal qualities like skill, reliability, etc., and he is not forced to sell his “personality”, his smile, his opinions in the bargain.”
Erich Fromm

“Very early in my life I took the question of the relation of art to truth seriously: even now I stand in holy dread in the face of this discordance.”

One of the great mystifications of the West, and certainly this is true in the U.S., is this idea of democracy. If you google Cuba or Iran or any nation not subservient to the US, you will find countless, nay, ENDLESS articles about the authoritarian nature of these countries and how they are not democratic. But I want to examine this a bit. In the US today nobody runs for national office (certainly not for president) without a huge bankroll.

The Federal Elections commission estimates…to run for congress….

House members, on average, each raised $1,689,580, an average of $2,315 every day during the 2012 cycle.
Senators, on average, each raised $10,476,451, an average of $14,351 every day during the 2012 cycle.
Elizabeth Warren spent 42, 000,000. Just saying.

Peter Bleeker (1850s)

Ok…so in other words one has to be or sell yourself to a millionaire, essentially. But the point here is about democracy. Chavez was elected several times but is still called a dictator (Bernie Sanders called him a dead communist dictator). And yet, Venzeuela is among the most democratic nations on earth. Russia is democratic. But all these places suffer problems, too. Corruption usually at the top. But who is the most corrupt nation on earth? Im guessing the United States (saudi arabia just pledged a hundred million to Ivanka Trump’s company…and Obama just did a speaking gig for three million…THREE FUCKING MILLION DOLLARS to talk at a climate change conference?). So clearly corruption exists throughout the institutions of governance in the US. Look at the courts, the racial bias, and clear inequality of the make up of those in prisons. Rich people do NOT go to jail in the US. Is that democratic? Or how something like 90% of judges and lawyers in capital cases are white. But ok…then we come to US allies. The US loves to speak of european democracy. And yet Belgium, Sweden, Norway, England, Denmark, Luxembourg, Spain, and the Netherlands all have Kings or Queens. And the influence of those monarchs vary from country to country, but its not without influence in any of them. And symbolically, Id say that sends a pretty strong message about privilege and class hierarchy. But thats just my opinion. Mostly I find people have been conditioned to adore royalty. Its partly the selling of a narrative of romance and partly just dreams driven by unrealistic desire for wealth themselves.

“…we live in increasingly individualized societies, characterized by weak ties that generate many psychological, ethical, cultural and political problems. And second, social weakness is related to mercantilist processes. Market competition destroys the social fabric, the anthropological basis for the survival of any group of people.”
César Rendueles

Paa Joe (Coffin maker, Ghana).

Exchange value is the cornerstone of Capitalism and freedom really means the freedom to sell your labor power. This is the source, after all, of capitalist wealth. And exchange value is the meaning of equality in capitalism. This seems a rather trenchant idea just now. The two signifiers of Democracy, at least for the western bourgeosie today, are tolerance and equality.

Bourgeois liberal democracy then creates a framework for viewing the world. Kill someone (unless perhaps poor and black or latino) and you are arrested for a crime. Kill someone while in uniform as part of military service and you are applauded. Take someone and lock them in your basement and its a class A felony. But if the basement is a cell in D block, then it is simply a legal punishment by the state. I was thinking of India recently, the world’s largest democracy, and one that has perpetuated military war on its own people, as Arundhati Roy has noted, all tribal peoples in Punjab, in Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram and Kashmir. And this is also the legacy of colonialism. Democracy is indifferent to equality or tolerance. One does not lead to the other.

John Ruskin

In the US, in a system rife with extreme corruption, where innocent men are executed with veterinary chemicals, and where economic polorization is growing….and where racism is institutional and police power almost unlimited (a former slave owning state remember)….the system is constantly heralded as the best in the world. Israel, where a slow motion genocide is taking place in Gaza, is always talked about as the only democracy in the middle east. Iran is attacked in the West for it being a theocratic state. Yet Israel, also founded on an exclusionary religious and ethnic principle is lauded as Democratic. And yet the US works closely with the least democratic nation on earth, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. (and Qatar and the UAE and Turkey)….I mean human rights violators are used as proxies by US military planners all the time. But back to democracy…in the recent Iranian elections the turn out was massive. In the recent US election less than half the population voted.

If Iran is so tyrannical, why do so many people enthusiastically vote? Same with Russia? Or Venezuela? The campaigns of misinformation on those countries is staggering. Just staggering. The American animus toward all three is nearly mind numbing. I run into people who froth at the mouth when the name Putin comes up. I ask why they hate him so much and usually i get blank stares. Or a generalized non answer that he is a thug or dictator. Unlike, you know, Tony Blair or Trump or Hillary Clinton or Obama or Boris Johnson or Teresa May or Thatcher and Reagan for that matter.

Queen Elizabeth II inspects the Queen’s Own Nigeria Regiment, Royal West African Frontier Force, at Kaduna Airport, Nigeria, 1956.

Cuba is always called undemocratic. And yet people vote on far more things relevant to their lives than do workers in the US. Its only that they don’t vote for president. But in the US you get to vote for one or another millionaire bought and owned by wall street and you do not get to vote for your minimum wage or rights in the workplace. Sometimes Im dumbfounded, really, by the lack of knowledge in most americans regarding the political process. So hidden by propaganda and media are other forms of social organization that most in the US, at least this is what I find, know ONLY the U.S. two party system.

In Iran the supreme leader and his council have final say, in theory. In Norway the King, in theory, has final say on all things, too. And yes, they execute a lot of folks in Iran. And in Norway they don’t. Still, Norway is participating in US Imperial NATO aggression in Syria.

In the US, the president just sold 100 billion dollars of military hardware to the #1 human rights violator in the world. A nation where women have no rights, none. The cant drive even. Where nobody votes for anything. NOTHING. Where beheadings are regular and carried out weekly. Where homosexuality is a crime punishable by death. And where there are no trade unions, no parties, no anything. Oh well, ok, yeah there is a lot of oil. And hence an obscene amount of money. Now, Iran’s gross national product grew by nearly 7% last year. So, in terms of this hybrid system the capitalist side is doing rather well. And everyone knows China has done well with its hybrid capitalism. And Russia for that matter. The percentage of people living below the poverty line in the US is…according to somewhat untrustworthy statistics, around 18%. I’d say its more like 25%. In Russia its 14% and in Iran, as of 2007, its 17%. I don1t trust any of those figures, actually. In Niger its 43%. In Iraq its over 30% In the Congo its 50%. Estonia is 21% and Chile is 14%. The stats for Cuba are not available. But im guessing, despite 40 some years of embargo the statistics are very low. But nobody escapes western capital. The US remember has 800 plus military bases around the world. We patrol the globe.

Vintage toys. Location and date unknown.

Israel has a very mediated and exclusionary form of democracy. But then it is, as I say, like Iran, a religious state. And inherently religious states are fundamentally undemocratic. But who has Cuba attacked lately? Or Iran for that matter? It is claimed, by men like R.H. McMaster (and John McCain and Obama et al) that Iran is a sponsor of terrorism. The problem is, again, like democracy, one is going to have a hard time defining who is a terrorist. Was the bombing of the King David Hotel an act of terror? Was the Stern Gang a group of terrorists? Were the English occupiers in Ireland justified and was the IRA a terror organization? is Hamas? One person’s freedom fighter is another etc etc etc. But all of this is caught up in the justification for Capitalism. All of it. And the class struggle that ensues. The problem with most of the bourgeois class in the U.S. is that they fail to analyse their life and world with anything resembling a class analysis. This segues into a discussion (far too large to do properly here) on identification and identity politics.

Marx, at his most pessimistic, concluded a speech in April 1856, to commemorate The Chartist People’s Paper…

“In our days everything seems pregnant with its contrary. Machinery, gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labour, we behold starving and overworking it. The new-fangled sources of wealth, by some strange weird spell, aretumed into sources of want. The victories of art seem bought by the loss of character. At the same pace that mankind masters nature, man seems to become enslaved to other men or to his own infamy. Even the pure light of science seems unable to shine but on the dark background if ignorance. All our invention and progress seem to result in encJowing material forces with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into a material force. “

Viktor Kolar, photography.

There are a dozen policy papers written over the last several decades in think tanks in the U.S. that openly call for global hegemony. That openly suggest the destruction of any rival as totally justified and even rational. These are the wonky men (and a few women) in flannel suits and wingtips that come out of that vast cauldron of thought that has as foundational members Friedrich Hayak, Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss, but also Bill Buckley and Ayn Rand, and Alan Greenspan and Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinksi, and Samuel Huntington and Paul Volker or Ludwig Von Mises and the whole Austrian School. These are the spiritual ancestors of the Clintons and Bushes and certainly of Reagan and his gang. And before that we have the Dulles Brothers, whose long shadow looms over everything, still, in the US government. And in U.S. society.

Would the French have left Algeria without violence and radical terror? The British left India because they were sick of it and losing money. Remember that England and France and Belgium and Germany and Holland and Spain mostly controlled the world for a couple hundred years, or maybe longer. The scale of the violence Europe inflicted on Africa and parts of Asia and all of Latin America is almost incalculable. The white man has destroyed and raped and plundered and oppressed tens of millions for hundreds of years. But this is the suppressed narrative. Go ahead and *google* the genocides of the last two hundred years. What do you find? Oh, Stalin and Mao. Such are the algorithms of corporate media and telecoms. The West propgandizes constantly by erasing chunks of history. You wont find Van Diemen’s Land or the Belgian Congo (not on the first page anyway). Or Britain and the famines of India. And I doubt many will have heard of Canada and first nation peoples. Sterilization and the displacing of children into proper white schools, exactly as happened in the United States with Indian Schools (sic). These were democracies of course. Not like those icky North Koreans. Those horrid Chavistas or Sandanistas or Maoist rebels in Nepal. Never mind each is, in fact, democratic. Or the authoritarian Russians. And then ask who the Ayatollahs have invaded exactly? Or who Russia invaded? And don’t say Crimea. They didn’t. My point is not that Russia is a paradise of equality and transparency. Or that Iran is not a theocratic state with severe and bloody state punishments. My point is that they are no worse, and probably better than the United States. Yes, Russia has a significant corruption problem, and so did Venezuela. Are they as authoritarian or corrupt as Saudi Arabia or Qatar? And what of Israel, what of the whole story of the founding of that nation. It was not an empty desert. A significant population was displaced, some murdered, and nearly all driven from their land and homes. Homes that were stolen outright in almost all cases. Moral calculus is indifferent to democracy.

Leo Strauss

If the U.S. cares so much for democracy why did they install the Shah in Iran? Why did they support Mobutu and Papa Doc and Rioss Mont? Why install Pinochet? Why are they supporting the Neo Nazis they put in power in Ukraine? Why does mainstream media not talk of this? Why the silence on Saudi beheadings for that matter? Does Rachel Maddow wax smugly and hector her audience about the authoritarian Knesset in Israel today? That the defense minister is a rabid frothing racist and gangster? No. Of course not. Other terms are used …*hardliner* is one. Does Brian Williams discuss the beauty of Hamas rockets as he did of U.S. rockets? Of Kim Jong Un’s missiles? The terrible beauty of the Saudi executioners blade as the sun glints off the blood soaked silver? Does he question the propaganda on Syria? At all, even a tiny bit? No. Amy Goodman doesn’t either. And she is theoretically alternative. If democracy mattered at all to the ruling class in the U.S., then campaign finance reform would have happened two decades ago. But this is the point. Electoral politics is always going to take place within a frame of Capitalism and private property and class hierarchies. Always. It is inextricably tied together with it.

Even today the nature of the violence of slavery in the U.S. is minimized. People were treated as livestock. Worse in fact. But the reality is incrementally mediated by Hollywood, and in literature. Go ahead and read of the treatment of workers on sugar plantations in the early 20th century Caribbean, or of the diamond mine workers today in southern Africa. Such research requires effort. It is not officially sanctioned narrative.

Elections do not intend for equality and fairness to be the end result. That is not why America has elections. The U.S. has elections to sustain the control of the propertied classes. It is there to further the draining of everything into the pockets of the 1%. Did anyone expect Donald Trump to be any different? No, the only surprise is how scared he looks half the time. But as Ray McGovern noted, Leon Panetta and Obama looked scared too. Capitalism cannot survive equality. Capitalism creates poverty. Capitalism creates inequality and manufactures and needs exploitation. Imagine as a thought experiment if somehow Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka had been elected. Think how long they would be able to govern. If Trump is under assault by various factions in the Intelligence community, and Pentagon, and the now much discussed *deep state*, imagine how much worse it would have been for ANY third party that found itself in power. But of course Stein never ever would have been allowed to be President.

Jon Rafman

This is also a good time to re-read Marcuse’s essay on tolerance (1968). Marcuse wrote it after Nixon was elected.

“Tolerance is an end in itself. The elimination of violence, and the reduction of suppression to the extent required for protecting man and animals from cruelty and aggression are preconditions for the creation of a humane society. Such a society does not yet exist; progress toward it is perhaps more than before arrested by violence
and suppression on a global scale. As deterrents against nuclear war, as police action against subversion, as technical aid in the fight against imperialism and communism, as methods of pacification in neo-colonial massacres, violence and suppression are promulgated, practiced; and defended by democratic and authoritarian governments alike, and the people subjected to these governments are educated to sustain such practices as necessary for the preservation of the status quo. “

This was written fifty years ago almost. Preservation of the status quo. Equality is fine, as long as it’s the right kind of equality. Malcolm X said “I’m not going to sit at your table and watch you eat, with nothing on my plate, and call myself a diner. Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on that plate.”

Brendan Smith

Today the culture of trigger warnings and academic restrictions on unpopular opinion is outraged by the vulgarity and open misogyny and racism of Trump and his appointees. But nobody questions his military actions. For those actions are identical to all U.S. presidents since WW2. Nobody questions Trump’s military budget. Nobody questions his blind extreme support for Israel. Emanuel Macron, the recently elected President of France, has removed two appointees, his appointees, for their voicing support of the divestment movement against Israel. How is that possible, exactly? How is THAT racism, the racism of Netanyahu or Avigdor Lieberman or Tzipi Livni or Naftali Bennet acceptable? In fact, Western states are required to punish those who criticize Israel. So, really, there is nothing democratic or tolerant in the Western policing of thought. And how is it seen as in any way normal for Trump and R.H. McMaster and Rex Tillerson to pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem during a state visit? (as did Bush and Bill Clinton and every other modern president). Such things, going to the wailing wall, or participating in a sword dance for christ sake, while in the absolute monarchy of KSA is alright, –but a phone call to a Russian official is a scandal. I have said before that this is the era of cognitive dissonance.

Pan Xiaorong

“Instead of the indefinite concluding phrase of the paragraph, “the elimination of all social and political inequality”, it ought to have been said that with the abolition of class distinctions all social and political inequality arising from them would disappear of itself.”
Marx (Critique of the Gotha Program)

But it is a specific sort of cognitive dissonance. And it has both political and aesthetic implications. The ascension of Capital is the most significant aspect of contemporary consciousness. And it overlaps or is intwined with instrumental logic.

“A healthy newborn is also equipped with more than a dozen reflexes – ready-made reactions to certain stimuli that are important for its survival. It turns its head in the direction of something that brushes its cheek and then sucks whatever enters its mouth. It holds its breath when submerged in water. It grasps things placed in its hands so strongly it can nearly support its own weight. Perhaps most important, newborns come equipped with powerful learning mechanisms that allow them to change rapidly so they can interact increasingly effectively with their world, even if that world is unlike the one their distant ancestors faced.( ) But here is what we are not born with: information, data, rules, software, knowledge, lexicons, representations, algorithms, programs, models, memories, images, processors, subroutines, encoders, decoders, symbols, or buffers – design elements that allow digital computers to behave somewhat intelligently. Not only are we not born with such things, we also don’t develop them – ever.”
Robert Epstein

I have written before about the hostility to art that permeates modern society, and it permeates it from the left and the right. And this is perhaps what I am really getting at here. The unexamined assumptions of the West, of the bourgeoisie, about ideas such as tolerance and Democracy are products of Capitalism, and not somehow a de-facto setting handed down by Nature.

Thatcher and King Fahd, 1985.

“Commodity logic has become generalized and today governs not only labour processes and material products, but the whole of culture, sexuality, and human relations, including even fantasies and individual drives.”
Jean Baudrillard

In a sense, this is the reason I find aesthetics so important. I have had countless encounters with very smart people, people I respect, and found they were shockingly deficient in aesthetic sophistication. In fact a rampant philistinism seems predominant today. And part of the reason for this lack has to do with the danger of art. The upsetting and destabilizing experience of engaging with artworks. Marx’s notion of reification, where capitalist society makes relations between people take the form of objective relations between things, remains an important idea. For the implications of reification, let me quote Marcuse…

“What does this reification accomplish? It sets forth the actual social relations among men as a totality of objective relations, thereby concealing their origin, their mechanisms of perpetuation, and the possibility of their transformation. Above all, it conceals their human core and content.”

Masao Yamamoto, photography.

Art reveals the human and commerce obscures it. Capital does more than hide or conceal the human core of relations, it destroys them. And in advanced capital this destruction is the inheritance of everyone. So on a simple level, the radical artwork is one which reintroduces something anti capitalistic. The message or content is not ideological, but the form is, and it is this radical perspective expressed in the form that is at the least an affront to the rigidity of finance conformity. A form antithetical to algorithms and spread sheets. And what goes missing so often is that because of the art market and vast wealth that changes hands in that market, a confusion ensues. When a Rothko sells for 40 million dollars it is often Rothko that gets blamed. And that excuses and justifies *not looking* at the Rothko. Abstract art is the most obvious battleground of this ‘looking away’ that passes for political commitment. I suspect this tendency to dismiss artworks by citing the irrationality of the art market has to do with an unconscious need to see artworks as JUST commodities. To focus on, exclusively, the thing like aspect of, say, a painting or sculpture. It is also just the idea of masculine pragmatism, the Calvinist no-nonsense practicality of individualism.

I had a conversation with a man I know somewhat. I consider him bright, educated, successful. On the topic of the Rothko sale he said ‘oh, you know when I was young my parents and their friends adored Abstract Expressionism and I used to think it was great. Id go to the Modern and look at all the DeKoonings and Morris Louis’ works and Id think it was all so great. Now I feel I was faking it. I go look at the Renaissance stuff instead.’ Now, this is exactly the way former socialists or communists sound when they talk about why they are now conservatives. It was all just childish nonsense. I was faking it. Now I’m a grown up.

In Marx, private property is viewed as the ultimate form of alienation. But is also an impediment to the capitalist goal of total appropriation. Private ownership of anything, really, is the ultimate dead end spiritually speaking. And as capital has shifted into the era of consumption rather than production, the refining of various means of consuming ‘things’ becomes a substitute for genuine creativity. That Trump’s book is titled The Art of the Deal seems appropriate here. Someone will write The Art of Consumption at some point, if they haven’t already.

Jack Whitten

“New art is as abstract as social relations have in truth become.”

J.M. Bernstein, in a very good book on aesthetics describes the problem this way…

“The theoretical and practical etiolation of the meaning of aesthetic
phenomena, the relegation of art and aesthetics to what is outside truth
and goodness, occurred as a consequence of a double isolation: first,
through the diremption of the question of moral value from questions
of truth and falsity – the fact/value distinction – that resulted from the
growth of modern science and its methodological self-understanding; and
secondly, through the separation of artistic worth from moral worth – the
inscribing of art within the autonomous domain of the ‘aesthetic’. “

Art is often seen as ‘mere’ art. As something the worth of which cannot be measured or explained. Bernstein, echoing Adorno, writes that art must always work to both escape its autonomy, and embrace it. I think in the medium of theatre this is felt most acutely.

Gerard ter Borch (1652).

Gould playing Bach is the perfect example of this I suspect. The contemporary reliance on technical proficiency (my grand daughter could have painted that) is a means to deny the truth content of culture. For the extended argument becomes of necessity a valorizing of mechanical logic, a false but often persuasive materialism. On the left this is the residue of a vulgar Marxism, and on the right it is just the continuation of a Puritanical denial of the sensuous. That they reside in such close proximity to each other is to be noted.

“The turn away, the absenting itself,from real society, again, is both discovered-the ‘magical’ conception of art as transformative practice is self-deceptive – and determined by the
collapse of the social a prioris which sustained artistic practices as moments of a totalizing social praxis. The ‘disenchantment’ of art (tendentially) deprives it of grounds and purposes external to those immanent in its technical unfolding. Artistic progress is not reducible to technical progress, any more than this is the case outside art; but in modernity technical progress becomes a determinant of artistic progress as a whole. And, for better or worse, artistic modernism has made progress in art a determinant of art history.”

J.M. Bernstein

Santiago Sierra

There is a paradox to the dialectics of virtuosity. The expertise of technique coincides with progress as the Enlightenment posited. Adorno suggested that perfection in artworks, or that aspiration, monumentalizes force and violence. This is not a recipe for flawed or sloppy technique. For that is simply bad faith, and is one aspect of the paradox. For the flaws romanticize the infantile and faux innocent. No, the discipline found in difficult work is autonomous and impossible. Failing is not easy. Succeeding is simple. Except in capitalism when the yardstick is economic return.

Technological domination of raw materials mirrors the domination of man by capital, and the domination over self by the captive capitalist. The ephemeral nature of ideas such as tolerance and democracy reflect the ephemeral and undefinable beauty of Nature as manufactured by bourgeoise history. Somewhere Adorno spoke of nature as always an image of nature. This is the problem. Democracy is the image of democracy. The appearance of signifiers for democracy. Nature is a memory of an Eden like condition that never existed (per Adorno).

“This is why works that seek to imitate nature’s beauty directly, forgetting
its derived status and the non-existence of what nature appears to be,
strike us as kitsch; such works ignore the scars that domination has left on
nature for an appearance taken as reality. “

J. M. Bernstein

Kibong Rhee

The unravelling of contemporary narratives of Western superiority are escalating. And the threadbare fraudulence of claims to Democratic ideals is testament to something self destructive and driven by guilt and expressed (usually by proxies) in violence. Art is that which, at the least, in its creation of subjective lacuna, opens a possibility for something transcendent. And art is also, in some sense, an incorporated violence that destroys the subject while releasing it and renewing it.

“The shudder released by the work of art, the experience of the modernist
sublime, is the memory of the experience of the terror and strangeness in
the face of threatening nature. Shudder is the memorial experience of
nature’s transcendence, its non-identity and sublimity, at one remove.
But, as such, it is equally a memory of the libidinous desires that were
repressed in the face of primal nature.”

J.M Bernstein

Axel Geis

The desire for happy endings and affirmation is related to the counterfeit tolerance of a nation that sanctioned and taught death squads. The radical form reminds of something that technology and capital has buried. The radical form inscribes something of the suffering of history. I suspect all creative activity is related to memory. That newborns come equipped with instincts of self protection, even if they are profoundly vulnerable in other ways, suggests our ancestral heritage of violence and fear. That Nature was a dangerous and menacing reality. These instincts are memory, too. And that is the shudder Adorno speaks of. The contemporary culture of amnesia and kitsch tolerance and selective equality is by necessity erasing the collective, both as unconscious memory and as literal material community ritual.


  1. David Comdico says:

    I’m not sure that the first half of your essay needs to be true for the second half to be valid.

    Regarding your friend who used to like DeKooning, Ehrenzweig states in The Hidden Order of Art that this is unavoidable, that the secondary process crates a structure that alters initial impressions and makes them impossible to recover. Artists find strategies to overcome this, as Art creation requires postposing this secondary process.

    Looking at established Art, say from the Renaissance, can be an interesting exercise in trying to undermine this secondary process. There is a good scene in Museum Hours with a Bruegel that illustrates this. In short, the specifics of that experience matter.

    I can’t exactly put my finger on what it is about tech culture that seems essentially anaesthetic. Peter Thiel’s belief that he can find a cure to death is maybe a good example. The sublime is a reminder of the awesome power of Nature, esp that of Death. I think this is Art’s main territory, a bridge to this basic awareness. Without it aren’t we left with a totalitarian state of eternal stasis? The master of the universe in such a scenario would achieve the ultimate form of alienation. Much contemporary culture seems like preparation for such a state of being.

  2. very good piece, cheers

  3. Paul Haeder says:

    Daniel Quinn’s Beyond Civilization:

    Humans living in tribes was as ecologically stable as lions living in prides or baboons living in troops. The tribal life wasn’t something humans sat down and figured out. It was the gift of natural selection, a proven success — not perfection but hard to improve on. Hierarchalism, on the other hand, has proven to be not merely imperfect but ultimately catastrophic for the earth and for us. When the plane’s going down and someone offers you a parachute, you don’t demand to see the warranty.

    Today, after 12,000 years of civilization, we are today at war with everything, and I have been in a few tribes in Vietnam and in parts of South America, and those twitching and inherently fearful newborns do not exist.

    I believe our epigenetic lineage in modern society comes from that moment in the human species devolution when all things natural and nature became commodities and controlled by the takers.

    As always, true art is the process of achieving transcendence, as you point out, John.

    Good raw piece, amigo!

  4. Michael Griffin says:

    Haeder/Quinn comment:
    “…after 12,000 years of civilization, we are today at war with everything…”
    What you mean “we” white man?
    Plus that 12K timeline is dubious, generated by sketchy solipsists from within their biased myopia.
    Chauvet, Altamira, artifacts 30K yrs old and more testify to a truer definition of civilization than the wheel and its ruts.

    John this piece is confirming, strengthening. Articulating why the trivialization of the aesthetic is a visceral hit, threatening as an insult. Art and community defended against illusion and commodity. Good medicine. Thank you

  5. in my opinion, the following sentence best crystallizes the theme of this piece, even if it’s not about art:: “The desire for happy endings and affirmation is related to the counterfeit tolerance of a nation that sanctioned and taught death squads.”

  6. Paul Haeder says:

    In Africa, early modern humans appeared at least as long ago as 160,000 years BP at sites such as Bouri in Ethiopia, and perhaps as long ago as 195,000 years ago, if the dating of Omo Kibish, also in Ethiopia, is correct.

    Modern civilization versus what was before? Cave paintings as cultural and artistic expression, or a sign of dominating civilization? White man’s term for cultures long gone — artifacts.

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