Do you ever feel like the world we live in isn’t particularly real? I think it’s untethered from any kind of value that feels instinctive to us, and therefore it’s very hard to take things seriously. To be specific, it’s hard for people who are very privileged to take things seriously. It’s always so funny to me that there are people in tech who still subscribe to the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps model of effort and reward, because how can you live in the world today we live in and think: I deserve what I have because I’m a good person? You got what you have because you’re smart, probably, and you made the right decisions at the right time. But isn’t that divorced from deserving it?
There are people who are nostalgic for the 20th century, who slam postmodernism because they don’t understand it. They perceive that everything is fake, layers of unreality on unreality—they know that something is wrong. So they think, oh, maybe it would be better to return to biological essentialism, family values, rewind the world to the way it was in the 1950s. What, before neoliberalism, before technocratic capitalism? We’re so far gone from a world that makes sense to our instincts. I can’t believe that there are people who still think we can turn back. Don’t they know that all the definitions we used to put our trust in have become essentially worthless?
Sometimes I think about what the Old Testament God would make of modernity. I don’t think you can be a good person in the world we live in, but isn’t that true almost every point in history? There’s no time in the past that wasn’t enormously brutish and ugly in some way. I’m not the slightest bit nostalgic for the past, which managed somehow to be uglier than the present. But our politically defanged present, with the failure of both the right and the left—it’s not much to believe in either, right? There a moment maybe five decades ago when it seemed like things could be different, but it passed.
There are people who think we’re headed for some sort of systems failure, the implosion of modernity. I think we’ll just continue on and on: representations of representations, all references and no referents. You can get used to any kind of hyperreality and we have. Remember how Debord argued that the history of social life could be understood as "the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing”? Baudrillard’s four steps of reproduction were 1) basic reflection of reality, 2) perversion of reality, 3) pretense of reality, and 4) simulacrum, which does not resemble reality in any way whatsoever. From Meltdown:
The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalitization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off. Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway. As markets learn to manufacture intelligence, politics modernizes, upgrades paranoia, and tries to get a grip.
Who’s steering? You can ostensibly be in control and still be irrevocably driven by forces more powerful than you, right?
All I know is that we’re post-utopian, post-dystopian. I tried to explain simulacra to a boy once but I forgot to ask him whether he felt that his life was divorced from all that one could reasonably expect, divorced from normal referents for value. I forgot to ask if the vulgarity of materialism, mass media and commodity fetishism repulsed him. Was just what he knew and could imagine? Is it possible to imagine anything outside of it?
Some days I think that tech might still be utopian and other days I know it isn’t, despite all the hopeful talk of pragmatic optimism. I wanted the Californian Ideology to be real—I want the post-industrial, post-capitalism world I was promised. We were supposed to be liberated and instead most of us are more trapped than ever. So we live like we don’t understand context: we buy what we’re shown ads for, we make content for the platforms we criticize. We’re thriving, apparently. I’ve been told that this is abundance.