Chris Hedges interviews Chomsky; Žižek on illusion of freedom; Bogost on ‘Darmok’ and ‘Yo’

AP/Nader Daoud

AP/Nader Daoud

Chomsky believes that the propaganda used to manufacture consent, even in the age of digital media, is losing its effectiveness as our reality bears less and less resemblance to the portrayal of reality by the organs of mass media. While state propaganda can still “drive the population into terror and fear and war hysteria, as we saw before the invasion of Iraq,” it is failing to maintain an unquestioned faith in the systems of power. Chomsky credits the Occupy movement, which he describes as a tactic, with “lighting a spark” and, most important, “breaking through the atomization of society.”

“There are all sorts of efforts to separate people from one another,” he said. “The ideal social unit [in the world of state propagandists] is you and your television screen. The Occupy actions brought that down for a large part of the population. People recognized that we could get together and do things for ourselves. We can have a common kitchen. We can have a place for public discourse. We can form our ideas. We can do something. This is an important attack on the core of the means by which the public is controlled. You are not just an individual trying to maximize consumption. You find there are other concerns in life. If those attitudes and associations can be sustained and move in new directions, that will be important.”

Not only have we learned a lot about the illegal activities of the US and other great powers. Not only have the WikiLeaks revelations put secret services on the defensive and set in motion legislative acts to better control them. WikiLeaks has achieved much more: millions of ordinary people have become aware of the society in which they live. Something that until now we silently tolerated as unproblematic is rendered problematic.

This is why Assange has been accused of causing so much harm. Yet there is no violence in what WikiLeaks is doing. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the character reaches a precipice but goes on running, ignoring the fact that there is no ground underfoot; they start to fall only when they look down and notice the abyss. What WikiLeaks is doing is just reminding those in power to look down.

The reaction of all too many people, brainwashed by the media, to WikiLeaks’ revelations could best be summed up by the memorable lines of the final song from Altman’s film Nashville: “You may say I ain’t free but it don’t worry me.” WikiLeaks does make us worry. And, unfortunately, many people don’t like that.

“Darmok” gives us one vision of a future in which procedural rhetoric takes precedence over verbal and visual rhetoric, indeed in which the logic of logics subsume the logics of description, appearances, and even of narrative—that preeminent form that even Troi mistakes as paramount to the Children of Tama. The Tamarian’s media ecosystem is the opposite of ours, one in which behaviors are taken as primary, and descriptions as secondary, almost incidental. The Children of Tama are less interesting as aliens than they are as counterfactual versions of us, if we preferred logic over image or description.

At the end of “Darmok,” Riker finds Captain Picard sitting in his ready room, reading from an ancient book rather than off a tablet. “Greek, sir?” Riker asks. “The Homeric Hymns,” Picard responds, “One of the root metaphors of our own culture. “For the next time we encounter the Tamarians…” suggests the first officer. To which his captain replies, “More familiarity with our own mythology might help us relate to theirs.” A charming sentiment, and a move that always works for Star Trek—the juxtaposition of classical antiquity and science-fictional futurism. But Picard gets it wrong one last time. To represent the world as systems of interdependent logics we need not elevate those logics to the level of myth, nor focus on the logics of our myths. Instead, we would have to meditate on the logics in everything, to see the world as one built of weird, rusty machines whose gears squeal as they grind against one another, rather than as stories into which we might write ourselves as possible characters.

It’s stupid. There’s no other word for it. But according to TechCrunch, 50,000 people have sent 4 million Yos since the app was launched on, uhm, April Fool’s Day of this year. But sometimes in stupidity we find a kind of frankness, an honesty. For his part, Arbel has rather overstated the matter. “We like to call it context-based messaging,” he told The New York Times. “You understand by the context what is being said.”

[…]

Perhaps the problem with Yo isn’t what makes it stupid—its attempt to formalize the meta-communication common to online life—but what makes it gross: the need to contain all human activity within the logics of tech startups. The need to expect something from every idea, even the stupid ones, to feel that they deserve attention, users, data, and, inevitably, payout. Perhaps this is the greatest meta-communicative message of today’s technology scene. And it might not be inaccurate to summarize that message with a singular, guttural “yo.”

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