Friday, December 9, 2016

Brand New World

If Trump is not the most mendacious presidential nominee in modern American history, he has certainly distinguished himself with his unique brand of mendacity. When other politicians lie, they usually do it in the hopes of generating a certain result: they want to pick up more votes from a particular demographic, or lay the political groundwork for a policy goal, or escape public opprobrium. Trump tells lies that seem wholly unmotivated; lies that just float there and produce nothing but confusion. 
Trump is building on the foundation laid by Karl Rove and other great American fabulists, but he’s doing something fundamentally different from what they did. He’s not not building new realities; his lies are too convoluted and self-contradictory for that. Instead of following the Rove playbook, he’s adopted the style of a political operative most Americans have never encountered: former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vladislav Surkov, also known as Putin’s Karl Rove.
...They have no interest in creating a new reality; instead, they’re calling into question the existence of any reality. By telling so many confounding and mutually exclusive falsehoods, the Trump campaign has created a pervasive sense of unreality in which truth is little more than an arbitrary personal decision. 
This, I think, is why so many people support Trump even when they recognize his obvious mendacity. They’ve been successfully persuaded that everything is a lie, so the only political choice you have is to select the fiction that most fits your self-conception. This partially explains how Trump is able to command support from both anti-Semites and some Jews. Pro-Trump Jews have decided that Trump is lying to white supremacists, and vice versa; they tolerate those lies because everyone lies, and because they’ve decided that he’s more honest when speaking directly to them. The only semblance of anything real can be found in personal identification with a charismatic, orange-tinted hero figure.  
...Thus politics becomes devoured entirely by personal aesthetics. It’s the final triumph of what Carl Schmitt called political romanticism, or what Christopher Lasch might call political narcissism: politics as self-expression and nothing else.
...In a 2011 piece for Open Democracy, Richard Sakwa, a professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent, described Surkov’s managed democracy as “the administrative management of party and electoral politics.” Sakwa goes on: 
Surkov’s philosophy is that there is no real freedom in the world, and that all democracies are managed democracies, so the key to success is to influence people, to give them the illusion that they are free, whereas in fact they are managed. In his view, the only freedom is “artistic freedom”

- Ned Reskinoff, Phantasmagoria, Medium (written before the election but well worth a read)

Surkov's "Managed Democracy", it should be noted, fits well into the schema of social media, which may be way wayward memes and fake news stories are so prevalent within individual's personal feeds.  This is reality as just one offshoot of your own personal brand, a conception of the world that indicates who you are and what can be expected from you.  Ontology becomes a marketplaces, any traceable truth only having value insomuch as the market allows for it.

Whereas once we were "labor", meat for the processing of industrial mechanics, and then we were mere "consumers",  stockpiling the gratuitous output of goods needed to fortify the barriers to the top rungs of power, now we are posters/marketers/branders, diluting ourselves further from the physical body into the mere channel of communicating the continued efficacy of centralized monetized authority.  Soon, we won't be anything at all.

It also strikes me that in addition to mass confusion/making all players question the nature of reality, this tactic of spreading lies with no tactical purpose behind them can serve as a strategy to re-authenticate a shifting center.  If the far right believes the election was rigged because Trump lies and says it was, and the left believes the election could be rigged because of real irregularities that should at least be investigated, any center legitimizing the election results as prima facie valid begins to look like the only "sensible" group, unpersuaded as they are by political actors.

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