Finalist #11 in the Book Review Contest
Great timing on publishing this…I enjoyed watching Jordan Peele’s new movie “Nope” last night, and this book was a clear influence.
Best one yet. Doesn't make the book sounds like a particularly enjoyable read though.
Does the sheer amount of linkage you threw in mean this review is peak "spectacle"?
According to Wikipedia, Debord had nothing to do with the choice of the book's cover: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Society_of_the_Spectacle#Translations_and_editions
In the review, you seem to be completely sidestepping the whole Marx/Hegel angle, which is very prominent in the book and conceivably necessary to deeply understand its thesis. I say "conceivably" because this is where Debord lost me. To put it mildly, his writing didn't encourage me to try to understand more of Hegel (or parts of Marx that derive from Hegel, for that matter).
I really do like the term post-capitalist, I find it oddly “fun”? I don’t know how to describe how I feel about it per se but that’s ok.
BTW, my impression was always that Debord is basically like Baudrillard but less flashy and more opaque. Does your reading support this view?
What if I think there are things that are fundamentally wrong with contemporary society, but less so than ever before?
There seems to be an extremely common failure mode where someone thinks they're saying, "Life sucks these days because of Capitalism/technology/whatever," when what they're actually saying is, "My life sucks these days because I'm depressed/have chosen to care about stupid shit."
Maybe I'm the weird one but most of this kind of stuff just seems like whining about non-issues.
Concentrated, diffuse, and integrated modes of spectacle sounds remarkably like Moldbug’s two stroke and four stroke societies. Wonder if he read Debord.
"everyone is xfss"
I was surprised how little space you gave to the point that mass media was one-way (Lawrence Lessig called it "read-only culture", citing Sousa on gramophones displacing human singing), whereas modern social media is two-way (even if there is still a skewed distribution of the producers vs consumers that wouldn't surprise Pareto).
Boy, I hated this. Not that the review was badly written -- I like the authorial voice here just fine, perhaps even most out of all reviews so far, and the reviewer's comments were often cogent and amusing or interesting -- but the *book's* complaints make very little sense to me; the entire thing seems to me much ado about nothing. Paraphrasing an early passage in the review: "But I don't think [he was just railing against change out of some personal emotional difficulty]. Life is *different* now. You want to use your phone even when the TV is on, and don't want to lose GPS signal when in a strange place." Uh, yeah, those both seem fine to me. Where's the part that's supposed to explain why life is so bad now and we're less "real" and stuff?
There are some parts I liked a bit more, later on, but overall I feel like this sort of thing is a waste of time: pseudo-profundity through overwrought, foggy prose, for those who are unhappy and want something to blame it on.
"Like all great thinkers worth their salt, he was an embittered alcoholic who took his own life in despair."
All great thinkers worth their salt are embittered alcoholics who commit suicide? All of them?
I hope you enjoyed that Rickroll anonymous reviewer, cause it cost you my vote.
I'm quite familiar with Critical Theory and Marxism, so I'm not biased against it and I have been influenced by many authors in this area.
Yet I can't help but thinking "so what? so what? so what?" all the time while reading this review. I guess that's the difference between lower-c and capital-C critical theory.
I just never got lower-c.
Is it a bad thing that episteme > metis, that we spend more time with on-screen than IRL memes? Why or how? These basic things are just never explained.
"We hope for the best, but 2122 is shaping up to be some unholy amalgam of Gattaca, The Matrix, and Minority Report."
Is it? How do you know? The author is just assuming you agree with hyperbolic assertions all the time, without looking at the analytical content or meaning of basic terms.
What specifically about all the poems describing the modern world is bad? What is the harm done? How would you quantify it?
Oh, am I an epigone of the commodification ideology?
Or is it possible that the doom-and-gloom scenarios are really jumping out of the head of the author and make for a pleasurable experience for readers high in neuroticism and anxiety?
Peak-commodification if you will.
And then this groundless hyperbole: "If you want to actually seize power, you will need to conduct a coup - which, so I’ve heard, is top-down. It’s the only strategy that has ever really worked,"
Maybe that has helped in seizing power but what followed was almost always worse. The bourgeoisie revolution, "the only true revolution", was not a top-down coup.
So much for ... just assuming big hyperbolic things, but I am repeating myself.
> Whither Kazakhstan? Afghanistan? Who knows and who cares?
I know and I care. I know about Turkey and Syria (which no one seems to be paying attention to) and the conflicts in Mexico and Myanmar and about grain prices in East Africa. It baffles me so many people don't. It's not even like this doesn't affect them. It does! The prices you pay for gas, for bread, for electricity are all affected by it. Whether you are safe or not is affected by it.
This is my issue with all this. The "too cool for school, nothing really matters, it's all showmanship" is the kind of pose you can only take in a society that's extremely safe and free of significant material need. Where having wrong beliefs about the way the world works is buffered by externalizing costs. Material reality exists and ignoring it will ultimately doom you. The a dialectic of rocks hitting your head can't actually stop the rocks.
It reminds me of the old Buddhist story where a student says, "Master, I have become enlightened! Everything is an illusion!" The master nods sagely and says, "Then I have one more lesson for you." The student eagerly nods his head. And the master cracks him over the head with his staff so hard the student screams in pain. "Why do you cry?" The master asks. "Because it hurts!" The student wails. "Ah, but pain is an illusion. My staff is an illusion. The blow is an illusion! So why do you cry?"
The theological point (I think) is that even if the world is an illusion we still experience it. But I take it as point of the supremacy of the physical over the spiritual (at least until you become a Buddha, I guess.) Even if you come to realize you do not exist and think you exist as some kind of Hume-ian pure sensor then you are still sensing the things you sense and those are not entirely within your control or even human control. Likewise, the idea these events are ultimately meaningless epiphenomena ignores the actual cause and effect. (Which, I know, he would argue is just another spectacle/illusion/whatever.)
PS: Russian disinformation has a grand, ancient history, predating even the Soviets.
<i>True, our incomprehension is somewhat different in kind. In the past, it was nature itself that served as obstacle and enigma. Our knowledge amassed, and we gained hope - all the mysteries of the universe were only puzzles, certain to be solved in time. However, as the scope and scale of human endeavor expanded, our ignorance was returned to us by the very means we sought to eliminate it. Technology colonized our lives and our minds, reintroducing unfathomable complexity into realms we once had mastered. Our world becomes increasingly manmade, and as a consequence is more susceptible to human iniquities never found in the natural world. </i>
This reminds me a bit of The Abolition Of Man:
"The real picture is that of one dominant age—let us suppose the hundredth century A.D.—which resists all previous ages most successfully and dominates all subsequent ages most irresistibly, and thus is the real master of the human species. But then within this master generation (itself an infinitesimal minority of the species) the power will be exercised by a minority smaller still. Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car."
I have a question for people who have read both the book and the review.
Does this review underemphasize the Marxist portions of the book? I tried reading Society of the Spectacle almost a decade ago, and vaguely remember giving up because I ran into too many concepts that I had to google separately. I don't remember Marx being name-dropped constantly, more like the author assumed you should already be well-read in Marxist economic thought to grasp the Spectacle.
Am I misremembering? And also, should I give the book another shot?
I really appreciate the way this review takes a text that sounds *dreadful* to read, and translates it so I can get some of the nifty ideas without having to fight my way through the prose. A valuable service.
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow is a good example of a working, post-capitalist society. The basic idea is that advances in 3D printing (along with disregard for copyright) allow people to simply leave society and subsist on renewable power and raw materials.
Very smart rock critic Greil Marcus wrote a book about the Sex Pistols band explaining them through the lens of Situationism, which he said their manager Malcolm McClaren was exposed to in France in 1968. In reply, lead singer Johnny Rotten said he didn't know anything about Situationism. The reason, he said, that he was angry at the Queen of England on "God Save the Queen" was that he's a Catholic Irishman.
It's an interesting article, but, like many other book reviews, it is rather vague on which parts are actually in the book, and which parts are the reviewer's own musings.
This review appears to suffer a particularly acute rationalist flaw. It is entirely too rational, clean cut, and lucid. While I appreciate the attempt to neatly steelman Debord into coherency, in doing so we end up with a rationalist’s version of French philosophy. Which is neither French, nor I suspect, Debord’s. The Spectacle, like Baudrillard’s Simulcra is a totalizing critique that transcends any mere economic system. Yes, it’s superficially about how capitalism generates the spectacle, but once in existence talking about capitalism is a lot like talking about income distributions in the Matrix. Missing entirely that the World and ALL it’s relations are IN THE MATRIX. The idea that Debord would like Rage Against the Machine is (while amusing) fundamentally at odds with his point. Which is that Rage Against The Machine, a Band that sells millions of albums selling fake outrage, and composing a specific means of relating to the world is PART of the spectacle. But I digress. While the review is an interesting blog post of the authors views and very well written. I doubt it is a particularly accurate view of Debord’s often circular, poetic, totalizing and often incoherent thoughts.
The author of the review speak a lot about "we", "the society", etc. But I thought the Chinese weatherman story was obviously false as it is was beyond what currently can be done in reality with real technology (without it being cost-prohibitive).
Maybe all of these rabbit holes, society going crazy, just maybe it isn't affecting exactly everyone?
Straight away, the glorification of suicidal alcoholics fosters doubt about this entire review..."like all great thinkers worth their salt"?! This reads a little too aspirational for me. Just because someone took their life does not mean they were a great thinker and not every "thinker" who took their own life was great.
Edit Ok..I reacted strongly, and after reading all the way through, aptly. This felt very emotional (bravo), and I'm not as mad at the opening paragraph as I was... Just disappointed. Like the last meme, we all know how bad it is and how it's been crumbling, but where is the hope? Who is taking up for optimism? I'm over the doom and gloom. And I suspect many people will be very soon. It seems the overproduced elite are either crying or seething, but since moving to the south, I see more communing and coping. I'm going to hang out in Camp B until we figure this shit out... Or I die which ever comes first.
My take on The Spectacle is it could be contained if we accepted that capitalism has no place in politics. Like fire, capitalism is a wonderful servant but a lousy master. Democracies should be governed by people, not by corporate interests!
In my latest science fiction novel, Clowns, I suggest that an intelligent extraterrestrial species that visited Earth would immediately see through The Spectacle and find our position untenable.
It sounds like The Spectacle is over. We are no longer a society sitting in cinemas staring at movie stars or even sitting at home watching TVs, but a society jabbering at each other endlessly on our keyboards.
You know, funnily enough the thing that triggered the Gell Mann Amnesia realization for me here wasn't the line about all good thinkers being suicidal alcoholics (which I took as joke that was funny precisely because it's closer to the truth than not), but the paragraph about 5th Generational Warfare: "Taken together, the Comments form a precise description of Fifth Generation Warfare , well before the concept was invented.  5GW is basically hybrid warfare without the kinetics. It is a war of information and influence..."
And, well, this was clearly written before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when Russian disinformation was still something to be feared. As Edward Luttwak put it,
"First, the military intelligence advisers both on the Russian side and the American side all belong to the same church. This church preaches “fourth-generation warfare,” hybrid warfare, postmodern information warfare—all new stuff, praised as nonkinetic. Kinetic is the term for war fought by blockheads, just people shooting people. They were drunk, both the Russians and the Americans, on this idea that you have cyber this, you have cyber that, and that the Ukrainan soldier-
Interviewer: Once he opens his iPhone, the Ukrainian soldier won’t be able to function mentally anymore, his morale will collapse, and he will lay down his weapons and surrender.
They believed this nonsense. I have gone to war games until basically I got kicked out. Why was that? Because I would go to these war games and I would see these people, even three star generals running the war games. And I would say, fellows, I don’t know where you have been, OK: And I don’t know what experience you have of war. I guess you flew by helicopter, over Iraq or Afghanistan. I’ve had a gun in my hand and I’ve shot somebody and I have his helmet in my study. I have used a bazooka. I have actually been in combat. None of you guys have been in combat, because you have only fought people who had no artillery, no armor, no air power. And you don’t know what you’re talking about. All of this stuff you’re telling me in the war games. I said, no, this is not going to happen. What will happen is that the bloke is going to pick up a gun.
Interviewer: He is not going to be persuaded to surrender via his iPhone.
The Russians believed it too. The Russians were also hybrid warfare enthusiasts in their war colleges and war games, and so on.
So now, this is absolutely not new. In August 1914, when the fighting started in Europe..."
The suicidal alcoholics line is fine, because the reviewer clearly knows it isn't true but says it anyways because it's funny and directionally true (just look at Diogenes for example). But the earnest talk of 5th Generational Warfare and warfare without kinetics has convinced me that the reviewer is like the Russian generals: they have no idea what they're actually talking about. I'm not sure if it's a problem with the book, or the reviewer's interpretation of it, but clearly something is missing from this description of reality. Russia tried to conduct a coup through information warfare, as the review proscribes ("If you want to actually seize power, you will need to conduct a coup"), a coup de main for a swift and relatively bloodless victory a la the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and the Prague Spring in 1968. In February, they eschewed mere kinetics for focusing on how "the internet has made each of us a node in a global network", choosing not to bombard the enemy army from the air like the US did in the Gulf War and the Invasion of Iraq in favor of propaganda bombardments like the iPhone messaging trick. They did everything the reviewer prescribes as the route to power: "The subtle ubiquity of the spectacle allows a level of dominance that dictators can only dream of..."
And yet the average Ukrainian soldier picked up a gun and started shooting back when they were invaded, rather than fall like puppets before a form of war where "the brain is the terrain". Such aphorisms are nice and all, but are they actually true? 5th Generational Warfare is one of the best examples of the theory of the Spectacle in action: a war fought by mass media where "the universal victory of form over function and style over substance" finally applies to actual warfare instead of just culture wars and political battles. And yet it failed. Crashed and burned in fact, like the VDV helicopters at Hostomel Airport.
Honestly, the victory of reality over Spectacle here throws the entire idea of "the Spectacle" into doubt. This was its big chance: the Spectacle as conducted by the masters of the art, the very inventors of disinformation according to the book itself. Now it all sounds like a bunch of useless deepities about "universal victory" and "the brain is the terrain". Glittering generalities, or as TV Tropes calls it, Concepts Are Cheap. Or to put it more savagely, a bunch of delusions by a bunch of people who think they're King Cnut and can overpower reality by the power of their voice alone (in the version of the story where Cnut actually believes this rather than trying to show why it's false). Perhaps the theory of the Spectacle still works in politics and media, where words are all there is... but it certainly doesn't work elsewhere, where NLAWs and Starstreaks stubbornly continue to operate despite the assertion that this is "how power really operates". It's all looking very naïve.
“The Society of the Spectacle will make no sense if the reader feels there is nothing fundamentally wrong with contemporary society.”
I guess that describes me, because I got almost nothing out of reading this review. No offense intended to the reviewer: I strongly doubt I would have found much of value in the book itself.
These arguments about how modernism is destroying people's lives seem rooted in an utter lack of perspective. Pre-modern life was, for the vast majority of people, incredibly miserable. Most people were peasants who had to spend the bulk of their time doing arduous manual labor, eating barely enough food to survive, with little or no hope of upward mobility. Quality of life was abysmal by modern standards, constant discomfort and hunger and exhaustion and sickness were the norm. Ideas like "the 40 hour work week" and "retirement" were completely unheard of. Nobles got to enjoy more luxuries (though still fewer than even a moderately poor first-worlder today), but also had to deal with constant competition that could and often did turn deadly. Women and children had almost no agency whatsoever, they were very frequently subject to physical and emotional abuse, and rape was commonplace. People with deformities, disabilities, and mental illnesses were shunned at best and often treated as subhuman, or simply killed outright. Queer people were similarly maligned. And everyone had to live under the constant threat of banditry, conquest, war, despotism, famine, and disease. No one had anywhere close to the level of security and stability that even people in poorer countries enjoy today. And that's assuming you're not one of the one-in-three people who simply died in infancy or early childhood. Or a slave whose lot in life was to be literally worked to death in the mines.
But even beyond all of the obvious horrors, people in pre-modern times lacked so many wonderful things that we take for granted. Everyone with a smartphone has access to nearly all of the world's collective knowledge right at their fingertips! We have forms of visual and interactive media that would've been inconceivable to people from previous centuries, and a sheer abundance of art and entertainment options (spanning a truly enormous variety of mediums, formats, genres, and flavors) that former generations could only have dreamed of. Advances in communications and transportation technology have allowed us to build connections with people across the world, bridging cultural divides.
The Industrial Revolution and its consequences were the best thing to ever happen to the human race, to the point where I would describe it as almost miraculous.
>As an example: how much of your daily environment, as a percentage, do you truly understand? Look around the room and reflect on how “even the most mundane aspects of life have become impenetrable and unbreathable.” Your kitchen and your medicine cabinet are filled with mystical objects. Hell, just look at what’s on your person. The phone in your hand, the cash in your wallet, the clothes on your back, the food in your belly - how many lifetimes would it take to truly grok the building blocks of everyday existence?
On the contrary, I think that the world around us is more comprehensible than ever (even accounting for how much more complicated it is). I don't know all those building blocks off the top of my head, but I know a surprising amount, and if I need to go deeper I know where to look.
I recently replaced the switch in a ceiling fan by following directions I got off of Youtube. 50 years ago, the wiring of the fan would have been a black box - I wouldn't have known if the switch was replaceable, unless I actually personally took a screwdriver to it to see for myself and hoped that I could put it back together when I was done, and doing so might turn out to be a big waste of time. Instead, I got my answers in about an hour of searching and correctly estimated that I could do the whole thing on a Sunday afternoon.
The universe has *always* been mind-bogglingly vast and incomprehensible, the only thing that modern society has done is allow us to *notice* this fact. We can now grasp enough of the universe that we actually have some vague idea of how little it is we know. But by the same token, when we *need* to grasp something it's now within our power to do so. I think it's wrong to say that the Spectacle has *replaced* some previous deeper understanding that we once had - we never had such an understanding to begin with, and even if the Spectacle has paved over the nuances of far-off lands it's also revealed dizzying depths to anyone who's willing to look.
Dang. I'd been feeling underwhelmed by the book reviews to date. This is the first one that really wowed me. I feel like I understand the concepts of this book better than I would have had I forced myself through its... turgidity, and the critiques of it were reasonable, insightful, and gloriously concise.
More and more I find myself falling back on the Kierkegaardian adage: "The crowd is untruth".
I feel like every other assertion in this review was false, and likely it’s subject had about as high a hit rate.
Journalism was hardly ever “pure”, before the modern age, during it, or after.
People still have large parts of their life mediated by the real. Less than before, but still huge portions.
I haven’t forgotten any of those elements of the past, and I had a computer and good internet since age 10 in ~1991. But I still remember and cherish navigating without a device, often read paper books, and think fondly of times when not everyone was reachable.
IDK this seems like a the maunderings of a mopey college student determined to take the negative view of things. Sure there are some insights sprinkled among the dross, but that is no great feat for any intelligent person when throwing out so many ideas.
So far as I can tell, this was a solid review, though that's weird to say when Debord as presented doesn't make any sense to me.
I guess my base confusion is: What were Debord's values/what did he think "better" would even mean? Lack of clarity in how to *reach* socialist utopia I don't begrudge, but I'm not clear about what would make it Utopian. What would make it distinct from the present world such that I would want to live there?
Normally my complaint about Utopians is "building/sustaining their utopia would require humans to behave utterly differently than they have for all of history", but here it's "I'm not even sure what he wants".
Edit to clarify: I don't accept "end capitalism" as an answer here, because 1) it's rarely clear in practice what that would even mean and more importantly 2) saying "X is bad" is not a substitute for specifying "Y is good"
I thought about the Amish shortly after reading this, and I think they make a few things a bit awkward.
They seem to be doing a lot of core things Debord wants. They don’t have the Spectacle and their society seems built to resist developing it. They value personal relationships a lot, and that seems to be the opposite of the fake and phonie relationships you have via the media and technology. They are decentralized: they organize in congregations that can share overlapping territory. I don’t think you can put a label on their economics. Personal relationships seem to be the basis for those kinds of interactions at least as much as formal, sterile rules. That seems to cover a lot of what The Real is getting at. At least as much as I understand The Real and The Amish.
It seems like spending a period of time living with the Amish would work as a litmus test for his ideas. I doubt they are exactly what he wants, but he probably could have refined his ideas a lot had he tried it. Has he ever considered any embedded society like that?
Skimming a second time, I think the part about a movement being decentralized vs centralized and working within the system vs remaining outside of it. It notices there is a contradiction. I think that contradiction comes from the requirement that this movement be a singular movement. It centralizes one thing: either we all do it all at one, or none of do. If you get rid of that requirement, the contradiction goes away. And we know that can work since the Amish already exist.
One of the things that Marxists like to point out is that technological progress is not this inhuman, deterministic process that always spits out the best possible technology for the place and time it finds itself in. So, in the lens of the spectacular society, it becomes very interesting indeed that technologies which impact on the real are often much more heavily restricted and shackled than technologies which impact on the unreal (i.e. that sustain and entrench the spectacle).
Want to genetically engineer a new crop plant which could feed millions? Then you will spend millions of dollars and decades worth of time after the fact on field trials to make sure that *this* version of corn doesn't randomly give us all cancer and/or become a super-weed. Want to create a new medicine to cure malaria? Well then get ready to spend millions of dollars and another decade getting it through trials after the lab work is done. Want to create a new source of grid-scale power or self-driving vehicle? I hope you like wading through about a billion cross-cutting regulations and permit procedures with a dozen government agencies.
On the other hand: want to release a new model of phone that sends every bit of data from its cameras, microphone, GPS antenna, inertial sensor etc. to an unsecured data centre? You can do it tomorrow. Want to develop an AI able to reliably fake the likeness of anyone on the planet using a few clips of video as a primer? Then it will be published in an open access journal and the code made open source.
The result is that, while we live in a world where the end of hunger and sickness are just as likely as the creation of the first non-human sapience or the linking of neurons to silicon, we're a lot closer to fully realistic, procedurally generated pornography (the pornucopia) and perfectly realistic CGI than we are to underwater cities, uplifted animals or cybernetic limbs.
I would object to calling Covid or the war in Ukraine "pseudoevents". Maybe the US has the luxury of thinking about Ukraine that way, but I can assure you it's very real in Europe. Instead I'd say that one of the pathologies of the spectacle is that people lose the ability to distinguish pseudoevents from real events, and hence lose the ability to act in the face of real danger. Covid is a great example; it was just another pandemic scare story like the dozens before it, until YOU land in the hospital and realize that sometimes, newspaper headlines actually jump off the page and bite.
Great review, one of the best so far.
Which begs the question: why are there not more communes/communities popping up where one can opt out of the spectacle?
>But this artificial substitute has been about as successful as vegan chicken nuggets.
Okay, look, I'm not smart or well-read enough to directly challenge any of the other copius claims made in this review (or by Debord of Directors). But this is just patently false. Take it from a grocer with access to sales data: these are one of our most popular products *of all time*, we sell dozens of cases every week. As or more popular than every variety of "real" chicken nugget we sell, combined. And they taste great! Almost indistinguishable from the Real McCoy in every way, as long as they're cooked (but then who'd ever eat a raw nugget anyway). Which, yes, we A-B test all the time because there's literally a McDonald's right nextdoor to purchase Control Group McNuggets at. If you wanna talk about the Territory biting a poor Map in the ass, then boy, have I got news for you.
(Yeah, I know it's just a throwaway joke, like many of the other kind-of-mean, kind-of-sneering ones peppered throughout. [Did Freddie deBoer write this as a satire? I'd laugh.] But a book review of a book criticizing spectacle shouldn't be making spectacular claims itself, I think.)
More substantively, I don't really think it's fair to put that giant cop-out disclaimer at the top; "you can only disagree with this book [and implicitly the review] if you hold this absurd Pollyanna strawman view". That just tells me ahead of time that I'm gonna get very little in the way of content or epistemic humility from what follows, so I'll be reading extra-critically and potentially defensively. And, sorry to say, my suspicions aren't exactly refuted: what follows is a *technically* well-written, highly literate review of some truly wacky Kool-aid level ideas. But there's just so little there, there. Every invocation of "we", every example given of Totally Relatable Thing, every ahistorical nihilist doomer griple...I am just like, what are you talking about, man? Maybe I'm just one of those mythical pre-spectacular people whose soul got sent through SERN's time machine or something, but this so strikes me as just a more analog version of today's Very Online armchair criticism. Protip: the Spectacle is not the Territory. Claiming "we" are all hopelessly lost in it is to grant it far more power than it actually has. "The Devil's greatest trick is convincing us that He does not, in fact, exist"
I mean, shit, it even linked to Meditations on Moloch. Does it not strike anyone as weird that the review strives mightily to project the appearance of raging valiantly against the dying of the light, without first checking to see if said light is actually dying? Instead I mostly get the sense of liking or appreciating this doorstopper of Critical Theory doomscrolling, the sort of sad shaking of head, "gosh, Debord is so right...we're screwed, we're screwed, we're really, really screwed. Sad!" It's a post-hoc rationalization, taking an arbitrarily Old Text from <year> and pattern-matching it onto The Present Discontents, and then declaring it as Wisdom of the Ancients. Many other reviews tried this same shoehorn, but at least those shoes fit better. This one is a stretch.
There's this entire part of the review reminding us that we pine for an imagined 1960s (Your Era May Vary), but then this actual contemporary text says the 1960s were Not All That, things were already Going To Shit back then. No, the *true* golden age was an even *earlier* era, the pre-Spectacle Society of <year - n>...do you know what we'd probably be able to find if we went and looked at contemporary art from <year - n>? People saying that the True Golden Age of the Triforce was even further back than that. I notice that this is an infinitely regressable pattern, almost as if disaffectedness with modernity leads one to conjure up an imagined Eden of yesteryear. At no point does actual objective reality step over and tap one on the shoulder, whisper "it's not so bad, mate, look how far infant mortality has fallen!" or such. Not if one is determined not to hear.
So I will go ahead and define terms, even if Debord didn't: The Spectacle is Social Reality. It's bullshit, Debord's book looks like a stone one wouldn't even want to squeeze blood from if they needed a transfusion, and at best I can say this review is a world-class attempt at putting lipstick on a highly Situational pig. It is the very thing it critiques, a triumph of style over substance. E for Effort though.
 Which, to be clear, I do think has some valuable ideas amidst all the ennui and je ne sais quois. The emphasis on materialist analysis seems like a Super Valuable Thing these days, a clear repudiation of fudging Maps to hide inconvenient Territory: https://www.slowboring.com/i/33907831/the-good-and-the-bad
I see a lot of the following criticism (paraphrased):
Writer says that everything's F'ed today.
Writer is wrong because things were way worse yesterday.
Can we call it the Pinker Fallacy?
Hey I eat vegan chicken nuggets every now and then and they're totally great. I mean, junk food will remain junk food but they're just as tasty as the non-vegan stuff!
> For that matter, why are we up in arms about Ukraine and not, say, Yemen? There are clear reasons why - they just have nothing to do with democracy, sovereignty, war crimes, or human rights. I don't mean to say that nobody cares about those things. We all do, at least in a vague and abstract way. But that collective concern only becomes acute when the spectacle brings it into focus.
It is not so bad. Difference is that in Ukraine
- there are clearly actionable things, including doable by regular people
- there is a decent chance of success or at least reducing damage
- there is a clear evil and nonevil side, quite close to optimal as possible in wars
So spectacle started here for quite good reasons (and plenty of not so good reasons, like special interests, politics, Europeans not really so much about people dying in Middle-East and caring more about own indirect security threat than full-scale genocides far away)...
But here reasons for spectacle were quite clear and valid ones.
I've been thinking about some of the issues raised in this review recently, so the timing of this is quite fortuitous.
I think we're actually at a pretty important inflection point with all of this.
It used to be the case that capitalism offered us a somewhat fair deal. Yes we were required to transform into automatons 9-5, 5 days a week, but in exchange for selling 70-80% of your life to capitalism, you would be able to buy a house and each year you would get a bit richer and be able to afford nicer things.
Now, because of issues like global warming, we are told to keep working as before (or even harder!) but to expect a reduced standard of living in exchange. Don't go on foreign holidays. Don't heat your homes so much or use AC. Ride the bus instead of driving an SUV. Repair clothes instead of buying new. Drink out of a pathetic paper straw instead of a plastic one. And so on.
Is this sustainable for society? I'm not so sure.
I have to confess that I used to be one of these Ben Shapiro-esque free-market bedtime fondlers, but now I think there needs to be a new social contract if we are to accept a lower standard of living in order to save the planet.
I'm interested in communities like the travellers, Amish, Hasidic Jews and the communist kibbutzim. People in these communities don't participate in 21st capitalism like the rest of us, and they seem perfectly happy with a less commodified life.
Maybe people who feel cheated by the system we live in now would be happy to trade in their smart phones and foreign holidays for a new way of life along the lines of these communities?
Religion or extreme political ideology tends to be the glue that helps keep the above-mentioned communities together, but I'm a right-wing, vegetarian atheist so I don't think simply applying to join the Amish is the way forward.
So maybe it's time to look at creating a new start -up community (or commune, for my Marxist comrades out there) along the lines of these existing communities but not with any religious or ideological foundation.
If a rich benefactor like Peter Thiel would donate money to a start-up community like this, I could see it being truly transformative in a way that seasteading or charter cities probably never will be.
We don't need a sovereign state to give up their territory so that it can be run like the Rapture of Bioshock. A start-up community could exist within the confines of an existing state, but we'd just do our own thing away from the rest of society, and if people wanted to join us after noticing we're happier, they'd be free to do so.
I'm just putting this out there to see what other people think. Are the above the ramblings of a mad man, or am I on to something? Let me know!
> This is not a fantasy - this is your news feed. The U.S. is predicting a false-flag attack by Russia in the Ukraine. Russia accused the UK of a false-flag attack in Syria. The U.S. accuses China of genocide. China and Iran claimed COVID was a U.S. bio-attack.
> It goes on and on and on. They all want us to trust them and no one else. Behold the future of international politics
Why future? It is nothing new and was present since ancient times, just with a different mediums and stories.
Very clever stuff, you have to admire those red-pill Marxist philosophes, though wouldn't want to be one!
This is a great review. It oscillates hard between thrilling epistemological analyses and staggering lapses in common sense. I'd love to have a glass of wine with the author; I wouldn't take their financial advice in a million years (this is the mark of a true philosopher). Particularly well-written are the passages on experts, terrorism, and the conclusion. Here is some of the stuff I thought was wrong:
On "true competence":
> The all-pervasive nature of mass media has led to the universal victory of form over function and style over substance: "It is in these conditions that a parodic end of the division of labor suddenly appears, with carnivalesque gaiety, all the more welcome because it coincides with the generalized disappearance of all true competence. A financier can be a singer, a lawyer a police spy, a baker can parade his literary tastes, an actor can be president, a chef can philosophize on the movements of baking as if they were landmarks in universal history."
Cross-domain achievement by a single person is the product of 20th century mass media? We literally call such people "renaissance men." Occam's razor says that there are some fundamental variables that would make someone skilled at a few different things, and if you get lucky and score high on a few of these variables, you'll probably succeed in more than one domain.
On black boxes:
> As an example: how much of your daily environment, as a percentage, do you truly understand? Look around the room and reflect on how “even the most mundane aspects of life have become impenetrable and unbreathable.” Your kitchen and your medicine cabinet are filled with mystical objects.... Compare that to, say, a homesteader.
I know that if I accidentally take my partner's medicine I'll experience nausea and fatigue. If I neglect to take mine, I'll experience an uptick in intrusive thoughts. Admittedly I don't understand the mechanism by which either works. The homesteader knows that mushrooms that look like X will nourish him. Mushrooms that look like Y will make him ill. Mushrooms that look like Z will result in a repeat of that incident where he was found trying to ride one of the cows into the lake. He doesn't understand the mechanism by which these things work either. The substantive difference is that in the case of my medicine cabinet, there actually is someone out there who understands the mechanism (though in the case of MY medicine, the mechanistic understanding is so piss-poor that I might as well be the homesteader. I think my partner's medicine is generally better understood than mine). Humans are animals, and we are just much better suited to "metis" than we are to "episteme". Aristotle *defined* us as animals that had the misfortune of stumbling into episteme. If deBord were born a few hundred years earlier he would seek out the same philosophical conundrum in the mushrooms (he'd probably find it too). The author offers a much better take on the relative ignorances of myself and the homesteader in the conclusion. I wish that this line of reasoning had been given the real estate that was afforded to other stuff in section three.
The single most glaring problem is (of course) the non-critique of capitalism. I apologise for fulfilling the author's prophecy about the comment section.
Here are a few different characterisations of capitalism the author offers:
1. Debord correctly perceived the totalitarian nature of spectacular capitalism. Your time, your attention, your opinions - all are bought and sold, and can be influenced to better facilitate such transactions.
2. organizing all of existence around the bottom line
3. Unsurprisingly, capitalism is the best system for the accumulation of capital. And despite their pretensions, communist societies had the same goals as every modern nation - wealth, prosperity, innovation, and growth.
Most of the capitalist states I know of have a minimum wage, restrictions on what goods/services one can sell, etc. So the first two characterisations are strawmen. The third characterisation sounds ...kind of okay? Who is against innovation and prosperity? If you want to convince people that the mixed economies of most rich modern nation states are failing us so badly that we should be willing to give a forum to people who–by their own admission–"don't have any better ideas," a helpful starting point would be concrete examples of failure. I actually can't find any in the review! Just lots of vague abstract criticisms. Please correct me and provide examples if I'm wrong about this.
> The workday used to be determined by the work, but now the work is determined by the workday. And everyone has to work, not because we need what they produce, but because we need them to spend - else the whole thing comes crashing down.
There is a not-so-subtle logical equivocation happening here on "they." If you remove any one individual's contribution to economic productivity, all other things being fixed, then sure, there is no collapse. But if you remove everyone's contribution then obviously we'll all be hungry tomorrow. Similarly with consumption. If you remove my consumption in isolation it's all good; if you remove everyone's consumption it's a problem.
When the author talks about "production," they apply the "single individual in isolation" interpretation. When the author talks about "consumption," they apply the "all individuals at once" frame. By doing so they create this verbal illusion that modern society is all consumption and no production. This is obviously false, and just a relic of poor logic.
As regards "the work is determined by the workday", there is a serious discussion to be had about potential misincentives created by paying employees by the hour when what you really want is the conclusion of some concrete task. But it's certainly a lot less sexy than "we need them to spend - else the whole thing comes crashing down."
On functionally indistinguishable beliefs:
> But in practice, the science is received wisdom, taken on faith. Our belief in the God Particle is functionally indistinguishable from the belief in God of ages past.
This passage made me stop in my tracks and ask two questions. I've spent too much time writing this damn comment so I'm not going to answer them, I'll just leave them here in case anybody gets this far:
1. We have an unfortunate tendency to characterise science as some combination of string theory and dinosaur studies. But that's really not the bulk of it. What if we substitute "God Particle" with "Newton's second law" ? Or "antigens"?
2. What happens when we substitute "God Particle" with "French critical theory" ?
Like Drukhari bloodsports on Twisted Tuesday, the Spectacle is great fun... till you realize that audience participation is mandatory :)
Great review. I like to think of the spectacle at what an "evolutionary transition in individuality" looks like from the inside. As the unit of natural selection moves from the individual to the culture, and as the culture expands, things start to move in a direction that individuals do not understand or desire. The two are misaligned: what makes a culture take over is not what's more rewarding to the individuals.
That's like a epithelial cell in the stomach thinking "in this new organism we no longer enjoy the reward of following a chemotactic gradient".
I have to admit this review baffled me. It seemed like the book was one big applause light and the reviewer didn't even notice. The fact it felt so prescient despite being from many decades prior should, IMO, have been more of a warning sign than a reason to get enthused.
Do we just get away with claims like, e.g. "While we’ve always been afraid of advances in weaponry, it’s starting to feel like everything is being weaponized" which was in the context of technology? Are LED lamps being weaponised? Are electric cars being weaponised? Is the ability to retrieve rockets for later use being weaponised? Is the James Webb telescope being weaponised? "But we don't mean that kind of technology!" Maybe not, but maybe then we should differentiate and say what we mean?
The reviewer commented on there being a lot of just-so claims from the author, but the review is also full of just-so claims. ctrl+f "most". No graphs, no citations, just a lot of claims, many of which I find highly dubious.
I'm disappointed by this review. I don't usually bother to say something like this, especially since I by default assume a lot of work went into making the review and I appreciate anyone putting an honest effort into summarising books, but I also found this review baffling enough that I wanted to speak up, in case the observation helps someone put a finger on their own feelings of weirdness about the review.
“For maybe the first time in history, most people are apprehensive about the relentless march of technology. ”
The rest of the review was pretty good, but, lol no. This is definitely not true. There was an entire movement called the Luddites in early industrial England who had this as their entire shtick. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite
Not to mention the Platonic dialogue where Socrates frets about new tech changing the mental abilities of the youth (Phaedrus 14, 274c-275b:)
If you like, I can go find half a dozen more examples
Debord was very influential when I was young, but as the decades passed, I came to see him, with the Frankfurt School, the Post-modernists, and now, I suppose the IdPol lobby that feeds off them, as essentially encapsulating the Politics of Masochism. It's all too big. They are too powerful. Even our thoughts are not our own. There is no hope. There is nothing to do except analyse in more and more detail why nothing can be done. Apart from the inherent oxymorons (if my thoughts are not my own then my thought that my thoughts are not my own is not my own either) it's actually a recipe for despair and suicide if you take it seriously. Yet many of the adherents of such ideas in more recent decades have successful careers as lecturers, authors and media personalities, although, by their own theories their ideas are not their own, and there is no hope. Work that out.
Im surprised that nobody seems to have pointed out the obvious fact that Cincinnatus didn't conduct a coup. His fellow-countrymen called on him to assume dictatorial power in *defense* of the state against invading barbarians. The whole point of that story is that he then *refused* to do the coup part when he blatantly could have.
Also and unrelatedly, you can hardly call something a work of philosophy if it takes for granted that the Communist revolution and downfall of capitalism are imminently impending, not even in 1967.
The whole time I was growing up I was part of a religious tradition that believed the bible was both literally true and held prophetic power. These people would see, e.g. the Invasion of Afghanistan and think of God's promise to destroy the enemies of Israel with fire from the heavens in Revelations.
When I left that tradition, I, like many apostates, got embarrassingly into Ayn Rand. Towards the end of The Fountainhead, the villain, Ellsworth Tooey, gives a long monologue (because it's Ayn Rand) about how in the future, we will just reflect our opinions back to one another, ostracizing or even killing those whose opinions diverge. I saw this, at the time, as incredibly prescient. A prediction from nearly a century ago about the internet and cancel culture.
Of course, Israel has long had enemies that were killed with fire. And of course, human beings have long struggled with the dichotomy between individualism and coherent culture. These were not prescient, it was completely foreseeable that these things would happen in some way at some time. But the specifics were almost impossible to predict. One could guess that someone would bomb Israel's enemies, but one could absolutely not guess that a terror attack would bring the U.S. into conflict with the Taliban. One could guess that at some point in the future there would be a censorious movement in the U.S. But one could not guess that the creation of social media would allow for powerful populist movements that valued loyalty above truth.
The thing is, when we're evaluating the predictions of people we're inclined to agree with, we tend to use the likelihood of the specific "predicted" event as our judge of how prescient and brilliant the predictor is. But the *correct* metric is the likelihood that what the person said would happen. That's a function of how specific the prediction is and how unlikely it is.
So for instance when we hear:
"It is an inevitable effect of clandestine forms of organization of the military type that it suffices to infiltrate a few people at certain points of the network to make many march and fall" we shouldn't think specifically about a current event in which controlled opposition plays a part. We should instead go "huh, yeah, that is inevitable, since it's been happening in every society for so long that Machiavelli also wrote about it."
Anyway, having this be a major part of my upbringing and young adulthood has made me hyper-vigilant about it, and I might be overcorrecting, but that's why this review failed to land with me.
People saying "But of course things are better, we have so many great gadgets now and our lives are so much longer and more comfortable" might profit from looking up John C. Calhoun's mouse utopia experiment. It turns out that physical ease and comfort doesn't actually guarantee flourishing:
Also of relevance is the hedonic treadmill. Most people nowadays don't actually feel any happier at not having to labour in the fields all day, because they just take it for granted, and ditto with all the other modern conveniences that we don't even think about. Hence modern people aren't psychologically better-off as a result of technological advances than pre-modern people.
I thought the early part of the review was quite interesting. I've never encountered Debord, and the reviewer introduced many ideas that seem fruitful. I was initially enthusiastic. However, I wound up very frustrated, primarily, I think, due to two factors:
1) When strings of insights that have the potential to open up inquiry and enrich analysis and understanding of experience are linked into a comprehensive theory, they tend to lose their fruitfulness to the degree that a reductionist model encloses their interpretive possibilities. The insights become tools of the model, and, to succeed as a tool, the model inevitably involves massive reduction. There are many ways this seems to be visible here, from the simplistically imagined lives of people in the past to the cartoonish portraits of historical eras. Debord's "Spectacle," which seems to have elements anticipated in the non-theoretical popular books of Vance Packard and in McLuhan's writings in the '60s, also seems a variation on open-ended French phenomenology and existentialism of the 1940s and '50s, which respond to or extend Marx's insights on alienation, molded into a form designed to compete with closed historicist models derived from Hegel and Marx. It's not that those models don't have a lot of value, but what's valuable in them is often reduced to caricature within the model itself.
2) As the reviewer becomes more entranced by Debord's prescience in anticipating the future, he seems to me to indicate that he himself does not have a lot of appreciation of what I'd call the recent past (having grown up in the '50s--the date 1984 still seems a futuristic to me). When he discusses Debord's 1987 ideas, for example, he appears amazed that Debord seems to anticipate the 24-hour news cycle phenomenon, but in my recollection (refreshed by Wikipedia) it was precisely soon after CNN was created in 1980 that the idea first became stylish, and the evanescence of news significance became a theme. Russian disinformation--is it really possible not to be aware of how pervasive a notion this was from the 1950s on (although I don't recall the word "disinformation" being used; it was folded into the term "propaganda," and familiar to anyone who had read Orwell, or about him)? "Terrorism" as a conservative state foil was a theme in the years after the Weathermen and Red Brigades had been put down; the Munich Olympics were in 1972, and terrorism in the Middle East and Ireland was constant news. Universal surveillance, the (as yet, I think, unnamed) "apophenia" of conspiracy theories . . . Yes, things are worse now then they were then, but things were worse then than they were before then, and these ideas were not prophetic in 1987 and suddenly born with the Internet.
If you are *actually* interested in the solution to what comes after capitalism then I wrote up the answer to that some years ago on Quora: https://www.quora.com/Are-there-any-political-ideologies-that-are-better-than-Capitalism-and-Communism-which-can-be-applied-in-the-real-world-politics/answer/James-Green-265
To cryptically summarise it: trying to force one simple system to do everything isn't it.
I liked your overall conclusion. People complain about lots of things in our current world (media, social media, inequality etc) but generally things are better than in the past. A lot of what makes people miserable is through their own poor choices. If you instead choose to work hard, limit addictive/polarizing media, and spend time with family and nature, life in the current world can be fulfilling and more interesting than in the past. Unless you want the government to choose what you should be exposed to (eg China), then take responsibility to make the healthy choices for yourself.
Thoroughly entertaining writing style!
hope this person has a blog and I remember to look it up when we find out who it is.
I am buying this work–it sounds incredible–as it will likely make a good companion to the Adorno and Horkheimer, my faves.
The near-to-last paragraph starting "True, our incomprehension........", was very beautifully written and rather profound. Thanks to the author for that! (and I wish Debord himself wrote that way)
> The phone in your hand, the cash in your wallet, the clothes on your back, the food in your belly - how many lifetimes would it take to truly grok the building blocks of everyday existence? [...] Compare that to, say, a homesteader. It really hasn’t been that long since people lived in a comprehensible universe. Our collective knowledge of the universe has deepened tremendously, but theoretical physics is only less slightly hermetical than the occult beliefs it replaced.
I would argue that there are multiple levels of understanding. Knowing how to use something (as a black box) versus knowing what makes something tick, how to build it.
The digital native is surrounded by gadgets they know how to use, but have only a vague idea of what makes them tick.
By contrast, an Old West homesteader also knows how to use the plants and animals they raise for a living, and may have some understanding of how to breed them for traits. But they don't know much about photosynthesis or how to build new plants by mixing traits from different species.
At least, the digital native has the (still limited) knowledge of the world regarding anything from CPUs to plants at their fingertips, even if it would take many lifetimes to understand everything. The homesteader likely does not even have access to the works of Mendel or whatever is cutting edge within their world in the first place.
> Is it any wonder epistemic learned helplessness is a thing?
Modest suggestion: provisionally accept paradigms as useful to the degree that they are used to create new, working technologies. If you see a steam engine and their designers claim that it works on thermodynamics rather than by trapping a fire spirit inside, thermodynamics is likely useful. If every producer of mobile phone claims they run on semiconductors, the likely explanation is that solid state physics (and thus quantum mechanics) are useful. If you offer a different explanation, e.g. 'semiconductors work because foundries bind the spirits of dead animals (or people) into them', by Occam's Razor, the burden of proof is with you.
Of course, this approach does not help with cosmology, history and the like much.
Also, I would like to go on record defending the internet here. In 1960, A.J. Liebig observed that '[f]reedom of the press belongs to those who own one'. While large parts of the internet (netflix, candy crush, amazon, etc) are clearly a continuation of the spectacle by a few large corporations, the internet also broke the clear separation of content providers and content consumers. Sometimes this leads to QAnon. But sometimes it also leads to LessWrong.
I am also against idealizing pre-modern rural communities were everyone knew everyone. In a word, the sucked. Even aside from back-breaking labor, starvation and the like, I mean.
Entertainment-wise, you got the Sunday sermon, a few feasts a year, some visiting freak shows perhaps. I will take the internet with instant access to myriads of books, movies, tv shows, video games and subcultures any day of the week over that.
Also, in a community were everyone knows everyone, the individual is under lots of pressure to conform. If I were to piss off the ACX community and be banned for life, I would still have colleagues, virtual friends in other internet communities, a few real-life neighbors I know and so on. For a pre-modern rural community member, the threat of being shunned or cast out is possibly life-threatening. Other respectable communities likely won't accept outcasts, and the retirement plans for vagabonds, brigands, mercenaries and the like don't sound all that great.
IMHO, this very much limits the shifting of the overton window within such communities. If the grocery sellers in the market does not know you from Adam in the first place, you have to think a lot less about them refusing to selling you any vegetables because they disapprove of your opinions or something.
In the times of "apocryphal Chinese curse" it's very useful to be clear about life goals and your meaning of life. More precisely: to make sure that their objective part is meaningful and re-choose (consciously confirm) it's subjective part. See more details in here:
"Summing up meta-ethical conclusions that can be derived from Universal Darwinism taken to extremes" https://github.com/kiwi0fruit/ultimate-question/blob/master/articles/dxb.md
Aka: Buddha-Darwinism on objective meaning of life separated from subjective meaning of life (Cosmogonic myth from Darwinian natural selection, Quasi-immortality, Free will, Buddhism-like illusion of the Self).
"I know the names of Will Smith’s kids - I don’t even know if my best friends from high school have any"
I think you're an outlier here even today, though I agree this sort of thing is more common than it used to be
For a more neutral view about the nature and processes of longing tapped by various seekers of influence and pleasure, some might find this book useful. Glamour goes back well before mass media, but mass media certainly made it a more common form of rhetoric to experience.
Really interesting book, great writing style. My favorite community review so far.
This article demolished my world fourteen times.
This review is at least less gnomic, cloudy, and circular than Debord is, to judge by the quotations. Beyond that I didn't find it very appealing. I kept waiting for Debord's or at least the reviewer's ideas to cash out in some moderately concrete model or prediction. They never did. I didn't enjoy the slightly manic internetiness of the writing either. I don't doubt that the review (or Debord) is getting at something real, but in philosophy that's a rather low bar especially for theses this subjective.
The best quality of samzdat was making you feel how obtrusively, dauntingly weird philosophy could be if you took it seriously. The current review doesn't quite manage that and from what I can tell Debord doesn't quite manage it either; the required critical attitude isn't there, just hazy angst and speculation. Even so, I appreciated the reviewer's self-awareness and commitment to being interesting. As always, many thanks for contributing!
Tl;dr I'm not getting what the OP got out of Debord quotes. I just get Vagueness.
I think the OP is interpreting Debord too liberally.
My favorite, in part III, is where Debord talks about spectacle uniting people in their separateness. The OP interprets this in gist as a process similar to modern mindless scrolling through social media where They tell you how to be. I was so surprised by this 1967 insight that I read the entire review.
And what I'm getting out of Debord quotes is that he wrote so vaguely about so much, you could really interpret his writing to mean anything. The OP chooses to read him as a 1967 Nostradamus, who is also unreadably vague.
Maybe Debord sounds vague to me because I lack context? I'm very out of touch with modern "spectacle" and COMPLETELY out of touch with Debord time. (I had to google QAnon. I was generally aware of COVID and its controversies but the only thing I noticed personally was that I had to wear a mask sometimes and get a shot. I occasionally have to re-google who is the president of the US. And no, I'm not Amish on a farm---it's just that my Care About This neurons quit firing when people argue.)
"There is no exit to Plato’s Cave. It was only conceit that we ever thought we were more enlightened than our forebears. "
This part is untrue. There are better ways to live – for individuals, if not for the masses, but they are not easy.
What's required is the skills and temperament required to be a great (not just a good) scientist: of these the most important are
- prioritizing truth above everything else (including what you said last week, or what your mortal enemy said)
- being very aggressive in probing where your theory/understanding is incorrect
- consilience, namely forging links between different bodies of knowledge
This is not just pro-science happy-talk, it gets to the root of the issue. Consilience is what makes your knowledge of the world more real than just shadows on a cave, and what makes you substantially better positioned to judge what's nonsense (or what may be true but unimportant) in the stream of garbage factoids delivered to screens every days. Consilience is what allows you to get past epistemic learned helplessness, to see that while claims of ancient astronauts or worlds in collision are very sexy, they simply do not tie strongly to the rest of knowledge, whether history or astronomy. You DO know the kernel of eliable truth, it's the fixed point, or interesection, of all the different bodies of knowledge out there.
But this is not easy, sure! It requires a lot more reading and a lot less watching. Even worse, it requires reading a constantly changing set of materials, whereas it's so much easier to keep reading the same thing again and again (and pretending that you must be really smart because you understand everything you read). It requires constantly asking why, or where you disagree with what you're reading.
The point is Consilience. Falsifiability, sure, where feasible. Experiments, sure.
But Consilience more than anything else, especially now, is the master key. There's a reason E O Wilson made such a big deal about it.
(FWIW I see Debord as someone who does not live by those code, someone who prioritizes blame over truth. This is, of course, the natural human condition, to care much more about ways to attack our enemies, real or imagined, than to forget the damn enemies and attack Ignorance. And it presents in a lack of interest in Consilience, so we see lots of valid points, lots of good examples, but essentially Conspiracy Theory links between these points; a supposed unified theory of the world, but based on strawmanning the opposition and steelmanning one's own theory, rather than the reverse.
Is the point of Philosophy, for Debord, to understand the world, or to complain about it? I want the understanding, but he seems more interested in telling us that, obviously, OBVIOUSLY, the Society of the Spectacle is bad (so he doesn't have to justify this claim) and here are five hundred things related to its badness. That's not Consilience, that's theology, starting with the revealed truth and then asserting how that truth manifests itself in one item after another.)
In further thinking about the review of reviews,
Should you review a review, if you haven't read the original text?
Should a review of a review be judged against other prior reviews?
Why new reviews when existing reviews already exist?
When is a book review a review rather than a essay, which uses text as starting point.
To this end, I share this