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Tue Feb 7, 2012, 05:38 AM

I'm not trying to undermine Chomsky or anything he has to say.

I disagree that Debord is not "speaking to the same thing," as Chomsky is here. Chomsky is applying it to what you call "neo-imperialism" but in the end the concept is the same.

I used that link of an iPhone cover that says NOAM and is a homage to Chomsky as an example, because to me it exemplifies what Chomsky says is, "(offering) people something to pay attention to that's of no importance, that keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea to do something about." (Quote from the video in the OP.) I was trying to build a narrative there, which I clearly failed to do. The famous list so often displayed to deflect criticism of said technology just shows the disconnect, and shows mass diversion in all its glory.

Debord sums up the spectacle as, "the concrete inversion of life the autonomous movement of the non-living." That iPhone cover completely renders the iPhone itself something else, it is, as Noam says in the video, "a way to build up irrational attitudes to the submission of authority." Yes, I do consider it irrational to place a Noam Chomsky cover on a piece of equipment built by slave labor. It indeed, keeps people from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea to do something about.

As Debord writes in the Society of the Spectacle, "Under the shimmering diversions of the spectacle, banalization dominates modern society the world over and at every point where the developed consumption of commodities has seemingly multiplied the roles and objects to choose from." (Thesis 59.)

This criticism, both from Debord, and Chomsky, is 100% correct. It's indisputable. Consent is certainly manufactured in every way of our life, sports is but one way that is done.

My objection to this is that, ultimately, consent is manufactured because, again as Chomsky says in the video of the OP, "If you look closely at these things I think that they typically do have functions, that's why energy is devoted to supporting them." Sports has a function for the reasons I elucidated, an iPhone cover, likewise, has a function, and being able to print an iPhone cover with NOAM on it has a function.

Where I diverge from Debord goes deep. My main objection isn't about the spectacle (again, he and Chomsky are correct on that count), and that's where the whole "technologist" view comes in. Debord argues that industry requires specialization, a rather uncontroversial opinion at the time he wrote his stuff, but in modern times it is too abstract to really matter. Rather than go off on a tangent, I will simply pose two situations.

Why would I buy an iPhone built by slave labor? Why would I then go and buy an iPhone cover that has NOAM on it? I might buy the iPhone because it's the "trendy thing to do," and indeed, it, for me, creates a "social relationship between people that is mediated by images." I watched ads on TV, with trendy, cool people. I saw my friends with awesome setups, neat ear buds, pretty colorful gadgetry. They showed 'em off, I bought 'em. Our social relationship is mediated by the mass imagery that creates the narrative. And oh buddy does it sell so well. When I was a kid I loved new gadgets, but we were poor, and I never was able to get them. Thankfully. I probably would've drank the cool aid a long time ago and defended mass capitalist consumerism as so many do.

That process is undoubtedly authoritarian propaganda. I, who I consider a decent guy, would be going off and buying a nice slave produced labor object, and then, because of the propaganda, because of the diversion, I would lack any sort of "idea to do something about it." But I don't, which brings us to the other situation.

If, instead of an iPhone, we had an open hardware phone, that we either 1) built ourselves or 2) had a collective which built and sold them? Well, we wouldn't have the slave labor. But how or why would anyone want that phone? I posit, that if we are to be successful as the horrific and deplorable iPhone, we must embrace, and utilize the spectacle. We can channel it so that we can share ideas to do something about it.

As Chomsky says (again, OP video), mass media gets people "away from things that matter, and for that it's important to reduce their capacity to think."

As Eben Moglen says:

The most important unchangeable reality about human societies heretofore is the every human society since the beginning, whenever that was, has wasted almost all the brains it possessed.

It is, of course, something so natural to us that it strikes us as an odd aperçu when we meet it, but of course we know that it is true. We know that it is true, and that there wasn’t any way to prevent it from being true, even as we know that it’s an injustice. A deep injustice.

So let’s begin by recognizing, as Laura Nader was urging us to do, that one of the great problems about injustice is that, like power, it is most effective when it can succeed in remaining invisible. And one of the best ways of being invisible is to be something that everybody knows, but you can’t do anything about it, so you might as well forget. And so we forget – as we tend to forget every day when the newspaper isn’t headlined with the 50.000 children who starved to death yesterday – we forget that one of the fundamental characteristics of human societies heretofore has been their wastage of human brains. And I go around, and I say to people “How many of the Einsteins who ever existed were permitted to learn physics?”. And people think “Well, maybe one, maybe two – maybe Isaac Newton was another Einstein…” but of course the answer is “Almost none”; so few, in fact, that we know the names of them.

Which, had we educated all the Einsteins in the world, in physics, since the beginning, we couldn’t do, because there would be so many of them. And what we think of as the extraordinary characteristics of genius are primarily merely the selection function applied to human diversity, through radical injustice in access to the ability to learn. Which means, of course, that we know that – smart guys as we all are – we are really only the fraction of the smart guys in the world who’ve been allowed to learn anything, in a world where there are six billion people, most of whom will never be able to go to school. And their brains will starve to death.

By using the spectacle, by sharing technology, and by embracing mass publicly created media, I posit that, while Chomsky and Debord are and were correct, we have within us the capacity to make it so that people do think when they buy, acquire, build, or create a product for mass consumption. So, we enjoy TV shows, we enjoy listening to music, we enjoy playing with gadgets. Who cares, right? The institutional media (Manufacturing Consent) needn't be the root of that media, in fact, we should be able to kill it. If some kid pops on YouTube, I think that's wonderful, if that kid has a following, and it creates more media, that, to me, is brilliant. There's no institution behind it, it's, in effect, reversing the spectacle as Debord defines it. We would then have more social interaction, and less "thing worship."

You go down to a local community maker center, and you want a cell phone, a new, super cool cell phone that we have designed using open and public methods. Others in the center greet you, shake your hand, give you a little bit of information about the center, and how the technology works. You spend the entire day there, talking about technology, using your brain, eating everything up. Pow, you're not there to "have" the cell phone, you're there to be another human being who just so happens knows how to make and design one with the tools that are available. You'd still have "mass media," because people would still be placing sign-age out to get people to come to their maker center, there would be networks where people share their multimedia, be it music or their own self-created shows or whatever. There would still be independent media, news, and such. There's a more recent term to describe this, though it's been somewhat muddled, it's called the Prosumer. Basically we wouldn't have mere consumers anymore, but producer-consumers, where people share in open spaces the things that are important to them.

How does that play into sports? Well hell, we'd probably still have sports, as Chomsky said, it serves a useful function (if only entertainment). But would we have institutionalized media selling us professional sports? I doubt it very much. I couldn't see it going further than a college level, and I think that with the destruction of institutional media it will be impossible for mass institutionalized media to take hold in that arena (no pun intended).

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