Adam Garfinkle explores the Age of Spectacle, artificial intelligence, and the politics of the unreal.
Such a joy to read Adam's analyses as always. His critique is painstakingly apt. I am always marveling at the limitless post-truth person, tilting at every windmill hyperpartisan incapable of critical thought and self-reflection, who doesn't even believe merit exists, let alone parsing information on its merits. What worries me is that in a Kantian sense, this is an age bereft of objectivity and therefore lacking morality; and lacking independent judgment, we're incapable of moral judgment. We cease to be individuals. Now we're plastic automata, who, like cult followers believe, are the play-actors of transcendent spirituality. Which forecasts I think Ivan Karamazov's "everything is permitted." ""Let viper eat viper world." If there is no higher purpose for ourselves, and so none for politics, it explains how everything is a reductive, zero sum race to the bottom in every context. Net zero in the context of the climate apocalypse is magical thinking too. Not just Trump supporters or the progressive left are addled by conspiracy theories, but even educated people with political experience, like John Kerry and the self-important idiots at the World Economic Forum. Crisis and doom plague the 21st century. AI entrepreneurs are addicted to spectacle, but I think the scientists panicking about it too are addicted to spectacle in the sense of Net Zero people. Soon AI doom will be a business and there will be John Kerry's and Leonardo Dicaprio's going around and talking about how AI is going to kill all of us. From our social lives, to geopolitics, macro to micro, and back: the personal and the political have become so intertwined without principles, that we become susceptible to grand unificationist schemas that are life and death. Ironically it's awfully boring how excitable people are, which makes writing about it hard, because you feel like you're taking too seriously people who are idiots, and perhaps you feel like them, overreacting to something. If you worry about AI, you can be afraid you're indulging conspiracy theories. I'm a nervous person, and I get hung up that I'm hung about something if that makes sense, in my obsessive effort not to panic or believe in anything grand. Adam should do a supplementary post about how to deal with mass hysteria with awareness of the paradoxes in which the task of analysis subjects you.
I'm sorry, I had to quit reading when I got to this nonsense:
"It’s easy to dismiss these people as bonkers, but there are so many of them, making such a wide variety of wildly irrational claims. Not since the early seventeenth century have so many Westerners inhabited a world like this, populated with village wizards and cunning men, astrology and prophecies, spells and witches. This can’t safely be ignored."
There aren't that many people who think that masking kids in schools, for example, will incur the wrath of God. There are a LOT of people who think it was wrong, a serious government overreach, and serious indictment of those who told us to follow the science, then didn't. If the author consider that second group of folks to be village wizards or cunning men (or even village idiots), then...well...I've nothing to say...
Not all the way through the article yet, but this stopped me cold. Cold, I say...
"The conflation of news and entertainment produces a spectacle, and spectacles induce a craving for more and bigger spectacles. This is the source of our political dysfunction."
I don't agree with this, not at all. I agree that people love spectacle. I agree that often folks conflate news with entertainment. I disagree that it is the source of our political dysfunction.
The source of our political dysfunction is that what passes for news and commentary has become balkanized, we have retreated to our "ideological" corners, and we don't buy anything the guy in the other corner has to say.
I live in a small town in the northwest corner of Washington state. A very liberal county, but a very conservative Christian community. Trump came here, for some reason or another. I think the late Doug Erickson (state Senator)...argh...it doesn't matter. Anyway...the point is this little town is Hard MAGA. We are FTTSs (Full Throated Trump Supporters), or at least we were. Most people I talk to, people who had previously said thing to me like "You NeverTrumpers are unhinged!", now tell me they don't like Trump. They'd vote for him over Biden for sure. They think he was wronged in 2020 for sure. They think his indictment is a political witch hunt for sure. But they no longer want him for President. They've come to realize that he is a net negative for the Republican party and conservatives. They don't actually like the spectacle. I think what they want is to go back to the days of Tip O'neil and Ronald Reagan, when we played the game between the 40 yard lines, and we could go out for a beer with our political "frenemies". Anyway...I'm rambling when I should be working...will continue to read the article later...
This is semi related but I am wondering if Claire or any of the other Globalists have ever seen this seminar the Computer History Museum in California did on the proto internet Minitel system in France in the 1980s that fore-shadows many of the same fights we have today over the internet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlUmxUB9RhI
Excellent analysis, and diagnosis. What's the prescription?
“The better part of Trump’s base is there for the spectacle, and so are the better part of his detractors. The thrilling shows of humiliation and counter-humiliation recall pro-wrestling, and Trump understands this perfectly. This is why his campaign involves no serious policy proposals.” (Adam Garfinkle)
Garfinkle’s series has been thought provoking and very interesting. I think he’s right about a lot of things but his Trump obsession makes his argument weaker not stronger. He’s right that Trump is a creature of the media and that Trump and the media have developed a symbiotic relationship rooted in the American thirst for spectacle. But to say that Trump has no serious policy positions is simply wrong. He has many policy positions and he’s never been shy about promoting those positions or about enacting them regardless of what so-called “experts” thought.
Trump looked at the crisis at the American southern border and he advocated building a wall. People of good will can differ about the potential efficacy of this proposal but it is a serious position.
Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and he moved our embassy to West Jerusalem. Few people know more about the Middle East than Adam but there’s simply no way to argue with a straight face that this wasn’t a serious policy decision.
What differentiates Trump from his predecessors is that while they all claimed the same position (Jerusalem is Israel’s capital) only Trump actually meant what he said. His predecessors lied; Trump told the truth.
The same is true of Trump’s decision to recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Height.
When John Kerry was Obama’s Secretary of State he stated unequivocally that Israel’s Arab neighbors would never sign a separate peace agreement with Israel. Trump appointed his untested son-in-law to accomplish the impossible. Remarkably he succeeded. To claim that Trump is devoid of policy ideas and ambitions is simply not true.
While Adam mentioned Trump and AI to support his thesis, he neglected to mention the single greatest evidence supporting the idea that Americans are increasingly addicted to spectacle and ever greater dopamine hits. The media obsession with trans issues proves his point perfectly. What could be a bigger spectacle than men pretending to be women and women pretending to be men. Biological males competing with biological women in sports is a great spectacle. A bigger spectacle is the prospect of a penis being reshaped into a clitoris and the other way around. These sexual spectacles are now being promoted to children. Aren’t drag shows designed to be grand spectacles?
I wonder why Adam never mentioned any of this. Perhaps it never occurred to him. Another possibility is that like his fellow deep readers well grounded in academia, it’s simply too threatening to mention our current sexual spectacle in a critical or even objective way. After all, a wrong-turn or simple unintended but ambiguous turn of a phrase is all it takes to get someone like Adam permanently cancelled. As a matter of fact, the process of cancellation becomes a spectacle in its own right. It’s the 21st century version of a public execution or even a lynching.
Ultimately, Adam Garfinkle is exactly right. Our technology promotes our obsession with spectacle and the dopamine hits that the spectacle instigated are an addiction. This addiction, like all addictions, requires ever increasing inputs for the achievement of satiety.
I look forward to going back and re-reading the Garfinkle series a couple of more times. I think he’s really on to something.
The irony of this series is that Garfinkle doesn’t recognize his own hysteria while decrying that of Trumpists and, to a far lesser extent, of the far Left. I would suggest the editorial board of this publication take a spa trip to Sedona, align those crooked chakras, pray contemplatively to whichever God they espouse that society’s heaved overboard, take a Xanax, and realize that it’s out of our hands. Was it Irving Kristol who said, “Just because the world’s going to hell doesn’t mean you can’t live well”?