April 1, 2000
(De)Manifest of April Fools Day 2000
We are now living through one of those interesting, though hardly unique or remarkable periods in the history of human delusion when fundamental alterations in existing social, cultural, political and economic arrangements have become as unthinkable as they are inevitable.
It is not that signs of approaching disaster have gone unnoticed. They are sighted with increasing frequency every day. Ours is a time, for example, when a mainstream journal of international capitalism, The Economist, can review a publication characterizing the current structure of global financial markets as a "naturally occurring Ponzi scheme" and, while noting lapses in the author's scholarship, entirely endorse his dismal conclusions. Yet available responses to this supposedly "natural" and, therefore, ultimately inexplicable and irresistible economic phenomenon seem to be limited to proceeding at exactly what we are doing either more slowly, according to some, or ever more quickly according to many more. Anything else, anything other, any possible change or rearrangement of the constellation of forces and purposes that led us here is simply unthinkable, simply beyond--the great gaping blank that hangs above, below, and haunts the in between of every bit and byte of that great incessant information flow with which our days and nights are inundated.
In the midst of a technological revolution in global communications, it seems that something as basic as understanding, the capacity to think something Other in the face of disastrous dilemmas, the capacity to imagine and discuss implications and consequences, and what might be done about them, is peculiarly missing, as absent from elite as from popular discourse. And it is this absence of understanding, the lack even of the capacity to notice that it has gone, that most characterizes our moment in human history and ranks it alongside other great delusionary periods that have preceded even greater Falls.
While we could debate forever the forces that make for and influence the timing of fundamental, radical, catastrophic change, and the debate is as long, as varied, and as fascinating as human history itself, we certainly don't need to reach or to imagine any conclusion to this debate to grasp its import. Sudden, extraordinary transformations, true revolutions in human experience are a sufficiently regular feature of the history of every civilization and of the global history of relations among civilizations that we would be remarkable creatures indeed to have escaped, to be living already beyond any possibility of an end to the world as we know it.
Clearly, we have no compelling reasons, other than vainity, to believe we are such demigods. Rather, many of us now alive are more than likely fated, like so many mere mortal men and women before us, to live on and through the end of the world as we now know it. And we are less prepared, intellectually and emotionally, than any generation of at least the last 200 years.
Does no one else think it strange that we have just lived through the passing of a millennium, however artificial the dating, marked almost exclusively by the silence of millennial thought? How is it that no leader, no prophet, no poet, no priest, however elevated or degraded, emerged to paint promises of a bright new chapter in human history for all of mankind? For all the talk of an unprecedented "revolution" in microchip, telecommunications and biological technologies, what vast visions of the technological future were proffered even to begin to compare to the orgy of utopian thought placed before the public at the turn of the last century?
It seems our Technocrats are myopic, for the most they could manage to foresee was the single millisecond separating millenniums past from millenniums future. Our self-styled spiritual and political leaders did no better, saw no further. Silence. Silence reigned everywhere. Y2K was an anticlimax, because nowhere could anyone imagine anything to build up to it or to project beyond it. Absent any significant order of reflective or utopian thought, how could Y2K mean anything other than another tick of the digital clock.
And in America--as if we haven't been speaking all along of America in the imperial mode of the self-imagined heir of all of "human history"--how do we set about electing the first President of this millennium? Can anyone imagine a greater pair of non-entities than Christian Bush and Gore, each born into a national political family and each deliberately chosen by his hereditary party's strategists and funders long before the charade of primary electoral threats, duly dramatized, and duly met? Now that they've fully figured out how to render even national elections inconsequential for all practical purposes, what will they think of next? How will the fiber-optic cables and airwaves be filled with viewer-attracting photo-ops and sound bites between now and next November? The awesome impossibility of the public relations and media management task boggles the mind. Surely one or the other, probably Christian Bush, must be destroyed by devastatingly irrelevant scandal and personal revelations. Otherwise voter turnout might actually decline below the abysmal to dangerously revealing "why bother?" levels.
Whatever happens, the empty show will go on, as Shakespeare put it, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. Evening newscasts, interviews of talking heads--clean-cut, pampered, white-faced, maled experts and pontificators of all totem colors and sexes--will drone on and on in increasingly screechy voices that betray a desperate underlying cry for attention to lines and themes and "issues" recycled year after year, decade after decade, with less and less conviction, and more and more genuine surprise that it can still be done, that the jig is not yet up. RealTV, Cops, Jerry Springer, and other parasitic infotainment flotsam will continue to drift to fill the void, with scripts written and awkwardly recited at reading comprehension levels so low even second graders should be embarrassed, serving up endless "real" images and "real" people, chosen seemingly to no other end than to degrade the mass of the viewing American public in their own eyes. It all as if to say, "See, we may not have the answers, but you cannot even turn to each other, to your neighbors, families, friends, co-workers, communities for help, for wisdom, not even for compassionate commiseration."
And so we, too, must live on through this, our allotted moment in the history of human delusion. Many others have done it through equal or worse years, decades, centuries than these. How and when and what lies on the other side are questions that ought to concern us. But our situation is such that our first concern must be how, where and with whom are we even to begin, to begin to rethink thought, to pick up the pieces that make for understanding. How, where, and with whom are we even to reestablish the need for it?
And Why Bother?
Because in these times, there's really nothing else to do... nothing that isn't a stale diversion, delay, procrastination, and avoidance of that fundamental human task of understanding...except possibly to laugh, to laugh with friends, which is perhaps the most human and humanizing of all responses to the otherwise sorry human condition.Posted by rri