Fully automated factories, free from human presence, can run with their lights off. Their machines churn away, satiating our greed for commodities, obediently thundering on in the dark. This productive process of industrial replication in the social body could be compared to the catabolic process of food digestion in the natural body. Both leave us unaware as they thereby, without our participation or consideration, sustain our lives.
The basic claim of populists is that established politicians cannot be open about the conditions of their existence. And indeed, if the establishment admitted the failures of our constitutions, governments, our societies, and indeed of the historic failure of our species to stably co-exist, the entire podium which they have so painstakingly built would disintegrate beneath them. Of course, populists themselves are titillating factors of production in the public opinion industry. Their products, their bits and snippets of miscellaneous entertainment, can be consumed as a ritualised, sensationalised, and extravagantly consumable paste of things, with a pretence to civic duty in representative democracies. To convince, everybody in the public sphere must appear to rise above – and thereby obscure – the conditions of their own existence. They must produce artificially either regularity or celebrity, through a well-scripted comic performance. The pantomime seems absurd, until we finally ask, what, then, are we to make of it, this swirling mirage of signals, not empty, but patterned by second, third, fourth symbolic orders, incomprehensibly swirling into one another, impossible to fully register, which we consume unthinkingly? We suspend disbelief. If we didn’t, we’d encounter troubling questions about our own existence. Conditioned to be myopic, to be consumed by its dialectic and to reproduce its antagonisms, diligent entrepreneurs of the self must accept and re-perform its unfolding cascade of dysfunction. Because we are like this, so too our leaders. We produce them, they produce us back. In the end, though, the pretence need only be theirs. Laugh, like Sloterdijk.
I vaguely remember those golden days, when the international community still aspired to a congeniality which now seems conceited, when the fractures (at least to my adolescent self) were just beginning to show – when those nations which congratulated themselves for emerging victorious from the twentieth century began to rupture from within. I saw all of this from Cambridge, a city that sits at one extreme of the a socioeconomic, geographical, political, and cultural chasm mirrored in many other liberal democracies, conditioned by well-known forces of urbanisation, financialisation, and globalisation. Back in June 2016, 74% of Cambridge city residents voted to remain in the European Union, compared to 48% of the UK’s overall population. If anything surprised, it was that 26% of people voted to “Leave” in a city known for its global, liberal outlook. Here, the international elite are paid to dwell on the bureaucratic, constitutional, and diplomatic failures of western democracies. Its inhabitants tend to avoid the majority place where the most popular newspapers remain The Sun and the Daily Mail: where the whisking of technocratic cognition hasn’t produced a kind of cake you can both have and eat.