THE REVOLUTION OF EVERYDAY LIFE

The crumbling away of human values under the influence of exchange mechanisms leads to the crumbling of exchange itself. The insufficiency of the feudal gift means that new human relationships must be built on the principle of pure giving. We must rediscover the pleasure of giving: giving because you have so much. What beautiful and priceless potlatches the affluent society will see — whether it likes it or not! — when the exuberance of the younger generation discovers the pure gift.

*****

Ideology draws its essence from quantity: it is simply an idea reproduced again and again in time (Pavlovian conditioning) and in space (where the consumers take over). Ideology, information and culture tend more and more to lose their content and become pure quantity. The less importance a piece of news has, the more it is repeated, and the more it distracts people from their real problems. Goebbels said that the bigger the lie, the more easily it is swallowed. But ideology takes us away from the Big Lie by constantly bidding against itself. One after another it lays before us a hundred paperbacks, a hundred washing powders, a hundred political ideas, and with equal conviction proves that each of them is incontestably superior to any of the others. Even in ideology quantity is being destroyed by quantity itself: conflicting conditionings end by cancelling each other out. Is this the way to rediscover the power of the qualitative, a power that can move mountains?

Quite the contrary. Contradictory conditioning is more likely to end in trauma, inhibition and a radical refusal to be brainwashed any more. Admittedly ideology still has one trick up its sleeve — that of posing false questions, raising false dilemmas and leaving the conditioned individual, poor bugger, with the worry of sorting out which is the truer of two lies. But such pointless diversions carry little weight compared with the survival sickness to which consumer society exposes its members.

*****

The protection provided by masters has lost its justification since the mechanical solicitude of gadgets theoretically ended the necessity for slaves. From now on, the ultima ratio of the rulers is the deliberately maintained terror of a thermonuclear apocalypse. Peaceful coexistence guarantees their existence. Power no longer protects the people; it protects itself against the people. Today, this inhumanity spontaneously created by men has become simply the inhuman prohibition of all creation.

*****

As for the progressive sociologists, once they had finished shaking their heads sadly over the discovery that the value of the art object had become nothing but its market price, and that the artists were working according to the norms of profitability, they decided that we should return to the source of art, to everyday life — not in order to change it, of course, for such is not their function, but rather to make it the raw material for a new aesthetic which would defy packaging techniques and so remain independent of buying and selling. As though there were no such thing as consuming on the spot! The result? Sociodramas and happenings which supposedly provoke spontaneous participation on the part of the spectators. The only thing the spectators participate in, though, is an aesthetic of nothingness. The only thing that can be expressed in the mode of the spectacle is the emptiness of everyday life. And indeed, what better commodity than an aesthetic of emptiness? The accelerating decomposition of values has itself become the only available form of entertainment. The trick is that the spectators of the cultural and ideological vacuum are here enlisted as its organizers.

*****

There is no such thing as mental illness. It is merely a convenient label for grouping and isolating cases where identification has not occurred properly. Those whom Power can neither govern nor kill, it taxes with madness.

*****

Those who organize the world organize both suffering and the anaesthetics for dealing with it; this much is common knowledge. Most people live like sleepwalkers, torn between the gratification of neurosis and the traumatic prospect of a return to real life. Things are now reaching the point, however, where the maintenance of survival calls for so many analgesics that the organism approaches saturation point. But the magical analogy is more apt here than the medical: practitioners of magic fully expect a backlash effect in such circumstances, and we should expect the same. It is because of the imminence of this upheaval that I compare the present conditioning of human beings to a massive bewitchment.

Bewitching of this kind presupposes a spatial network which links up the most distant objects sympathetically, according to specific laws: formal analogy, organic coexistence, functional symmetry, symbolic affiliation, etc. Such correspondences are established through the infinitely frequent association of given forms of behaviour with appropriate signals. In other words, through a generalized system of conditioning. The present vogue for loudly condemning the role of conditioning, propaganda, advertising and the mass media in modern society may be assumed to be a form of partial exorcism designed to reinforce a vaster and more essential mystification by distracting attention from it. Outrage at the gutter press goes hand in hand with subservience to the more elegant lies of posh journalism. Media, language, time these are the giant claws with which Power manipulates humanity and moulds it brutally to its own perspective. These claws are not very adept, admittedly, but their effectiveness is enormously increased by the fact that people are not aware that they can resist them, and often do not even know the extent to which they are already spontaneously doing so.

*****

As we know, the consumption of goods – which comes down always, in the present state of things, to the consumption of power – carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction and the conditions of its own transcendence. The consumer cannot and must not ever attain satisfaction: the logic of the consumable object demands the creation of fresh needs, yet the accumulation of such false needs exacerbates the malaise of people confined with increasing difficulty solely to the status of consumers. Furthermore, the wealth of consumer goods impoverishes authentic life. It does so in two ways. First, it replaces authentic life with things. Secondly, it makes it impossible, with the best will in the world, to become attached to these things, precisely because they have to be consumed, i.e., destroyed. Whence an absence of life which is ever more frustrating, a self-devouring dissatisfaction. This need to live is ambivalent: it constitutes one of those points where perspective is reversed.

*****

The individual of survival is inhabited by pleasure-anxiety, by unfulfillment: a mutilated person. Where is one to find oneself in the endless self-loss into which everything draws one? They are wanderers in a labyrinth with no centre, a maze full of mazes. Theirs is a world of equivalents. Should one kill oneself? Killing oneself, though, implies some sense of resistance: one must possess a value that one can destroy. Where there is nothing, the destructive actions themselves crumble to nothing. You cannot hurl a void into a void. “If only a rock would fall and kill me,” wrote Kierkegaard, “at least that would be an expedient.” I doubt if there is anyone today who has not been touched by the horror of a thought such as that. Inertia is the surest killer, the inertia of people who settle for senility at eighteen, plunging eight hours a day into degrading work and feeding on ideologies. Beneath the miserable tinsel of the spectacle there are only gaunt figures yearning for, yet dreading, Kierkegaard’s “expedient,” so that they might never again have to desire what they dread and dread what they desire.

*****

The revolution of daily life will be the work of those who, with varying degrees of facility, are able to recognize the seeds of total self-realization preserved, contradicted and dissimulated within ideologies of every kind and who cease consequently to be either mystified or mystifiers.

*****

The function of conditioning is to place and displace everyone along the length of the hierarchical ladder. The reversal of perspective entails a sort of anti-conditioning, not conditioning of a new type, but playful tactics: diversion. The reversal of perspective replaces knowledge by praxis, hope by freedom and mediation by the will of the here and now. It consecrates the triumph of a body of human relationships founded on three inseparable poles: participation, communication and realization. To reverse perspective is to stop seeing with the eyes of the community, ideology. family or other people. It is to grasp oneself firmly, to choose oneself as starting point and centre. To base everything on subjectivity and to follow one’s subjective will to be everything. In the sights of my insatiable desire to live, the whole of power is only one particular target within a wider horizon. It’s show of strength doesn’t obstruct my vision, but I locate it, estimate its dangers, and study its movement. My creativity, however poor it may be, is a more certain guide than all the knowledge I have been forced to acquire. In the night of power, its glow holds the hostile forces at bay: cultural conditioning, every type of specialisation and Weltanschauungen are inevitably totalitarian. Everyone has the absolute weapon. However, it must be used with circumspection, like certain charms. If one approaches it from the standpoint of lies and oppression — back to front — then it is no more than bad clowning: an artistic consecration. The acts which destroy power are the same as the acts which construct free individual will but their range is different just as in strategy preparation for defense is obviously different from preparation for attack.

*****

Anyone who realises that his problems are ultimately social in nature must first of all find himself. Otherwise he will find nothing in other people apart from his own absence.

*****

We haven’t chosen the reversal of perspective through any kind of voluntarism. It has chosen us. Caught as we are in the historical phase of NOTHING, the next step can only be a change of EVERYTHING. Consciousness of total revolution, of its necessity, is our final way of being historical, our last chance, under certain conditions, of unmaking history. The game we are about to play is the game of our creativity. Its rules are radically opposed to the rules and laws controlling our society. It is a game of loser wins: what you are is more important than what is said, what is lived is more important than what is represented on the level of appearances. This game must be played right through to its conclusion. To cede an inch in one’s will to live without reserve is to surrender all along the line. Those who give up their violence and their radical demands are doomed. Murdered truths become venomous, said Nietzsche. If we do not reverse perspective, then the perspective of power will succeed in turning us against ourselves once and for all.

Selected passages from The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem.
Read the whole book here.

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  1. Pingback: TWENTY SIXTEEN: IN REVIEW | TEETH, FEET & FINGERS

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