The degradation of culture

18 September, 2020 · Marxism> Critique of ideology

No matter where we look, basic knowledge and reading habits decline even where the average level of training increases. Not to mention culture understood as artistic production and experience. In fact, it is almost impossible to talk about Art, as a social phenomenon and in the full sense of the term, since the middle of the last century. If we talk about culture as a set of daily practices that, in the end, are aimed at ensuring that social interactions do not overly reflect the violence implicit in the system, the trend is towards a growing estrangement in the most basic personal relationships. And if we focus on culture as a way of understanding reality, that is, as an expression of ideology, the result is frightening.


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The truth is that the cultural products, the representative works and pieces of a certain historical moment, are not the result of any sudden collective enlightenment. None of them would reach even large audiences if it were not a choice of the cultural industry before anything else.

Petty bourgeois theorists are very concerned about the disappearance of the artist as an independent professional, as an artisan of cultural objects. But it couldn’t be any other way. Accumulation in general tends to do that in all facets of production. That’s what’s behind digitalization in general. No wonder digitalization is one of the two axes, together with the green deal, of anti-crisis policies.

Digitalization of cultural products serves the big platforms – be it Spotify, Amazon, Netflix – and the big old companies – be it Universal, Random House or Planeta – in order to attract capital because it transforms investments into capacity to increase audience. It achieves this by reaching, without extra cost, places where it was unprofitable to produce and transport a physical copy. And it also arrives with 100% of the catalog where previously it was only profitable to carry the big hits. The so called democratization of access goes together with capital concentration. This is why the concentration of cultural industry around large companies and platforms also means a concentration of the market around the countries and languages in which production takes place and above all of sales around the most capitalized products – in technical means, in promotion – of the products that are sold globally. The result for the immense majority of the artistic petty bourgeoisie: it either proletarianizes itself or disappears.

But that is far from being the real problem. American essayists talk about how the first warnings of the crisis in the 1970s gave way to a massive nostalgia which turned into cultural apathy and resulted, starting in the 1990s, in the exaltation of an almost primeval version of the crudest and most cynical bourgeois morality.

It is true that this was one part of it. But they forget the other, complementary one. The refuge in the exaltation of identity. After decades of university incubation, feminism has now become a state ideology and racialism is struggling to become one; identitarianism is coming out strongly from the Anglo-Saxon world and is seeking to rediscover its romantic, essentialist and brutal origins. It is no coincidence that Wagner is back in fashion:

Richard Wagner: composer, conductor, playwright, poet, polemicist, anarchist, Teutonic nationalist, anti-Semite, feminist, pacifist, vegetarian, animal rights activist […] Just as Herzl saw in Tannhäuser a way to strengthen his Zionist vision, Du Bois took the Wagnerian myth as a model for a new, heroic African-American spirit.

It is true that some old popes get scared and protest before the inevitably censuring and authoritarian development of a puritanism now multiplied by a thousand irredentist identities. But it is so deeply rooted among the Anglo-Saxon liberal petty bourgeoisie, so normalized already and integrated into the most pitiful chauvinism under the guise of a culturalist disguise, that a heavyweight of the academy like Joseph Henrich can publish a thesis according to which Anglo-Saxon cultures have produced a different brain configuration in their members making them authentically western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic; terms that, all together, form in English the well-known acronym WEIRD, odd, particular. As if the humor of this acronym Anglo-Saxon psychologists created to describe their own college students moderated Henrich’s absurd anti-historical racism. The book was presented in the New York Times in style with a warning against ideological condemnation and an invitation to scientific criticism. Salvationist messianism and racism elevated to the fantasy of a higher brain configuration deserves no better treatment than flat-earthers and other delusions. That it claims its rights not to be mocked because it is a result of the ruminations of an evolutionary biologist and it is defended by a glowing review by a famous philosopher of mind written in the main American newspaper is more than just a red flag.

Let us combine all this with the reactionary tendencies of the petty bourgeoisie, now well present in a revolt that cannot end even when it is exhausted in its own political impotence. Let us give it the inevitable apocalyptic notes inseparable from the fathers of bourgeois morality. And the result will be simply delirious.

Government experts try to explain the growth of conspiracy with psychological arguments. But they should look at themselves first. The reality is that the blatant cynicism of an official speech that claims to transcend history, that no longer aspires to anything other than to continue as usual because it cannot provide true development, has alienated so many, has become so unbelievable and spread such moral despair, that for an increasingly relevant part of the petty bourgeoisie it is preferable to believe in literally anything than to keep pretending to live in the best of all possible worlds. And that is what they do.

But… what about the workers?

The culture of a decadent society sterilizes, idiotizes and kills. And this, at this point, is a true rampaging meat grinder leaving only desolation in its wake. From the old bourgeois culture nothing can be expected anymore, it is as dysfunctional and dead as the matrix that gave birth to it. From the result of identitarianism, conspiracy-mongering, essentialism and other reactionary excrescences one can only expect more death and demoralization. Our terrain lies far from that, in the struggle for the universal satisfaction of universal human needs. Today we are facing, strike after strike, struggle after struggle, discussion after discussion the unshakeable barbarism of an anti-human system. The need for that renewal of culture proposed and promoted by the Internationals is now more present than ever.

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