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Toward a radical middle

a time for fear
Tuesday, July 08, 2003  
Events Strike

Somalian Warlords, drug dealers and gunmen high on qat murdering civilians, stealing food from the starving, extorting huge profits from relief agencies (charity = target business op). Oil tankers and war ships bombed in Islamic jihad. Oil slicks. Bosnian Death camps. Sarajevo 80 years after 1914. The death cry of dictators.

In the 1990s nothing happened, did it? It seemed like nothing happened, Cold War stasis dissolved into pre-millennium inertia...stand-off to death tactility but dreams of virtual everything...the 1990s wasted a was the end of a route, a tedious culmination of started rapacious with misplaced optimism, and ended exhausted, weary, shocked or cynical. Foucault's lament for the human subject, Derrida's death of the addresse, Lacan's empty subject, Thatcher's death of society, etc. exorcised in the weary accumulation of objects, the phyrric victory of product.

In the 1990s we let one of the most barbaric, catastrophic, apocalyptic decades in history drift by with our eyes fixed on the year 2000 and the X-Files...multiple genocides erupting across the globe, inner cities imploding at the heart of civilisation, child killers and death squads, drug epidemics, the implosion of the image, death as style, millions and millions swarming into cities, across borders, between continents, the dispossessed, the lost, and the ambitious. The people of the 1990s were people like: Donald Trump, Anna Nicole Smith, Don Simpson, Monica Lewinsky, Tipper Gore, Louis Farrakhan, Killah Priest, Jean Baudrillard, Salman Rushdie, Ayatollah Khomeini, Michael Alig, Jean Marie Le Pen. People pregnant with the distorted gleam and glare of their own image, people of default importance.

and we lived through a strange fin de siecle: fixated on the healthy, the nutritious, the palatable, the good, and obsessed with the sick and the catastrophic, the obscene and the occult. We were rational and moral, but superstitious and greedy. Obsessed with life, healthcare, hygiene, fitness, cholesterol, heart disease...a society in quarantine, under the law of preventative measures, prolonging existence towards a dream of immortality, and some froze their cells, wishing to see the far future, to go beyond the span of life. The dream of life carried within it a vision of death, and every precaution, every safety feature, every prohibition ("for your own good") was haunted by the spectre of mortality, terror of the sudden end, the unexpected cut-off. The origins of the 21st Century Security State, and its ultimate symbol and event, 9/11. Too much Life. Too much prosperity, too much commodity, suffused with the gorgeous and the useless, the hi-tech, the sublime. Models supersceded models: micro-innovation, a narrative of obsessive detail and creeping obsolescence. Everything you ever needed that you didn't even know you needed until the need was identified. In primary colours! Large letters! Amazing adverts, cinematic adverts, ironic adverts. Violent irony, quips that cut, left scars on the unironic heart. The assurance of desire cut away: nobody can decide for you, not even yourself. Car as cocoon, home as womb, office as amniotic sac. When do you ever breathe in pure air? (Never, and you never have.) How do you escape? (You cannot: all space is mapped, all routes tied up, cartography devours every inch of land. But there's the deep ocean. Yes, you could drown...) The mission creep of comfort.

What were you doing on September 11, 2001?
What were you doing on April 10, 1994?

Too much life ferments the pathological All and Everywhere of death. And the nothing of death, too. Which means that every Western military operation is characterised by the total horror of every single casualty, while the massacre of vast populations passes by in a death-saturated glaze. It took the death of three soldiers to convince the US to pull out of Somalia and leave the country to its doom.

Western Military is a system of slaughter that remains at a safe distance, an invisible death-bringer, missiles delivered from mid-ocean, stealth bombers that disappear from radar. Predator systems, invisible hunters, anonymous aggressors. A clean and lethal spectacle, a pyrotechnical display. Western Military is like a research institution for avant garde technology (to return the term avant garde to something like its military origin) and every battle field is a testing ground, so every war is like a preparation for the next, and then the next for the next: each war a research lab for the ultimate war, the perfect war. And the perfect victory: the defeat of death.

Security = desire for immortality.

Make everything transparent, but at the same time make everything a secret. The paradox of conspiracy theory, and the split desire of the 1990s, when politics flatlined, and agency evaporated in postmodern theory and neoliberal practice. Decade of the Illuminati and the sublime death of the Heaven's Gate Cult. The decade when God's spaceship became a given. The decade when Al Qa'ida training camps remained hidden.

I wrote this in 1999, prescient bastard: "All in the British cities Osama Bin Laden rips through the terraced rows and flats and family homes, Abaddon with US hardware to the ruling classes, Apollyon in a turban, murderous hero - this being the last resort of heroism, a new outlaw hero. The future in semtex flashes, a future of things we know nothing about, as we languish in a swollen cocoon, and laugh at love, and faith - what a joke! Meanwhile technology gives birth to a holy war that slips underground, and then overground - what a shock, blood-smeared streets. Osama Bin Laden is the new outlaw hero. Teach you to get stupid and lazy. Rewind to Old Testament terror tactics. Cull flowers with a carpet of fire."

Throughout the stagnation of the 1990s, events were 'on strike'...Well, the strike is now over. Events are not on strike any more. With the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, we might even be said to have before us the ultimate event...
Jean Baudrillard

10:39 PM

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