The Invisible Enemy: Mass Confusion & Spectacle in Modern Society

The enemy is nowhere and everywhere. There is a widespread, collective confusion and it has distorted reality and created a system of inauthenticity and spectacle. As a society, we have become so deeply enthralled by the spectacle that we have lost sight of what is real and what is an illusion. French sociologist Guy Debord distinguished between reality and the illusions that underpin reality in his work Society of the Spectacle. Debord asserts that even the seemingly ‘authentic’ output is a façade due to the commodification of every aspect of life.

Simply put, our perceived reality is not as it seems.

Back then, we had clear-cut enemies. There were perceived enemies like communism vs. capitalism. There was mutual assured destruction. Fascism was bad and democracy was good. The world generally made sense, and you could understand it. Everyone knew the balance of power. It appeared to be a much simpler world. Now, there is a global mass confusion. With ambiguous wars, technological advances, global capitalism, and globalization, the balance of power is thrown off. The enemy is unknown. In war, the enemy is unclear. Is the enemy rebel forces? Is it the U.S. military? Is it suicide bombers? The lines of war are blurred in the 21st century. There is no clear enemy in war and in peace. Lines are no longer drawn in the sand.

Mass confusion is an effective way to maintain control over the masses, whether it is intended or not; confusion causes instability and insecurity in a world full of illusion and manipulation.

If you turn on the news, the level of misery is simply unprecedented. Despite the misery, we still fail to take action. Our hearts ache for the tragedies we witness, but only temporarily. For if we were to absorb the misery, then we would no longer be able to function in everyday life. Compassion fatigue sets in while our guilt devours us.

All the same, it is unclear of what to get upset about, and who to get upset with. What were once universal truths are now questioned due to the increasing rise of pseudo-events and pseudo-science. For example, the fact that creationism is now taught alongside evolution in schools not only misinforms growing minds, but it creates a precedent of incorporating religion into secular studies. This has implications far beyond the education of students. Never before has creationism been accepted as part of curriculum, but now, it is seen as completely acceptable.

In the scientific sector, we have seen a reemergence of measles cases in the United States due to the recent uprising of the anti-vaccination movement led by celebrities who have had no education, and whose primary job is to entertain. The anti-vaccination movement has only erupted in recent years, making outrageous claims that are not backed by science. An outspoken advocate and celebrity for the movement, Jenny McCarthy, bases her beliefs on a ‘scientific’ report that has long been debunked. It is these figures that distract and detract the public from what is real. And unfortunately, they are given a platform to speak on because they provide entertainment and ratings for the media. It seems we are entering a retrograde phase, where education is no longer a necessity and the ability to think critically is discouraged.

We are constantly inundated with information – saturated with stimulation in our physical and digital surroundings. But much of this information is superficial. As many critics have declared, we are constantly ‘plugged in’ without any real form of escape available. The constant influx of information can cause fatigue, apathy, and mass confusion.

Much of the news is contradictory, illusory, and depressing. In response we have become defeatist regarding the complex issues, yet we jump on to the more trivial causes to deliver equally trivial solutions. We take actions that have little to no effect and where “raising awareness” has become the primary end goal for such trivial causes. What else can be done to disrupt the dominant and confusing narratives in society? One simply has to look at the hedonistic hashtags that are so prevalent today—Bring Back Our Girls, Twizzler Challenge, No Make Up Selfies campaign, et al. These do not disrupt the narratives, but rather enable the confusing and directionless narratives to fester in society. These trivial causes further inhibits real change.

Our perceptions have been so undermined that the most pertinent issues remain as they are whereas the bulk of activism that gains mass attention and hype focus on the superficial – they do not dig deeper, nor do they invite critical thought or perspective.

This mass confusion, according to Adam Curtis, can be attributed to Vladislov Surkov’s “Non-Linear War” where people’s perceptions of the world are undermined so they are never aware of what is really happening. There is a battle of ideas, rather than geopolitical and concrete battle lines drawn. The battle is not between communism and capitalism, nor is it between conservatives or liberals, but it is between perceptions, visions, and non-measurable perspectives.

On the other hand, the media provides ridiculous distractions, which the public excitedly responds to. Donald Trump has proved to be an outrageous political distraction ahead of the 2016 United States federal elections. He has managed to distract the masses as a ridiculous figure, with his outrageous racist, homophobic and sexist remarks. The mass media loves churning out Trump updates. He is the epitome of superficial drivel, and it attracts viewers and detracts from the real issues that need to be discussed. At a time where candidates should be talking about Guantanamo, or what do with the refugee crisis; we have a political figure that provides nothing other than sheer entertainment and a mockery of the U.S. political system (not that it was held to the highest regard anyway).

Professor Christian Christensen described it best, “Trump is an easy target, and, more importantly, he’s profitable clickbait. But Trump is also political and journalistic junk food: a diversion from a deeper, uncomfortable discussion about what ails both the US and Europe. There are serious people out there talking about these ailments. It’s time we ate our vegetables.”

The real issues are being whisked under the rug because they are too complex and they require some critical analysis. The mainstream media avoids tackling the complex because it is simply too boring and puzzling for audience viewing. It does not provide entertainment – and entertainment, or spectacle, is absolutely necessary when reporting events. The ‘authentic’ is hidden away and must be discovered by those who are critical enough to seek it out.

There is a collective mass confusion that is occurring today. The refugee crisis has displaced millions of people – and who is responsible for this incredible displacement? ISIS? Internal civil strife? Brute dictators? The ‘who’ and the ‘why’ are overlooked, while the focus remains strictly on who will take in these refugees. If we simply flipped the script, or dare I say, viewed the refugee crisis in context to what is happening at a larger scale, then perhaps there would be more compassion, and subsequently, more willingness to ‘do something’.

Investigative journalist Chris Hedges also addresses the spectacle in his book, Empire of Illusion. He notes that the spectacle has seeped into our culture – into our very way of life. We are constantly inundated with illusions and pretense – in front of the curtain is entertainment, distraction, and superficiality, while behind the curtain lurks the truth, the critical voice that is often silenced by the corporate and political elite. It is our duty to sift through the illusions and think critically regardless of what society is telling us what to think and how to think.

Everyone and no one is the enemy. So who is there to blame?

The real enemy is the institutionalized system that enables the disintegration of society – it is the system that masks the real and upholds the spectacle. The real enemy is the mainstream media – they set the agenda, they tell us what to think about, how to feel – they employ the divide and conquer tactics. Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky wrote extensively on how the media controls and manipulates the masses in their book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. They created a framework called the ‘propaganda model’ enumerating five tactics the media uses to marginalize dissent and appeal to government and private interests through a profit-based news agenda. The media relies exclusively on dominant hegemonic powers, rather than appealing to the subservient masses.

The mainstream media seeks profit over public need, and therefore appeals primarily to the corporate and government elite. It is largely funded by advertisers, and strictly follows the dominant ideology of that particular time. The mainstream media is simply an illusion hi-jacked by special interests.

The media adheres to and upholds the corporate agenda who buys their influence, and make their voices heard while trampling on the voices of the people. The corporate agenda controls all, while disparaging and separating those on the left – creating various factions that alienate leftist factions from even each other. There are many distinct and competing leftist political ideologies. Those on the left have become so separate from even each other, and the powerful elite revels in it. The more separation there is between those on the left, the less power we have to offset the corporate agenda.

The corporate elite is only one entity, whereas on the left, multiple factions exist. Some of the political affiliations include: Democratic Socialist, Egalitarian-Naturalist, Independent Humanitarian, Progressive Democrat, Socialist Progressive, and so on. Based on my own personal anecdotes, I have personally seen how grassroots organizations and political ideologies create more friction and separation between people who would otherwise be united in solidarity, but somehow, we have lost ourselves and each other along the way. We not only view the opposition as the enemy, but we have begun to view each other as the enemy as well.

As Sun Tzu writes in Art of War, “[t]he whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.” Confusion is key to separate and alienate the well intentioned from one another.

In Society of the Spectacle, Debord describes a certain ‘false rebellion’; a type of rebellion that is still controlled and held in reign by a particular society’s cultural norm. Rebellion is practiced under the field of the spectacle – it is still part of the circus and is therefore not challenged. It is not an act of dissent but rather a perpetuation of the spectacle of the society. Dissatisfaction has become a commodity in itself. This can be seen everywhere across different historical contexts. Counterculture of today has been turned on its head; counterculture is mainstream.

In reality, the spectacle appeals to the dominant mode of production in modern society – today that comes under the neoliberal model. Mass confusion was made possible under the current unstable climate that has been caused by neoliberal policies around the globe. This combination paired with corporate and government influence allowed for the enemy to be hidden in clear view. The enemy is the system itself. The enemy cannot be seen; it cannot be attacked, because it is everywhere and nowhere. The only way to fight back against this mass confusion and spectacle is to develop a critical mind and to seek out the truth beyond the veil. It is to unite in solidary with others who have developed an equally rational and critical mind. It is to nurture our faculties of the mind, and question the dominant hegemonic narratives.

Rozali Telbis is an activist and writer living in Vancouver, Canada.