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Pataphysical Conditions on the Ground

“‘Pataphysics is the science of the realm beyond metaphysics”.

Alfred Jarry, author of Ubu Roi, 1896

Pace Hillary and Trump but manufacturing jobs once again creating a solid middle class and a moveable feast of economic mobility will not return. Walls, embargoes, penalty taxes, passport revoking, and resurrection of unions will not do it. “Low pay married to high profits in much of the service economy is contributing to a widening income chasm that is rending society in all sorts of ways. Used to the prosperity once delivered by manufacturing, American workers are rebelling against the changing tide.” (Eduardo Porto, “Moving On From Farm And Factory,” The New York Times, April 27, 2016.)

A postindustrial tomorrow is the ticket. We are all a service economy now with a sharp distinction between serving “on the ground” and serving in cyberspace. Flipping a burger or delivering a pizza, mowing a lawn or cleaning a pool, walking dogs or baby carriages are “on the ground” services. In cyberspace, brokers and investors practice their dark derivative arts, marketers and advertisers huckster products and services, the outraged blog and tweet, and the overworked and not working surf for personally chosen brands of anesthetics and distractions, sports, porn, gambling, and shopping high on the list. Those still in school preparing for the service economy network socially, updates on Facebook, videos on Instagram, occasion marking selfies, keeping up on Twitter, and rushing at nano speed beyond all things analog, where, as Baudrillard expresses it, “the whirligig of representation goes mad.”

Whether millennials have responded to Bernie Sanders’ call for a revolution because they’ve observed or had some “on the ground” low pay experiences, or because their adventures in cyberspace have clued them to the disastrous divided state of the world they are inheriting, or because of both, the fact remains that they’ve joined politics “on the ground.” One of the standout conditions on the ground has been revealed to them in just one sentence: “Twenty Americans have as much wealth as the combined wealth of 50% of the population.” As in a Monopoly game, it’s clear that about 20% of the population have already been served just about all the property on the game board or profit dividend-wise by such ownership, a condition on the ground that the young are now entering as if it were a level playing field, as if equal opportunity and open field freedom to choose were present.

This is a mockery that once realized will not vanish because Sanders’ run for the presidency ends. Conditions on the ground, which the coming generation are now aware of have not ended.

Perhaps this is “sharing” economy and our skewed conditions on the ground will be rebalanced by this “sharing.” A self proclaimed “Chief Sharer.” Benita Matofska tells us that “in a Sharing Economy, people create, collaborate, produce and distribute peer-to-peer, person-to-person (P2P). Micro-entrepreneurship is celebrated, where people can enter into binding contracts with one another and trade peer-to-peer (P2P). Within business, people — both co-owners, employees and customers — are highly valued, with their opinions and ideas respected and integrated into the business at all levels of the supply chain, organization and development. I call the people who are driving the Sharing Economy, Generation Share.” (“What is the Sharing Economy?”The People Who Share, April 25, 2016.)

If you look past the noble declarations provided by the “Chief Sharer” it seems that 3D printing enables a limited kind of manufacturing while websites and smartphone apps in which you can buy, sell and trade enable marketing and distribution. A spare bed in your home is a “sleeping asset” you can list on Airbnb and you can sell or buy products on eBay or call for car service on Uber. The sharing here is not on a worker cooperative level as we see in the Basque cooperative Mondragon where the means of production and profits are worker shared. Nor is the “sharing” economy anything like Fruitlands or The Farm communal society or Christian Hutterites or Robert Owens’ New Harmony community or Bakunin’s Anarchist Federation. This is instead the socioeconomic equivalent of a “selfie,” a true kind of pataphysics that places the individual in a post-societal order thus overriding the worrisome matter of the post-industrial.

What we share in the sharing economy is access to various services and products on a peer to peer level, one that fits nicely into a millennial nurtured sense of personal autonomy and personal design of every aspect of one’s life. The framework and fabric of capitalist structure as well as the out of touch remnants of an analog/brick and mortar world are over layered by all enterprises personally controlled. You hold the controlling device of it all in your own hand, your smartphone, colorfully lit with innumerable apps that put the entire world a click away. Click access is all. Conditions on the ground are superseded and surpassed by your access network in cyberspace.

Meanwhile, back on the ground, ‘pataphysical as it is, either Donald Trump becomes the 2016 Republican presidential candidate or there will be blood in Cleveland. A battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump promises to be as lucrative for the entertainment business, aka main stream media, as the Fight of the Century between Ali and Frazier in 1971, a fight then symbolizing a cultural battle the U.S. was fighting. Ali was the Lefist anti-Vietnam while Frazier was conservative, pro-war, thus, traitor to the flag against true patriot. Conditions on the ground then were crystal clear and only somewhat `pataphysical in that Frank Sinatra could not get a ringside seat.

Not so with a Trump vs. Hillary fight where Trump leads what looks like an impassioned lynch mob, burning with grievances, animosities and frustrations that can only be released or fulfilled by Donald Trump as if all had taken an oath of personal allegiance. The Republican Party’s allegiance to a market rule that has resulted in a de facto plutocracy within a façade of democratic rule is not in view in this Trump faction. Hillary Clinton has no passionate, angry, frustrated legions on her side but she does have the gentry on both sides who find Trump offensive, an obscene mountebank who frightens them because he is unleashed from all the moorings they respect. A President Trump would make them feel unprotected.

Anyone on the anti-plutocracy side leaves the political whirligig when Bernie leaves it. Hillary will carry on the fight for fully committed gun control, LGBT rights, women’s’ rights the full gamut of family issues, which include for her immigration, a “New Deal for Communities of Color,” and, in short, a displacement of Sanders’ single focus on plutocracy with issues that concern “Everyday Americans,” who, `pataphysically speaking, are not the people you see every day or I see every day but Hillary sees every day.

How all this will be represented leading up to the election November 8, 2016 will be transmitted online and offline in true `pataphysical madness.

What in fact are the conditions on the ground is not a simple matter of factual reportage but a clash of representations, none of which can validate itself in such a way as to be uncontested. You need only go to Twitter to view the clash and the absence of any progression in the search for truth or the recognition of any kind of #hashtag advance in understanding. Offline, most especially TV reportage, elections are followed like a horserace or a reality competition show where the audience at home votes via cellphone.

You cannot assume that a steady diet of such displays of competition and voting has not brought the 2016 presidential campaign into its fold. Few know what Trump’s position might be on, say, the flat tax or lobbyists and the revolving door, but they are likely to know him from the show The Apprentice where he happily proclaimed, “You’re fired!” How that talent has attracted the percentage of the population who actually have been fired, or have not been hired, or hate but fear the bosses threatening to fire them is one of the great mysteries of this election fortunately made crystal clear by `pataphysics.

Facebook is an online source of knowledge, at least the kind you are interested in and you are sure to get from the friends you select though secretly you know your words of wisdom have the longevity of a single sheet in a toilet paper roll. You can of course follow the mentors, the Virgilian guides in your life on Twitter. I am reminded in the margins of my Facebook site to follow Bieber. Something about my writing profiles me as an ardent follower. Another great mystery cleared up by `pataphysics.

When you scroll down twice on your smartphone and there are still words to be read, you bail out. You prefer emojis or use Vine, Snapchat or Instagram for quick, disposable video messages because pictures are worth a thousand words, a truth story, if established, would have preempted printing at the cave painting stage.

The direct democracy of cyberspace where everyone on the planet had a blogging site was destined to undermine society’s need to have a majority of people on the same page often enough to justify the existence of society itself. In an ideal world, society is defined by cohesion of values and meanings. The abyss is defined as a loud chaotic cacophony of personal issues each imposing its truth upon the other. Fortunately, the smart phone has prevented the calamity of a chaos of PC bloggers. What we face now is everyone corralled within the universe of their smart phones, from apps to playlists to contact directories to favored social media. In other words, the idea that there is a need to pursue a common understanding, or, a social solidarity through such efforts, is a bygone idea. You might call this a `pataphysical advance.

The world of communication is still a Tower of Babel but now we each cut out our personal space and ignore the rest, the “whatever” happenings. You may be on the same page in regard to anything as your chosen friends but the Enlightenment idea of universally accepted universal rules of judgment and understanding? That was a pretense and a presumption that the smart phone has shattered. We are now heading for a world in which everyone knows everything according to his or her own preferences and everyone therefore knows everything differently. Margaret Thatcher was right in a way. She should have said, “The idea of society will soon be vacated from the human mind.” She was, of course, pataphysical but not quite pataphysical enough.

So, conditions on the ground as represented online and offline seem none to promising when one considers “The Amazing Race” heading toward November 8, 2016.

I wind up with a close-up of conditions on the ground.

When I ask the young lady who has asked me if I found everything I was looking for (an ordered phrase replacing paper or plastic. The mysteries of free speech) what she thinks of Bernie Sanders she tells me he’s a moron. Really? Bernie? Then she tells me they’re all morons. Everybody or just politicians? I ask. Politicians, she tells me. Well, thank God you and I are not morons I tell her. She gives me a look. She’s not a moron. She’s thinking if I like Bernie Sanders and pay attention to politics than I must be a moron. I forgive her. It’s a `pataphysical forgiveness.

On the way out, I ask myself are the real morons the folks who stand behind Trump regardless of how low on the humanity level he goes? Or are the morons the ones who have dismissed with a Grand Delete — “They are all morons” — an American electoral politics that has led to plutocracy? It seems clear to me that total frustration triggered by total confusion felt by a bottom 40% and increasingly by a middle 40% of the population has preempted a continuous state of anger by simply casting politics and politicians into the moron/moronic pile.

Perhaps those who will not let go of Trump do so because they, like him, are assailed by powerful forces they cannot identify, the anonymous power elite. It doesn’t matter that Trump comes from the plutocrat camp because right now he is saying what they would say. He’s a rebel; a bad subject of the crown, a bad subject of Obama. and that’s what they want to be. A truly astounding psychological mystery. Our conditions on the ground move very far from the illusions of commonly accepted factual reportage or from a #hashtag resolution and remain surrounded in dark and really crazy mysteries.

Not, of course, from a `pataphysical point of view.

 

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Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Travels of a New Gulliver.

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