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That’s the Problem: Nothing Proves Anything

Still from “Anon.” (Netflix)

We are out of the Iran nuclear deal because nothing anyone said to President Trump proved anything to him.

We saw this on day one when no amount of visual and statistical proof could convince him that he did not have the largest crowd in inauguration history but about one third of what he claimed.

External verification or proof is only needed for those who question their own opines, gut reactions, and knowledge base, their own wisdom and erudition. Of course, the presence of the latter two would incite a questioning skepticism on all occasions. Based on what the president presented as reasons for reneging on the Iran deal, it’s clear he would not, if given, passed an examination of what that agreement entailed, what problems it faced and resolved, and what its absence might lead to.

But I doubt if his rash action here, with consequences the informed see but the president does not, will rouse any fury and furor not soon erased, perhaps by a new and startling #MeToo revelation and certainly by the upcoming North Korea meet between Kim Jong-un and President Trump. Another Robert Mueller action may also grab the headlines. Giuliani is set to detour attention to the next confusing idiocy, strategically wiser than allowing public attention to linger too long on the transparency of the President’s own idiotic tweets.

Nothing will come of anything now because nothing proves anything.

I call this a new paradigm, perhaps modeled on an erroneous rendition of a postmodern mindset in which truth is not a component of reality but what we ourselves say about ourselves, our actions, and the world we inhabit. We inhabit our own narratives, a “worlding” of what we make of anything.

The erroneous part enters when we then assume that “we” is first person singular and that the “I” is somehow free and outside dominating narratives of all stripes, present and past. This misconception and illusion leads to the meme/algorithm that “nothing proves anything to me except what I choose to accept.”

This describes our “post-truth” state. It is a far cry from the view that everything or nothing are both chosen and proven within a context in which choice and proof are always already narrated. By this, I mean that we live within our culture, in the broad sense of culture as Raymond Williams defines it as a whole way life, in an inherited and accreting array of narrations of the world. Our personal narration is shaped and emerges thusly. It’s a process, as we are now fond of saying. The cultural narrative may be a monologue shared by all or a confusion of clashing tweets, vying for supremacy. Nonetheless, such comprises a narrated reality frame within which we struggle to make everything mean something.

Because our president is no more than a kind of representing avatar of the post-truth attitude, a presidency we were not prepared for but for whom we have already prepared the way, and he is a passing presence, I find it more worthwhile to focus on what will remain after he’s gone.

And that is this deep and dark revelation now inhabiting the American mass psyche: “Nothing proves anything.”

My title is a quote from Andrew Niccol’s film Anon released on Netflix May 4th, the same day President Trump admitted for the first time that he reimbursed his lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, for a $130,000 hush money payment Cohen made to Stormy Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election. Rudy Giuliani had forced Trump’s hand here by revealing that payment the day before on Fox News. Then again, there might have been a Trump/Giuliani strategy, a kind of admission of a lesser rap in order to avoid charges that are more serious. In this case, the more serious charge was a campaign finance violation that Giuliani felt he was getting off the table with the words: “There was no campaign finance violation.” The lesser rap was exposing Trump, who had previously declared he did not know anything about a payment to Daniels.

This seems like a normal run of political maneuvering but it is not.

We now speak in terms of controlling the narrative or of getting ahead of the narrative or countering the narrative. The narrative, the story telling comes first, the proof of anything comes after, is, in fact, packaged in the narrative. If the narrative works, supporting evidence, proof, is not subject to any review or validation by an outside authority or acknowledged reference but is rather held within the authorizing frame of the narrating itself. What is logical is determined within an enclosed system of logic that we acknowledge and accept.

The art here is to fabricate/construct such a narrating frame that represents your logic as valid, as true and real as your own personal dreams and schemes say they are.

Trump’s lying about his hush money payment to Daniels thus only puts his pants on fire if he has not already successfully sold a “truthful hyperbole” narrative and the buyers are themselves not already in a “nothing proves anything” world.

When The Washington Post reports that just one year “after taking the oath of office, President Trump has made 2,140 false or misleading claims,” that reportage has as little impact on that percentage of the population already within Trump’s explanatory logic, his narrating of truth and reality, as his “grab’em by the pussy” moral directive has had impact — none — on Evangelicals.

A special set of circumstances and conditions must exist for nothing to prove anything. We have now created and live within such a cyberspace.

Consider that the discourse that matters now goes on in social media. And its delivery system, namely, the Smartphone, has curtailed our already fractal attention span to text and twitter dimensions. The deeply rooted meme of “more is better,” derived from our acquisitive “getting and spending” prime directive, has left us with a “discourse” field of viciously quarreling combatants on any matter, mostly of no matter, that fad and fickleness of mind post.

Nothing proves anything when everything indiscriminately and mindlessly floods the field. Trump’s descent into the Twitter world to carry on the affairs of State could only have been made if we had not all gone there first. It is the place to be now, a pataphysics rendition of a bygone reading of The Times every morning.

Everything means everything and therefore nothing means anything when we leave reality behind and move to this alternative hyperreality. Here, alternative facts, alternative truth, alternative reason all go on in a frenzied moshpit from which we are neither willing nor able to liberate ourselves.

As Clive Owen in the film Anon laments, such a state of affairs is “the problem.” In that futuristic world where our own perspective is stored in cyberspace and can be altered, no representation of reality can prove itself true nor can the fraudulent be exposed as such. In this movie that has happened because cyberspace is the truth-establishing reference point and cybertech has progressed to the point that it can simulate reality seamlessly.

We are very close to both conditions right now. However, cyberspace, for all its displacement of what a character in Anon calls by a variety of names —  “the big room,” “outside space” “the flesh world”– and every generation prior to the World Wide Web’s invention in 1989 called “reality” — has not replaced the real as Baudrillard envisioned hyperreality would.

Another reason we are all not in the camp in which nothing proves anything is the presence of a remnant memory held by those who have lived at least half of their lives in a world in which reality had not duplexed into real space and cyberspace. In that pre-cyberspace world, the arbiters of truth and reality verification held forth on only one platform, one courtroom of adjudication. You could say that everything had not yet quite sprung free of a single reality within which and through which everything referred.

Regardless of how much any individual asserted a personal will to power, an autonomy that allowed one an agency that the world could not bring to heel, the world could not be brought to comply with such self design. That situation no longer exists in cyberspace, an obliging domain where even solipsists can find confirmation of their self centered cosmogony and theogony.

Cyberspace allows a multi-plexing of realities that real space and time cannot. This multi-plexing of reality in cyberspace and its welcoming of every sort of juiced madcap narrative spun out of the navels of the self-designing, free to choose lot makes it impossible for anything to be proven, at least to the point where a president can be indicted, tried, impeached or jailed.

Although cyberspace remains an enabling, facilitating instrument of our “nothing proves anything” state of being, providing an accommodating space for Flat Earthers, Holocaust deniers and Illuminati believers and so on, it is not an originating cause.

That state of being emerges from a destructive/deconstructive response to a failure of our political party duopoly to counter the Monopoly game effects of an economic system both parties underwrite. A Grand Canyon of a wealth gap has as clearly led to a wealth/lobbyist complex ruling our politics as suppressed wages have led to frustration, insecurity and anger in search of something or someone to blame.

All that corrupting economic and political drama has had its social and cultural presentation, like an inhabiting infection presenting itself broadly. And like an invading infection, the weakest features of our humanity are targeted. You could also say that the affective, experiential, prereflective, atavistic aspects of our humanity are targeted. Michelle Obama may counsel “When they go low, we go high” but marketers know that going low, reaching the reptilian brain, is where the hook is most effectively set.

And there have been a whole range of issues in which a Dividend Class feels the need to bait that sort of hook in order to deflect attention from a system that benefits them but has led to a “precarization and fractalization of labor” provoking “a deep mutation in the psychosphere.” (Berardi, And: Phenomenology of the End, 2015)

A middle class diminished because they no longer have a needed function in the way business is done fall toward a bottom 20% who are challenged to “start a business” within that same business domain which has no need of them. They are also diminished in a way that is historically new and that is related to our duplexing of reality and cyberspace.

Franco “Bifo” Berardi describes this new clash as one in which “the electronic universe of transmission interfaces with the organic world of reception” and all manner of pathological effects are produced. Those in classical economic straits are now also assailed by a new dimension of stress, of an information overload and a “saturation of neural circuitry” that makes it difficult to sort out problems and solutions, especially when “the infosphere, the universe of transmitters” is offered as the means of remediation and recuperation.

The response a 1% and the 20% meritocratic, professional class that serves the 1% make to this historically brand new predicament of so large a percentage of the population is fear and disdain.

Fear because such a large percentage of the population computed as irrelevant to the way the infosphere enables capital without labor is yet a destabilizing threat both in the streets and in the voting booth.

Disdain arises quite naturally among the dividend recipient, gentrified class for those who seem to choose not to work and invest and who have been led by Liberal largesse toward an unproductive dependency on the profits of the gentrified class. Such an explanatory rationale is necessary to preserve and protect the sanctity of the freedom of personal choice and the accompanying assumption of personal responsibility. Both Losers and Winners must accept the fruits of their choices.

On a less inflated level, the Winners do not want to be taxed to pay the health care bills of the Losers, though one could quite cynically say that there is a dividend to be made on the bad health of the same. Whether the seven out of ten Americans who take at least one prescription drug a day are better helped by this than those who own pharmaceutical stock are helped by this practice is an exploding question.

In what I believe is also new historically speaking is the sudden solidifying and personifying of this socio-cultural drama, incorporating politics and economics, as well as the total mass American psychosphere, in one man, Donald Trump, the oft bankrupt huckster, TV reality star, presidential campaigner and now the 45th President of the United States of America.

Such a great deal seems to have been distilled into his presence, including the dilemma we find ourselves in where nothing proves anything. If it did, Trump would have failed to promote himself in a court where only what is real is reasonable, what is reasonable is real.

But the court Trump found himself in was the court in which nothing proves anything, the Court of Pataphysics.

Trump appraised the anger, insecurity and frustration that were there to be witnessed. But politicians on both sides were committed by their own interests to ignore it all. Trump recognized the seething drama and then he brought all of it to him in ways identity branders would envy, openly applying the hard sell, aggressiveness that sparks American’s own brand of capitalism.

A very clever player, he plays bold until he is caught. Thus, he has made transparent the playbook of politics and economics in the U.S., fueling the enmity of those wishing to keep both discourses on a sacred plain, which is the habitual desire of the hypocrite.

In the eye of his followers, however, his is a refreshing, welcomed transparency. The swamp he promises to drain is the deceit and obfuscation in which the rapacious nature of both our economics and our politics is enshrouded. The greatest irony, one that would have surely been relished by the Greek gods, is this ludicrous establishment of a man of the swamp, a man quintessentially representing deceit, a man wallowing in by hook or crook wealth and personal regard that Narcissus, son of a river god and a nymph, could not rival. Half of us worship him for all that and the other half are half delirious in their zeal to get rid of him.

So we can see that if nothing proves anything anymore it may be because there’s nothing we can establish in the real world that is not de-established in the hyperrreality of cyberspace, where there are no reference points of validation external to its own labyrinth, one truly without beginning, middle or end.

We can also see that almost a half century of an order of things that has proven to be unhelpful to some 80% of the population has led to an angry, rebellious affirmation that nothing proves anything anymore, meaning that the authorized proving methods and resulting proofs of that order need to be destructed and deconstructed.

The election of a blind destructive force named Donald Trump obliges the destructive drive. The deconstruction of all meaning and sense underway daily on social media obliges the deconstructive drive, although this is more aptly described as pataphysics, which Alfred Jarry defines as “the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments.”

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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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