By Dmitry Kaledin, a mathematician, former director of the Dau institute, murdered in November, 1968 and resurrected, to some extent, in December, 1969.

In retrospect, 1968 looks like a sort of a pinnacle, although it's not quite clear of what.

Economy was booming and had been booming for twenty-five years, to the point that the curse of the business cycles was assumed to have been conquered by science, and Nobel Prize for Economics was fearlessly introduced by the Swedish central bank. USA was on the verge of finally getting modern amenities like the universal health care. Sexual revolution was in full swing, with people finally freed, again by science, from the twin perils of unwanted pregnancy and venereal disease. Organized religion was about to expire. Christianity was certainly less relevant than the latest music-hall band, and Islam was something for history buffs and men who prefer donkeys to women. Men and women with more conventional tastes were into other pursuits (such as automating the male sex out of existence and/or walking on the Moon). Science ruled the day.

Another thing 1968 certainly was is a year of upheavals.

These happen in Europe from time to time; to make sense of 1968, it is useful to go back to a previous one, 1848, Spring of the Nations. While it did give us some new nations as a byproduct,[1] in general, the spring was false: the main fruit failed to materialize. We are still haunted by it, but it is still only a spectre.

Marx has been unfortunate: like a typical Jewish genius, he had one or two great insights, and then got carried away and added a lot of rubbish. This is similar to Freud whose specific theories about repressed sexuality being the cause of all evil are now just a curious historical footnote (except for America where it might be true), while his main discovery, the fact that the rational human mind is just a humble speck floating on the chemical ocean of the unconscious, is just as banal and obvious as the spherical form of the Earth (except for America where some doubt it). With Marx, rubbish mostly concerned "proletariat" and its revolutionary role. The insights were two: the law of the change of historical formations, and the discovery of The Capital.

The explanation of historical progression in terms of the change in the modes of production of course was not new: it was pretty clear to the Scottish Enlightment figures even before Adam Smith. What Marx brought to the subject was his absolute insistence on the revolutionary character of the change. He was following Hegel, a scared German trying to explain away Napoleon, but, being a brave Jew, went much further, to the root cause, and gave a clear and convincing answer to the main question: why did the French revolution succeed, while all the other similar uprisings have been failing miserably for hundreds of years.

His answer still stands.

One immediate corollary of the theory was that there is no chance of a second change of formation for quite a long time to come (in particular, 1848 is just a small insignificant aftershock). All the gibberish about "proletariat" directly contradicts the main theory and was clearly introduced out of frustration; when proletariat, just as the theory predicted, was found to be completely incapable of any meaningful action, in fact just as regressive and idiotic as peasants under the feudal system, some thought that the theory is therefore dead. It's hard to see why, and it's hard to see what to replace it with.[2]

The second discovery, that of the capital, is even more important, and in retrospect, should have been even more obvious. Large systems have a life of their own; why would a million people taken together behave as a collection of individuals? For people with any training in natural sciences, the idea looks preposterous. A gas is a gas, it obeys simple rules, what particular molecules it is made of is completely irrelevant to the macroscopic behaviour. Of course, those who are allowed to develop social theory tend to be close to those in power, and those in power tend to disdain science. Marx, a Jewish revolutionary, was definitely excluded from the club and insisted on being rigorously scientific. How much rigor he actually had is debatable but not important --- to borrow a phrase, when you see a horse dance, it is not the quality of the dance that matters but the fact that it is a horse doing it.[3] The final step of the dance was the famous formula: "commodity-money-commodity" is replaced by "money-commodity-money", whereby money becomes a subject of history. A prerequisite for this is that money must flow free; once this has been achieved, typically by a revolution, money coalesces into impersonal neutral Das Kapital, an active demon that from now on rules the world.[4]

Again, money (or "market") as a somewhat separate entity has been envisioned before (certainly by Adam Smith and the Scots), but never with such force, and never with such horror. In fact, surprisingly -- and this persists to the present day -- a large number of people who are not obviously starkly mad consider the entity as basically benign. That this should be so is strange: at the very least, on general grounds, the entity should be very powerful and very primitive -- more primitive even than an amoeba, let alone any individual human being -- and it should be equally and utterly indifferent to all of these individual human beings.[5] There is no rational reason to expect such a thing to be kind to you: believing in this could only indicate a mental infirmity of some sort (such as religion).

It's not that Marx was irreligious, Opium of the Masses and all that -- he was expressly antireligious. His own innate religious feeling was firmly attached to science, the main antagonist of religion.

The funny thing here is that modern science is a modern concept, hardly older than capitalism itself, and in fact pretty much dependent on it (at least at first, free flow of money tends to create a free flow of ideas as a byproduct, and balancing the account books is a good precursor to scientific methodology). Thus it should be conditional, not absolute, and it should disappear once capitalism has been overthrown. Marx realized this fully, and got out of the conundrum by the usual mental trickery marxists call "dialectics" -- burgeois science would be dialectically superceded by proletarian science, whatever it is (in practice, dogmatic marxism) after capitalism itself is superceded by communism, whatever it is. Whatever communism might be was left somewhat vague, and not much more appealing than Christian paradise (or Gnostic "immanentization of the eschaton").[6]

But modulo these minor corrections, Marx lived and died a scientist, at least from his own point of view. The trouble came later. The fact that his legacy morphed into little more than a cult is due to something over which he had no control, and something he actually despised. Russian Empire, in its mindless expansion, conquered and absorbed several groups of foreigners (Jew, Ukrainians, Poles, and so on), and these then had to try to convert the Khanate of Moscow into something where a person could, if not really live, then at least survive. In the end, they failed with a vengeance; but in the process of getting there, they took several things and utterly destroyed them by adapting for the Muscovite masses. Marxism was one.[7]

However, some of the tradition survived in Europe, deep underground,[8] below hordes of crooks, spies and idiots singing paeons to Stalin, and in the early 1960-es, it bore fruit.

It is ironic that out of many attempts to revise and revive Marxism, the only successful one came from people who were not political theorists at all, but artists. Guy Debord, the leader of the group, would vehemently deny this, but it was him who explained clearly why it should be so. By this time, capitalism has developed a lot and lost a lot of its youthful savagery; few people starved anymore. But for someone who wants more than just to eat, it became infinitely more suffocating. While The Capital was now reasonably adept at feeding the populace, it itself needed food, and the total of the production cycle has been completely absorbed. The next frontier was cultural: the sphere of representation. The Capital was about to methamorph into a new stage of its parasitic lifecycle, and acquire a new face that Debord called "the Spectacle".

It is useless to recapitulate "Society of the Spectacle" -- unlike "Das Kapital", it is beautifully written, exquisitely concise, totally free of rubbish, and survives well even in English translation. But let us recall the main points. Domination of the Capital needs to be total (amoebas are too stupid to be house-trained). The only part of a human life not yet conquered is the eight hours between work and sleep, theoretically free "leisure time", up to now excluded from the money cycle. But with modern media technology, any activity people could conceivably engage in during this "free time" can, in principle, be taken from them, repackaged and sold back at a profit. Sex, obviously, but not only that -- art, music, politics, exchange of ideas; everything. And since it can, it must -- what used to be lived will be now consumed.

The totality of this is staggerring, once you stop to consider all the implications. Alienation, a purely economic concept for Marx, the fact of forcible separation between you and the "surplus value" you produce in the course of the usual manufacturing activity, takes on a completely new meaning when it is reality itself that is being manufactured, and the "surplus value" is your whole life. For example, creative life becomes impossible: you cannot write a book or make a movie since there is nothing to describe or to film. People don't live anymore, they just replay scenes from earlier films, so that effectively, whatever you do just adds another mirror to the bad infinity of mirrors, signifying precisely nothing and having all the sound and fury of a commercial jingle. Moreover, even if a new creative idea appears somehow, it is immediately stolen and absorbed by the Spectacle (the technical term for this is "recuperation").[9]

Debord, a filmmaker by trade[10], saw early on where it was getting at, stopped making films and turned to politics. It was immediately obvious from his analysis that if you want to fight capitalism, for whatever reason, it would be useless to do it say by industrial action -- that fight has been lost[11] a long time ago. The war now needs to be a culture war, a war of pure ideas. It was equally useless to organize a political party[12]. His weapon of choice was detournement, cultural subversion, a later-day version of industrial sabotage. A campaign of subversion inaugurated by Debord and his friends was so well-hidden in plain sight that it went completely unnoticed by the Spectacle (nor by any of its willing participants), and so effective that by 1968, they could boast that "our ideas are in everybody's heads". In May, Paris erupted. Nobody knew where this would lead.

Across the Atlantic, the dynamic was much the same, although it would be pointless to look for its reflection in conventional political theory. America was never strong in political theory anyway because it could afford not to be -- Jefferson designed the machine too well, it didn't need much tinkering. After the unfortunate McCarthyist episode, the little there was became completely disbarred from actual decision-making, and that spelled the end of it: freed from the necessity to talk to people in power, social sciences began their decline into aggressive senility that is so obnoxiously evident today, while what the people in power really believe in is even worse[13]. Besides, unlike Europe, America was still a land of religion -- this partially explains the characteristic American optimism and the tendency to consider capitalism as fundamentally benign, and forces social sciences into irrelevance.[14] But hard sciences were going strong, urged on by the selfsame optimism and the Sputnik effect[15]. And while Marxism, in spite of all the efforts of Trotsky and others, never got a hold in the States, it was not really needed -- put against the deeply religious background, science itself had undiminished revolutionary credentials. This was what framed the discourse: where the French would read and write manifestos and/or philosophy books, Americans were doing their thinking in the form of science fiction.[16]

In general, American counterculture was much more hedonistic and apolitical then its European counterpart -- the students weren't much interesed in demanding the impossible, they just wanted their sex, drugs and rock-n-roll[17], unrealistic as it might be. Besides, the country was on the right track anyway, onward to the Great Society, barring some very unlikely mishap[18]. There was no need to act, even locally; this allowed free time for thinking globally.

Apparently, most of the ideas were current already in 1968, but for historical reasons, it is easier to use a summary given slightly later in the books by R.A.Wilson (officially, a science fiction writer).

Firstly, it was common knowledge that computer technology was progressing at a breathtaking pace, so that most of the routine jobs will become obsolete within the lifespan of a generation[19]. Secondly, biology was also going strong, so it was not clear what this lifespan might be. Thus Timothy Leary's S.M.II.L.E. program: Space Migration, Intelligence Increase, Life Extension. All three parts are important here. While the Moon was obviously reachable, the stars were not, by a mere accident of galactic geography and the limitation of the speed of light. However, imagine the lifespan of a human increased by a factor of ten. Then the fifty-odd years one would need to reach Alpha Centauri by an Orion-type spacecraft become fifty months, and the journey suddenly looks very enticing. But to get your life extension before it's too late, one needs to to increase the pace of science even more; thus the Intelligence Increase. For Leary, this obviously meant LSD, but he probably would not object to Artifical Intelligence (at the time, not yet a ludicrous proposition only convincing to people with a lack of natural one). The emphasys on Space had something to do with the space race and the Sputnik, and much more to do with claustrophobia: Earth was felt to have become a closed system, an obvious contradiction to the idea of progress[20]. But with Space, the innate American capacity for hope found a plausible outlet[21].

Wilson recounts all of this, and then observes that with all the powers of LSD at hand, it might not even be needed. The rate of the scientific progress, measured e.g. by the number of publications in some specific field, seems to be already hyperexponential. Wilson's name for this is "the Law of the Jumping Jesii"[22]: at each iteration, the amount of time it takes for the output to increase twofold itself decreases twofold. A purely formal consequence of this is that the output function not only grows very fast, it actually diverges: goes to infinity at some finite "omega point" (projected to be some time around 2012).

On the negative side, the dynamic of alienation was also at work, and in fact even more so than in Europe, since American capitalism was much more developed. Nobody used foreign commie words like "alienation" but the feeling was palpable. An early novel by Philip K. Dick[23] starts by describing a picture-perfect suburban life of a picture-perfect suburban American family, in all its picture-perfect detail. By the middle of the book, the picture-perfectedness fills you with such horror and dread that you are almost relieved to learn, in the end, that no, the whole thing is not real, it just an artificial zoo created by aliens to keep some human specimens happy and content.[24] Better a horrible end than horror without end.

But of course, it was only too real -- by definition. This was now the reality.

This might explain why in spite of all the hedonism, the Great Society and bright technological future just beyond the corner, people who had absolutely no need to revolt felt the urge to do so, for no particular cause.

In 1968, Antonioni was hired essentially to document all this, just as he did for Swinging London two years earlier in "Blow-up", and just as his compatriot Jacopetti did for Africa in "Africa Addio". The result was "Zabriskie point". It was excoriated by many as essentially shallow, a caricature of America, a work of an arrogant European who came just briefly and didn't care to explore the many important causes people were fighting for. Well, he tried, up to contacting the Black Panthers and asking to stage a "negro riot" for him (a request that supposedly almost got him killed). But in the end he saw, correctly, that the speficic issues, whatever they might be, were completely transient and irrelevant to what he came to record. What he filmed was reality, the new normal: shallow, meaningless, very beautiful, fantastic landspaces of Southern California, a pretty boy and an even prettier girl; and the only possible and logical way to end the story was to blow the whole fucking thing up, for straight fifteen minutes, accompanied by a haunting English song about a guy not being careful enough with his axe.

Antonioni of course could just pack and leave, go home to his land where people still smiled[25]. The locals had to deal with it, one way or another.

American answer, of sorts, to "Society of the Spectacle" was "Principia Discordia", an appropriately anonymous book[26] published some time in 1960-es someplace in California[27] with a print run of ten copies or so. Since I never saw one, I am again following R.A. Wilson who got several books out of it later on.[28] Roughly speaking, what we have here is an analysis of how power works in the modern world, what is reality made of, and how to deal with it, should you choose to do so. This is not dissimilar to what Marx did for his world, and just as Marx, it is based on hard science, but not directly -- rather, on its worldview. Marx was working in the XIX century, the time of the intelligible clockwork Universe that played by the rules. Things moved along predictable trajectories guided along by the First Law of Thermodynamics, Conservation of Energy, comparable to the flow of the Capital between perfectly balanced account books. But in hard sciences, this picture is obsolete; in physics, it has been obsolete for almost a hundred years. We now know that the world is not deterministic. It is not only that the real causes of events are unreachable, it is worse than that: like hidden variables in quantum theory, they simply do not exist. All we can observe is a spectrum, an interference pattern; instead of looking for rules and laws, we should observe these patterns, pay attention to unusual details, and guess at general trends without really believing in general trends.

Applied to political theory, this means that "reality is what you can get away with", and all the real power in the world is hidden and has always been hidden, as if it were invested in a network of interacting conspiracies, and guided by the flow of information as well as the flow of energy, by the Second Law of Thermodynamics[29] together with the First.

To put it bluntly, the American counterpart to French detournement was quantum history: all the possible pasts happened. An electron passed through both slits; JFK was assasinated by 23 people shooting simultaneously from 46 different locations. To know what's going on, you have to integrate over all possibilities, and then the best you get is a probability. In the world ruled by conspiracy, the real weapon of a revolutionary is not conspiracy but conspiracy theory; if you don't train yourself by believing in at least six impossible things before each breakfast, you're lost[30]. The Illuminati are out to get you and immanentize the eschaton[31], but it doesn't matter anyway: any sufficiently secret society produces results that are indistinguishable from chaos.[32]

In the end, Debord's Spectacle and Discordian Illuminati are two different descriptions of the same thing, with the same characteristic properties (malice coupled to stupidity and multiplied by immense power) and the same clearly inhuman biology (if biology is the right word). What to call it is a matter of tactics rather than strategy. Marxist phraseology has the advantage of invoking the ghosts of martyrs passed, for those who need moral support from dead people, while Discordian comic book language is remarkably protected against recuperation: a mainstream politician or news outlet that would try to peddle conspiracy theories to the general populace will be laughed out of existence too fast to gain any measurable profit from the exercise. Or so you might hope.

The upheavals of 1968 were not limited to Europe and America: even in Africa, there emerged at least one nation both able and willing to run itself[33], and it was desperately trying to carve its own country out of "Nigeria" imposed by the British. China was at the height of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Closer to home, the Czechs and Slovaks had their Spring. Official communism notwithstanding, the dynamic here was probably the same as elsewhere, the lightness of modern being becoming unbearable and urging people who traditionally only care about beer and dumplings to rise up. But they also had a more immediate enemy, and after some vacillation, it struck. Prague Spring was crushed, and the last possible hope for the Soviet Union went with it -- in retrospect, this was exactly the point of no return. Imagine, however, that in an alternative universe, the Soviet leadership was slightly less senile and slightly less criminal, and maybe also slightly younger, and in fact, maybe slightly more Marxist[34]. What would they see in the whole tumult of 1968?

Surprisingly, the answer is "promise".

Indeed, from a mainstream Marxist perspective, the first thing to understand when seeing a potential revolution is what is its class content -- does it correspond to a new mode of production that needs to free itself, in which case there is a chance, or is it just more of the same, in which case everything is hopeless? And in fact, just such a new mode of production was emerging, in the form of what could be loosely termed "knowledge-based economy", with computers and automation as prominent examples. It was based a commodity of a new type -- a computer program, an industrial algorithm, in the end, a pure idea -- whose key feature is that once it exists, it can be replicated ad infinitum with no cost (or, more precisely, for a cost in energy negligible to that incurred in creating it in the first place). This obviates the need for capital investment and, especially with the scientific progress being hyperexponential, easily outcompetes the old industrial economy: organized money becomes obsolete. But in order to achieve its full growth rate, the new economy needs a freedom of a new kind -- free flow of information instead of free flow of energy (and/or money). This means that on purely economic grounds, once the new mode matures and overtakes the current industrial system in sheer numerical effectiveness, it will get what it needs. But as we saw, the whole oppressive machinery of dominant capitalism, both in the form of the sovereign monopolistic Spectacle and in the form of hypothetical evil Illuminati is based on just the opposite: hoarding and monopolizing information and communication channels, restricting the flow. This means that at the next change of formation, the whole sorry edifice will just tumble down like a house of cards. Manufacturing reality will simply stop making economic sense.

The only question is "when".


And the only way from a pinnacle is down.

In the short term, it all went down. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution ended with an insignificant skirmish on the USSR border and the meaningless death of meaningless Lin Biao (its total impact on Chinese economy was later found to have been negligible, as opposed to the disaster of the Great Leap Forward). Biaffra was murdered, for no clear reason other than sheer British racism. To add insult to injury, it was then turned into a globally televised soap opera that gave us a charity[35] and a paradigm: from now on, all news from Africa will be about corruption and/or genocide. Nixon was impeached in the end, but by that time, Great Society was the snow of yesteryear. Just as he promised, the last thing he ever did was recognize the Red China, funny at the time and positively ironic in retrospect. De Gaulle stayed on and resigned later; his successor and protege died in office and was replaced by a school-mate of Benoit Mandelbrot who was in turn replaced by Socialist Mitterand; their policies stayed roughly the same. Worldwide, Revolution quickly reduced itself to mere Opium of the Intellectuals, although not before producing some fantastically elegant acts of terror (such as Lynnette Fromme's attempt to assasinate President Ford, with a gun she managed to put to his head but neglected to load beforehand). Debord lived until 1988, long enough to see "Society of the Spectable" join "Words and Things" on salon tables and magazine covers, and also to observe Warsaw 1980 and to comment that, with it being in effect staged and rehearsed by Wajda for his next movie[36], he was right all along. One wonders what would he have made of Berlin 1989 and Moscow 1991.[37]

Robert Anton Wilson died in 2007; in the best Roman tradition, the manner of his death[38] confirms and amplifies his fantastic life. Omega point apparently came and went without him but we are not sure since nobody paid attention. By this time, the concept degenerated to a buzzword for people with names like "Oral Roberts" or "Clefto Dollar"[39], good enough for selling videos, lecture tours and books, and little else. Americans continue to do their thinking in science fiction, but apparently, there's not much thinking going on anymore[40].

Economy crashed with the first oil embargo, and has been limping along since then, with periodic recoveries supported by the latest voodoo, and 14 out the 3 last recessions having been successfully predicted by the economists. The only possibly objective measure of the well-being of the population, the inverse to the number of hours per week that a person spends earning a living, has been going down steadily at least since the early Reagan era. The number of scientific publications that so impressed R.A. Wilson back in the seventies keeps going up, with China and India leading the way. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the rate of progress, and everything to do with the perverse stimuli employed by various funding agencies: when you can't get the real thing, you settle for a cargo cult. Developed capitalism hates science[41] but tolerates it, because it has its uses (just as King Edward I tolerated his Jews[42]).

In science itself, the progress has been mixed. Nuclear Physics ended in the 60-es.[43] More applied things such as Astronomy and Biology are doing just fine. In particular, we now know for sure that within say twice the distance to the nearest star, there are thousands (or more) planets, many of them habitable. We've also had some life extension, ten years rather than ten times, and this is about to bankrupt our pension system. Whether it will also take us closer to the stars remains to be seen.

The funny thing is, the basic Marxist analysis presented above remains just as valid as it would have been in 1968. In fact, even more so. It is not clear how to define "knowledge-based" economy, but a good first approximation has been already mentioned: everything that deals with things that can technically be replicated at no cost. With this definition its market share is now in the double digits. This becomes even more if one includes the media, and one probably should: it satisfies the criterion, and uses the same flow of information channels as computer software and the rest. Thus a curious twist to the story that was hard to predict in 1968: fighting for the new economy and fighting against the Spectacle is now literally one and the same thing.

The problem is, this is not a new knowledge-based economy at all -- this is the usual capitalist economy dealing with knowledge. There has been some attempts to change this such as the Free Software movement but these largely failed (as of now, things that are free have little commercial role and do not constitute an economy, while everything commercial is not free). And it's hardly suprising: why would capitalism give up its ghost so easily? It itself had to endure several centuries of servitude; there was a long way to go from the Italian bankers and Flemish weavers of the fourteenth century to the French Revolution and American Declaration of Independence. It stands to reason that it should give back as least as good as it got.

So, right now we are in an era of repression. Culture warriors of the Civil Rights movement morphed into morality police. LSD has been banned and will remain banned ("for recreational use", which in practice does not affect the recreational use provided for by the black market, but precludes anything else). Copyright laws, the capitalist counterpart to the feudal prohibitions of usury, will become more and more draconian and absurd. Hard science, at the price of being confined to a sort of intellectual ghetto, is and will be exempt. In fact, there is every reason to expect that scientists will be nourished and pampered, since effectively, science is not compatible with religion for a reason: both compete for exactly the same brain function in higher primates, and for the same place in the social structure of the tribe. Science is winning precisely because it is much more recent[44], while religion goes back to early feudal age[45]. Soon religion will join the ranks of recognized and protected mental conditions like gender disphoria, and science will take its place. But then scientists become priests, and you don't abuse your priests. You feed them, humor them, and keep them irrelevant, lest someone would start listening to them. Sooner or later this happens, Martin Luther[46] comes and, as Weber explained, that's it, your whole historial formation is doomed, welcome to the new age.

It probably would have been premature in 1968, but now one can actually speculate as to what this new age will be like, if we get there.[47]

It is obvious on general grounds of primate biology that as always, there will be two large groups, the exploiters and the exploited -- masters and slaves, lords and peasants, "burgeoisie" and "proletariat". It is also obvious on general grounds that it is the exploited who are interesting. First of all, there will be much more of them. Furthermore, they are much more paradoxical -- if you have a knowledge-based economy, how do you exploit a human?

The answer to this depends on a technical question to which we do not yet know the answer. The question is: is human brain capable of solving algorithmically unsolvable problems, and/or solving quickly problems that are solvable but hard (require exponential time)?[48]

If the answer is "no", then all of the above can disregarded: it is clear that[49] a hundred years from now, all existing humans will be extremely happy, with no distinction between exploiter and exploited, in fact with no exploitation at all, all tended to by the kindly and graceful machines and kept by them in a very comfortable zoo, out of nostalgia and as a historical curiosity.[50]

If the answer is "yes", then the picture is equally clear: the exploited will be playing video games (just as today they go to work). The games -- or, more likely, complete VR simulations -- will be many and of all kinds: porn, fantasy, murder, politics, whatever strikes someone's fancy. They will be extremely engrossing, with lots of difficult tasks and opportunities to win or to lose. All of this, in fact everything perceived consciously, will have nothing to do with the real problems at hand and will be there just for entertainment, since a person capable of doing something meaningful consciously would be one of the exploiters, not one of the exploited. But consciousness, as I mentioned above, is just a speck floating on the chemical ocean of unconscious processes -- and the overwhelming majority of humans are much smarter when they don't think. So, you[51] would be jumping from a tall tree to another tall tree in primeval jungle, pursuing a particularly hot blue-skinned member of your preferred target sex, and while you are doing this, the deep and automatic part of your brain responsible for spatial movements will actually be solving logistic problems for placing the latest batch of automatic factories in a particular corner of Mars. Or something like that.[52]

I'm not sure that the prospect is too enticing, at least to me -- but then, I wouldn't be doing this, right? And let me remark that already now, most males and many females under 25 are living like this whenever they can afford it -- except that they have to pay for it rather than get paid, and their brainpower goes to waste.

But, well, that's the long-term, the very long-term. I will not see it and neither will you. What we see in our era of repression is the Spectacle growing stronger and stronger, and the Illuminati having no trouble at all in dealing with the opposition. To illustrate this, let me consider one example: the Internet.

Before its invention by Al Gore in 1994, Internet functioned as something made by scientists for scientists. Its roots go back to early 1970-es, with funding by the US Department of Defense. The infrastructure was designed to survive a nuclear war. If the network was blocked at some point, it would automatically find an alternative route. The main public communication channel was Usenet, a collection of "discussion groups". Communication was perfectly symmetric, you could give just as good as you got, and monopolizing discourse was technically impossible, so that the thing was completely egalitarian.[53] It was also completely free of censorship since the network would just route around it. In fact, it was pretty close to a theoretical ideal conduit for information flow -- and for a while, it functioned just as the theory predicted it would.[54] The internet became a liberated enclave in the authoritarian world. The monopoly of the traditional news media, that most obvious facet of the Spectacle, was totally broken. It has become much harder to hide conspiracies and impossible to suppress conspiracy theories. In fact, the suffocating monolitic reality itself seemed to fracture and fragment into millions of alternatives, most of them human-sized. Moreover, the effect seemed contagious and possibly scaleable. Every September there will be a new influx of idiots, that with college freshmen getting their computer accounts, by October they would become normal people, by November some of them would become interesting.

Then in 1994, an Eternal September was declared: the influx became permanent. Internet has been opened to the public a large, thus starting the process of recuperation.

The end result of the process is what you see right now, and the transformation has been amazingly complete. It is best epitomized by the unholy trinity of Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. All three owe their success to a solution of the basic commercial problem: what to do with the people who have to be on the Internet to create the consumer pool but have absolutely nothing to say.

Of the three, Youtube is the least evil, and its solution is the least radical -- it just abolishes the written word. The only problem with this is that television is inherently authoritarian: the communication becomes necessarily asymmetric, and human defences against a televised image are very weak. Thus "Youtube celerities", including the political ones. Twenty years ago, a pompous ass like "Jordan B. Peterson" would have been laughed off Usenet in two minutes straight; now he's a guru, a fearless champion of the freedom of speech and cisgender rights, with hordes of devoted fans spreading the message. There is no message though[55], the whole thing is not thought but a simulacrum of thought; the medium wouldn't allow anything that has actual content to go through.

Twitter keeps the written word alive but cuts it into small meaningless chunks. The idea is essentially democratic: since a vast majority can't manage more than a single sentence anyway, let's cut everyone down to the same size. Some fit right in;[56] the others have to adjust. When you add the basic functionality of reposts to allow positive feedback loops, you end up with a machine that is basically only good for one thing: assembling lynch mobs and starting witch hunts ("metoo" being the most prominent recent example). It is not quite clear how you can make money out of it, and in fact you can't -- so far, Twitter hasn't turned any profit -- but since it doesn't look like it is going down any time soon, there's probably some hidden sinister source of funding that keeps it alive[57]. I'd prefer not to know the details.

And finally, Facebook, the absolutely worst of the lot, and at the same time, the most successful one.

It started as a "social network", something designed to attract people who cannot even produce a twit and only know how to click. Its expansion has been mind-boggling. It now happily accepts all kinds of content, and it has in-built mechanisms that allow the content to multiply and to spead, more-or-less by mindless replication. It never lets go: its user agreement explicitly stipulates that all the content uploaded to the site becomes the property of the company, and that any user account can be terminated at any time by the whim of the company. Moreover, its algorithms, and not you, decide what kind of content you see and don't see.

The end result is not a fracturing of the Spectacle but its affirmation. In fact, it is Spectacle as it wants to be, something that makes the early versions look positively amateurish.

From the economic perspective, what we have is a machine for manufacturing reality that does not even need to do the actual manufacturing -- its users happily do it themselves at no cost to you, and gift you the results of their labor. The alienation is no longer forcible and metaphorical -- it is completely voluntary and explicitly written into the user agreement. And "reality" is not a metaphor either. People literally live a large part of their life on Facebook, both numerically (just count the average hours per day people spend with their smartphones) and socially (just look at how people nowadays interact with other people). There goes your free "leisure time".

Now, the freedom of Facebook to do whatever with its users and the content they generate obviously opens the way to all sorts of political abuses but that was not the purpose of the excercise. The purpose is just the basic capitalism: they are in it for money. Until very recently, and possibly even now, Facebook algorithms were optimized with this single goal in mind. The results were predictable but amuzing. No monolitic reality emerges, none at all. Conversely, reality continues to fracture into zillions of echo-chambers, with people only ever seeing things the AI thinks they would like to see (whatever happens, your advertisers want to keep the target audience happy)[58]. But these are even less real and less human than the old monolith. The reality becomes like a shelf in a supermarket, with many differently packaged variants of the same emptyness. This is especially prominent in politics. What used to be just a choice between Coke and Pepsi (or Pepsi and Pepsi, if you were in the Soviet block) now offers you a million of exciting new possibilities; and the best of it is, you can totally trust them, since you have made them yourself. You don't have to know that there is nothing inside. Coke is not that nutritious either.[59]

But what does it all lead to?

Globally the future is of course bright, but locally, it is pretty bleak.

On the surface of it, the situation is not dissimilar from that of 1968. Something is brewing. Revolt is in the air. It is spilling over onto the streets and wreaking havoc with the ballot boxes. But there is a profound difference. Roughly speaking, while in 1968 people wanted nothing in particular but everything in general, now they just want nothing in particular, period. What gives? I have no answer but I have two guesses.

1. They want nothing because that's all that's left. The domination of the Spectacle is total, from the trivial -- there hasn't been a movie made in the last 15 years that is not a remake or a sequel of an earlier movie or a comic book -- to the crucial, in that there's not a single political idea, nor even a conspiracy theory, that has not been recuperated and integrated and made into nothing. Whatever you are doing right this minute[60] is already an integral part of the Spectacle. In such a situation, what do you want? Revolt against the Spectacle is not possible anymore; the spectacle of a revolt is all you could possibly get.

2. Forget the theory, and follow the feeling. In 1968, the world was new; even the Spectacle was bright, shiny and fresh. The first to revolt were the young people who wanted the future. These days, it's the old people: Trump is over 70, and so are the pensioners who voted in Brexit. They claim that they want the "good old days" back but that's of course an illusion. What they want is a renewal that has been long overdue. The correct historical analogy is thus not 1968 but mid-30-es, and the would-be revolutionaries are in fact the imbeciles of Bernanos whose wrath is overfilling the world. Lemmings feel that there is too many of them, they are preparing to jump. What they want is war.

Make your choice.


[1] Such as the glorious commune of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.

[2] One objection that was more valid in 1968 than it is now is that the theory is hopelessly Eurocentric: outside of Europe and territories with compatible mental outlook (Japan, Korea, Australia, the Americas), the scheme clearly does not apply. The answer to this is that no it doesn't, and for a good reason: the rest of the world is irrelevant. It does not progress at all; there is nothing to explain there, and nothing to look at. In the 60-es, especially with Africa free from colonial rule and genuinely attempting self-government, this would have been a preposterous and repressive idea clearly motivated by racism; fifty years later, it's just plain truth, nothing more, nothing less. Even in Europe, the advent of modern capitalism coupled to Anglo-Saxon-style representative democracy was not an obvious proposition since it is clearly a very bad system in very many respects -- it's just that yes, all the other ones are worse. Accepting this fact is not for the stupid and not for the faint of heart. Probably the only nation who got it the first time around was Japan. Germans had to be taught twice. The Chinese haven't accepted it yet, they still rely on Confucius -- either they will, or they will perish in one of those wonderful bloodbaths that their historians are prone to record at the end of each era. Indians don't need to accept it since to them, it doesn't apply -- their time is cyclical anyway, they don't have history, they were there 60,000 years ago and will be there when we are all gone. Africa, with its unnatural borders drawn by petty megalomaniacs in pith helmets, is in a vicious circle of misgovernment fueled by stolen aid money, and this looks hopeless. The "muslim world" will start thinking when lithium replaces oil (in about two decades, according to the current EU directives). Russia's fate depends on whether it will be bombed like Yugoslavia in 1999: if yes, it might go the way of Germany, if not, it's Saudi Arabia. Given that Russia has nuclear weapons, the second is more likely.

[3] From Roger Ebert's incomparable review of "Little Vera", the first ever Soviet erotic film.

[4] Impersonality is important: the old Bolshevik cartoons of evil capitalists in top hats are misleading. Any individual capitalist with his thoughts and wishes is no more relevant than a proletarian; when you integrate out the fast degrees of freedom, it all cancels out. Slightly after Marx, with the advent of corporations, this was legally codified: in a well-run corporation, everyone who makes decisions is just an employee, and the only interaction with shareholders, theoretically the owners, is through the balance sheet.

[5] It is so by law: corporate chapters typically expressly forbid any activity not aimed at bringing profits to the shareholders, so that any charitable activities and such are technically illegal and have to be painstakingly justified.

[6] Bertold Brecht advertised communism by comparing it to Buddhist nirvana. He probably failed to realize that Buddhism is a set of detailed instructions for commiting suicide (an almost impossible task in a universe based on reincarnation).

[7] Literature was another: compare Gogol with whatever came out of his overcoat.

[8] Even deeper: see Bob Black's "Beneath the Underground" for a rough guide.

[9] Debord was an epitome of a beneath-the-underground figure: he had no contact with the establishment whatsoever; when the whole thing blew up in 1968, nobody realized that there is a sound and lucid political theory underlying "interdit d'interdire" and "prenez vos desirs pour la realite". This only became common knowledge later, after it was stolen (or taken up) and bastardized (or detourned) by Malcolm McLaren. However, the basic underlying feeling of the coming of the Spectacle and impending doom was of course pretty common in the more conventional circles. French literary and philosophical establishment has been half-Marxist for a long time. Already in the 1950-es, alienation has been made into a buzzword by Sartre, a one-time card-carrying fellow-traveller. The coming bad infinity of mirrors didn't go unnoticed either, by literary critics at least, and also philosophers (in France, more-or-less the same thing). It has been codified as the "post-modern condition" that treats a man as a text and world as text that itself is just a graphomaniac recombination of earlier texts. However, -- with an exception of Foucault, who was too smart and too finely attuned to the mechanics of repression to really fit into the establishment, and possibly Deleuze, who just loved life too much, --- these people, and the hordes of their followers and imitators, weren't observing the coming of the Spectacle in order to fight it. Rather, they wanted to serve it. They also usually had something to hide (WWII Nazi collaboration in the case of De Man, sheer stupidity and incompetence in the case of Derrida).

[10] Not an insignificant one, apparently -- the whole of Nouvelle Vague has been described as a bastardisation of his early work.

[11] Or won, depending on your point of view -- proletarians seemed happy enough.

[12] Although he tried; after the sad spectacle of all the exclusions and factional splits, Situationist International ended up with a glorious quorum of exactly two members.

[13] Of course, we don't really know, but the glimpses we get are horrifying, e.g. the "libertarianism" of the Koch brothers, or the locker-room imbecility of the Nixon tapes.

[14] Even in its second stage -- see e.g. the career of Marshall McLuhan, "the spectacle's first apologist, who had seemed to be the most convinced imbecile of the century."

[15] And the wholesale importation of some choise brainpower before and during the war.

[16] Not the stangest game in town -- for a while, the British used to do it in the form of pop music.

[17] And a draft deferral.

[18] Such as a victory in a war being secretly sabotaged at the last moment by an evil and corrupt politican, then a popular candidate being murdered on prime-time television, then a formal procedure to inaugurate his replacement turned into an equally televised bloodbath by a bunch of cops gone berserk, thus allowing the (obviously) evil and (obviously) corrupt guy to get elected by a slimmest of margins, a real electoral fluke. But no worries, of course he would be impeached in a couple of years!

[19] See e.g. Valerie Solanas' S.C.U.M. Manifesto.

[20] A point made nicely by Norman Spinrad, another science fiction writer, in "Agent of Chaos".

[21] Interestingly, the Russian word for Space is "Cosmos", same root as "Microcosm", whereas in English it's just empty space. English is closer to the truth (as always) but less inspiring. In the end, when the dust settles and histories of the twentieth century are written, this linguistic peculiary might turn out to be the only positive contribution by Russia to the world at large.

[22] I don't know why; possibly simply for the pleasure of showing off his knowledge of the correct plural of "Jesus".

[23] "Time out of Joint"

[24] I'm simplifying, it's actually much weirder. Do read it if you haven't already.

[25] But only when they felt like it.

[26] Strictly speaking, pseudonymous, by "Macalypse the Younger".

[27] Of course now we know exactly where, when and by whom, you can read about it on Wikipedia. This is completely irrelevant.

[28] Even that is not easy: this is political theory for the quantum age. To present it as a linear narrative, one has to collapse all the wavefunctions and disentangle the threads, thus introducing the observer -- me -- into the picture, and probably killing the proverbial Schroedinger's Cat (incidentally, the title of one of these R.A. Wilson's books). But who cares, I'll do it anyway.

[29] Second Law of Thermodynamics is concerned with Enthropy that does not have a completely clean mathematical definition. However, neither does information; and in any definition, the amount of enthropy in a system is a constant minus the amount of information, so that modulo the sign, the two are essentially the same thing. The Law itself goes back to XIX century but only applies to a certain very specific class of systems (that are postulated to lose information, leading to the heat death of the Universe if it belongs to the class). The realisation that everything in the world is essentially an enthropic phenomenon, or at least cannot be understood without considering such, occurred much later, in 1950-es, with the advent of Quantum Field Theory (that to a mathematician is indistinguishable from Statistical Physics). It might also amuse the reader to learn, if he or she does not know this already, that Quantum Field Theory, while predicting concrete falsifiable facts that have been experimentally verified, is nevertheless mathematically inconsisent, and provably so. A prediction it gives is typically expressed as a series, and when you sum up the first few terms, you end up with a number that is close to what you then measure. But you have to know where to stop: if you keep too many terms, the prediction becomes wrong. The whole series is divergent (and has to be so, on valid physical grounds).

[30] Just to clarify, lest at this point if not earlier, my physicist friends consider me utterly out of my mind: yes, this is only a metaphor; no, quantum mechanics does not predict anything like this (at the very least, the scale is wrong, humans are not atoms). But it works. Try thinking in this way, preferably before breakfast; you'll see that it explains both history and current political reality much better than the mechanistic rational approach.

Also, Jesus was a mushroom.

Yes, all of this was obviously invented in California. But so was Quantum Field Theory.

[31] Confession, finally: we don't really know what this means. It's supposed to be horrible and Gnostic.

[32] This is actually a theorem you can prove. Indeed, a secret society, while guided by the flow of information, must hoard and restrict it -- to conceal the fact that it exists, at the very least. But the restrictions work both ways, so that it only gets garbage in return, and we are done by the G.I.G.O. principle -- garbage in, garbage out.

What's worse, even when information is freely available, secret society members would not believe it.

The latter is just a theory, but it might have had an unexpected experimental confirmation in 2006, in the Litvinenko murder. Polonium is a pure alpha-emitter that makes it deadly poisonous but untracable. However, very rarely it also emits gamma-quanta that travel a reasonable distance and can be detected (and were succesfully detected by the British Police). This has not been clearly understood in the early 1950-ies, when the top secret KGB manuals were compiled, but has become common knowledge since then -- it's even on Wikipedia. However, Putin's spooks probably thought Wikipedia is there just to fool them, and top secret means top quality. Yes they are that stupid. That's the horror of it.

[33] But nobody believed it. Chinua Achebe recalls that when Biafran aircraft would land in a friendly African country like Ghana, proudly independent and all that, flight crews would be typically taken for janitors by the airport staff: how could a black person fly an airplane?

[34] Unlikely but not impossible -- e.g. what if Khruschev was brave enough and honest enough to rehabilitate not just the small fish but everybody, up to and including Trotsky, and publish "The Revolution Betrayed" with the usual Soviet print run of several million copies? Alas, this was not to be. The flip side of the coin is, there are valid reasons to suspect that the whole May 1968 in Paris was the result of a conspiracy by KGB (specifically by Shelepin and his followers, as has been patiently argued for a long time by S. Grigoryants).

[35] Oxfam.

[36] He was probably right (and Walesa, Wajda's main character, was probably an agent of Polish State Security). It does not matter because it worked -- in the end, the Poles got the Russians out.

[37] Foucault, the other towering figure, lived long enough to go to Iran in 1979 to report on an actual revolution in progress, and died of AIDS in 1984.

[38] Practically online, and he seriously wrote that he finds it hard to take death seriously. He also has never been observed scared of anything, and believed that belief is the death of intelligence.

[39] Or "Nassim Taleb", or "Yuval Hariri".

[40] The only author worth mentioning is Neil Stephenson, but the best that can be said about him is that he has friends who understand second-year undergraduate physics (he himself does not).

[41] Market capitalism and science are structurally incompatible for the fundamental reasons explained above, and this includes "applied" science and technology. In fact, no technological advance worth mentioning was ever made in a market environment: it was always either a government-funded institution, usually on a military budget, or a monopoly like Google that can afford to keep small bubbles within it market-free and devote them to research. But capitalism excels at applying the results of research.

[42] That story ended badly.

[43] This is a can of worms, but since I have to open it in the interest of full disclosure, let me explain. There's been a tremendous amount of superb groundbreaking research published in the last 50 years under the name of "High-Energy Physics". However, this is a misnomer: all these things have not and actually cannot be experimentally verified. Therefore it is not physics at all but a sort of experimental mathematics (and most of it has been extremely useful to mathematics proper). The results are to some extent falsifiable, thus scientific, but the verification procedure is not a physics experiment but a mathematical proof. The latest prediction that could be (and was, at a great cost) experimentally verified was done in 1964. In principle, such a hiatus is not exceptional, nor particularly troublesome, since it is not the first one: modern physics was started by Newton, and there was more-or-less nothing after him for a hundred years. Moreover, physicists turned to math out of necessity rather than inclination: the problems with fundamental physics are purely mathematical. A lot of unexplained experimental evidence has been lying on the ground for a hundred years, e.g. the atomic weights and atomic numbers of the stable isotopes, and decay half-times of the unstable ones. But it would take more than just a Mendeleev to sort this out. Mathematics seems to be doing ok through, just as it was in the century between Newton and Gauss, so hopefully, at some point, we will be able to return the debt.

[44] It also happens to be rational and true, whereas religion is a lot of hogwash.

[45] In Europe, but the whole scheme is totally Eurocentric anyway, see [2] above.

[46] This is probably a long way off, but we had a curious precursor in the person of Aleister Crawley, Puritan by birth, who saw the change coming, and tried to make a career out of it. "We place no reliance on Virgin nor Pigeon, our method is science, our goal is Religion".

Or did he come already without us noticing, and are we now living through Counter-Reformation, waiting for the Thirty Years War?

[47] There is a well-known and very worrying argument that proves that we do *not* get there, and it goes like this: reverse Leary's S.M.II.L.E. The number of habitable planets in say our Galaxy is enormous (this has been as well as proved). There is absolutely nothing special about either Earth or Sun. The age of Earth is less than one half of the age of the universe, and many of the other planets are in fact older. It is clear that at the current rate of development, we will be in a position to go to the stars within say a thousand years (either in person, if we get our life extension, or at least by proxy, by sending machines). A thousand years is nothing compared to 4.5 billion. Where are they?

The conclusion seems to be that intelligent life inevitably (or at least, stastically inevitably) dies off.

Imagining ways in which we can die off in the next twenty years is of course trivial (my favourite is antibiotic resistance, then there's general destruction of habitat, exotic scenarios like the collapse of Gulf Stream or the release of methane from deep-sea clathrates, and don't forget the good old thermonuclear war).

[48] Rationally speaking, the answer to the first question should be "no" but most practicing mathematicians and some theoretical physicists tend to believe that it is actually a "yes". There cannot be a proof of this obviously, but the feeling is there, and it is born out of experience (that could be habitual illusion). Roger Penrose conjectured that quantum gravity in the brain might have something to do with it, but even to me, this looks too far-fetched. The chances for "yes" to a second question are much better. While it is doubtful that brain is related to gravity, it is undoubtedly quantum -- all chemistry is. Moreover, the quantum-mechanical problem of computing the energy levels of a single small molecule is notoriously computationally difficult, and universally so -- it requires exponential time (in practice, such computations are impossible even now), but a lot of other exponential problems can be reduced to this one much faster, in polynomial time (this is called "NP-complete"). There is an entirely practical device based on this that is being actively pursued e.g. by Microsoft right now, called "quantum computer": we take a hard problem, we reduce it (easily) to a problem in quantum mechanics, then we do an actual physical experiment, and then we verify the answer (the last step is needed because quantum mechanics is probabilistic, so you are not guaranteed to get the correct answer at the first try). But then, Evolution might not be as smart as the brilliant engineers at Microsoft, but it surely had more time: whatever we have in the brain, if it uses the same principle, will be much much more efficient then whatever our technology can provide in the near future. In other words, 100 billion neurons in the human brain are not that many; but each individual neuron might be significantly more powerful than what the AI people try to model it with. In this case, humans will outperform computers in some tasks for centuries to come.

[49] Especially with the very recent breakthroughs in "strong AI" that has nothing particulary strong about it and uses the same old, simple and trite mathematical ideas, but seems to have reached a phase transition point from the sheer amount of data being put into it. Thus AlphaGo, Google Translate that can now translate Hemingway, and so on.

[50] Beautifully described in Iain Banks' Culture novels.

[51] Well, not you of course! -- not me, either. Some poor stupid exploited bloke.

[52] A side note to people who worry about "energy resources" and stuff like that -- don't. Current dependence on coal and hydrocarbons is an artefact of the current economic system: it is just cheaper (even when you factor in the cost of supporting crazy dictators who start wars, bomb people, dissolve them in acid in their consulates, poison them with military-grade nerve agents on city streets, and so on). Technically, tons of alternative energy sources have been available but unused for several decades (the simplest is fast neutron breeder reactors that work on natural uranium, and there's enough of the stuff to last us at least several centuries).

[53] Although anonymity was impossible technically and greatly frowned upon.

[54] Giving rise to a lot of false hopes.

[55] Except for "give me your donations".

[56] No I won't name him.

[57] Possibly HR agencies, to have a priceless resource for background checks?

[58] And advertising is the key to the whole thing of course. The real innovator here was Google that is keeping somewhat aloof from the whole business and only handles the technical details and logistical problems (making the trains run on time, that sort of thing).

[59] It is kind of fitting that so far, the person to co-opt the whole thing most efficiently has been Putin whose trademark feature is precisely emptyness: he stands for nothing at all. He is intensely popular among all sorts of alternative/fringe movements and/or conspiracy theorists simply for being The Other. It used to be somewhat similar for Stalin but that was restricted to the left wing; these days, it spreads across the political spectrum. Russia now exports nothing, not even an ideology. Putin is not encumbered by the need to push a particular product and can afford to be nothing to all people equally, and to buy wholesale. It is ironic that in the end, the indisputed hero of conspiracy theorists all over the civilized world is a bona fide real-life spook.

But with all that, he's just a meddling nobody from a third-world country. Just wait till the real spooks catch in on the act.

[60] Such as, reading this.