How! Media! Colonized! Human! Attention! (and the Art of Decolonization)
A Culture Jammer’s plea for fellowship.
Attention! Here lies the key.
Attention! Is this not the true currency of the world?
The true source of the inertia that continues the world as it has been by those who have continued it by force? The force that animates the illusions?
Strong enough that only in those brief willing moments throughout history has the storm of revolution been allowed to shift it in a new direction.
If such it is the force behind the Maya, at no time like today has it embodied this function in the material world so pronounced, as advertising.
The Bubbles of BIG TECH
Concentrating wealth at historic levels, modern advertising — on behalf of “Big Tech” — succeeds in it by fulfilling the true role of enter-tain-ment discovered in its etymology: to hold attention.
Today Google owns approximately 90% of the search engine market, with over 80% of its revenue sourced from advertising, and close to 70% of all digital ad spending going to Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
But the fledgling PR industry founded by Edward Bernays and the ever-expanding advertising sphere monopolized by Google today are still shared by one core principle: controlling the unruly mob — us.
From slot-machines to Twitter feeds, the people’s attention was captured.
From public space to the mental environment, minds were polluted.
From the radio to the internet, the airwaves were invaded.
These titans of industry, messianic proselytizers, who built their companies of off publicly-subsidized technologies given to them by our funding, now accrue their wealth through further extraction, as all colonizers have done.
But unlike the era of colonialism, today they extract capital not from a material resource, but humanity itself. Every click, search, and status we actuate, we donate to them the means by which they transmute our participation into capital assets: attention.
Deriving their value from this immaterial resource, “Big Tech” and its monopolies are justified monetarily only by the consensus of the contemporary market.
As such, the possible impact of advertising encroaching upon an increasingly higher percentage of overall economic value produced is clear: a bubble.
Douglas Rushkoff— Famed media theorist elucidates this trajectory:
“How can a company with no revenues still make money? It’s not a trick question. The answer is at the very foundation of the digital economy: advertising.
…almost everything we are doing in the digital marketplace can serve as the advertisement for something else.
The trouble is, if everyone is in it for the advertising dollar, who is left to advertise? At no point in history has advertising, marketing, and research ever accounted for as high a percentage of GDP, or total economic activity (and that’s being extremely generous).
But right now, it’s pushing at the very top of that range. The reason it can’t go higher is that only so much economic activity can go to promoting the rest of our economic activity. The coming crash in the tech market — and quite possibly beyond — will be triggered by the growing realization that every company in the world can’t be a marketing company.
— Douglas Rushkoff, WHEN THE DATA BUBBLE BURSTS, COMPANIES WILL HAVE TO ACTUALLY SELL THINGS AGAIN
Further extenuated by record low levels of investment around the world — the gap between investment and savings being the highest in human history — the hoarding of the tiny few has stagnated the cash-flow of the body politic on a global scale.
So how did it happen?
The BIG Internet Takeover
This sequence of events in its most recent incarnation began with Proctor and Gamble, its own history defined by such machinations:
“The great Allied campaign to celebrate (or sell) Democracy, etc., was a venture so successful, and, it seemed, so noble, that it suddenly legitimized such propagandists, who, once the war had ended, went right to work massaging or exciting various publics on behalf of entities like General Motors, Procter & Gamble, John D. Rockefeller, General Electric.”
— Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda
In the 1990s, the Advertisers colonized the internet…and with it our minds.
Micah White, PhD — the co-creator of Occupy Wall Street tracks this history:
“…The opening shots were fired by Proctor&Gamble, the world’s biggest advertiser, during the earliest days of the ‘information super-highway.’ At the 1994 convention of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, then — Proctor&Gamble chairman Edwin Artzt laid out the corporate strategy for taking over the next generation’s culture: guarantee that advertising, not user fees, would underwrite the Internet.
Artzt was prescient, and saw the situation in the most serious terms. He warned of the catastrophe to come if the ‘new media,’ which was not yet a buzzword, was not under the control of advertisers and corporations.
Artzt told the assembled executives, ‘from where we stand today, we can’t be sure that ad-supported TV programming will have a future in the world being created….if that happens, if advertising is no longer needed to pay most of the cost of home entertainment, then advertisers like us will have a hard time achieving the reach and frequency we need to support our brands.’ Their opponent was the user-fee model where content is funded by subscribers. Artzt went further, citing Proctor&Gamble’s role in creating the first radio and television soap operas…
…In the same way that corporations conquered newspapers, radio and television, Artzt promised they would take the Internet. In the final words of his speech, Chairman Artzt exulted: ‘We may not get another opportunity like this in our lifetime. Let’s grab all this new technology in our teeth once again and turn in to a bonanza for advertising!’
Responding to Artzt’s call, the advertising industry founded the Coalition for Advertising Supported Information and Entertainment (CASIE) in 1994, a task force whose core mission was to guarantee that into the future ‘advertising revenue must be a key funding source for information and entertainment in the evolving world of media.’
Within a decade, advertisers owned the Internet.”
— Micah White, The End of Protest
Perhaps it’s time we retrieve the ethos of that early digital experiment. Already, an increasing number of online users have begun to acclimate to peer-to-peer support networks rather than the constraints of advertiser adherent platforms.
Herein lies another clue to an alternate future for the creative spirit.
Technology is not a force of the cosmos to which we are subject. It does not steer social change in exclusion of humanity’s vision; it is a tool directed by conscious engagement through our participation.
As such, it is within our own conscious agency to realize that direction through the inclusion and collaboration of the whole of society in exploring such questions.
The exponential speed of technological development combined with the evangelizing of privileged technologists has convinced the larger culture that the future as they project it is inevitable.
Thus, in the effort to unburden themselves of the responsibility to consider consequence, they enslave themselves to the momentum of their decisions.
Now, with nature finally having been tamed and understood with trends that they helped create, they can follow their sequences to the end, mourning the world while feverishly working to insulate themselves from oblivion.
What they overlook is that even the emergent trends upon which they prognosticate so confidently were shaped by agency; sourced not from earlier inventions, but from the decisions made by their inventors.
The result is apocalypse, about the world but of the mind. A comprehensive attack is waged against the collective imagination and its ability to imagine forth any further than their inevitable.
Micah White, PhD explains:
“As activists of the future, the ground of our struggle is humanity’s mental environment — our collective unconscious, the shared pool of myths, dreams and desires that shape how the world manifests. The future of protest begins with the realization that the external world is a reflection of our interior world…
Our communal reality is constructed through our shared culture. And every time we experience a commercial interjection, a fatal lie lodges in our world view. The true danger of pervasive advertising is the damage it does to our “mental ecology”, the inexplicable interior world that is uniquely human. A clean mental environment is an indispensable ingredient to a thriving civilization…
We are in a double bind. Kicking consumerism out of our heads and finding solutions to the global problems humanity faces become the same struggle. The strategic imperative of our revolutionary struggle — our collective uprising to unshackle our spirits and revive our imagination — comes into view.”
— Micah White, The End of Protest
If there’s one thing the Cyberpunks got right about our age its that we’re living their version of it.
From Blade Runner sequels to Black Mirror horror-tain-ment, our foremost imagineers find themselves confined to a singular canvas: one coated with the failure of the previous generation’s rebels and painted over by the messianic progeny of its privileged classes.
The world around reflects this dejection, as the social consensus crumbles so do its products and institutions. Insecurity flares its wings and the fearful rally to reinforce the fading lines, in benefit only of those who drew them.
However, so they may try to convince, choosing a different path is not the same as halting progress, and finding it will require us to become explorers; to build our capacities beyond the playing field of ideology and instead learn to create experiences of realization.
An Ode to the Culture Jammers
There were those who saw it coming, who knew the culprits, described as partisans of the Human Spirit; adversaries to the advertisers.
We called them the Culture Jammers.
For decades this subset of activists has been on the front-lines of rebelling against the monolithic forces in a bid to capture every moment of our attention.
Those forces that seek to cover every wall, alarmify every communication, and datafy every decision. Over six thousand media messages bombarding us everyday, all saying the same thing.
But in the version of “They Live!” we find ourselves in, putting on the sunglasses doesn’t reveal “OBEY”; for us, obedience isn’t just expected, it has been calculated, refined, and perfected from the days of Edward Bernays to sell one command: CONSUME.
From Adbusters — the legendary counter-cultural activist magazine that created the Occupy Wall Street meme — to Brandalism — that disseminated toolkits for hacking bus-stop ads to billboards, notably taking over Paris to expose the fossil fuel interests of those attending the Climate Accords — these Culture Jammers have worked to empower the people to reclaim our public spaces.
As the philosopher Michel Serres once illustrated, advertising is an act of “soft pollution” and like all pollution it is an act of “appropriation.”
“It makes me suffer so much that I need to say it over and over again and proclaim it everywhere; how can we not cry with horror and disgust confronted with the wrecking of our formerly pleasant rural access roads into the cities of France?
Companies fill the space now with their hideous brands, waging the same frenzied battle as the jungle species in order to appropriate the public space and attention with images and words, like animals with their screams and piss.
Excluded from those outskirts, I no longer live there; they are haunted by the powerful who shit on them and occupy them with their ugliness. Old Europe, what ignorant ruling class is killing you?”
— Michel Serres
We must free our gaze from the bounds of capture and claim our consciousness for ourselves; the only direction is inward, the only potential that of radical seeking, to realize the other as ourselves.
Imagine an Internet of platform-cooperatives, where each Creator owns a share of YouTube; where each driver is entitled to the revenue from the R&D they’re contributing to Uber; where Twitter, Google, and Facebook are treated as Public Commons, unburdened by the pressure to meet their market valuations and to instead prioritize community.
With automation on the horizon, such a policy that entitles as a dividend, a portion of the profits made by these publicly subsidized technologies to all people, can help revitalize society and begin to stabilize the acceleration.
(and the Art of Decolonization)
Becoming capable of solving the challenges of our world requires us to accomplish what every emancipatory effort on the continuum of revolution has aspired to going back thousands of years: discover Universal Legislation and through it the means to realize Universal Sovereignty.
In them, is explored the map provided by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract; sovereignty, legislative power, and the “General Will”:
“…As such, it goes to say that the greatest political freedom is that of having creative access to the social order (society). The creative faculty of society/community is Legislative power = sovereignty, which is acted upon through the declaration of the General Will (the common interests of the collective), and carried out through executive acts (governmental functions).”
“…The government is the agent of the Public Force, and true democracy acts as a union between legislative and executive power.
As such, with laws both made & executed by the People, who are sovereign, a true democracy is ‘a government without government.’
Therefore, to attain sovereignty, we must become the legislators, and in order to revive popular sovereignty, the People as varied and diverse (the 99%) must own the legislature.”
According to Rousseau, the people are sovereign by their inherent claim to legislative power — the power to make the laws — through directly democratic means.
Any form of representation is a usurpation of that inherent right by the few, with the “corruption of the legislature” — such as the modern (but not new) financialized takeover of governments globally — being the worst kind.
Hence, protest, as an act of collective liberation, has but one relevant purpose today: to win access to the legislative organs of power.
Only then, can we decide the direction of our communities together on the immediate basis that is required to solve the current and emerging global challenges calling for attention.
To empower our protests with victory, we must first empower ourselves with the capacity to achieve it; the capacity to make collective decisions directly, from simple to complex, as efficiently as possible, universally.
Only then can we learn to govern ourselves together, provide political freedom to all, and make obsolete any system of governance that excludes us from our legislative right to sovereignty.
In this way, actualizing Universal Sovereignty — universal access to legislative power — is tantamount to the greatest political achievement of humanity. Its discovery, a possible epoch defining moment.
However, realizing its method — Universal Legislation, the ability to collectively decide and govern — finds deeper meaning.
It orients itself universally and therefore inherently around inclusive action: decisions actuated in service of all life. May the mighty help the weak.
In every situation and thereby in every action we must take the role of might. Prosperous are all through mutual-aid. So must be realized the creative spirit. But what mode of action finds inherently the other in ourselves?
Here we look to the techniques of inward liberation. As protest liberates the collective, the realm of spirit liberates our consciousness. From psychedelic drugs/medicines, to meditation, to art, there have existed methods of realization for millennia.
Both scientific and individual inquiry into these techniques show the ways in which these methods breach the boundaries of sensation and expand consciousness to experience existence as it is.
New research demonstrates, as neural connectivity is profoundly increased, all aspects of the brain begin to communicate, and where once the radius of self was compressed it transcends to the whole.
The potent power of this experience of Yoga (or union) transforms not only psychologically but even physiologically a person, awakening deeper empathy, creativity, and presence.
Thus, the is-ness of reality is experienced, including of all life, served in being.
The goal therefore, is to find a method for universal and horizontal legislation that is not only more efficient than any autocratic one, but also replicates in each participant the experience of union with all life; ergo, any collective decision-making becomes intrinsically oriented around inclusive action, fulfilling the potential of true democracy.
The accelerated times we live in call on us to project our will upon the chaos fully conscious, as creative beings acting together for each other.
We must use the techniques of inward liberation to actualize inclusive action for all life, and the techniques of collective liberation to realize Universal Sovereignty.
We must empower the People by offering a direct experience of democracy.
Through sovereignty: freedom. Through union: liberation.
The Language of Liberation
“…a protest does not need to target authorities to be effective, it need only be recognized as protest at the right time.”
— Micah White, The End of Protest
The material strength of the status-quo is irrelevant in the realm of consciousness; moneyed interests may have dominance in the material world, but it is also their biggest vulnerability if we approach our ideals asymmetrically.
They may define themselves by advertising through holding attention, but we will free it for all; they are weak in the world of the subjective.
We will offer the People a way to actualize their interests and declare their General Will universally, exercising direct legislative power.
We will employ Semasiography — a form of language that communicates not speech or ideology but meaning itself — to create a literal Language of Democracy.
A language of glyphs; each one representing inclusive actions to organize around, calling into being the demos itself, mobilizing the People to win sovereignty by offering a direct experience of it.
Activists around the world will create new protest tactics and deploy them spontaneously; galvanizing actions to solve abrupt climate change wherever our glyphs appear as a signal of mobilization.
This method shall spread as contagion, a vector of awakening and revolutionary potential, cultivating techniques of self-governance with every new glyph created in assembly.
In virtual spaces, we will utilize this language to synthesize our interests into the People’s General Will; instructing all legislators to pledge their decision-making power to the 99% in declaration of a global climate mobilization.
For 28 days we will mobilize a Global People’s Convention that builds from city to city, actualizing a Universal Constitution of the People: a platform for a global movement-party that captures every legislature through sortition.
We will not accept as legitimate any election that does not give the People direct sovereignty to build a sustainable world.
We will notarize our constitution as superseding any national authority in service of Universal Sovereignty, for democracy on Earth and in space.
The time to blossom a new imagination is calling. Ours must be a radical spirit of mutual-aid that activates all people as citizens galvanized for that which is needed.
Look unto yourself to claim this task of revolution, to turn your sight inward and liberate the world anew.