In 1985, Neil Postman published his magnificent essay “Amusing ourselves to death”, in which he wondered whether the future of the world would have the grim face of Orwell’s prophecy, the society of absolute control, or perhaps that of Huxley’s view of a humanity subjected to the tyranny of happiness. In his novel “Darkness at noon” (published in Spanish under the title “Zero and Infinity”), Arthur Koestler made clear that his view coincided with that of Orwell. The two great monstrous regimes of the 20th century did not leave much room for doubt. For that reason, Huxley’s anticipation had the merit of glimpsing something that still remained out of the picture at the time. Huxley understood very early the ideological and political configuration that would derive from technological advances. Confronted with his own question, Neil Postman concluded that the future would be accompanied by laughter, that mechanical and tragic laughter that the movie Joker elevated to the degree of the sublime.
We now know that Huxley and Orwell complemented each other perfectly. The world of remote control happiness is at the same time the authoritarian world of omniscient control. Together, they knew how to see the prodigy of a normalization that flattens all relief and desensitizes us to the aberrant. Political, social and economic causes become natural phenomena, events that we must accept as if they were meteors, because this is what the prevailing discourse teaches us. Life consists of the individual capacity to survive all the difficulties that are presented to us, perceiving them as events for which no one is responsible, except for invincible natural laws. The naturalization of historical events shrouds the causal agents in darkness, leaving only the meritorious virtue of the winner in view, or on the contrary, the flawed genetics of the loser. The naturalization of causes does not bode well for the underprivileged, because from time to time some prophet considers that getting rid of failed organisms is a eugenic necessity that strengthens the species.
In order for the normo-naturalization of life to be accepted and the ability to react, even taking up arms if necessary, to be reduced to the minimum possible, it is essential to guarantee entertainment. Entertainment is an excellent facilitator of one of the fundamental contemporary premises: the transformation of facts into data. The facts don’t matter, only the data. The conversion of reality into infinite amounts of data and metadata, the “normo-natural algorithmization” of lived experience, makes the integral component of entertainment essential. It is for this reason that the suspension of football matches during the first wave of the pandemic was one of the main concerns of governments of any political orientation.
It has become ever clearer what the tenant who just left the White House was: a child. A capricious and perverse child, rude, a liar, an arbitrary and lawless child who amused himself with his Twitter account. This was no accident. It portrays some of what we are becoming. When the workday is over, it is best for everyone to have fun. The offer is abundant and for all budgets, but in essence it is heading in a well-defined direction: the video game. The structure of the video game increasingly channels our subjective stream. The assault on the Capitol was a kind of video game programmed by people who know about these things. The military everywhere hire video game experts to apply their war strategy. Last year, the journalist Rachel Monroe decided to investigate the growing proliferation of facilities in the United States and other countries, where civilians with good purchasing power take courses in military training, the use of weapons and combat techniques. The grace of the matter involves immersing the enrolee in an action movie, but with real bullets. The script is more or less the same in all the places that Monroe visited. Someone – preferably a child – is kidnapped by a psychopath, and must be rescued. All students have the possibility of playing superheroes for a while, like any child in any part of the world.
It is likely that when we have all finally become children, something unexpected will happen, something that will not have been taken into account at all: that real children become unrecognizable.
Or simply disappear.
Translated by Roger Litten