At this stage in history it seems trivially obvious that Fredric Jameson was right to describe postmodernism as "the cultural logic of late capitalism". The cultural model of mid-period (Fordist, statist) capitalism was mass-produced, identical goods and conformist people. The nightmare of Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty-Four. But postmodernism is the logic of globalised, niche-market capitalism - finely-tweaked but still machine-produced commodities - where it is compulsory not to conform. "We command you to be a radical and disobey the norms! NOW!!!"
Modernity: "You can have any colour you like, as long as it's black."
Postmodernity: "You're a special and unique individual! Just like everybody else."
Modernity gave us the "mass man" (gendering deliberate), in the mass wife+2.4 kids heterosexual family in the suburb. Postmodernity gives us an endless proliferation of identities and ways of living; all commodified, all integrated into the global market economy.
Modernity gave us secure but stultifying lives if we conformed; postmodernity gives us freedom, of the type the stray cat has. The freedom to purchase an identity that we like, as well as the freedom to starve.
Modernity controlled the public through mass organisations like trade unions, workers' parties and established churches; postmodernity does it at least partly through the mass media, but then people will control themselves if their identity depends upon it.
Modernity gave us the grand narrative of "Science" and "Progress"; postmodernity gives us "you've got to work it out for yourselves. Within the market economy, of course, because there is no Outside to The Matrix", which leads to stupid science denial of both bottom-up (health quackery) and top-down (climate-change denial) varieties. (Ken MacLeod brilliantly predicted the future of postmodern culture in his 1995 sci-fi novel The Star Fraction, where Christian fundamentalists buy telescopes deliberately doctored to support geocentric astronomy to use in schools. He also predicted idiot kids nostalgically getting into Stalinism.)
Modernity gave us neurosis based on repression of primal urges; postmodernity gave us depression and anxiety based on being required to earn enough money to sublimate our primal urges into commodity purchases.
Modernity gave us "one size fits all" universalism; postmodernity gives us the tribal logic of "it's okay if we do it".
Modernity gave us the liberal imperialism of "human rights"; postmodernity gives us the echo-chamber effect of mass-market politics/identity/culture, where US "conservatives" have their own encyclopedias and their own dating services, and Twitter/Facebook are set up so you never even have to hear people you don't already agree with.
Modernity gave us monoculturalism and sexual conformity; postmodernity gives us multiculturalism and the commodification of sexuality and kink. (I remember once an enthusiastic article on Bear culture in some gay magazine which gave a listing of subtypes and said "just pick one". That's postmodernity in a nutshell.)
It seems quite pathetic now, that whole tradition from Aleister Crowley to Robert Anton Wilson who told us that freedom was freedom to fuck in the streets. Actually, Orwell was part of that tradition. People can be obedient and still get their rocks off, in postmodernity. That might have been the answer to the crisis of modernity, but how do you achieve transcendence via transgression when since the 1990s, every transgression is now acceptable on the open market as long as it doesn't threaten the commodity economy? The carnivalesque is only a threat as long as it threatens to get out of control and become the new quotidian reality.
The chaos magic crowd got what they wanted and it didn't change a damn thing - even Ultraculture understands this and has gone on to selling commodified chaos magick as a way to assume an identity which you can turn into profit on the open market. But the big mistake made by the Left in the last twenty years has been becoming reactionary and nostalgic for the era of capitalist modernity.
It's the equivalent of feudal socialism, or how classical economics went insane in the face of Marx's insights and went down the psychotic pathway of "marginalism". The old world of mass trade unions, mass reformist parties and stable 9-5 jobs for whoever wants it is not coming back in the same form, and thank the Eternal for that, because that was also the world of compulsory heterosexuality, out-and-out white supremacy and "scientism" of the most oppressive kind. I am ashamed that in my time in the academy, which coincided with being a new and badly trained and therefore rather fundamentalist Marxist, I promoted the silly Callinicos book above.
Jesus wept, guys, what is the first thing a Marxist should learn? The dialectic; the fact that there is no end to history because every solution becomes its own problem because of its internal contradictions. Postmodernity had its own contradictions which offered liberatory possibilities if you were only willing to look. To put it another way: people go on about the horrors of language death imposed by English-language hegemony. This is absolutely true - on one side. But the flipside of Americans and Brits thinking they're too hegemonically cool to learn a second language is that they don't learn intercultural literacy. Which will one day spell their doom, if we can build a culturally literate counter-hegemony.
One Chaos Marxist aphorism comes from Tori Amos' introduction to a Neil Gaiman comic: "There is change in 'what is' but you have to accept 'what is' first." Postmodernity has ripened, and has begun to rot. You can tell because the academy are tired of postmodernism and starting to move into phenomenology, according to something I read on the Internet. But the valuable insights of postmodernism remain, from Foucault, Derrida, etc:
- that knowledge is intimately tied up with power and therefore that science in every era serves the ruling class's priorities;
- that identity is constructed through narrative and discourse, and that mass media and mass education sets the boundaries of narrative and discourse in postmodernity;
- that there is no outside to culture, especially not in tiny fundamentalist groups who try to base themselves on immutable texts, and thus no outside to power either;
- but there is an outside to The Matrix; there is the basic science of planetary ecology and human biology/psychology within that, and the understanding of commodity economics embedded in Marx. "Marx and Freud are still with us, despite repeated attempts to kill them off, because capitalism and the nuclear family are still with us" - Out To Lunch.
- that given all of the above, in postmodernity political forms which were created to deal with modernist capitalism will just get sucked into the global cultural system as niche-market proprietors of spectacle and identity, and thus becoming part of the problem rather than the solution;
- that instead of brain-dead rationalism/atheism/mechanical materialism, a new revolutionary project must be culturally literate, integrating indigenous, queer/trans, disabled, and, yes, religious/spiritual/magickal worldviews and lifeworlds with the scientific method (still the best way to understand physical reality). Neither Men In White Coats Nor New Age Witchdoctor Charlatans, But International Socialism.
Right at the beginning of this blog I made reference to "hyperstition", an extention of Baudrillard's "hyperreality": a fiction that becomes true. Anonymous is the mightest example of that which ever happened, and it's that - plus, perhaps, a turn to phenomenology (i.e. accepting experience as primary), an understanding of how identity is constructed in niche markets and small groups, plus an understanding about how to build a new historic bloc which includes these new identities, rather than trying to stuff everyone into a one-size-fits-all workerist identity which fundamentalist Leninism can cope with - which revolutionary politics needs now.
Anonymous is political activism based on rejecting identity altogether. Identity is either sold to us, or we create it in small groups, as the modern "opiate of the masses" to cope with the Desert of the Real which is life as precarious labour in the postmodern world. Once we find an alternative to avoid reproducing that, we can find a way out of postmodernity and into the early history of Actual Humanity.