Simulacra & Simulations, Cultural Capital, Hip Hop and The Matrix
As I get older, I'm beginning to yearn for a simplicity. A simple way of life that I have most definitely romanticized in my head. I dream of a life powered by candlelight, writing novels outlooking acres of land outside my window. I imagine this experience on farmlands, in a way I would like to imagine an ancestor of mine might have lived. The sad truth is many of them didn’t have time to write because as farmland owners, they had to tend to their land, crops and livestock for many hours, theoretic thinking was reserved for a small group of people, while the vast majority of people just followed their religions and attended to the practical matters of their own family lives. Their main focus was how the crops might grow this time of year. The times I romanticize are a time before electricity, before the accessibility of transportation, an era before mass communications where we didn't know what was happening everywhere all the time, where we were chained by the default settings of nature. If its dark we couldn't see and if its far it will take us a long time to get there.
Now here I am, supposedly a free man, and yet I feel shackled. This time the chains are different. In French philosopher Jean Baudrillard's 1981 book Simulacra and Simulation, he discusses the idea of images and signs, and how they relate to our contemporary society, wherein we have replaced reality and meaning with symbols and signs; he states that what we know as reality is actually a simulation of reality. The simulacra that Baudrillard refers to are the signs of culture and media that create the reality we perceive: a world saturated with imagery, infused with communications media, sound, and commercial advertising.
Baudrillard labeled this new world a hyperreality, in which entertainment, information, and communication technologies provide experiences more intense and involving than the scenes of mundane everyday life, as well as the codes and models that structure everyday life. The realm of the hyperreal (e.g., media simulations of reality, Disneyland and amusement parks, malls and consumer fantasylands, TV sports, virtual reality games, social networking sites, and other excursions into ideal worlds) is more real than real, whereby the models, images, and codes of the hyperreal come to control thought and behavior. The manuals for the mechanics of the codes that structure society are not accessible to a vast majority of people, many books in the western canon are not accessible to a vast majority of people.
This time the chains aren’t preordained by nature, this time the shackles are imposed by men to maintain structure, order and civility. Men freed by the promises of industry now yearn for the simplicity of the old world. I am certain aspects of my life are my ancestors' dreams come true, but I can’t help but imagine that the practical nature of their lives, and the applicability of all the information they consumed, was much simpler than mine. Most of the information we consume now has no real life application but to cause sensationalism and keep us frightened so we'll keep consuming. Most people in the past had a certain autonomy with their life that we don’t possess, as kids that grew up in urban environments. We sacrifice autonomy and practicality for convenience and comfort.
The only difference between the old world and the new one is the discovery and creation of various codes and information. These pieces of information are centralized and inaccessible by a vast majority of people. Many supposed intellectuals look at most people that don’t have all these theories memorized, many of which are inapplicable in a real world context, as the bottom of some barrel, and so information that could enlighten people and progress and further communities, is hoarded by a small group of elitists. Everyone in the real world is deemed a peon, information becomes hoarded and more cryptic as the interpersonal networks get tighter, and then those people retreat into their ivory towers where they can indulge themselves with unenlightened jargon.
That's why many left leaning ideas fail, and yet these supposed intellectuals are able to mock most of everyone. People actively call all Trump supporters stupid, that's 200 million people, that's a whole lot of people to dismiss. I saw a tweet the other day that pridefully exclaimed how many difficult Russian authors you have to read to become a leftist and how you just have to play XBOX to join the right. That is absolutely true, obviously it's hyperbolized but the essence is true, and that's not a good thing. Access to information is a privilege and liberals are always talking down on people who are less informed. Progressive and enlightening ideas should not have an unascertainable barrier to entry to those it claims its trying to help.
The idea of false consciousness in a real life setting is an insanely pretentious and classist thing to say to someone, even if it might be true. False consciousness is a term used by Marxists to describe ways in which material, ideological, and institutional processes are said to mislead members of the proletariat and other class actors within capitalist societies, concealing the exploitation intrinsic to the social relations between classes. So even if people were to say that they actually genuinely enjoy the processes of their lives, and truly don't believe they are being exploited, it's because they are being deceived and manipulated by the system. The real life practice of this ideology will always be violent and totalitarian because it classifies all of its opposers as brainwashed zombies, which leaves no place for reasonable discourse.
This isn’t anti-intellectualism at all, it's actually exclaiming a class issue that needs to be resolved. Some people are actually content with the lives they lead and the families they have, regardless of how little it is, and you need to make a better case as to why one should be more informed about something, and surprisingly, telling people they are brainwashed idiots is not the best way to begin to get them on your side. Especially if you consider your ideology to be their saving grace. What's the point of all your theories if they have no real world application because it's not accessible to the people it claims its trying to help? People need to be incentivized with a good reason to learn.
In the 1970s Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist, developed the idea of cultural capital as a way to explain how power in society was transferred and social classes maintained. Karl Marx believed economic capital (money and assets) dictated your position in a social order. Bourdieu believed that cultural capital played an important, and subtle role. For both Marx and Bourdieu the more capital you have the more powerful you are.
Bourdieu defined cultural capital as ‘familiarity with the legitimate culture within a society’; what we might call ‘high culture’. He saw families passing on cultural capital to their children by introducing them to dance and music, taking them to theatres, galleries and historic sites, and by talking about literature and art over the dinner table. All of these works are encoded messages that can only be understood with their context. An understanding of the encoded messaging's is how cultural capital enables social mobility. Acquiring information and cultural capital can help you add value into the lives of others, help you maneuver through a variety of positions, it can help you create and solve problems and better your own life and the lives of those around you, and your added value can help you actually acquire wealth.
Examples of cultural capital would include knowledge, skills, and education. When you are a college or university student, what you learn in class, in your major and minor academic degree program, and overall, are all building cultural capital. The schools become the guardians of that information. People in higher institutions that preserve information put these inexplicable wages on information, and market themselves as the only possible path to acquiring knowledge, leaving people unable to pay those wages, oppressed, not because they lack the ability to be able to apply that information, but because the institution deemed them too broke to unlock information, and in doing that society as a whole is relegated.