So was Nietzsche. We achieved the egalitarian culture envisioned in Warhol’s prediction of 15 minutes of fame for all, but the result was not a new richness of expression or exploration. Nor did we go under, though we have realized the veneration of the Last Man which Zarathustra foretold. Instead, we leapt right over our potential into an unanticipated and more horrible age – the age of the Spectacular Idiot.
The original idiots, to whom the Greek root-word referred, were ordinary rabble, lacking in the judgment which comes with mastering a skill. The English derivation means incapable of rational conduct. Our current iteration has boosted the concept to a new level by replacing the ‘incapable’ with ‘self-consciously dismissive’. Representation is everything. Our idiots are nothing if not democratic, exalted by, of and for the rabble and its discomforts.
The Idiots of this age are driven and sustained by discomfort born of psychic vacuum. Ideas are not ideas for our Idiots; ideas are badges to adorn the clothing which cloaks scarecrow personalities. If one has no sense of efficacy, criticism or modification of one’s adornments is then a disconcerting, existential threat. Alertness, capability in the face of changing circumstance, and the ability to appreciate the immediate cannot be a source of self-worth for stuffed clothing on a stick. None of Warhol’s bubbling, creative ferment for these folks.
When he contemplated the consequences of mass communication and global culture, Warhol missed the possibility of Idiot ascendency because he was an artist. Though not noted for a consistent ability to overcome their own insecurities, artists must at least accept the inevitability of insecurity to do what they do.
Nietzsche recognized the weakness which led to the Age of the Spectacular Idiot, but missed its positive symptoms. He saw the timidity but not the fear.
…Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he who is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man…Becoming sick and harboring suspicion are sinful to them: one proceeds carefully. A fool, whoever still stumbles over stones or human beings! A little poison now and then: that makes for agreeable dreams. And much poison in the end, for an agreeable death.
Little did he know, the last men would not simply sip their poison in silent relief if it were placed at the bedside. They would drain the cup and screech for more, even pushing some of their number forward to fetch it. The last men of the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Eurasia and North America have stood up such cup-bearers for themselves and for everyone.
Sadly, the political right has bred these fellows. It is no accident, for circulating in the conservative vital essence is an element of comforting authoritarianism, the extract of which makes the best soporific toxin. The process is sad because the necessary juices must be boiled off the base solution of sobriety and caution which makes the conservative indispensable, destroying all healthy self-despite in the distillation.
What remains is the Spectacular Idiot, who not only bears the cup, but also supplies the juice for the last men. The words of the bearers do not matter, nor does the content of their ideas. What matters is the rhythm of the sounds, the smell of the thought, the fit of the jacket and the sparkle of its badges. Spectacle, upstanding and forthright, dulls the pangs which come of the last men’s impoverished experiential diet. Idiocy eases the last men’s insecurity, displacing it with denser righteousness. There is only one cure. Somehow, the last men must have their capacity for self-despite restored, so they can clear their stuffing. They need a purgative to make room for some personal integrity. The question is: How to accomplish a rehabilitation at this late hour without being poisoned as well?