Debates Mean Nothing


by Adam Staley Groves

A close friend asked “does anyone actually pay attention to these debates?” Consoling, indeed. The forming consensus is that President Obama lost the first of three debates to Former Governor Romney. In fact, some polls indicate a wipe-out. Obama looked like he had ring rust, often looked down and flashed an occasional, grand smile. Other times he looked directly into the camera addressing the ‘American people’. This was actually disturbing; in those moments I got the sense of the man’s intelligence, something I have never really observed in a canned move. Romney’s effect was aggressive, he came off an arrogant jerk. Obama is now the level-headed president that wasn’t so apparent four years ago. Equally, the racial vector has seemingly evaporated to the point of improbable resurrection. Obama’s paradoxical embodiment was his source of intrigue, not merely sound policy.

There were a few interesting signals in the day before the debate that tried to grasp this paradoxical power. There was the right wing insurgent media twisting the words of a 2007 video of Obama, a widely reported event, that was supposed to show his deviant radical side. That attempt was rendered ineffective as the press seized on it. It seems the poetry was, for Obama, not in season, not yet. And while jerk is not unfair when observing Romney, his affect-shift in the primary debates proves him consistent and adept at turning tides.

The debate itself wandered into policy disputes with Obama charging Romney for a lack of definition, as Romney countered Obama for failing to do what he promised. Obama tagged Romney with Paul Ryan extremism yet Romney succeed in something more, he managed to morph his image into a middle ground candidate for the middle class. This paradox propels executive figures, and Romney has managed to turn, at least for now, his flip-floppery into something of a productive difference much the way other Republican figures have done in recent history. Obama’s shift in paradox is a more established, change toward a consensus: he preserved the status quo of American power, all the while taking the punishment of being a radical.

We should expect a bounce for Romney. However, he will not win this election barring some catastrophic revelation or scandal for Obama even if indeed he’s the best candidate to run against the current president.

Monitoring the Undecided

Yet if debates mean nothing what are we witnessing in their spectacle? Nothing means, I think, our ability to understand political essentialism. Then, if it means that, it means we understand the institutional amalgam that produces this essence of common sense. Today I think that is far more difficult to ascertain as interpretation has completed dominated understanding. The image compresses and dismisses sound thinking. Or that understanding is considered the end result of calculation, as nothing is the end of a means of imagination.

I would argue Carl Schmidt’s “essence of the political” is the third rail of political calculation: judgment. Or the third ring, no matter, it’s what a media political machine seemingly wants from us, or worse, what it needs. This is beyond what curiosity or exhibitionist trolling gives to it. It seems nothing less than a metabolic acid bath akin to that great scene ending Ridley Scott’s latest triumph.

So what does a heart monitor that feeds information to your doctor 24/7 have to do with political calculation? Is it not just another one of those nearly countless accounting applications that smart phones acquire day by day? It means something similar in regards to indifference, to hooking up thirty-nine Colorado “undecideds” divided by gender and graphically defined by a couple of waving lines between (+ or –). It means broadcasting to the whole world the level of swoon in each zinger or quip from those who are yet to be calculated. It means this rising and dipping, diverging and uniting stream of ups and downs is the beginning of our query. These streams offer an insight to the failure of political calculation. This rolling graphic of ‘undecideds’ concern the figures of the executive as it flowed beneath Obama and Romney’s talking faces, inching toward them like a spring stem. It was meant to express their debate performance for the ‘undecideds’. It means “crossing the streams” in Ghostbusters, a real time calculation of contingent thinking for the ‘spectres’ or thoughts that are no more discernible or conquerable than in Schmidt’s time. We know how interested the Nazi jurist was when it came to judgment. And equally that this lesson was not heeded anywhere in the world, thus our body constantly, incessantly tracked for its indefatigable poiesis, its immaterial labor at the center of “cognitive capital.”

Ghostbusters, Columbia Pictures, 1984

Deficits of Speech and Talking Objects

This tracking or tracked cell of ‘undecideds’, what is it? A prison, a think tank, a concentration camp? A focus group giving up their affect? Let us call it a ‘track record’ or an extraction record of unpredictable pulses of thinking. Tracking the pull toward a fundamental beginning of what Heidegger called “extreme danger.” Heidegger’s technological danger in regards to the “unfolding of the essence of technology.” This danger, he affirmed, may only be countered by the “unfolding of the essence of art” both founded on poiesis that Heidegger thought indistinguishable from physis. Art gave us thinking access to the peculiarity of nature, a piety of questioning technology. This questioning seems today the religiosity of technological parousia, the final judgment as a statement of affiliation waiting for us all. This piety has shifted station from art to technological enframing.

Heidegger sets out two polarities of art and technology as his concern was our relation to material and matter. He bases this on a long thinking of causes. And this theme I have been quite interested in as polarities have been developed in contemporary theory yet not applied to American politics. In American politics, especially the farce of executive figures that we give so much credit to today we witness and give testimony to this division of thinking. Piety may be read as fidelity, and such seems offered by technological enframing. It is a thinking of Schmidt’s essence of the political in relation to our piety of questioning captured and turned against us. Yet if Heidegger sought to defend nature from definitions minding the allure of the messianic here or there, it is that we have most likely lost parity.

At least for American political subjects who endure the beginnings of a mysterious desubjectification of the result is to no longer understand the event in a tracing function. What happened is fused into what happens next. The historical record instantly established into the future of outcomes. This is “putting the story into context” and spinning to maintain the deferral. The essence of the political of today is a pulling integration, a torsion, following a pre-tracing obfuscation into the image of the executive. This tracking of the body and its immediate response generates the anti-profane event already enframed. It is on its way, permanently we seek out our own capacity. To be clear—diversification, or the division of the species is now being reconstituted into a type of similarity. In defense of the similar, we need think this through.

This is a call to those who kid themselves waxing un-American or intrepid, who think themselves heretical. There is a real deficit today that will most likely lead to disaster. It is this deficit that will make this disaster a somewhat harmonious diminishment. What is the more profound reality of technology and politics? This matter of the material of common sense and not the metaphysical essentialism it once were? This essence once straddled polarities naively conceived of as partisan, yet now bifurcated and diagnostically construed speech is stripped to its constitutive utterance, not even something to be conversed, rather toward utterance and speech itself—this matter of the material is a poiesis gone missing for our queries.

In theory the ontological view afforded by language is seemingly discarded for talking objects. What say you about these objects of diagnostic and graphic compression? (Try thinking through the number 1 before you continue.) A missing person is precisely one whose lost a speech “-ability.” An -ability sliced from us in each shaving of diagnostic representation, of gender polarity, of the undecided, the undecidability now in the box below the figureheads on the screen. “Hey look, there goes my traceability pre-traced.” One sees their undecided relation expressed in the object.

What is a Debate Today?

Undecided was the fate of Schmitt’s attempt to capture judgment. This undecidedness is echoed: debates mean nothing. A return to the theme. This inane polarity and attempt at judgment is exampled in the debate format set-up as combat. A false diversity of objective debate. Debates certainly mean nothing of a conversation where two persons sit and face each other with Gadamerian “good will,” with this appreciation for the difference of interpretation and understanding. Debates mean nothing of a difference between the two, but the capacity of one figurehead to embody a better paradox of productive difference and our ability to express where our undecidedness will be deposited.

The clock is running, the moderator (a type of judge named Lehrer) cuts into the rhetoric of each speaker, reminding them this is not a conversation. These polarities, these men, are as partisan as Obama and Romney’s verisimilar healthcare plans. As this healthcare plan, now policy, was as the current President stated: a Republican idea forwarded by Democrats—thus as it was for the former Governor, a Republican executive working with majority Democrats. Healthcare is however more about a form of life whose final judgment is its concern, whose deferral of death powers its endlessness, the physis it reads through the smartphone constantly feeding information (metabole). Thus the real parousia of consensus American political calculation will never achieve until it completely and graphically defines the very nature of a thought it cannot have.

Hypercolor Hagiography

Do we all wear mood rings and Hypercolor shirts giving this media political machine sensorial cues? Must we give it an image and in that giving turn this image into a type of icon that becomes the place-keeper, say pace-keeper of pious questioning: hagiographic training—as these two talking figures attempt canonization, our endless news cycle intrigue? This falling toward consensus, toward images, splits the human from its animal, from its poiesis, its physis, toward the polis, one of these two verisimilarities will provide a polis, a good life traded for its poetic, analogic capability; (its ability to obtain an aspect on unfolding essence in general.) The difference today is thus between analogic and digital unfolding, art and technological enframing.

A debate means nothing when our capacity for thinking is sliced from us by graphical definition: for all the matter and material of thinking does it concern itself. When the search for the presupposition of thought is the final outcome of politics what good may come from that? Who decides, and on what do they make this decision? Obama’s smile, or Romney’s jerk attitude? Play it cool and let the jerk spout off? Look and speak directly to the camera called the American people. America by virtue of its contemporary political machinery is headed toward catastrophe: at least for those of us who still enjoy conversation and undefined bodies, as these bodies are the reason we speak so loudly about free thought, thinking, et cetera. Yet how does one decide, for what and for whom do we give our efforts? What does it mean to vote, and when does it begin? This means nothing. Or it depends on if we discover what nothing means by occupying the end point. We hear plenty in the US about the endless campaign. What does this mean, what does it truly, clearly mean for all of us? It means chasing nothing. We are metabolically digesting our own thinking in the image of the executive figure of politics held by technological media. This is the hulk of its mystery, its opaque abyss that gives itself the endless allure of an icon. All of these images and rolling graphics are the organs of our own peculiarity defined and lost from our imagination.

Politics has irrevocably changed, it is enframed and revealed by media technologies, by its dilation and contraction, the eye of the laptop, the eyes of the troll, of its ups and downs, the field of thinking. It is the essence of a denaturation of imagination, its disembodiment and irrevocable diminishment of our capacity for it, a partial-extinction that has so glorious a beginning, like that first time, thus we continue to chase inside the habitat of media. It becomes the real moment of a fasting bliss, a practice of denaturation.

There’s One Ideology and it Means Nothing

No retro-nostalgia will change it, no communist, no fascist exists today. The return of philosophy’s boys club, the turn against “Jewish philosophy,” the thuggification of the woman, the destruction of the man as a turn against animal talents, the return of another white mythology at the moment of its eclipse, the personification of animals, animalization of persons: ideology has met a significant moment of completion. Politics is all animal, and none remain exotic creatures in iron cages, say iron cafes. Just as Obama was the signal of justice he symbolized the end of diversity politics. Those who continue to align their emotions with Obama on the residue of messianic social justice are headed for heartbreak. It is clear Romney is following this opening, this liquidation of the white power structure that has inaugurated them, for they are both heretical insiders now according to the once dominant set.

Here then have we thought our era of similarity politics that has no ideological uniqueness, yet. Obama’s constituency is as much his detractors, his paradox has diminished, he accepts the status quo thus in a brief reinvention has not grasped his former allure. Yet this means ideology as we once knew it means nothing, and there is his calling, his legacy that will not, most likely so, be seen for decades. It means media technologies are, no doubt, the entire complex of all ideological machines by virtue of the domination of our ability to refer to our own origination as peculiar, free from being absorbed or eidetically defined. Our imaginations are pumped into executive figures on the screen. As peculiar and indeed a community of query, the queerness of our piety we are divorced from, thus what bonds us together in human communities is the merely the image of it: and that’s all that is left of ideology. Or what requires a new political thinking.

We won’t arrive in there, certainly. In the object of the screen, logic of the technical image. The community as it is being defined, graphically, organ by organ, face by face, is the giving away of our own relation to nothing. That’s what debates mean. Something for nothing, all of these trite sayings, are perhaps all that is true today.

In this election we are confused by our own election or ascension into the last and final ideology. We are elected into the image of the executive and in his face and figure, this figuration, is the further diminishment and pallor of our imagination. How do we stand to imagine a community of trolls? To be clear, it is nothing we have ever, or could ever witness before or after its completion. It is completely reasonable to ask for more.

About the Author:

Adam Staley Groves is a postdoctoral fellow with Tembusu College, National University of Singapore where he currently teaches the Humanities of Climate Change and Biomedicine. Adam holds MA and PhD degrees from the European Graduate School, and is pursuing a second PhD with the Centre for Modern Thought at the University of Aberdeen. His research engages poetry and technology. Co-editor and contributor with the online journal continent., Adam’s investigation of politics seeks the dignity and nature of human imagination to confront our technological age.