Compendium: Ernst Jünger’s Der Arbeiter (Pt. IV of VII)

Technology continues to be the defining characteristic of the Arbeiter. It is what enables the Arbeiter to revolutionize the world. The other key trait is the arts, particularly how certain artforms are created and what can be considered an artform under Total Mobilization. Jünger maintained that the means of creating any work of art changes alongside how that same work of art is conveyed and interpreted by the observer. At the time of when Der Arbeiter was written, the idea of art reflecting the changes of Modernity is reflected in the shift away from the lifelike paintings of prior centuries to the more abstract ones that strove to set themselves apart from the older methods. Technology certainly influenced this trend toward more abstract artworks that not only lamented what Liberal Capitalism was destroying within Modernity, but also drew the observer’s attention to the commercialization of the arts themselves by Kapital. An Andy Warhol painting is appropriate here, if anywhere. 

It is true that Postmodernism tried to revolt against Modernism in the latter half of the 20th century, the effects of which can be discerned in the arts. The differences can be difficult to visualize without knowing the general principles that distinguish Modernism and Postmodernism. Modernist depictions of art presented grand narratives that were Utopian in nature but were in final analysis Dystopian. That was precisely what Postmodernist depictions of art sought to expose, but doing so resulted in Postmodernism itself to undermine the importance of staying true to what is meaningful and eternal. Postmodernity was and still is a product of Modernity, not an attempt to abandon it altogether.

The very concept of art being shaped by the Arbeiter directly is a more recent phenomenon, however. The convergence between art and technology has raised the question of whether video games can be classified as an artform in itself. While it is true that gaming websites, journalists, essayists, and developers are inclined to claim either video games are art or not, such trivial debates are irrelevant to the Figure of the Arbeiter. To understand the significance of this conclusion is to investigate where the video game industry was at the end of Ernst Jünger’s life in the 1990s and where it has been since then. Only in this context does Jünger’s arguments about art and technology always being on a thin tightrope between the workspace and the museum become apparent. 

The 1990s saw rapid technological changes within the gaming industries of the US, UK, Japan and other countries. Two-dimensional designs employing low polygons and few color palettes were gradually being supplanted by isometric depictions  and early forays into three-dimensional designs by the end of the decade. To compensate for the lack of high resolutions and detailed character models, objects and environments, some developers during those years relied on a combination of live-action or CGI cutscenes alongside the actual gameplay. Usually it was done for storytelling purposes, to enable the programmers to help the writers overcome the difficulties of conveying narratives with the limited technology that was available at the time. And even though the depictions may seem primitive and rudimentary, especially when compared to later developments in the 2000s, 2010s and beyond, they presented one of the most lasting examples of the Arbeiter and its presence in the interactions between art and technology.

It was also during this same timeframe when discussions over violent depictions can affect the mental health of children and young adults, particularly those who suffered from inclinations toward random, senseless violence. A lot of the literature about this topic between the late 1990s and early 2000s, including the fact that it continues to be exploited by Parliamentary Democracies whenever a mass shooting or school shooting happens, remains as another example of Total Mobilization presenting the issues of Freedom/Unfreedom and Security/Insecurity to Liberal Capitalism. In America, this phenomenon manifested itself as trivial issues related to “gun control,” a US domestic policy analogue to “arms control” within US foreign policy. It matters very little to the Arbeiter whether someone is referring to the Federal government confronting the “gun show loophole” or that same Federal government confronting “nuclear proliferation” from the Ayatollah’s Iran and the DPRK; both revolve around the same unresolved issues of Freedom/Unfreedom and Security/Insecurity. The real difference are matters related to who and why in the ontological sense.  

Since Total Mobilization can always be interpreted in both wartime and peacetime contexts, it is inevitable to reinterpret video games to be geared toward political ends. It has been known in the 2000s that the US military saw the potential for video games as a recruitment tool. Players are introduced to an array of military hardware that are simulated to the best of the developers’ ability with available technology. Everything from the sound of the weapons and vehicles deployed on the virtual battlefield to the usage of military tactics and operational maneuvers. The video game industry in the early to mid 2000s saw an overabundance of depictions of World War II, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, the War on Terror and even fictional ones employing the weaponry and vehicles of the time the game was developed. Those games, unlike their successors in the 2010s, consistently had the player learn basic squad-based tactics as part of an infantry formation. This trend eventually waned by the end of the 2000s. 

Whether the US military found little value in recruitment efforts or the tactical value of gaming remains about as ambiguous as the concerns over the militarization of the gaming industry. Once again, the same set questions that Total Mobilization poses to Liberal Capitalism regarding dialectics of Freedom/Unfreedom and Security/Insecurity. It can also be inferred that the gaming industry shifted away from depictions of World War II and toward contemporary times or else focusing on different genres and settings that had no depictions of armed combat. The latter possibility involves the gaming industry trying to incorporate FPS (First Person Shooter) mechanics into genres that previously lacked them or did not need them, which have coincided with similar forays into open-world settings since the late 2000s.  

These historical trends that affected the gaming industry in the 1990s and 2000s are supportive of a consistent theme in Der Arbeiter. Any language that advocates for the same outcome but within different contexts is a side-effect of Total Mobilization that attracted the interest of Martin Heidegger within his own readings of the book. Terms that seem out of place in everyday speech but eventually became accepted by anyone as part of their lexicon, their vocabulary in expressing themselves and communicating with others through Socialization. One example has been the usage of the term “pwned” (‘owned’ in “1337” or leetspeak), which originated from computer hackers in the 1990s and later introduced among non-hackers who regularly accessed the World Wide Web.

Yet far more than a cognitive dissonance, it is really a question related to Dasein, which explains why the Figure of the Arbeiter piqued Heidegger’s interest. For Heidegger, there was always the risk that Total Mobilization may become the only thing that defines the Arbeiter to the point where the Figure may experience something akin to an “existential identity crisis.” This particular theme is evident in the artform known as “Machinima” (no ontological relationship with the now defunct “Machinima.com”). 

Machinima as an artform grew up with the developments of the gaming industry between the late 1990s and early 2010s. It attempted, through a game’s ‘engine’ and ‘assets’ (as if a video game is somehow a Fictitious Commodity as a vehicle for Kapital), to create short stories and comedic skits. Most Machinimas were done for the sake of lighthearted fun, but there was always an underlying theme of existentialism, of an apparent uncertainty about whether somebody’s Dasein was authentic to them on a subconscious level. A part of it can be discerned from Machinima’s struggle to be accepted as a legitimate artform, since it originally required very little knowledge of game design or filmmaking. As long as somebody has access to the right developer tools and technical know-how, they can create a simple story. Another part has to do with the state of the gaming industry itself in the 2000s and 2010s, as the Internet became increasingly available and the need for developers to contribute more Kapital to publishers and investors grew.   

Without any support from developers and the ability to keep up with the technological changes, the artform of Machinima waned as the few who remained were the more experienced and have been working on the same webshows. It also did not help that Machinima.com was subverted by Kapital and the YouTube algorithm slashed any hopes of a steady source of income from ad revenue. Creating a Machinima is difficult for human creators to ensure that enough of their work can match the output of the algorithm, a soulless automated software that preferred a “Let’s Play.” This is not to suggest that the artform is now relegated to the museum, a disgraceful sign of wasted and diminished human potential of the what-could-have-been. Despite the artform still being practiced by a small few, it remains to be seen whether the artform will have the chance to become something greater, to realize the potential that it never achieved with Machinima.com.    

The fact that Machinima has waned in terms of potential can be attributed to the gaming industry’s growing profit-driven motives in the 2010s. Developers are more inclined to further the interests of Kapital, even to the detriment of those under their employ. Such people are starting to become more aware of their Dasein as Arbeiter, especially given the egregious attempts made by their ideologically-driven publishers to resort to questionable business practices. The microtransactions and loot boxes, overemphasis on graphics providing more semblance than actual substance in terms of plot and gameplay, the constant remakes and risk-averse decision-making are all signs of this growing complacency. 

A similar pattern pertaining to the presence of two dialectics of Freedom/Unfreedom and Security/Insecurity within the gaming industry was the notorious “Gamergate controversy.” Neither the detractors nor the so-called “SJWs” are in the right here. Both have always been one and the same insofar as they chose to apply Liberal Capitalist thinking to an area that is becoming increasingly subjected to Total Mobilization in spite of subversion by Kapital. 

A video game about the personal experiences of depression is not a wise application of Total Mobilization, apart from a foolish attempt at trying to be different for the sake of being different as the gaming industry devolves into a herd mentality. To feel somebody else’s personal pain from depression is tantamount to the imposition of an Inauthentic Dasein as the reactionary response to demand gaming journalism to stop reporting on women’s representation in the gaming industry. Two separate identities manufactured by the same insecurities and unfreedoms of Inauthentic Dasein. This herd mentality over Freedom/Unfreedom and Security/Insecurity was sparked over something as ridiculous as somebody’s personal relationships, eventually escalating into something straight out of America’s Salem Witchcraft Trials or else the Red Scares during Ernst Jünger’s life during the 20th century. 

Part of the political crux behind Gamergate has been over the role of gaming journalism and whether it gets to consider video games to be an artform or not in this ongoing state of Total Mobilization. The other half is whether such an artform should allow Progressivism to espouse “Jeffersonian Ideals with Hamiltonian Methods” or Libertarianism (that is to say Classical Liberalism Capitalism) to promote “Jeffersonian Ideals with Jeffersonian Methods.” From a Heideggerian standpoint, the fact that Gamergate is being discussed here in the context of Machinima being at risk of consignment to a museum somewhere is related to the very questions posed by the convergence of technology and the arts. They are reflections of the same ontological crisis of being that plagues the life of the youth as the 21st century continues where the 20th century had ended. 

This ontological crisis will never be solved by accusing anyone of being “fascists” or “communists” for these are identities that rightfully belong in the 18th and 19th centuries, not the 21th and 22nd centuries. No meaningful solution will ever be found as long as Kapital continues to control the technologies and artforms of the Arbeiter. The choice between an “Insecure Freedom” and an “Secure Unfreedom” is not an authentic choice at all. Nothing was learned from Gamergate and Machinima because many have yet to recognize why the “Anarch,” the polar opposite of the Arbeiter, had realized that the peace of mind from true Freedom, true Security, lies squarely within the Self through an Authentic Dasein.



Categories: Compendium, Economic History, Philosophy, Politics, Technology, War

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