Wednesday, January 7, 2009

the euphoria machine

hey all-

i'm in a hostel in tokyo with kristin right now. the past week shes been here has been great- we got to see tokyo together and just got back from kyoto. unfortunately, kristins got food poisoning (something i went through right in hiroshima) so we're a bit bummed out she has to go through this and that there is nothing we can do.

I'll post pictures and whatnot later (sorry guys!) i promise.

anyways, on a totally different topic kristin and i went to the mori art museum a while ago and we saw a picture talking about something called the "euphoria machine". we both found it extremely interesting, so i took a picture of the text (when no one was looking) and because i couldn't find it on the internet, i've copied it below:


The Euphoria Machine: Preliminary Reverse Engineering Field Laboratory - Raqs Media Collective tokyo, November 2008

What is the Euphoria Machine?

The Euphoria Machine Project is a recently instigated, but potentially long term Raqs project aimed at an artistic and critical investigation of the way in which the frenzy of economic growth and wealth creation acquires potent and symbolic and cultural forms.

Euphoria Machine is the name we give to the apparatus of desire and cognition that seeks to create a consensus within society for boundless energy and wealth, and effaces all the doubts and dissent about the ways in which this energy and wealth must be acquired.

Today, when there is a general perception of a systemic crisis of the global financial apparatus, fueled by a crisis of sentiment and the inverse of euphoria, a "reverse engineering experiment" on a machine that doesn't quite seem to be working as well as it is supposed to, seems to be timely.

Sometime after the second world war, Edward Louis Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, a key strategist of war-time propaganda campaigns and the intellectual god-father of the advertising and public relations industry, applied a key discovery he had made during the fashioning of the war propaganda to the future success of Capitalism. The discovery was this - in no other war in Human History, had wars been fought in the name of democracy, peace and prosperity. They had been fought for land, for the expansion of a particular dynasty or ruling groups' power, for religious zeal and for other concretely political purposes. The propaganda campaigns of the second world war however, successfully named a different kind of motivation for war - the desire for happiness, peace, prosperity and liberty. The identification of common virtues with the war machine proved to be a very successful motivator.

Once the war ended, Bernays realized that the same process could be replicated in "peacetime" - only this time, people must be made to realize that a contributing their labour to capital, or buying goods that they did not necessarily need (in order to keep the machine of capital running) could be done by identifying these acts with basic human drives for beauty, health, happiness, love, joy and contentment. So, people were told that they could feel a profound happiness, if they bought a shoe, or went to work in a call centre. This was a subtle but significant shift, in that it divorced a good from its function. A shoe, for instance was no longer something that covered and protected your feet, instead, it became a key to your personal well being. A job was no longer something you did to earn a living: it became a mark of your special identity as a human being. The building blocks of Capital were internalized as personal drives.

To us, this marriage between deep seated internal drives and the running of the bast impersonal network of a global economy is the secret of the Euphoria Machine. Is it also the material that fuels the machine. The extraction of this material both requires as well as results in the subordination of the complexity of human life experiences to the needs of capital.

It is a short distance from desiring a thing for the feeling we are told its possession will induce to acquiring stakes in things that do not yet exist simply because we are told that the calculus of prosperity depends on the acquisition and transaction of virtual assets. The current financial crisis emerges from a drive to acquire and transact things that are notional rather than real. Thus we have notional assets, notional debts underwritten by some very real transaction costs involved in the transfer and exchange of notional assets and debts. It is when the real costs overwhelm the notional returns that we experience the opposite of euphoria. Currently, the Euphoria Machine's exhaust only produces despair.

This apparatus - Euphoria Machine - takes (for us) the form of an imaginary machine - a meta machine that works as the conceptual engine of the desire for the perpetual energy and limitless economic growth.

The current hype around the so-called "Indian" economy, both within India, and elsewhere in the world (despite the easy gestures towards "doomsday" in the global economy), is an instance of the working of the Euphoria machine.

At earlier times, the excitement around the post-war economic boom in Japan, or the rise of the "Asian Tiger" economies in the Nineteen Eighties, or the current mania around the Chinese economy, as well as the earlier "boom" periods in transatlantic and western European economies are all instances of the Euphoria Machine at work.

The key product of the Euphoria Machine is processed perception. The perception that all "growth" is wonderful, that happiness can be indexed by GDP, that there is such as thing as an "Indian" Economy, and that this thing known as the "Indian Economy" is booming. Even the idea that there is such a thing known as "Indian" Art, a small but symbolically significant cog in the machine of the Indian Market in niche high value goods is booming. All these are products, and by products of the working of the Euphoria Machine.

The iteration of this Project at the Mori At Museum for the "Chalo! India" Exhibition takes the form of the processional elaboration of the "reverse engineering" of the Euphoria Machine at work. We start with the assumption that we know the machine exists. The projects intent is not to prove or demonstrate its existence. Its proofs are all around us, in plans, projections, advertisements, policy statements, blueprints, balance sheets, reports and so on.

Instead, the project aims to analyze its constituent parts, their operations and their interconnections in such a manner as to show how the "fuel" (human drives and desires) is combusted and how that energy runs the moving parts of the Machine so as to achieve the desired end.


I found this pretty intense. Some random thoughts

>I just finished reading guns, germs and steel and beyond it being excellent at arguing against still prevalent ideas about racial superiority that still transcend our culture it made me realize that societies where people have material possessions have only existed for a short period of time. Prior to this, we were hunter gatherers where all items people owned must be carried etc. Have we humans evolved in the this brief time period? Do we typically only like things when we buy them because hunter gatherers were never able to keep things so they only enjoyed the initial act?

>Is it true that wwII was really only fought for peace, prosperity and democracy like it was said? I find this hard to believe given hitler (and japans) quest for domination that was not unlike that of Napoleon, Charlemagne and other past heads of state. But, I am by no means an expert on this so i'm curious what others say. the ideas of mass marketing to appeal directly to the ideas of love, beauty etc I can imagine reach untold levels in the recent past - but I have a hard time believing they were non existent before

>I need to think about this some more but Kristin and I visited my homestay family for a dinner. And seeing the girls, and how happy they were is/ was amazing. I don't know how to explain it, but these 2 girls play, laugh and have a good time all day long. I think if someone wants to find real happiness they need to observe it in someone else and find out what makes it work for them. because happiness by virtue of consumption doesn't exist (as far as i know).

thats all for now- best wishes for a happy new year in 2009!