Mikhail Bakhtin once aligned the carnivalesque of literature and ancient feudal festivals as subverting as it liberates us from the assumptions of the dominant style or atmosphere through humor and chaos. He would categorize it into four categories: 1. Familiar and free interaction between people: carnival often brought the unlikely of people together and encouraged the interaction and free expression of themselves in unity. 2. Eccentric behaviour: unacceptable behaviour is welcomed and accepted in carnival, and one’s natural behaviour can be revealed without the consequences. 3.Carnivalistic misalliances: familiar and free format of carnival allows everything that may normally be separated to reunite- Heaven and Hell, the young and the old, etc. 4. Sacrilegious: Bakhtin believed that carnival allowed for Sacrilegious events to occur without the need for punishment. Bakhtin believed that these kinds of categories are creative theatrical expressions of manifested life experiences in the form of sensual ritualistic performances.
Yet, what happens in a world that turns this same principle into its daemonic parody? When the humor and comedy turn cannibal and violent? When whole societies begin to enter a period of torment and terror? And the world theatre becomes a site of horror shaped by fear and propaganda? I’ve dealt with notions of cannibalistic metrophagy before. We populate the natural world with our fears of apocalypse, climatic catastrophes, sudden storms and tornados, great tsunamis, fitful super-volcanos, a cataclysmic myth of final destruction built up by the capitalist mythologies to keep us surrounded by their protective technologies of security. As the current world wide refugee crisis spreads panic, horror, and threat in its wake we are seeing the Left and Right churning out their hyperstitional scenarios envisioning war and peace on a global scale. The actual humans (Refugees) are caught in the middle of their own failed States, and seeking to escape one life are running into hells in other countries they once thought represented freedom, opportunity, and democracy. The Great Lie sinks in and they realize they made a hellish mistake. Like all the Hollywood Zombie films of the past twenty years we are seeing a festival of tears and blood in our midst. It’s like stepping into a postmodern hyperfilm where Baudrillard, Virilio, Deleuze, David Lynch, Pasolini, and a multitude of others have foreseen the terrors to come, forcasted the inevitable nightmares we are now living in as the actors on a stage of violence and apocalypse that we ourselves have invented.
I once said we are moving into a time of riddance, a time of purging, a new Age of the Vomitorium – a new amphitheatre of the socius: a site providing rapid egress for our zombie-flesh consumers in their binge-and-purge cycles as they cannibalize the last vestiges of civilized life. I added Deleuze & Guattari in their saying,
It should not be thought that a semiotic of this kind [Cannibalism] functions by ignorance, repression, or foreclosure of the signifier. On the contrary, it is animated by a keen presentiment of what is to come. It does not need to understand it to fight against it. It is wholly destined by its very segmentarity and polyvocality to avert the already-present threat: universalizing abstraction, erection of the signifier, circularity of statements, and their correlates, the State apparatus, the instatement of the despot, the priestly caste, the scape-goat, etc. Every time they eat a dead man, they can say: one more the State won’t get. (p. 118, A Thousand Plateaus)
decline and fall of modern democracy
John Michael Greer in his doom and gloom book Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America forecasts a return to ancient patterns of demise. His reading starts with the Greek historian Polybius, who chronicled the conquest of Greece by Rome in the second century BCE, gave a convenient label for the process by which democracies destroy themselves: anacyclosis. According to Polybius’ elaboration of the theory, the state begins in a form of primitive monarchy. The state will emerge from monarchy under the leadership of an influential and wise king; this represents the emergence of “kingship”. Political power will pass by hereditary succession to the children of the king, who will abuse their authority for their own gain; this represents the degeneration of kingship into “tyranny”. Polybius’ sequence of anacyclosis proceeds in the following order: 1. Monarchy, 2. Kingship, 3. Tyranny, 4. Aristocracy, 5. Oligarchy, 6. Democracy, and 7. Ochlocracy. As Greer notes we need to update the model’s terminology: It’s a cogent model, especially if you replace “monarchy” with “dictatorship” and “aristocracy” with “junta” to bring the terminology up to current standards.1
Greer will follow American History and discover three periods that followed this pattern: 1776, in 1861, and in 1933 — each of which so far have followed the classic pattern. They’ve begun under the dominance of a single leader whose overwhelming support from the political class and the population as a whole allowed him to shatter the factional stalemate of the previous phase and impose a radically new order on the nation. After his death, power passes to what amounts to an elected junta, and gradually diffuses outwards in the usual way, until a popular movement to expand civil rights and political participation overturns the authority of the junta. Out of the expansion of political participation, factions rise to power, and eventually bring the mechanism of government to a standstill; crisis follows, and is resolved by the election of another almost-dictator. (pp. 82-83).
The problems being faced in our world is of a scale that is yet to even be registered on the political spectrum of existing opinion much less policy. Our leaders seem powerless to make decisions, to even know they need to make decisions. The fringe groups on both Left and Right popping up around the world are making hay with the popular imagination, thriving on the carnival atmosphere of chaos and despair.
As Greer points out the global downtrend and demise of American supremacy in the world is opening us to both the twilight of US as global policeman, but the truth that we’ve been the root and cause of most of the problems that are now coming back to bite us in the ass across the planet.
balance of powers
Jacob Burkhardt once surmised that all societies and civilizations are a dynamic balance among three social elements or powers: religion and the state. The third was culture, “that process by which the spontaneous and unthinking activity of a race or nation is transformed into considered action.” He placed it in an organicist metaphor of “growth, bloom, and decay,” as new social groups and forces come and go with the passage of time. “During epochs of high civilization, all three powers exist simultaneously at all levels of mutual interaction.” However, when they collide or conflict with each other, “a crisis in the whole state of things is produced,” which affects entire peoples and populations. Burckhardt’s history does not present us with a smooth and progressive working out of human forces and movements, but instead with a recurring tension among the three elements, expressed in periodic “crises.” In a crisis, “the historical process is suddenly accelerated in a terrifying fashion. Developments which would otherwise take centuries seem to flit by like phantoms in months and weeks, and are fulfilled.”2
With the refugee crisis we are seeing how the elites and powers are playing their card of fear and propaganda in out time. As Zygmunt Bauman reports it states will use this new threat from the outside in, the influx of refugees to artificially beef up, or at least highly dramatized to inspire a sufficient volume of fears, and at the same time outweigh, overshadow and relegate to a secondary position the economically generated insecurity about which the state administration can do next to nothing, nothing being what it is particularly eager to do. Unlike in the case of the market-generated threats to livelihood and welfare, the gravity and extent of the dangers to personal safety must be presented in the darkest of colours, so that the non-materialization of the advertised threats and the predicted blows and sufferings (indeed, anything less than predicted disasters) can be applauded as a great victory of governmental reason over hostile fate: as a result of the laudable vigilance, care and good will of state organs.3
So that the refugee crisis will enable these political entities to reinforce and expand their authoritarian laboratory of fear and control on a much wider and more devastating scale. The fear of the Other, the fear of the “stranger”, the politics of Schmidt’s Concept of the Political:
“The political enemy need not be morally evil or aesthetically ugly; he need not appear as an economic competitor, and it may even be advantageous to engage with him in business transactions. But he is, nevertheless, the other, the stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible. These can neither be decided by a previously determined general norm nor by the judgment of a disinterested and therefore neutral third party.” ― Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political: Expanded Edition
age of fear and hate
We are entering the age of a new politics of fear and hate, a time when both the Left and Right begin to solidify their ancient programs against each other; a time when the dark contours of the human animal rescind’s its contractual agreements to be reasonable, and instead implodes into that emotional and affective region of the monstrous and evil. Not a moral evil, but just the sheer panic driven fears of a caged animal aggressively moving in a desperate world to survive.
That little overlooked work by Ernest Becker Escape from Evil brought to the fore the notion from anthropologist A.M. Hocart that human civilization is built of the search for properity – the satiation of organismic craving to survive and prosper drives the human animal to expel, exclude, deny, and sacrifice any and all things, entities, objects that might keep this social system from prospering and continuing. As Becker reports: “Now, prosperity means simply that a high level of organismic functioning will be maintained, and so anything that works against this has to be avoided.”4 What is to be avoided is sacrificed on the alter of promised prosperity. Disease and evil are projected onto the scapegoat of some other being who will carry the brunt of this dark sacrificial system.
Rene Girard once said that the contracts that have held out societies together are not only breaking down but done, caput. “Law itself is finished. It is failing everywhere, and even excellent jurists, whom I know well, no longer believe in it. They see that it is collapsing, crumbling. Pascal already no longer believed in it. All of my intuitions are really anthropological in the sense that I see law as springing from sacrifice in a manner that is very concrete and not philosophical at all. I see this emergence of law in my readings in anthropology, in monographs on archaic tribes, where its arrival was felt. I see it emerge in Leviticus, in the verse on capital punishment, which concerns nothing other than stoning to death. This is the birth of law. Violence produced law, which is still, like sacrifice, a lesser form of violence. This may be the only thing that human society is capable of. Yet one day this dike will also break.”5
Dmitry Orlov in a perceptive book tells us that the collapse of global civilization can be conceived of as an orderly, organized retreat rather than a rout. It may even be useful to think of collapse as a transition: a transition that has already been planned for us (so no further transition planning activities are needed) and will consist of the collapse of finance, consumerism and politics-as-usual, along with the collapse of the societies and cultures that are entirely dependent on them.6 He breaks it down into five stages:
Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost. The future is no longer assumed to resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out and access to capital is lost.
Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost. Money is devalued and/ or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.
Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost. As official attempts to mitigate widespread loss of access to commercial sources of survival necessities fail to make a difference, the political establishment loses legitimacy and relevance.
Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost, as local social institutions, be they charities or other groups that rush in to fill the power vacuum, run out of resources or fail through internal conflict.
Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for “kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity.” Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes “May you die today so that I can die tomorrow.”
Ultimately his book is one of dark pessimistic prospects, one that forces us to confront the uncomfortable notion that survival at all costs may be a fate worse than death. Sometimes I wake up out of a nightmare that reminds me of Alexis de Tocqueville’s statement on the “new despotism,” noting that it worked by inner conditioning rather than by overt force, thus providing the illusion of freedom. Which as Morris Berman quoting Leo Damrosch tells us is an Orwellian Nightmare come true: It would resemble paternal power if its object was to prepare men for adult life, but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in permanent childhood. It likes citizens to enjoy themselves, so long as all they think about is enjoyment. It labors willingly for their happiness, but it wants to be the sole agent and arbiter of their happiness. . . . The sovereign power doesn’t break their wills, but it softens, bends, and directs them. It rarely compels action, but it constantly opposes action. It doesn’t destroy, but it prevents birth; it doesn’t tyrannize, but it hinders, represses, enervates, restrains, and numbs, until it reduces [the] nation to a mere flock of timid and industrious animals, with government as their shepherd.7
the great extinction
Is this the future? A world securitized, controlled, made safe from evil? A prosperity invented on the deaths of billions? The enslavement and exclusion of billions to support the new slaves of tomorrow, an elite core of children bound in a tyranny of childhood? Yet, this may be the least of our problems. As Annalee Newitz asks “Are we in the first act of a mass extinction that will end in the death of millions of plant and animal species across the planet, including us?” That’s what proponents of the “sixth extinction” theory believe. The term suggests, our planet has been through five mass extinctions before. The dinosaur extinction was the most recent but hardly the most deadly: 65 million years ago, dinosaurs were among the 76 percent of all species on Earth that were extinguished after a series of natural disasters. But 185 million years before that, there was a mass extinction so devastating that paleontologists have nicknamed it the Great Dying. At that time, 95 percent of all species on the planet were wiped out over a span of roughly 100,000 years— most likely from megavolcanoes that erupted for centuries in Siberia, slowly turning the atmosphere to poison. And three more mass extinctions, some dating back over 400 million years, were caused by ice ages, invasive species, and radiation bombardment from space.8
As she relates it the term “sixth extinction” was coined in the 1990s by the paleontologist Richard Leakey. At that time, he wrote a book about how this new mass extinction began 15,000 years ago, when the Americas teemed with mammoths, as well as giant elk and sloths. These turbo-vegetarians were hunted by equally large carnivores, including the saber-toothed cat, whose eight-inch fangs emerged from between the big cat’s lips, curving to well beneath its chin. But shortly after humans’ arrival on these continents, the megafauna populations collapsed. Leakey believes human habitat destruction was to blame for the extinctions thousands of years ago, just as it can be blamed today for the amphibian crisis. Leakey’s rallying cry has resulted in sober scientific papers today, where respected biologists detail the evidence of a mass extinction in the making. The New Yorker’s environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert has tirelessly reported on scientific evidence gathered over the past two decades corroborating the idea that we might be living through the early days of a new mass extinction. (ibid., KL 113)
Though some mass extinctions happen quickly, most take hundreds of thousands of years. So how would we know whether one was happening right now? The simple answer is that we can’t be sure. What we do know, however, is that mass extinctions have decimated our planet on a regular basis throughout its history. The Great Dying involved climate change similar to the one our planet is undergoing right now. Other extinctions may have been caused by radiation bombardment or stray asteroids, but as we’ll see in the first section of this book, these disasters’ most devastating effects involved environmental changes, too. My point is that regardless of whether humans are responsible for the sixth mass extinction on Earth, it’s going to happen. Assigning blame is less important than figuring out how to prepare for the inevitable and survive it. And when I say “survive it,” I don’t mean as humans alone on a world gone to hell. Survival must include the entire planet, and its myriad ecosystems, because those are what keep us fed and healthy. (ibid. KL 110-126)
state of the exception
Another of those staid terms we overlook is Sovereignty, which as Schmidt would report, ““Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.” As Giorgio Agamben will explain it:
Schmitt knows perfectly well that the state of exception, in as far as it enacts a “suspension of the legal order in its totality,” seems to “escape every legal consideration”; but for him the issue is to ensure a relation, no matter of what type, between the state of exception and the legal order: “The state of exception is always distinguished from anarchy and chaos and, in the legal sense, there is still order in it, even though it is not a legal order.” This articulation is paradoxical, since, that which should be inscribed within the legal realm is essentially exterior to it, corresponding to nothing less than the suspension of the legal order itself. Whatever the nature of the operator of this inscription of the state of exception into the legal order, Schmitt needs to show that the suspension of law still derives from the legal domain, and not from simple anarchy. In this way, the state of exception introduces a zone of anomy into the law, which, according to Schmitt, renders possible an effective ordering of reality. Now we understand why the theory of the state of exception, in Political Theology, can be presented as a doctrine of sovereignty. The sovereign, who can proclaim a state of exception, is thereby ensured of remaining anchored in the legal order. But precisely because the decision here concerns the annulation of the norm, and consequently, because the state of exception represents the control of a space that is neither external nor internal, “the sovereign remains exterior to the normally valid legal order, and nevertheless belongs to it, since he is responsible for decision whether the Constitution can be suspended in toto.”
My own thesis is that we are perilously close to this moment of restructuring of reality by way of the “state of exception”, one that will allow the globalist order to – as Agamben relates, annul the norm, and to control the spaces of our global realms; – or, as Sloterdijk’s Spherology would have it following Heidegger: Space is not in the subject, nor is the world in space. Space is rather in the world in so far as space has been disclosed by that Being-in-the-world which is constitutive for Dasein.
Because we live in a global space there is no outside nor internal zone, which as Agamben relates allows the sovereign power to remain “exterior to the normally valid legal order”. He’ll go on to say “that which the law cannot stand, that which it resents as an intolerable menace, is the existence of a violence that would be exterior to it, and this not only because its finalities would be incompatible with the purpose of the legal order, but because of the “simple fact of its exteriority.” As he’ll remind us:
The structural proximity between law and anomy, between pure violence and the state of exception also has, as is often the case, an inverted figure. Historians, ethnologists, and folklore specialists are well acquainted with anomic festivals, like the Roman Saturnalias, the charivari, and the Medieval carnival, that suspend and invert the legal and social relations defining normal order. Masters pass over into the service of servants, men dress up and behave like animals, bad habits and crimes that would normally be illegal are suddenly authorized. Karl Meuli was the first to emphasize the connection between these anomic festivals and the situations of suspended law that characterize certain archaic penal institutions. Here, as well as in the iustitium, it is possible to kill a man without going to trial, to destroy his house, and take his belongings. Far from reproducing a mythological past, the disorder of the carnival and the tumultuous destruction of the charivari re-actualize a real historical situation of anomy. The ambiguous connection between law and anomy is thus brought to light: the state of exception is transformed into an unrestrained festival where one displays pure violence in order to enjoy it in full freedom.
Anomy is the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and the community e.g. if under unruly scenarios resulting in fragmentation of social identity and rejection of self-regulatory values. Durkheim used the concept of anomy to speak of the ways in which an individual’s actions are matched, or integrated, with a system of social norms and practices… anomie is a mismatch, not simply the absence of norms. Thus, a society with too much rigidity and little individual discretion could also produce a kind of anomie… Thus, fatalistic suicide arises when a person is too rule-governed…
We are incorporating the Third world into our own internal zones of order, bringing the Outside in, the exterior Third World into the First World so that we can create a new global order without any exteriors. A Spherology. A realm that where the artificial and natural blur, where the human survival systems become incorporated into a new dynamics of machinic logic of extra-normative implosion and immanent capture. A place where the sovereignty of power is suspended, and the norms that have guided nation states for hundreds of years is suspended, allowing the state of exception to unfold its own logic or transformation and metamorphoses. The moment of transition, or phase change is now. We are in the midst of the global shift that no one can be sure of or control. New forms and politics will emerge or we will go under, go down into the pit of death and destruction.
It’s worth reiterating that last sentence of Agamben’s:
The ambiguous connection between law and anomy is thus brought to light: the state of exception is transformed into an unrestrained festival where one displays pure violence in order to enjoy it in full freedom.
With the suspension of law and the enactment of and revival of ancient orgiastic cults of violence in carnival we may begin to comprehend just how dire our near future truly is becoming. A Festival of Blood and Violence is about to be unleashed the likes of which the world has never seen… sadly, most will be in denial of this. The world itself is becoming a Theatre of Total Violence, a Carnival and Festival where the state of exception is becoming the rule and norm, realm of pure violence where the inhabitants become barbarians enjoying a pure sadistic freedom that unleashes terror everywhere.
anacyclosis or ?
Are we following Greer’s notions of anacyclosis? Is our world recycling patterns of ancient lineage? Are we in the midst of a power vacuum? A leaderless world where rogue states can emerge like ISIS’s Caliphate bid? With China, Russia, and their allies vying for a piece of the pie in the global nexus will that begin to bite at the edges of their own empires, incorporating more and more territory? In a leaderless world will a fall back to religious authority arise bringing dark prophets of hate and ethno-national bigotry and fear? Will Civil war break out in the US and EU? What of the vast Third World watching on as the First World crumbles into self-destruction? So many theories, so many conceptual patterns, a complexity expert or even Big Data analyst would be hard pressed to construct models for such scenarios… but one can be assured that the vast Industrial-Military Complex has such modeling scenarios ongoing…
Does it all come down to a failure of imagination? Our inability to imagine a different future, and not only imagine it but build a life in our immediate now to inhabit it? As one critic analyzing Franco Berardi’s notions of poetic uprisings says:
Berardi’s book is meant to galvanize “the general intellect” into believing that poetry is a non-exchangeable form of language. This because Berardi (admirably) wants us to believe in another world altogether, one we are transported to by poetry as “the excess of language, a hidden resource which enables us to shift from one paradigm to another.” In Berardi’s work, as in much of contemporary theory, literature becomes a vanishing mediator, a throwaway wormhole that takes us to another community. But communities must be built before they are found. Poetry can only build a community if it is exchanged, and exchangeability lies at the very etymological root of the word literature, of letters shared among friends. Perhaps it is Berardi’s own semiotization that has led to his alienated view of poetry; it is ironic that he considers Google to be an evil algorithmic plot driven by semio-capitalism even when his name registers more than two million search results.
Where is the literature and poetry of the world today? Where are our famed Avant-garde‘s who will awaken us to communication? If the avant-garde pushes the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo, that is primarily in the cultural realm. Where are the voices today? Twitter and Facebook is nothing more than a long add for Political Correctness and shame culture rather than the experimental cultures whose efforts might actually shape public knowledge and general intellect. Is this our world: a world of mindless fetish artists craving their 15 minutes of fame or shame. It’s a sham and death culture full of spent minds who are becoming part of the in crowd of stupidity. This is our world – an add campaign for the next Hollywood or Political scandal monger. No real change here. Death ensues.
Of course I do not want to believe this. Of course this seems too far out there, almost like some mad prophetic statement. Yet, look around you. Tell me what you see? As Agamben would say the “logomachia over anomy seems to be equally decisive for Western politics as the “battle of the giants around being” that has defined Western metaphysics. To pure being as the ultimate stake of metaphysics, corresponds pure violence as the ultimate stake of the political; to the onto-theological strategy that wants pure being within the net of logos, corresponds the strategy of exception that has to secure the relation between violence and law. It is as if law and logos would need an anomic or “a-logic” zone of suspension in order to found their relation to life.”
Are we about to invent this “a-logical” zones of suspension across the world where the rule of law is suspended, and the festival of blood becomes the order of the day? Ernst Becker would remind us of Walter Miller’s famed science fiction novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz where a few remaining citizens of a mad earth escape into space, compelled to seek out a new world where men might discover a path toward overcoming their dark driveness to violence. Both Freud and Becker hoped that humans would gain a foothold on their self-destructive behaviors and renounce the very power of death in their lives toward annihilation and immortality, eros and thanatos. Not being as optimistic I believe we’re tipping into the dark curve of affect and the imbalance of human degradation. Not something I want, just something I see around me.
Georges Bataille will provide the coda:
“The creation of a sovereign (or sacred) element, therefore, of an institutional figure or of a sacrificial victim, depends on the negation of some interdict, the general observation of which makes us human beings, as opposed to animals. This means that sovereignty, in that humanity tends toward it, requires us to situate ourselves ‘above the law’, the essence, which constitutes it. It also means that major communication can only take place on one condition – that we resort to Evil, that is to say to violation of the law.9 (p. 202)
- Greer, John Michael (2014-03-17). Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America. New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Herman, Arthur (2010-05-29). The Idea of Decline in Western History (p. 50). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
- Bauman, Zygmunt (2013-04-18). Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age (Kindle Locations 1067-1074). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
- Becker, Ernest Escape from Evil. (Free Press, 1975)
- Girard, René (2012-01-01). Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoit Chantre (Studies in Violence, Mimesis, & Culture) (p. 108). Michigan State University Press. Kindle Edition.
- Orlov, Dmitry (2013-05-10). The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors’ Toolkit (p. 14). New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Berman, Morris (2011-09-13). Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline (Kindle Locations 3725-3733). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.
- Newitz, Annalee (2013-05-14). Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction (Kindle Locations 102-110). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
- Georges Bataille. The Literature of Evil. (Gallimard, 1957)