Long ago Socrates’ analysis of the hatred he incurred at the hands of Athenian citizenry is one part of a larger theme that he dwells on throughout his Apology. Athens is a democracy, a city in which the many are the dominant power in politics, and it can therefore be expected to have all the vices of the many. Because most people hate to be tested in argument, they will always take action of some sort against those who provoke them with questions. But that is not the only accusation Socrates brings forward against his city and its politics. He tells his democratic audience that he was right to have withdrawn from political life, because a good person who fights for justice in a democracy will be killed. In his cross-examination of Meletus, he insists that only a few people can acquire the knowledge necessary for improving the young of any species, and that the many will inevitably do a poor job. He criticizes the Assembly for its illegal actions and the Athenian courts for the ease with which matters of justice are distorted by emotional pleading. Socrates implies that the very nature of democracy makes it a corrupt political system. Bitter experience has taught him that most people rest content with a superficial understanding of the most urgent human questions. When they are given great power, their shallowness inevitably leads to injustice.1
In a recent conversation with Jehu about his post SYRIZA, the Left and the long, slow, painful death of the nation state I said,
I think what people miss in most critiques of the EU is the simple truth that democracy no longer exists. What I mean is that financial capitalism combined with the impersonal bureaucracy has inverted the traditional schematic and we now live in a totalitarian system of financial governance divorced from democratic politics. The model is the Corporation rather than the Nation State that is now in power. It’s not even fascism in the older sense of the collusion of State and Corporate power since the EU is economic only rather than political. Politics has no power in the modern world, it is bankrupt and has become only a mediatainment system of control and buffer against the fact of Plutocracy. The State will remain only as long as the police systems, both military and civilian, are needed to protect the interests of the Plutocracy not the people themselves.
What then of the state? It exists only as an agent of a now global capitalism. Can we push to abolish it? Or are there other forces that prevent this?
No. I see the State continuing as part of the military regime protecting the Plutocracies for the time being. Politicians are dramaturgists, media personalities rather than workers in Law. In our age the Plutocracies have allowed these vast migrations or refugees from the South to bring about a great intensive fragmentation in the democratic systems so that they can ultimately do away with the last pretense of democratic civilization through the imposition of a permanent ‘State of Emergency’. Even the analysts in the non-dialectical democratic regimes target only external threats rather than facing the truth that the greatest threat to democracy today is democracy itself. We’ve allowed it to enter that stage the Greeks warned us of two-thousand years ago.
Hell if you just study our literature and paintings of the past hundred years you see where its all going. I’m still a firm believer that the arts speak what we don’t want to hear. Most of our academics are idiots, bound to an ideological culture of the Left that has put on its blinkers and has only one enemy, the Right (whatever the hell that is?). Instead of stepping outside of their straightjackets and looking around at the world we actually live in they continue to live in the 19th Century with only the effects of mass media added to their arsenal.
Even though I disagree with Nick Land politically, he like Thomas Pynchon sees the system that is shaping our time as an extension of our own inhuman core, and it is autonomous, intelligent, and exists outside the control of both politics and democracy altogether. In some ways it’s closer to Nicklas Luhmann’s notions of operational closure and the communication of communication. A variation of self-engendered and autopoetic systems that work outside any human command and control structure. Technology is not some alien thing, it is what we are: our creation, an extension of the inhuman core of our own being. We’ve externalized memory, intelligence, and our physical and bodily lives to the extent that the human is being dispersed and fragmented among its own inhuman components. We live in a moment of mutation.
Some speak of an artificial/natural distinction. We were never natural, we’ve always built defense systems against the natural both intrinsic and extrinsic. Civilization itself is the most artificial construct to arrive on planet earth, a Human Security System to stave off the entropy of existence through the self-perpetuation of a cultural complex of temporal immortalization. We have lived in an artificial time of no time, both cyclic and linear since the first humans divided the sun and moon to plant crops. We are the production of machinic systems of subjectivation that span thousands of years. What Deleuze and Guattari spoke of as the dividual is but the production of digital man, the migration of humans into the infosphere. Our worth is tracked in bits of data selected, analyzed, filtered, sorted, and segmented into various statistical and probabilistic systems that continually produce new forms of dividuality moment by moment across the infosphere 24/7. Even as we sleep in our bodies our dividual self roams the electronic corridors of the dataverse performing transactions with or without our consent. We have no control over our digital life.
Generation by generation as technology becomes more and more ubiquitous, as intelligence migrates to every aspect of our sensorium, as our lives become more and more externalized and controlled, tracked, and preempted by surveillance capitalism our children and their children will forget our fears, our physical dependence on individuality and disconnection or withdrawal from the infosphere. They will become one with this worldwide system through implants, nanotech and biotech undreamed of by us to the point that their lives will become machinic to the point of total dependence on these external intelligence systems. At that time if a natural or unnatural disturbance were to bring the world network down humans would have forgotten themselves. They would be lost without their external memories and intelligence systems. Humans are losing their minds… what Raymond Llull and others spent years developing in internalizing intelligence and memory is in our generation being dismantled and externalized.
We fool ourselves if we think there is any secret cabal behind the curtain (like a conspiracy). There’s no one home. The system is impersonal and an extension of our own technological being. We are our technics – in that I agree with Steigler. Our global mesh of complex systems of economics and control far outstrip our ability to reduce it to some critical apparatus. Politics is dead. We’ve got to construct something other than the critical apparatus that has kept us locked in a loop for far too long.
The Modern State is now nothing more than a PR firm to keep the children asleep and unthinking, believing that the dramaturgy of politics is still real. It isn’t… and the world is a much more dangerous place than even those gray lords would like to believe. I actually see no real way out, only a dark path through the world we pretended for too long doesn’t exist. Sad, but true. It’s time to pay the piper…
Consumer societies were predicated on the capture of desire as a continuous process of obsolescence, which produces a world without a future, a timeless grid of illusionary anti-realist practices that bind humans to a system rotating around the possible end game of annihilation. As Bernard Stiegler remarks “today, this harnessing of libido has finished by destroying it, and this major fact constitutes an immense threat for industrial civilization: it is leading inevitably and eventually to an unprecedented global economic crisis” (12).2 As I watch what is happening in Belgium, the fractured world of communication, distrust, hate, and division; as I watch in my own homeland the idiocy of politics, finance, and stupidity I’m reminded of Henry A. Giroux’s remark:
Our global civilization is descending into madness. The stories it now tells are filled with cruelty, deceit, lies, and legitimate all manner of corruption and mayhem. The mainstream media spin stories that are largely racist, violent, and irresponsible— stories that celebrate power and demonize victims, all the while camouflaging their pedagogical influence under the glossy veneer of entertainment. Violence now offers the only currency with any enduring value for mediating relationships, addressing problems, or offering instant pleasure. A predatory culture celebrates a narcissistic hyper-individualism that radiates a near sociopathic lack of interest in— or compassion and responsibility for— others. Anti-public intellectuals who dominate the screen and aural cultures urge us to spend more, indulge more, and make a virtue out of the pursuit of personal gain, while producing a depoliticized culture of consumerism.3
If I wasn’t a creature who still believed we need to wake people up and do something about this before its too late I might almost go with William S. Burroughs ironic remark when he said: “Time to look beyond this run down radioactive cop-ridden planet.” Problem is wouldn’t we just take that very problem with us wherever we go in the cosmos? Maybe it’s time to fix the problem rather than run from it…
- “Socrates”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016
- Stiegler, Bernard (2014-08-28). The Re-Enchantment of the World: The Value of Spirit Against Industrial Populism (Philosophy, Aesthetics and Cultural Theory) (p. 12). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
- Giroux, Henry A. (2014-07-21). The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America’s Disimagination Machine (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 64-76). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition.