Decided to republish this essay I wrote over a year ago… still worth rethinking.
Naomi Wolfe’s The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot outlined ten steps taken in the past by what she termed “closing societies” — such as Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Stalin’s Russia — in their long descent into fascism. For both the State was one grand corporation in which the prols or workers were but the fodder for its schemes and machinations. These steps, Wolf claims, are being observed in America now.
The steps are:
1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
2. Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
3. Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
4. Set up an internal surveillance system.
5. Harass citizens’ groups.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
7. Target key individuals.
8. Control the press.
9. Cast criticism as espionage and dissent as treason.
10. Subvert the rule of law.
J.G. Ballard in an interview mentions that our current consumer societies with their celebrity stars of Hollywood, Sports, and the Variety tabloids has entered the plutocracy of excess and abundance. “What I’m saying is that, left on its own consumer society is becoming a soft fascism. Because consumerism makes inherent demands, it has inherent needs, which can only be satisfied by pressing the accelerator down a little harder, moving a little faster, upping the antes. In order to keep spending and keep believing, we need to move into the area of the psychopathic.” 1
We live in a world of cosmopolitan hierarchs, elites for whom leisure and wealth have become entitlements rather than a badge of success. Our CEO’s have become the new feudalistic lords of the land. The ultimate Chairman of the Board, sitting in the White House, paid not so much to keep freedom alive and well, but to curb the peasantries access to freedom by developing systems of exclusion and surveillance to enclose them in a net of fear and trembling. With the death of agricultural civilization and the enclosure of the commons financial chaos is a tool to keep the peasants locked up in eternal debt. The new austerity enforces a stern taxation that extends like the Biblical patriarchs laws unto the seventh generation.
As Henry Giroux reports, Obama’s administration includes the US government’s use of state secrecy to provide a cover for practices that range from the illegal use of torture and the abduction of innocent foreign nationals to the National Security Association’s use of a massive surveillance campaign to monitor the phone calls, e-mails, and Internet activity of all Americans. A shadow mass surveillance state has emerged that eschews transparency and commits unlawful acts under the rubric of national security.2
The millions of homeless, destitute, and poor that roam the cities of America are slowly being banished from the gentrified worlds that were once their last haven of safety. As the authors of Banished: The New Social Control In Urban America tell us the reinvigorated use of banishment as a social control strategy is not a historical accident. The shift toward a postindustrial economy and away from a strong welfare state increased levels of poverty. Extensive gentrification coupled with a decline in public housing made affordable shelter increasingly scarce. Together, these structural dynamics generated a sizable increase in the visible homeless. Their presence in downtown public spaces caused widespread concern about the effects of disorder. This concern was particularly acute for commercial establishments reliant on shoppers and tourists, many of whom abhor visible evidence of social disadvantage. For those seeking to revive downtown and improve downtown aesthetics, the broken windows theory was a boon. The popularity of this theory legitimized various civility codes that targeted the everyday behaviors of those deemed disorderly.3
William T. Vollman in writing his book on the poor and destitute realized just how difficult a task that would be: “I do not wish to experience poverty, for that would require fear and hopelessness. Therefore, I can glimpse it only from the outside.”4 Coming upon a man sleeping in an alley behind some old oily cardboard eating from the remains of a tin can found in a garbage heap near by Vollman asked the man why he was poor:
Because I don’t have a job.
Call this answer fatally and irrevocably familiar, fatal being an especially appropriate descriptor because when conceived in such limited, monotonous terms (appropriately so, because poverty is limited and monotonous), his situation feels tautologically hopeless. (ibid.)
Marx himself describing Roman Society and its particular debt system tells us that the usury that impoverishes the poor petty producer goes hand in hand with the usury that ruins the rich landed proprietor. As soon as the usury of the Roman patricians had completely ruined the Roman plebeians, the small farmers, this form of exploitation came to an end, and the petty-bourgeois economy was replaced by a pure slave economy.5 The American economy is a slave economy of creditor-debt and taxation from which there is no escape except natural death or suicide. Bankruptcy ends in either prolonged agony, thirteen years barring one from the creditor relation. As Marx would further iterate in the debt society “the usurer [lender, banker, creditor] can in this case swallow up everything in excess of the producers’ most essential means of subsistence, the amount that later becomes wages (the usurer’s interest being the part that later appears as profit and ground-rent), and it is therefore quite absurd to compare the level of this interest, in which all surplus-value save that which accrues to the state is appropriated, with the level of the modern interest rate, where interest, at least the normal interest, forms only one part of this surplus-value. This is to forget that the wage-labourer produces and yields to the capitalist who employs him profit, interest and ground-rent, in short the entire surplus-value.” (p. 730)
The debt society is about squeezing every last bit of surplus from the down and out, destitute and enslaved denizens who will like the surfs of old be bound into a legalese that excludes them, and yet includes them in a new zone of inner exile, caged and forced to squeak out a bare or minimal living.
Everything we make as wage earners is bound within the consumer cycle as surplus-value that is continuously fed to the debtors leaving us impoverished and without recourse. Maurizio Lazzarato in The Making of the Indebted Man tells us that debt functions as an all-pervasive mechanism of power. Property is not ownership of the means of production, as it was for Marx, but rather revolves around capital securities. Therefore it concerns a relation of power that has changed with respect to the Marxian tradition, that is deterritorialised as Deleuze and Guattari would say. It stands at a higher level of abstraction, but it is still organised around a certain kind of property: a distinction between those who do have access to money-credit and those who do not. (here) In out society one’s credit rating rather than one’s physical savings or property, one’s virtual rating in the eyes or gaze of the creditors is one’s actual power. The relation of the virtual/actual has broken down into the invasive power of the virtual to replace the actual. We live in a mirror world in which the consumer has become herself the ultimate commodity, to be tapped and tracked through the circulation of capital credit relations into the nth degree.
The economy of debt makes no distinction between waged workers and non-waged workers, between the employed and unemployed, between material and immaterial labour. We are all in debt. In contemporary capitalism debt is organized by finance and credit, which have expropriated by means of monetary control systems. Our society as a whole (not only labour, but the entirety of social relations, of knowledge, of wealth, etcetera) is bounded by this hidden relation of monetary control. Finance, therefore, functions as a predatory apparatus of capture. In a risk society such as ours the Capitalists are the only ones who do not risk anything. The risks are all taken on by the cognitariat and precariat. The true risk is taken on by the population who is excluded from the very excess of surplus relations of profit, sucked dry, left out in the cold world of eternal debt. (here)
As Lazzarato informs us Technical government is the accomplishment of this process of privatisation. The logic of representation is replaced by the functional, operative logic (diagrammatic, Deleuze and Guattari would call it) of money/credit. In such an economy we have all become ‘human capital’ in a ‘just-in-time’ logic of production of knowledge. Human capital is no longer the ‘atom of liberty’ of classical economics, but a systemic and subordinated variable of which the different behaviours must adapt, be compatible with, and respond ‘just in time’ to the signals given out by the economy. It is no longer the products of our labor that respond to the ‘just in time’ needs of the market, rather it we ourselves that respond to the ‘just in time’ needs of our creditors. We live in a cybercircle of speed economies that interlock us in the production cycle of information and debt without end.
“We live in a permanent state of exception. As this has become the rule, it is by now useless to even continue referring to it as exception. If the sovereign is he who decides in these conditions, the sovereign of today is Capital.” (Lazzarato) Capital today is totally deterritorialized and accelerating through the decentralized networks 24/7 in a cold world of electrons and microtransactions bound to code and algorithms of smart or intelligent machines that have now taken on the powers once held by fleshers, human traders. In our time we’ve begun divesting ourselves of the last property rights humans once held so dear, their bodies. In an age of genomics, nanotechnology, and machinic intelligence the body is being reformatted to serve the machine as its prosthesis rather than in Marx’s age when the machine was our extension. We are entering the stage of final alienation: rendering our physical lives obsolete as we alienate ourselves and become posthuman. As Deleuze and Guattari once said:
The alliance-debt answers to what Nietzsche described as humanity’s prehistoric labor: the use of the cruelest mnemotechnics, in naked flesh, to impose a memory of words founded on the ancient biocosmic memory. That is why it is so important to see debt as a direct consequence of the primitive inscription process, instead of making it – and the inscriptions themselves – into an indirect means of universal exchange. (p. 185)
One could imagine a future where corporate Logos and Brands will be inscribed upon the flesh of all their workers, a harsh reminder of that cruel truth of one’s servitude and enslavement within this soft corporatism’s fascism. “Man must constitute himself through repression of the intense germinal influx, the great biocosmic memory that threatens to deluge every attempt at collectivity. But at the same time, how is a new memory to be created for man – a collective memory of the spoken word and of alliances that declines alliances with the extended filiations, that endows him with faculties of resonance and retention, of selection and detachment, and that effects this way of coding the flow of desire as a condition of the socious? The answer is simple – debt – open, mobile, and finite blocks of debt: the extraordinary composite of the spoken voice, the marked body, and the enjoying eye.” (p. 190)
In his satire on the current state of corporate fascism in the global arena Richard K. Morgan in Market Forces – a near future parody and pastiche of our contemporary capitalism provides us a glimpse into the Capitalist CEO mindset:
“Shorn exists to make money. For our shareholders, for our investors, and for ourselves. In that order. We’re not some last-century bleeding-heart NGO pissing funds into a hole in the ground. We’re part of a global management system that works. Forty years ago we dismantled OPEC. Now the Middle East does as we tell it. Twenty years ago we dismantled China, and East Asia got in line as well. We’re down to micromanagement and the market now, Chris. We let them fight their mindless little wars, we rewrite the deals and the debt, and it works. Conflict Investment is about making global stupidity work for the benefit of Western investors. That’s it, that’s the whole story. We’re not going to lose our grip again like last time.”6.
This sense of debt binding us to a system of mnemonics and cruelty, an organized and ritualistic memory system based on marking and pain – inscription of the collective socious as a system of obligation and guilt, debt and the endless deferral of payment into the future. The ancestors require sacrifice and payment, blood and guts. Alliances against this filiation must be formed, struggles against the dead, defensive gestures: the infinite deferral of debt beyond the vampirism of the dead. This whole triangular process of voice – inscription – eye becomes in our time the “spectacle of punishment”: “as primitive justice, territorial representation has foreseen everything” (p. 191). Austerity is this system of punishment in which the rich nations suck the poor nations of the world like vampires upon captured flesh. This system of endless debt: “that finds itself taken into an immense machinery that renders the debt infinite and no longer forms anything but one and the same crushing fate: the aim now is to preclude pessimistically, once and for all, the prospect of discharge; the aim now is to make the glance recoil disconsolately from an iron impossibility. The Earth becomes a madhouse.” 7 (p. 192)
- J.G. Ballard. Extreme Metaphors (Fourth Estate, 2012)
- Giroux, Henry A. (2014-02-17). Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (p. 11). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.
- Beckett, Katherine; Herbert, Steve (2009-10-15). Banished: The New Social Control In Urban America (Studies in Crime and Public Policy) (Kindle Locations 755-762). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
- Vollmann, William T. (2010-10-05). Poor People (Kindle Locations 103-104). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
- Marx, Karl (1992-08-27). Capital: Critique of Political Economy v. 3 (Penguin Classics) (p. 730). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
- Morgan, Richard K.. Market Forces (pp. 312-313). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition
- Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Penguin, 2001)