The Decline of the Progressive West

The subterranean current that propels such anti-politics is recognizably Hobbesian, a coherent dark enlightenment, devoid from its beginning of any Rousseauistic enthusiasm for popular expression. Predisposed, in any case, to perceive the politically awakened masses as a howling irrational mob, it conceives the dynamics of democratization as fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption. The democratic politician and the electorate are bound together by a circuit of reciprocal incitement, in which each side drives the other to ever more shameless extremities of hooting, prancing cannibalism, until the only alternative to shouting is being eaten.

—Nick Land, The Dark Enlightenment

If as Nick Land in The Dark Enlightenment says, “Democracy and ‘progressive democracy’ are synonymous, and indistinguishable from the expansion of the state.” Then truly the decline of the West is this manifest destiny of democracy: it’s success would be its demise, the catastrophe that awaits it. It’s not capital that’s being accelerated, but progressive democracy; and, the faster the better. For as it finalizes its tendency it will resolve itself in the zero point intensity of nullity. Is this not the meaning of decline: decadence. The overabundance that uses itself up, the excess that must catastrophically perform the ‘gift’ of sacrifice, immolate itself on the bonfire of rational expediency? The only equivalence worth its name is the death of democracy, not through some process of external barbarization; but, rather at the implosive and apocalyptic, catastrophic immolation of its subtraction.

Jean Baudrillard as if echoing his mentor Georges Bataille tells us in his essay The Accursed Share (shadows of excess?):

The uninterrupted production of positivity has a terrifying consequence. Whereas negativity engenders crisis and critique, hyperbolic positivity for its part engenders catastrophe, for it is incapable of distilling crisis and criticism in homeopathic doses. Any structure that hunts down, expels or exorcizes its negative elements risks a catastrophe caused by a thoroughgoing backlash, just as any organism that hunts down and eliminates its germs, bacteria, parasites or other biological antagonists risks metastasis and cancer – in other words, it is threatened by a voracious positivity of its own cells, or, in the viral context, by the prospect of being devoured by its own – now unemployed – antibodies. (The Transparency of Evil, 106)

Is democracy eating itself alive? The cannibalistic tendencies have always been there, but until now they were kept in the darkness, in the crypt. “The meaning of cannibalism in a presignifying regime is precisely this: eating the name, a semiography that is fully a part of a semiotic in spite of its relation to content…” (Deleuze & Guattari: A Thousand Plateaus)As Reza Negarestani has pointed out in Cyclonopedia, any form of religion and politics that expresses and promotes horizontality is in fact the easiest to control and exploit by vertical structures of power. Any polytheism of nature will always be an easy prey of the monotheism of Nature.

In our time there is an instinctive rejection of the new political correctness of urban ecology, the petty bourgeois ideology of urban gardens, the self-imposed siege of sustainable development, peak oil catastrophism and many other current machines of biopolitical control. Obviously Michael Focault’s biopolitics had already infested the new liberal progressives of which Maurizio Lazzarato will remind us “was already pointing out in the seventies what, nowadays, is well on its way to being obvious: ‘life’ and ‘living being’ [le vivant] are at the heart of new political battles and new economic strategies (see From biopower to biopolitics…)”. It was Gilles Deleuze who would provide a platform for a new ontology of Sense and the intensive powers of the virtual: the intensities that begin with the body and its potentials for a revolutionary project. In the work between Deleuze & Guattari we see this engagement and convergence of Deleuze’s Logic of Sense and Guattari’s notions of the machinic phylum as a form of critical cannibalism that feeds on the body without organs transforming it through the powers of deterritorialization, decodings and recodings of a modulated desiring production of the socius. As they will tell us of limits – “desiring-production is situated at the limits of social production: the decoded flows, at the limits of the codes and the territorialities: the body without organs, at the limits of the socius.” (Anti-Oediupus, p. 176) Yet, as they will remind us this limit is the relative limit of the capitalist formation itself, because it engineers and mobilizes the flows that are effectively decoded, but does so by substituting for the codes a qualifying axiomatic that is even more oppressive. (p. 176) This sense of cannibalization of the codes by the capitalist formation, acting like a virus programmatically eating away at the socious from within replacing its desiring-production with its own axiomatic algorithms of command and control could be applied to progressive democracy itself. D&G provide the inverse relation to desiring-production with its progressive perversity: as desiring-digestion – the cannibalization and consumption that we see in a zombie capitalism as it accelerates this process of folding the globe in a viral vector of progressive toxicity.

As Hegel put it, we are amid ‘the life, moving of itself, of that which is dead’. Once certain limits have been passed there is no relationship between cause and effect, merely viral relationships between one effect and another, and the whole system is driven by inertia alone. The development of this increase in strength, this velocity and ferocity of what is dead, is the modern history of the accursed share. It is not up to us to explain this: rather, we must be its mirror in real time. We must outpace events, which themselves long ago outpaced liberation. The reign of incoherence, anomaly and catastrophe must be acknowledged, as must the vitality of all those extreme phenomena which toy with extermination while at the same time answering to certain mysterious rules.(JB: Transparency of Evil, 108).

This inversion of the natural order into the machinic order of civilization as the productive force of artificial evolution rather than Nature’s natural proclivities is one aspect to this modernity that has haunted us: this is the key to that force of progressive democracy’s totalitarian inversion, and the tendency of capitalism itself from its origins in the mercantile industries of the Renaissance onward to modulate this process through ever increasing cycles and epicycles of crises: a limit factor to revise its own forward momentum. This notion that Nature is an artifact of Civilization’s own creative powers of production, an artificial resource for the great Leviathan that will now cannibalize it till there are no more breaks through the “iron mask” that can no longer hide its naked power or authority.

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 progressive democractic mythologies to keep us surrounded by their protective technologies of the human security regimes. Isn’t it obvious by now that the earth has always been a site of conflict and war? That the so called Anthroposcene that proposes in geologic chronological terms an epoch in which human activities shape and provide a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems is nothing but this unending War. Isn’t this, too, an artificial category posited to control us through a new techniques of biopower? A normative system of progressive determination and capital-production that uses our fears to manufacture more fear of our surrounding environment?

As some suggest from earliest times till now “‘Europe was beginning to devour, to digest the world’, urban cannibalism is the nemesis of late progressive capitalism.”  Are we not seeing in our time a migration from the material into the immaterial production of a new darker internalization of capitalism? An immaterial capitalist materialism that has inverted the very categories of the cannibalistic project? Are we not in the midst of this very inversion of cannibalistic practices (and have been since the birth of Quantum mechanics or before?) in which the modulation of power is converting the very material processes into an ’empty time’? What Deleuze would term the “virtual quantity” – the passage from one sensation into the other as becoming, as increase or decrease in power (Immanence: A Life, p. 25). As Deleuze himself will testify isn’t there something “wild and powerful” in this acknowledgement of a transcendental empiricism, not to be confused with the older scientistic or simple empiricism of Locke and his ilk, no we’re talking of virtualities: “A Life contains only virtuals. It is made up of virtualities, events, singularities. What we call virtual is not something that lacks reality but something that is engaged in a process of actualization following the plane that gives it its particular reality (p. 31).” It’s this sense of an “immanence as a virtuality always within a milieu” that is the key here.

Even reiterating that desire is not desiring-production, but rather “Desire is a devouring, digesting, defecating, digesting, devouring machine”. Progressive religion will not save us from such a fate: “Need for the cannibalistic vaccine… against meridian religions.” There will be no vaccine or anti-viral vaccination, only the zombie truth of our own capitalist-consumption, the endless autophagy of a cannibalistic desire. And the only defense against “outside inquisitions” … “Cannibalism!”.

As Land would say,

Where the progressive enlightenment sees political ideals, the dark enlightenment sees appetites. It accepts that governments are made out of people, and that they will eat well. Setting its expectations as low as reasonably possible, it seeks only to spare civilization from frenzied, ruinous, gluttonous debauch. From Thomas Hobbes to Hans-Hermann Hoppe and beyond, it asks: How can the sovereign power be prevented – or at least dissuaded — from devouring society? It consistently finds democratic ‘solutions’ to this problem risible, at best. (ibid.)

In this age of decline only the revolt of the zombies, the masses arising within the new urbanomy in which it is no longer Chronos eating his children, rather the culinary art of feasting on the bones of the capitalist financiers and bankers who have eviscerated the earth is the new order of the day: the children in this new immanent virtuality, that seems “like magic (in the ancient, soul-seizing sense), and panicked spectators reflexively grasping for the hidden agents of ‘animistic’ or religious interpretation, compelled by categorical intuitions far older than the human species” will provide the tables at the heart of the Ultra-Cities, the new Imperial Cities, or Sovereign City States emerging in the ruins of democracy’s extinction,  where capitalist-production becomes something else, something other in the metrophagy of its children’s desires.

Or, should we break free of this endless cycle of production-consumption which if we read it right: is the self-referentiality of the linear or integral vision of capital itself: – this endless desiring-production that becomes desiring-consumption? Is that artificiality of capitalism rather the naturalized and organic loop of its own cannibalistic maximization of profits? The very nature of the beast as Janus faced mouth and anus: cycling the zombie flesh of its children in endless productivity and exclusion?  Has civilization finally engorged itself upon its own flesh for too long? Is it now in the throes of an excess, a self-engorgement turning bulimic: an eating disorder characterized by binge eating and purging, or consuming of large amounts of its own marketable profitability. In short, are we 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 becoming in the process the very inhuman beings they already are? Is the posthuman nothing other than this becoming machine: an endless movement of zombie-flesh into the cycles of a vomitorium machine whose endless mutations and metamorphosis are finalizing the tendencies toward immolation of the human in the inhuman? Or, as Land would explicate,

There is no essential difference between learning what we really are and re-defining ourselves as technological contingencies, or technoplastic beings, susceptible to precise, scientifically-informed transformations. ‘Humanity’ becomes intelligible as it is subsumed into the technosphere, where information processing of the genome – for instance — brings reading and editing into perfect coincidence.

To describe this circuit, as it consumes the human species, is to define our bionic horizon: the threshold of conclusive nature-culture fusion at which a population becomes indistinguishable from its technology.

Or, is this what Deleuze meant in his reading of Nietzsche’s Overman, the Übermensch 

Zarathustra is overtaken by his own children and is only the pretender to, not the constitutive element of, the ring of the eternal return. He doesn’t so much provide the Overman as ensure this production within man, by creating all the conditions in which man overcomes himself and is overcome and in which the Lion becomes Child. (A Life, p. 101)

Is the Lion in us to become innocent once again? Is the culinary art of cannibalism the eternal return of innocence or horror? In finishing the thought started by Deleuze & Guattari in their epigraph, “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)

In a time when the consumer turned zombie-flesh transmutes beyond the circular logic of cannibal capitalism – the progressive expansion of global democracy, we might rephrase that last line: Every time we eat the dead, a progressive zombie can be subtracted from the circuit of Global Capital. But then again maybe all we need to do is allow the abstract machine of capitalism do the dirty work for us and give it room for a feeding frenzy…

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