The Accursed Share: Economics of Excess

Once again I return to Bataille. In the preface to Accursed Share Vol 1 he describes the disconcerting experience of being confronted with the question of his work – the why of it:

“…the book I was writing (which I am now publishing) did not consider the facts the way qualified economists do, that I had a point of view from which a human sacrifice, the construction of a church or the gift of a jewel were no less interesting than the sale of wheat. In short, I had to try in vain to make clear the notion of a “general economy” in which the “expenditure” (the “consumption”) of wealth, rather than production, was the primary object.”

This sense of coming at economics not as some narrow system of capital expenditure and profit, but rather as the ‘general economy’ of the system of the world itself – the Solar Economy – is this bewilderment we feel in realizing his conceptual reversal of modern economic theory based on the object of production rather than that of expenditure and waste (“consumption”). As he’ll tell it “This first essay addresses, from outside the separate disciplines, a problem that still has not been framed as it should be, one that may hold the key to all the problems posed by every discipline concerned with the movement of energy on the earth – from geophysics to political economy, by way of sociology, history and biology.” For underpinning it all was a materialist conception of force, drives, and energetics:

“Writing this book in which I was saying that energy finally can only be wasted, I myself was using my energy, my time, working; my research answered in a fundamental way the desire to add to the amount of wealth acquired for mankind.”

In his iconic affirmation that “the sexual act is in time what the tiger is in space” he reminds us such comparisons follow from considerations of an energy economy that leave no room for poetic fantasy, but requires instead a thinking on a level with a play of forces that runs counter to ordinary calculations, a play of forces based on the laws that govern us. In short, the perspectives where such truths appear are those in which more general propositions reveal their meaning, propositions according to which it is not necessity but its contrary, “luxury,” that presents living matter and mankind with their fundamental problems.”

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American Dystopia: The Empire of War

Capitalism and neoliberalism carry wars within them like clouds carry storms.

—Éric Alliez and Maurizio Lazzarato, To Our Enemies

Henry Miller the ex-patriot who would return to his native land just before the rise of Hitler had a glimpse into the heart of the American Dystopian world when he glimpsed from his ship the coastal regions of Boston:

The American coast looked bleak and uninviting to me. I didn’t like the look of the American house; there is something cold, austere, something barren and chill, about the architecture of the American home. It was home, with all the ugly, evil, sinister connotations which the word contains for a restless soul. There was a frigid, moral aspect to it which chilled me to the bone.1

What Miller discovered in his trip across the vast continent of his native land was a dystopian nightmare. He’d fought out of it ten years before, written of it in his earlier trilogy from Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, and Tropic of Capricorn. But now he was once again in it. He could see the effects of the corporatization of the state and civil society, the destruction of public goods and commons, the commercial control of the media, and the rise of an economic survival-of-the-fittest ethos that posed a serious threat to American democracy. What he found in both country and city was the culture of traditionalism, the dismantling of civil and political rights, the ongoing militarization of society, the “religionization of politics,”  the attack on labor, the obsession with national security, the perpetration of human rights abuses, the emergence of a police state, entrenched racism, and the attempts by demagogues to undermine education as a foundation for producing critical citizenry were all at work in American society.

What Miller was witnessing was the birth of the neoliberal empire within American society. Éric Alliez and Maurizio Lazzarato in their recent work To Our Enemies (to be published) offer us a vision of our immediate future in a transformed Neoliberalism. They remind us that the alliance of economy and war has been there all along, that we’ve allowed the subterfuge to become so commonplace that we tend to deny it when any critic brings the two together. As we watched Greece founder and swallowed up under the EU directives of its Belgium imperviousness, we got a taste of the new austerity and the crushing truth of its dark reach over human life. As one citizen in Greece said recently: “It’s like being in a war,” was heard in Athens during the weekend of July 11–12, 2015. Alliez and Lazzarato will tell us a further implication of this austerity:

The statement “It’s like being in a war” should be immediately corrected: it is a war. The reversibility of war and economy is at the very basis of capitalism. And it has been a long time since Carl Schmitt revealed the “pacifist” hypocrisy of neoliberalism by reestablishing the continuity between economy and war: the economy pursues the objectives of war through other means (“blocking credit, embargo on raw materials, devaluation of foreign currency”).

In fact Alliez and Lazzarato will in their first thesis align war, money, and the State, saying that these three in collusion are “constitutive or constituent forces, in other words the ontological forces of capitalism”. The critique of political economy is insufficient to the extent that the economy does not replace war but continues it by other means, ones that go necessarily through the State: monetary regulation and the legitimate monopoly on force for internal and external wars. To produce the genealogy of capitalism and reconstruct its “development,” we must always engage and articulate together the critique of political economy, critique of war, and critique of the State.

As Dardot and Laval in their The New Way Of The World: On Neoliberal Society will remind us, since the late 1970s and early 1980s, neo-liberalism has generally been interpreted both as an ideology and as an economic policy directly informed by that ideology. The hard core of the ideology supposedly comprises identification of the market as a natural reality.2 cording to this naturalist ontology, to achieve equilibrium, stability and growth, it suffices to leave this entity to its own devices. Given that any government intervention can only disturb and disrupt the spontaneous process, abstention from it must be encouraged. Thus construed, neo-liberalism is cast as a pure and simple rehabilitation of laissez-faire. As regards its political implementation, from the outset it was analyzed very narrowly – in Wendy Brown’s perceptive observation, as a tool of state economic policy, with the dismantlement of social provision, progressive taxation and other instruments for redistributing wealth, on the one hand, and with the stimulation of the untrammeled activity of capital via deregulation of the health system, labour and the environment, on the other.3

When it is conceded that ‘intervention’ does occur, the latter is construed exclusively as actions whereby the state undermines the bases of its own existence by diminishing the public service obligations previously entrusted to it. A purely negative ‘interventionism’, one might say, which is nothing more than the active political aspect of the state’s organization of its own retreat – hence a principled anti-interventionism. (NWW: KL 75) We’ve seen this occur in the piracy of American taxpayer’s dollars to fund the very corporations that brought about the financial crisis of 2007-2008. We’ve seen this in the piracy of funds from the Social Security system during the 60’s onward with no replenishment. Over and over we see not a re-distribution toward the people, toward the citizens, but rather a re-distribution by the rich for the rich of this land. An Oligarchic control loop in which no one benefits but the top .01% who have deemed themselves to Big To Fail.

And, of course, Alliez and Lazzarato will make the obligatory indictment of capitalism that has sounded from the Left since Marx and beyond:

Capitalism is not only the deadliest civilization in the history of humanity, the one that introduced us to the “shame of being human”; it is also the civilization through which labor, science, and technology have created—another (absolute) privilege in the history of humanity—the possibility of (absolute) annihilation of all species and the planet that houses them. In the meantime, the “complexity” of (saving) “nature” still offers the prospect of healthy profits combining the techno utopia of geoengineering and the reality of the new markets of “polluting rights.” At the confluence of one and the other, the Capitalocene does not send capitalism to the Moon (it has been there and back); it completes the global merchandizing of the planet by asserting its rights to the well-named troposphere.

My problem any more with the indictments, is not that their wrong (their right, of course!), but that one begins to wonder why this matters anymore? We’ve heard the Left indict capitalism for over a hundred years, seen the State’s the Left produced all fail miserably in communist or socialist forms, so why is this any different now? Well, one could point to the fact that emerging in our time is something blatantly different: the demise of democracy. And, by that, I mean the divorce between capitalism and democracy. Capitalism no longer needs to pretend its the only system, it is; and, it is Global, so that even in Russia, China, India, and all other First or Third World nations there is this underlying connection with economy and war. The world is in essence at war, a Total War or Civil War. Or, as the Pope said in 2015:

“Let’s recognize it. The world is in a state of war in bits and pieces … When I speak of war, I talk about real war. Not a war of religion. No. There is a war of interests. There is a war for money. There is a war for natural resources. There is a war for domination of peoples. This is the war.”

In a world where the economy is war, and war the economy where is peace to be found? Henry Giroux tells us that one outcome of a society at war with itself is that people are stripped of inspiring public spheres and the “thick mesh of mutual obligations and social responsibilities” to be found in any viable democracy.  This grim reality marks a failure in the power of the civic imagination, political will, and open democracy to resist the confluence of forces currently formed by the normalization of the Terror Wars and the relentless economic gentrification of the American people’s social, justice, political, and education systems. We live in dangerous times. Global corporatism, war, violence, racism, an arms race, militarism, terrorism, climate change, the threat of nuclear weaponry, and the rise of authoritarian societies internationally pose a dire threat not just to human rights and democracy, but to humanity itself. Matters of education, civic literacy, civil rights, and pedagogies that support the social contract, equality, justice, and the common good are crucial in the struggle against authoritarianism.4

The era of limitless deterritorialization under Thatcher and Reagan is now followed by the racist, nationalist, sexist, and xenophobic reterritorialization of Trump, who has already become the leader of the new fascisms. The American Dream has been transformed into the nightmare of an insomniac planet.”

—Alliez and Lazzarato, To Our Enemies

Like Joyce’s Humphry Chimpden Earwicker we can all say: “I don’t sleep well anymore.”


  1. Miller, Henry. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (New Directions Paperbook) (Kindle Locations 93-95). New Directions. Kindle Edition.
  2. Dardot, Pierre; Laval, Christian. The New Way Of The World: On Neoliberal Society (Kindle Locations 65-74). Verso Books. Kindle Edition. (NWW)
  3. Brown, Wendy. Undoing the Demos. Zone, 2015. (UD)
  4. Giroux, Henry A.. America at War with Itself (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 2782-2786). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Arthur Kroker: Technopocalypse & Slow Suicide

Today, the emblematic signs of the technopoesis that holds us in its sway are symptomatic of a future that will be marked less by the violence of an always imaginary apocalypse than by slow suicide. While Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Heidegger, and Arendt can console us, and perhaps even guide us, nothing has really prepared us for a future that will be fully entangled in the new technopoesis of accelerate and drift, with a still undetermined, deeply intermediated, aftermath of spectacular creativity, fierce violence, and unexpected crashes. For example, digital devices, once thought safely outside ourselves, have now broken barriers of skin and mind, shaping from within the deepest recesses of consciousness, desire, perception, and imagination. Whether at the level of philosophical meditation or personal sensibility, nothing has really prepared us to live out a deeply consequential future prefigured by the specters of drones, algorithms, image vectors, distributive consciousness, artificial intelligence, neurological implants, and humanoid robotics. What is required, perhaps, is an ethical preparation for the slow suicide of technological end-times that are now only just beginning along the watchtowers of fascination and despair, righteous anger and pleasurable nihilism, of speechless moral incredulity at observing the cynical pleasure by which the powerful inflict pain on the powerless, the weak, the poor – all those bodies that don’t matter – and passionate, maybe even, complicit mass resignation.1


  1. Kroker, Arthur (2014-03-12). Exits to the Posthuman Future (pp. 20-21). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Diasaster Ahead: Earthquakes and Volcanos

Two factors suggest that something is deeply wrong on the surface of the earth’s crust: earthquakes and volcanos. Why? I’ve been studying some of the reports on Volcanic activity around the world, along with the sudden rise in earthquake activity as well in the past year. In the past 48 hours the earth has suddenly produced 5 major earthquakes along with Volcanos that are erupting all over the planet. USGS shows the largest recent earthquake in Ecuador at 7.8. Another report shows 40 volcanoes erupting around the planet at the moment.

According to the Guardian the gravitational pull of the sun and moon, the speed at which the Earth rotates constantly changes, is affecting us more than usual. Accordingly the length of a day actually varies from year to year. The difference is only in the order of milliseconds. But new research suggests that this seemingly small perturbation could bring about significant changes on our planet – or more accurately, within it.

A study published in the journal Terra Nova in February showed that, since the early 19th century, changes in the Earth’s rotation rate tended to be followed by increases in global volcanic activity. It found that, between 1830 and 2013, the longest period for which a reliable record was available, relatively large changes in rotation rate were immediately followed by an increase in the number of large volcanic eruptions. And, more than merely being correlated, the authors believe that the rotation changes might actually have triggered these large eruptions.

Altering the spin of a planet, even by a small amount, requires a huge amount of energy. It has been estimated that changes in the Earth’s rotation rate dissipate around 120,000 petajoules of energy each year – enough to power the United States for the same length of time.

This energy is transferred into the Earth’s atmosphere and subsurface. And it is this second consequence that the Terra Nova authors believe could affect volcanoes.

The vast quantities of energy delivered to the subsurface by rotation changes are likely to perturb its stress field. And, since the magma that feeds volcanic eruptions resides in the Earth’s crust, stress variations there may make it easier for the liquid rock to rise to the surface, and thereby increase the rate of volcanic eruptions.

The Terra Nova study is far from conclusive. Nevertheless, the idea that minute changes to the Earth’s spin could affect volcanic motions deep within the planet is intriguing.

Climate Change Impact

There is also the impact of climate change.

Around 19,000 years ago, glaciation was at a peak. Much of Europe and North America was under ice. Then the climate warmed, and the glaciers began to recede. The effect on the planet was generally quite favourable for humankind. But, since the mid-1970s, a number of studies have suggested that, as the ice vanished, volcanic eruptions became much more frequent. A 2009 study, for example, concluded that between 12,000 and 7,000 years ago, the global level of volcanic activity rose by up to six times. Around the same period the rate of volcanic activity in Iceland soared to at least 30 times today’s level.

There is supporting evidence from continental Europe, North America and Antarctica that volcanic activity also increased after earlier deglaciation cycles. Bizarrely, then, volcanic activity seems – at least sometimes – to rise and fall with ice levels. But why? This strange effect might come down to stress.

The link between climate change and volcanism is still poorly understood. Many volcanoes do not seem to have been affected by it. Nor is it a particularly pressing concern today, even though we face an ice-free future. It can take thousands of years after the glaciers melt for volcanic activity to rise.

160418141349-03-ecuador-earthquake-0418-exlarge-169

 Ecuador Earthquake

Rescue crews searched desperately through rubble for survivors of a magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck coastal Ecuador.

The tremor was centered 27 kilometers (16.8 miles) southeast of the coastal town of Muisne, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

It’s the deadliest earthquake to hit the nation since March 1987 when a  7.2-magnitude temblor killed 1,000 people, according to the USGS.

“It was the worst experience of my life,” survivor Jose Meregildo said Sunday about the tremors that violently shook his house in Guayaquil, 300 miles away from the quake’s epicenter. “Everybody in my neighborhood was screaming saying it was going to be the end of the world.”

The earthquake hit Saturday around 7 p.m. while people were going about their evening. The tremors buckled overpasses trapping drivers. A shopping mall partially collapsed on customers and several buildings have been flattened with their content spilled into the streets.

All six coastal provinces — Guayas, Manabi, Santo Domingo, Los Rios, Esmeraldas and Galapagos — are in state of emergencies.

People left their homes and wandered around, some sleeping in the streets.

“I found my house like this,” said Nely Intriago, standing in front of a pile of rubble. “What am I going to do? Cry, that’s what. Now we are on the street with nothing.”

(from CNN report…)

Pacific Northwest

Could a 8.0 or better earthquake hit the Pacific Northwest?  According to Chris Goldfinger: yes, it could, and sooner than you might think. If, on that occasion, only the southern part of the Cascadia subduction zone gives way—your first two fingers, say—the magnitude of the resulting quake will be somewhere between 8.0 and 8.6. Thats the big one. If the entire zone gives way at once, an event that seismologists call a full-margin rupture, the magnitude will be somewhere between 8.7 and 9.2. That’s the very big one. As the article suggests:

Most people in the United States know just one fault line by name: the San Andreas, which runs nearly the length of California and is perpetually rumored to be on the verge of unleashing “the big one.” That rumor is misleading, no matter what the San Andreas ever does. Every fault line has an upper limit to its potency, determined by its length and width, and by how far it can slip. For the San Andreas, one of the most extensively studied and best understood fault lines in the world, that upper limit is roughly an 8.2—a powerful earthquake, but, because the Richter scale is logarithmic, only six per cent as strong as the 2011 event in Japan.

Just north of the San Andreas, however, lies another fault line. Known as the Cascadia subduction zone, it runs for seven hundred miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, beginning near Cape Mendocino, California, continuing along Oregon and Washington, and terminating around Vancouver Island, Canada. The “Cascadia” part of its name comes from the Cascade Range, a chain of volcanic mountains that follow the same course a hundred or so miles inland. The “subduction zone” part refers to a region of the planet where one tectonic plate is sliding underneath (subducting) another. Tectonic plates are those slabs of mantle and crust that, in their epochs-long drift, rearrange the earth’s continents and oceans. Most of the time, their movement is slow, harmless, and all but undetectable.

If one hit in this region all chaos would ensue. In the Pacific Northwest, the area of impact will cover everything west of Interstate 5 covers some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people. When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America. Roughly three thousand people died in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. Almost two thousand died in Hurricane Katrina. Almost three hundred died in Hurricane Sandy. FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million. “This is one time that I’m hoping all the science is wrong, and it won’t happen for another thousand years,” Murphy says.

(read more… The Big One)

Cengiz Erdem: Ethics of the Anthroposcene?

 …the “ancient wound” that, never healed, “lets . . . the stars / Into the animal-stinking ghost-ridden darkness”…
……– Robinson Jeffers

This morning I got a pleasant surprise. My friend Cengiz Erdem, of Senselogi©, a Cyprian who lives in Kyrenia and teaches social psychology, literature, philosophy and critical theory, who received his doctoral degree in Cultural and Critical Theory from The University of East Anglia in May 2009 with The Life Death Drives, his PhD thesis quoted me and provided a wonderful reflection and opening onto his own philosophical stance: Altering the Supposedly Predestined Future. Cengiz in a previous post outlined his basic philosophical stance this way, saying,

To begin at the beginning we shall say that philosophy is the dialectical process of truth in time, it is an infinite questioning of that which is known, a continuity in change of the unknown, a practice of situating eternity in time. Without a relation to the requirements of ones own time philosophy may still mean many things, but these do not amount to anything worthy of rigorous consideration much. This doesn’t mean that philosophy must have an absolute conception of good and constantly strive towards it. Quite the contrary, if anything, philosophy would much rather resist against the evil within this inconsistent multiplicty falsely named world. No, there is no one world against which philosophy can situate itself, but rather many multiplicities out of which philosophy infers meanings and values in accordance with a better future in mind. Not necessarily better than today, but less worse than it will have been if nothing is done to slow down worsening. So having an idea of a better future is not necessarily imposing a totality, an absolute conception of goodness upon the multiplicity of existents. What’s at stake might as well be that the resistance aganist evil in time is itself a creative act sustaining the less worse condition of future existence. It’s all bad and it can only get worse, the question is this: how can we decelarate this worsening condition of we humans, we animals and we the plants?

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