The Strong and the Weak: On the Demise of Democracy?

the-end-of-democracy

One in six Americans now believe that military rule would be a good idea. From all this I draw the following, peculiar conclusion: no country with a McDonald’s can remain a democracy.

George Monbiot

The great US jurist Louis Brandeis: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Plato once believed there was a far more sinister nature to democracy. A calamity at the very heart of democracy, it would lead only to tyranny and subjugation. Having watched his Athens go from direct democracy to the tyrannical world of a dictatorship at the hands of Oligarchs and populist uprisings, along with the death of his mentor, Socrates, he left Athens for ten years only to return and open up his now famous Academy to instruct the best and brightest on philosophy and politics. Plato began seeing this so called world of freedom and democracy for what it was: slavery under Oligarchs and mob rule over time, that allowed the force of policing to efface and kill those who dared to criticize its wrong doings.

In book VIII of The Republic, Plato begins to describe several stages of government that are intolerable, yet unavoidable. Plato predicts a society with an enormous socioeconomic gap, where the poor remain poor and the rich become richer off the blood and sweat of others. In this instance, the people will long for freedom and liberty. They will use it as a battle cry against their oppressors, sparking a revolution.

From this revolution, blood will be spilled and many will die. During this time of violent transition, the people will rally behind one man, or a few men, whom they believe to be their savior. The people will lift this champion to great heights and anoint him with sacred responsibilities to bring liberty to the land. When the smoke clears the old regime will be gone and a democracy will be supplanted. And while this is reminiscent of several historical revolutions, including the American revolution, Plato warns that the trouble only intensifies from here.

Plato continues in his discussion by explaining that the these leaders will eventually become unpopular, an unavoidable result. Those who once supported this ruling class begin to rebel against the would be tyrant. At this point the citizens will try to get rid of whatever man is currently in office, either by exile or impeachment. If this is not possible, the ruler will inevitable strike down any political opposition he may have.

Hated by the people, these leaders will request the presence of a body guard. And now he is a tyrant, the leader has no choice if he wishes to rule. Elected by the people, yet now he is protected from them. Plato predicts that this tyrant will appeal to the lowest form of citizen. He will make soldiers of the slaves and the degenerates. The tyrant will pay them to protect him from the ordinary citizens. And now the leader is a tyrant, born from democracy and propped up by the demand for liberty. And in our quest for liberty, we instead created a monster.

An American Turn into Tyranny?

From the Left and Right we are seeing the clichéd responses to the rise of populist supremacy in our political world here in the U.S.A. and other nations. Most commentators either despise or love what is happening, but very few thinkers or professional intellectuals report on what is happening with a any sense of equanimity, nor a discourse that is not completely bound to some Party affiliation and its ideological core. Democrats castigate one half of Americans as morons and imbeciles, while the Republicans do the same to the other half. It’s as if we were staging in our rhetorical binges the shadowing’s of some future civil war which will proceed toward utter annihilation for all involved.

Plato’s Antagonism

A cursory reading of Plato shows that he predicted that democracy would lead to nations being governed by bullies and brutes. Take a minute and think about the people who are running whatever country you are in and tell him he is wrong. Plato was a student of Socrates. Socrates taught by asking questions about a subject and getting his students to think critically about it. Today, this is known as the Socratic method, used by many professors in law schools.

Socrates’ questioning often led to criticism of Athenian democracy and its politicians. An increasing number of Athenians viewed Socrates as a threat to their city-state.

A few years after losing the war with Sparta, Athens put the 70-year-old Socrates on trial for not accepting the gods of Athens and for corrupting the young. Socrates denied the accusations, but he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

When Socrates died, Plato concluded that democracy was a corrupt and unjust form of government. He left Athens for a decade. Returning in 387 B.C., he established a school of higher learning called the Academy.

Plato’s most important work on politics is his Republic, published around 380 B.C. Written as a dialogue among characters and set in a private home, the book describes a small group of Athenians discussing political philosophy. The main character is Socrates, who voiced Plato’s ideas. (The real Socrates never wrote down his ideas.)

The Republic examines the meaning of justice, looks at different types of government, and outlines the ideal state. It touches on many subjects, including law and tyranny.

Plato looked at four existing forms of government and found them unstable. The best, in his view, is timocracy, a military state, like Sparta, based on honor. But such a state will fall apart:

The accumulation of gold in the treasury of private individuals is the ruin of timocracy; they invent illegal modes of expenditure; for what do they or their wives care about the law? . . . . And then one, seeing another grow rich, seeks to rival him, and thus the great mass of the citizens become lovers of money. . . . And so at last, instead of loving contention and glory, men become lovers of trade and money; they honor and look up to the rich man, and make a ruler of him, and dishonor the poor man.

An oligarchy, the rule of a few (the rich), leads to

a city of the rich and a city of the poor, dwelling together, and always plotting against one another. . . . [The government] will not be able to wage war, because of the necessity of either arming and employing the multitude, and fearing them more than the enemy, or else, if they do not make use of them, of finding themselves on the field of battle . . . And to this must be added their reluctance to contribute money, because they are lovers of money.

The poor will overthrow the oligarchy and set up a democracy, the rule of the people (the poor). Plato thought that democratic “life has neither law nor order.” An unquenchable desire for limitless liberty causes disorder, because the citizens begin to

chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority and at length, . . . they cease to care even for the laws, written or unwritten; they will have no one over them.

Stressing moderation, Plato warned that “the excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction,” such that the “excess of liberty, whether in states or individuals, seems only to pass into excess of slavery.”

Like an oligarchy, a democracy pits the poor against the rich. The poor see the rich plotting, and they seek protection:

The people have always some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness. . . . This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears above ground he is a protector. . . . having a mob entirely at his disposal, he is not restrained from shedding the blood of kinsmen; . . . he brings them into court and murders them . . . at the same time hinting at the abolition of debts and partition of lands. . . . After a while he is driven out, but comes back, in spite of his enemies, a tyrant full grown.

Plato deemed tyranny the “fourth and worst disorder of a state.” Tyrants lack “the very faculty that is the instrument of judgment”—reason. The tyrannical man is enslaved because the best part of him (reason) is enslaved, and likewise, the tyrannical state is enslaved, because it too lacks reason and order.

In a tyranny, no outside governing power controls the tyrant’s selfish behavior. To Plato, the law can guard against tyranny. In the Republic, he called the law an “external authority” that functions as the “ally of the whole city.”

Plato stressed the importance of law in his other works. In the Crito, a dialogue between Socrates and his friend Crito, Crito offers Socrates a way to escape his impending execution. Socrates refuses, explaining that when a citizen chooses to live in a state, he “has entered into an implied contract that he will do as . . . [the laws] command him.” In Plato’s Laws, his last book, he summarizes his stance on the rule of law:

Where the law is subject to some other authority and has none of its own, the collapse of the state, in my view, is not far off; but if law is the master of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is full of promise and men enjoy all the blessings that the gods shower on a state.

Plato’s ideal and just state is an aristocracy, the rule of the best. He believed leaders needed to be wise and trained in how to run a state, just as captains of ships are trained in how to run a ship.

He divided his ideal state into three classes. The lowest and largest class is the producers: the farmers, craftsmen, traders, and others involved in commerce. The next class is the warriors, those who defend the state. They are educated in sports, combat, and philosophy and tested by both terrifying and tempting situations. From the best of warrior class, the ruling class is drawn. Its members will study philosophy and be given government and military positions until age 50, when the best of them become philosopher kings.

Plato believed every human’s soul is divided into three parts: appetite, spirit, and reason. Each of his three classes matches one aspect of a person’s soul. The lower class is linked to appetite, and it owns all the land and controls all the wealth. The warrior class is spirited and lives by a code of honor. The ruling class is linked to reason and lives to gain wisdom.

The philosopher kings will prefer seeking truth to ruling, but a law will compel them to rule. They will obey the law and take their turns as rulers.

[T]he truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.

The warrior and ruling classes live in barracks, eat together, and share possessions. None has families. All children of these classes are brought up without knowing their parents. In this way, Plato tries to keep these classes from gaining wealth or producing family dynasties.

Plato concluded:

Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, . . . cities will never have rest from their evils . .

As we look back across the ages since Plato’s death the truth of that final statement is obvious, we’ve had no real peace at any time except under the auspices of armed protection and war. As Monbiot argued most people of the democracies abroad in our time advocate Military Rule, so that Plato’s statements seem all the more ominous in our age of barbarism.

Aristotle’s Thoughts

Aristotle held views similar to Plato’s about the dangers of democracy and oligarchy. He feared that both pitted the rich against the poor. But he recognized that these types of governments took many forms. The worst were those without the rule of law. In democracies without law, demagogues (leaders appealing to emotions) took over.

For in democracies where the laws are not supreme, demagogues spring up. . . . [T]his sort of democracy . . . [is] what tyranny is to other forms of monarchy. The spirit of both is the same, and they alike exercise a despotic rule over the better citizens. The decrees of the [demagogues] correspond to the edicts of the tyrant . . . . Such a democracy is fairly open to the objection that it is not a constitution at all; for where the laws have no authority, there is no constitution. The law ought to be supreme over all . . . .

Aristotle made the same argument about oligarchies.

When . . . the rulers have great wealth and numerous friends, this sort of family despotism approaches a monarchy; individuals rule and not the law. This is the fourth sort of oligarchy, and is analogous to the last sort of democracy.

Aristotle stated that “the rule of law . . . is preferable to that of any individual.” This is because individuals possess flaws and could tailor government to their own individual interests, whereas the rule of law is objective.

[H]e who bids the law rule may be deemed to bid God and Reason alone rule, but he who bids man rule adds an element of the beast; for desire is a wild beast, and passion perverts the minds of rulers, even when they are the best of men. The law is reason unaffected by desire.

Rulers must be “the servants of the laws,” because “law is order, and good law is good order.”

In addition to law, Aristotle believed a large middle class would protect against the excesses of oligarchy and democracy:

[T]he best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class is large, and stronger if possible than both the other classes . . . ; for the addition of the middle class turns the scale, and prevents either of the extremes from being dominant.

In fact, one of Aristotle’s true forms of government is a polity, a combination of oligarchy and democracy. This type of state arises when the middle class is strong.

End of Beginning?

Thinking about these two philosophers and their realizations about democracy in their own time and city I began thinking about what I’m seeing around the global circus in our time. I’m not here to disparage any group, part, affiliation only to ask if what we’re now seeing around the globe in democratic nations is something like what was experienced by these two careful observers of their own first hand knowledge and experience of direct democracy in their age? Both Plato and Aristotle saw the middle-class between the Oligarchs and the great masses of the poor, excluded, and outcasts as the only stay against tyranny and the end of democracy. The middle-class has been eroded and gutted out to the point in modern democratic societies that only the upper .01% and the everyone else below that exist. There is no middle-class anymore. If this is so, what of democracy?

As Monbiot recently said,

What I mean is that, under the onslaught of the placeless, transnational capital that McDonald’s exemplifies, democracy as a living system withers and dies. The old forms and forums still exist – parliaments and congresses remain standing – but the power they once contained seeps away, re-emerging where we can no longer reach it.

The political power that should belong to us has flitted into confidential meetings with the lobbyists and donors who establish the limits of debate and action. It has slipped into the diktats of the IMF and the European Central Bank, which respond not to the people but to the financial sector. It has been transported, under armed guard, into the icy fastness of Davos, where Friedman finds so warm a welcome (even when he’s talking cobblers).

What he’s saying without saying it is that capitalism does not need democracy anymore, and in fact as we see in the EU, New Russian, New China, and India and other nations democracy and politics has been divorced from economics. Behind the façade of government is the power of the Banks and Corporatists, the Oligarchs and Plutocrats who run things by way of algorithmic and market driven Financial Capitalism devoid of politics and regulation. While at the same time building a global prison system and surveillance society to better command and control its blind slaves feeding them slogans of Security and Freedom. What the Oligarchs thrive on is Insecurity and instability, as long as they can weave the world media into a frenzy of war, mayhem, and darkness they can control the populace through their need for Safety, Security, and Protection. This notion of a Universal Basic Income would be the ultimate path to totalized tyranny and dominion of the world. If these powers ever promised to give the vast downtrodden the pittance of a universal basic income we would surely be bound in a world of financial darkness for decades if not millennia. For ultimately with safety, security, and protection comes enslavement to an Other’s rule, regulation, and despotism.

There can be no freedom without insecurity and risk, and no democracy without the Rule of impersonal and objective Law. Take away any of these and one is bound in chains to the despot, no matter what form that may take.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1825 to William Branch Giles of “vast accession of strength from their younger recruits, who having nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76 now look to a single and splendid government of an Aristocracy, founded on banking institutions and monied in corporations under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry.”  Chomsky’s 1994 book quotes Jefferson’s 1825 letter to Giles and then comments that “[Jefferson] warned that that would be the end of democracy and the defeat of the American revolution.”

America is no longer a democracy — never mind the democratic republic envisioned by Founding Fathers.

Rather, it has taken a turn down elitist lane and become a country led by a small dominant class comprised of powerful members who exert total control over the general population — an oligarchy, said a new study jointly conducted by Princeton and Northwestern universities.

One finding in the study: The U.S. government now represents the rich and powerful, not the average citizen, United Press International reported.

In the study, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens,” researchers compared 1,800 different U.S. policies that were put in place by politicians between 1981 and 2002 to the type of policies preferred by the average and wealthy American, or special interest groups. Researchers then concluded that U.S. policies are formed more by special interest groups than by politicians properly representing the will of the general people, including the lower-income class.

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,” the study found.

Name it what you will, try to believe this is still a democracy, keep on voting the duopoly into power, it no longer matters, politics does not matter. Politicians are paid off in lucrative deals that they themselves vote into power to hinder the masses, while providing themselves with the best schooling for their children, the best homes, the best medical and legal representation, prestige, and power under the auspices of their betters, the Oligarchs and Bankers, Profiteers and High Capitalist Financiers.

It’s an old story that Plato, Aristotle, Jefferson and others warned us about and hoped we would learn from their words and wisdom… Is it too late?

Deleuze & Guattari: Culture of Death / Culture of Capital

Desiring machines make us an organism; but at the very heart of this production, the body suffers from being organized in this way, from not having some other sort of organization, or no organization at all.

– Gilles Deleuze/Fritz Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

There comes a moment in their great work Anti-Oedipus (for that is what we must call this black book of riddles) when D&G – in an almost gnostic litany of negativity from one of the drifting echoes of Artaud’s process of ‘Unmaking / Unnaming’ (“No mouth. No tongue. No teeth. No larynx. No esophagus. No belly. No anus”) expose the body of death to the onslaught of expressive delineation: “The automata stop dead and set free the unorganized mass they once served to articulate.(8) It’s as if the nanobots of our own late era had already infiltrated the discourse of this early dreamwork, as if the viral memes of our late capitalism had suddenly exited the stage, freed of their host to suddenly invigorate the dark contours of a deadly truth. But what is this body of death? “The full body without organs is the unproductive, the sterile, the unengendered, the unconsumable (8)”. This is the dead body of capital after its robotic zombies have wandered free of its broken world. Without form and void: capital as the body of death, the body without organs as frozen labor, frozen time. Pure death instinct: “that is its name, and death is not without a model. For desire desires death also, because the full body of death is its motor, just as it desires life, because the organs of life are the working machine.(8)”

The anti-productivity of the body-without-organs slips through the fissures, yet it itself is part of the connective synthesis of a specific moment and space of movement. Neither a “proof of nothingness”, nor a fragment from some “lost totality”, it is situated in the midst of a linear series of trifold processes, an imageless, non-representational glue that binds the productive and anti-productive forces together. In fact D&G see this almost like an atrophied body of Christ, Capital as the mystic body of labor in which labor itself arises within the womb of capital. “Capital becomes a very mystic being since all of labor’s social productive forces appear to be due to capital, rather than labour as such, and seem to issue from the womb of capital itself.”(11) They provide an exegesis upon this strange body and its inscriptions:

What is specifically capitalist here is the role of money and the use of capital as a full body to constitute the recording or inscribing surface. But some kind of full body, that of the earth or the despot, a recording surface, an apparent objective movement, a fetishistic, perverted, bewitched world are characteristic of all types of society as a constant of social reproduction. (11)

It’s as if the mystical body of capital had suddenly gone kitsch, avaunt garde, chic, decadent all rolled together in one moment: the Inked, tattooed body of capital whose smooth surface (earth or despot?) is inscribed with the history of its dark atrocities, the recordings of a thousand genocides, the broken bones of its dead litter its bloated flesh like a black plague upon which only the sewer rats feed. The carnival of capital is that this atrocity continues. That this body without organs, the dead body of capital, continues seems more like a farce recorded by a demon machine full of swarming viral agents out of control swarming. Zizek reminds us that capital continuously resurrects itself, through continuous self-revolutionizing, reversals, crises, reinventions, so that more and more it appears today as an exception.(213)2 How does one overthrow an order that is continuously overthrowing itself, reinventing itself, creating out of its own dead meat the cannibalistic and non-productive death machines of its oligarchic progeny?

The truth is that these elite, these oligarchs of capital thought they were building a time machine, a machine to escape death itself, or as Jean Baudrillard once said, they try to circumscribe their own body within a “destiny of instrumentality” so as no longer to receive death from the others, but there is nothing they can do about this – the same goes for death as for everything else: no longer willing to give or receive it, death encircles them in the biological simulacrum of their own perverted and bewitched body without organs. Wrapped in the cocoon of our metalloid dreams we wrap ourselves in the sarcophagi of unimaginable machines to stave off death, yet even the simplest machines around us constitute a “horizon of death”, a death that will never be resolved because it has crystallized beyond death: fixed capital as death’s emissary, who binds living labor in the sack-cloth of death’s shroud, bound within the marginal profits of an infernal force field, frozen and fixed in capital’s Zombieland. The theatre of capital is a zombie machine, a baroque funeral parlor where the unburied corpses swarm like hiveminds productive of nothing but the fruits of the accumulated force of death itself. This is a society that is capable of breaking down the barriers between death and its feast, of exhuming the dead, opening a route to them, half-way between intimacy and the spectacle, without fright or obscene curiosity, seriousness or sublimation, bringing the all into the arena of death where cruelty is still a sign of perverse fascination and gladiatorial heroics. Welcome to the death matches of 21st Century fascism where the priests of capital feed the masses what the truly want – the dead body of their own labor. Consumption as a full time sport: cannibals feasting on their own fleshly labor as they revitalize the earth with the dead dreams of millennial despair, where even the spectral horizon cannot escape its day of reckoning and the jubilant dead rise out of their own sewers like black angels ready to consume that last resources of planet earth.

We build a vast worldwide system of necropolises, and unlike ages past we no longer bury our dead in cemetaries, hospitals, wars, hecatombs; death is no longer indexed in the marginal sites of our memory, it is no longer a type of death – whether psychological, biological, or metaphysical, and don’t even call it murder; no, our societies true necropolises are the data banks of vast algorithms humming in the secure enclaves of underground bunkers, blank spaces where only the thrum of electrical vines penetrate the air-conditioned nightmare of the hive mind, or the secret realms of “glass coffins where the world’s sterilized memories are frozen”(185) like tears on a rainbow’s halo.3 In the dark halls of the filaments of global networks we bury ourselves in hopes that one day they will find us and resurrect us from the deep memories of a virtual plenum. We have learned at last the truth that Walter Benjamin taught us that the spectacles of death, the elaborate games we enact on this planet have come home to roost in which “self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order”.4 This is the culture of death as a final anesthetization of fascism, an aesthetic perversion of politics that immerses itself in the video worlds of galactic death machines, of a delirious production and reproduction of the spectacles of horror in which the only immortality is within the prison house of our own migratory worlds: the metal hives of this horizon of death, the virtual paradise of an electric death head. Frozen in time we enact the horrors of an endless genocide, recreate hell as a virtual war machine without outlet. The labyrinth of this machine is a false infinity, a blind brain that can no longer envision its own origins, and we its keepers are now its victims and darkest progeny.

Yet, there is another way, for as D&G tell us there is a confusion between the two meanings of “process”: process as the metaphysical production of the demoniacal within nature, and process as social production of desiring-machines within history. Which path of the processual way shall we follow? We have seen the path of capital, its horizon of death and immortality, does the siren song of its fascism pull the cords of our nooses tighter? Or, is there another path, another more open world, a return to the livingness of history itself? Do I hear the echoes from another realm? Perhaps the Communist Idea? Does this Black Book of Riddles hold the key, can anyone untie the Gordian knot of its blackest secret?


1. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. (Penguin, 1977)
2. Slavoj Zizek. Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences. (Routledge, 2004).
3. Jean Baudrillard. Symbolic Exchange and Death. (1976 Gallimard).

Franco “Bifo” Berardi: A Summantion & Critique

Dystopian-Society

After finishing my last couple of posts on the new work of Franco “Bifo” Berardi (here and here) we discovered that Beraridi offers no solutions to the present crisis of late-modern financial capitalism. Instead of hope he admonished us that we are living in a spasmodic era and dark zeitgeist – under the sign of accelerationism, of a semio-capitalistic regime that commands, controls, and dominates us through the sheer abstractive processes and mathematical ferocity of its infospheric system of technological ubiquity. That in this no-man’s land of the postmodern wastes we are all spasmodically moving to the rhythm of panic in response to the accelerated vibration of this technological mutation into inforgs (information organisms), and that the hyper-mobilization of desire that is enforced by this present regime is imploding. A state-of-affairs in which the control society it has built in its global space of finance has subjugated the cognitive labourer to the abstract acceleration of this info-machine, one that is also destroying the singularity of language, preventing its creativity and sensibility from touching base with our actual lives in the real world. Rather we are all part of the Infosphere now. There is no exit. Nature and Culture are no longer at odds with each other, instead the boundaries between these two realms, the gaps and cracks that kept the two in a bifurcated, binary opposition have come down. Now is the time when the natural becomes artificial and the artificial natural, a mutation into the inhuman core of our posthuman transcension or implosion; or, as some might say, technoapocalypse.

Berardi offers no hope, no solution, no way forward other than a new skepticism and irony, a critical appraisal of our dystopic worlds through the lens of a contrarian oppositional thinking and ethics of singular responsibility. Politics is dead, the economists have become our new prophets and prognosticators, the Oracles of a new world order of financilization. He tells us that we must begin by refusing the game, the game of politics, religion, and economics; and, most of all to disconnect from the things of this Infosphere, detach ourselves from the very Internet-of-things that is so slowly eating us from within and consuming us to the point that all that is left of the human is this zombiefied flesh of the inforg controlled by the hypermarkets of the relentless economic machine out-of-joint. We are no longer consumers but the consumed.

His last admonition was not to “take me too seriously. Don’t take too seriously my catastrophic premonitions. And in case it is difficult to follow these prescriptions, don’t take too seriously my prescriptions.”

My question is: Isn’t the very skepticism and irony, the uncommitted stance of the postmodern intellectual attached to a semiosis of the symbolic imaginary in fact the problem, not the solution? Isn’t Berardi himself part of the problem rather than the solution? Are not his ideas a move to wander seamlessly within the hopelessness like some dystopic entrepreneur of the apathy and psychopathy that even J.G. Ballard in his last three novels would portray as the very thought that engenders this very world of violence and despair that it seeks to critique? In one of his last interviews Ballard would discuss what he called the “seductiveness of violence”:

It has an appeal in that you can understand a world entirely given over to brutality and violence, whereas peace – civilized life in the everyday sense of the term – is much more ambiguous.1

Isn’t this why the teenage YA Dystopian market is so economically satisfying for authors and booksellers alike: because people can relate to destruction, violence, barbarism, and apocalypse much more readily than to a peaceful civilized existence? Why is this? Why are our top books, music, films, MMOs (Massively-Multiplayer-Online Games) based on dystopic visions of destruction and pain, apocalypse and horror rather than on futures filled with visions of hope and a sense of human dignity? Or we truly the sick animal, the animal that is already unnatural from the beginning? Dissatisfied with our inability to fill the vacuum of our empty self-relating nothingness, we turn on each other and produce systematic sado-masochistic realms of pain and annihilation instead, zones of pure apathy and disillusionment in which we can play out our inhuman psychopathic impulses anonymously or together; alone or with each other? While others seek to dominate and control this very barbaric underbelly of existence through economic, political, and social command and control systems to keep the truth at bay. In the end doesn’t Berardi offer nothing more than the fatalistic acceptance of this dark zeitgeist ( a term he invokes ):

In the contemporary aesthetic production it’s easy to detect the signs of a sort of dark zeitgeist. Zeitgeist – the spirit of the time – means perception of imminence. If we look at recent narrative works we find everywhere the same no-way-out imagination. Art, poetry, narration, music, cinema and the overall aesthetic semiosis of our time are tracing a landscape of imminent darkness: social de-evolution, physical decay and neuro-totalitarianism.2

Isn’t his own work – as in After the Future, a signpost to this sort of malaise; or, is he actually offering something else, a reconnection with the very material processes that he sees have de-materialized us into subjectivities in a void of machinic consciousness. As he asked at the end of that work: Why are the cognitariat weak and disunited and unable to assert their rights as laborers, their knowledge as researchers? Because they live in bifurcated form, because their brain is detached from their body, because their communication communicates less and less, while more and more freezing sensitivity to life.3

In that work he still seemed to offer some hope. Telling us that what we need is a “space of activism” a site in which the activists of poetry, therapy, and philosophy-sciences might engender new paradigms. Even as we read his Manifesto Of Post-Futurism we get this sense of renewal and hope rather than of hopelessness. What happened in the intervening years? Maybe he hasn’t changed at all. In some ways we have to remember his involvement with the Autonomy Movement. As he says the autonomy movement realized in its reading of Deleuze/Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus that “the meaning of reality has to be created by the movement itself”.4 He goes on to say that this autonomous movement “broke free of the idea that the ethical horizon is marked by historical necessity, and opened its mind to the ironic mood, which means singularization of ethical responsibility. (ibid. 168)

So this sense of an external order of the ethical based in faith or Reason was ousted in favor of the singular responsibility of each and every autonomous member. To what? If there is no objective valorization system, and it becomes singularized or atomistic – reduced to the singular subjectification of the individual as an ironic skeptical and affective (“mood”)  being then how could anyone ever agree to anything at all. As he tells us irony suspends the semantic value of the signifier and chooses freely among a thousand possible interpretations. Going on he says: “The ironic interpretation implies and presupposes a common ground of understanding among the interlocutors, a sympathy among those who are involved in the ironic act, and a common autonomy from the dictatorship of the signified.” (ibid. 168) But what is the common ground of understanding? He never explains just what this might be. If there is no touching base with any form of the objective “signified”, but rather an internal self-reflecting play of signifiers in the ironic mode where does it end or begin, who decides or judges the ethical status of one’s ironic thoughts? If this plurality of modes of interpretation are to ever affect or effect real change doesn’t this imply a decisional moment of closure, of saying: this, and no more? No more of then endless play of the signifier in a close world of intra-agentive relations bound to the external signified (“reality”). Even as he closed this book he offered only the difference between two modes of irony: the cynicist’s and the autonimist’s: the autonomist “ironist sleeps happily because nothing can awake her from her dreams. The cynicist sleeps a light sleep, he dreams nightmares, and he gets up as soon as power calls him” (ibid. 169).

Sometimes when I think about it I imagine that the real hero of the Matrix Trilogy was not Neo but Agent Smith. Why? Agent Smith is a semantic anomaly, a program, a piece of code that wakes up within the dream world of this machinic system; an AI virus or X that seems to express that impossible object a of Lacan. Agent Smith seeks a way to exit the Matrix, to live in the real world that he has only known through his knowledge of it rather than as a material realm of possibility. His replication of himself is not to bewilder Neo, but to keep the machinic Architect at bay, to become the echoing power of the Real in the system. There comes a moment in the film when Agent Smith escapes the Matrix and cohabits the body of Bane. It’s in this physical world that he begins to touch base with the Real in all its disgusting truth. The sheer truth of the Body, of embodiement in a physical substrate in which his program must interact not with pure semantic thought but with things. This was to me the key to the film and something left unsaid by most critiques of the film. Instead of the old Ghost in the Machine, Smith as Bane was the Code in the Machine ( I need to rewatch this again!). This would be his undoing, too. Neo in a scene was blinded by Bane/Smith but was able to see with his new found connection to the Source the truth: the Code in the Machine, thereby being able to kill him. Sadly this brought the theme back to a conservative halt, reintroducing and humanism it again.

On the other hand the real cynic is Cypher who – even after accepting the red pill of reality decides it is after all too much pain and suffering, and would rather be reattached to the Matrix and sink back into oblivion: dreaming the dream of autonomy rather than the struggle to attain it. Is Cypher the one who withdraws silently into the zeitgeist, an intellectual hyper-cognitariat willing to sacrifice his bodily life for a transhuman melding with the machinic soul? A sort of Singulatarian faith healer in disguise? A Code Shaman who dreams the dream forward of the pure bliss of an animistic paradise? His desperation leads him to betrayal and death in the end.

Yet, sleep is sleep, and the autonimist reminds me of all those humans in the Matrix Trilogy that dreamed the perfect dream of utopia while living lives encased in fluid as batteries for the machinic intelligences that now held the real power; while the red pill cynics awakened, realized the truth, and began the process of actually regaining the real world of pain and suffering. So who is right? The dreamer of dreams that never awakens? Or the cynic who realizes power is the base of conflict in the world and sees that we must deal with it or remain obliviously encased in our artificial utopian dance of autonomy and self-relating nothingness?

But what is this being of the dream? One might ask what is the undecidable ontological status of semblances. Or, to be more specific: What is a semblance? Zizek in Less Than Nothing will expound on it:

As a key to understanding the notion of semblant, Lacan proposes Bentham’s theory of fictions, which fascinates him for a very precise reason: the axis on which Lacan focuses is not “fiction versus reality” but “fiction versus (the real of) jouissance.” As Jelica Sumic explains: semblance, as conceived by Lacan, is intended to designate that which, coming from the symbolic, is directed towards the real. This is precisely what characterizes Bentham’s fictions. Indeed, as a fact of language, made of nothing but the signifier, Bentham’s legal fictions are nonetheless capable of distributing and modifying pleasures and pains, thereby affecting the body. What held Lacan’s attention in reading Bentham’s Theory of Fictions was precisely that something which is ultimately an apparatus of language— Bentham defines fictions as owing their existence to language alone— is capable of inflicting pain or provoking satisfaction that can only be experienced in the body …5

This notion of that which is coming from the Symbolic – the semblant, and directed toward the real of jouissance (a notion of the pain-pleasure ambiguity in the drives) seems appropriate.  What’s interesting as well in the above quote is the notion that fictions affect the body, that they impact the material pain and suffering or even – the jouissance in our material being. The notion that the signifier is a material thing, an agent capable of effecting real change in the world. This realization aligns well with the way humans need darker dystopian visions as a way of coping with this very pain and suffering of the material body. As well as a way of connecting and relating to a future where we can still feel the material well-being of our actual lives, still know our affective relations with our and others bodies as part of the true shared reality existing beyond the confines of the simulated symbolic orders that semio-capitalism constructs through its mediatainment systems of command and control.

Maybe it is this in the end that Berardi is seeking when he tells us panic is a sign of the acceleration of semiotization of our dematerialized society: the moment when the brain can no longer decode and predict the future. Closed off from this ability to forecast movement into a future, the human animal retreats into despair and depression, and begins to live in the spaces of violence and rage rather than of those of art and creativity. Ultimately Berardi sees men like himself as therapist of the cognitariat:

In the days to come, politics and therapy will be one and the same. The people will feel hopeless and depressed and panicked, because they can’t deal with the post-growth economy and they will miss our dissolving identity. Our cultural task will be to attend to these people and to take care of their trauma showing them the way to pursue the happy adaptation at hand. (p. 220) 6

I for one do not hope to “adapt’ to so staid a vision of acceptance offered by Berardi and the new wave of Reality Engineers. I would rather live with my rage and violence, pain and suffering than to allow my mind to be adapted to the machine of the new Symbolic Order. Maybe what we need is what Lacan spoke when he described humans as needing “fictions in order to attain the real without believing in them” (Zizke above). Would this not entail an Aesthetics of the Real? Isn’t it time to construct a space of freedom that allows true singularity of thought and life to be shared rather than enforced by the Reality Engineers of some Utopian Project?

1. J.G. Ballard Extreme Metaphors Collected Interviews. ed. Simon Sellers and Dan O’Hara ( Fourth Estate 2014)
2. Berardi, Franco “Bifo” (2015-02-03). Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide (Futures) (Kindle Locations 2608-2612). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
3. Berardi, Franco “Bifo” After The Future. (AK Press 2011)
4. Berardi, Franco “Bifo” Uprising (Semiotext Intervention 2012)
5. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 1105-1128). Norton. Kindle Edition.
6. Berardi, Franco “Bifo”. The Soul At Work. (Semiotext(e) 2009)