Franco Berardi: The Coming Civil War of the Planet

 

Mental illness is not the rare malady of an isolated dropout, but the widespread consequence of panic, depression, precariousness, and humiliation: these are the sources of the contemporary global fragmentary war, and they are spreading everywhere, rooted in the legacy of colonialism and in the frenzy of daily competition.
…….– Franco Berardi on the coming Global Civil War

For Berardi in his latest essay on e-flux – The Coming Global Civil War: Is There Any Way Out?  is a planetary wide civil war founded on a “necro-economy”, one in which the “all-encompassing law of competition has canceled out moral prescriptions and legal regulations”.

War has become big business for the great Crime Cartels across the planet: “Like neoliberal corporations investing money in the ultimate business, the Iraqi-Syrian caliphate and the Mexican narco army pay salaries to their soldiers, who are necro-proletarians.”

They even utilize capitalist media to promote and recruit: “In a video released by Dubiq, the advertising agency of the Islamic State, the rhetoric is the same as any other type of advertising: buy this product and you’ll be happy.”

Berardi blames the interventionist policies of the U.S. and NATO for much of the current state of civil war in East European nations over the past twenty years: “1990, the United States cut off all forms of credit to Yugoslavia… March of 1991, fascist organizations in Croatia called for the overthrow of the Socialist government … Ethnic-religious wars caused around 170,000 casualties, as ethnic cleansing was practiced in every area of the federation… Twenty years after the Nazi-neoliberal wars of Yugoslavia, in all those small nation-states (except perhaps Slovenia) unemployment is rampant, people are impoverished, schools are privatized, and public infrastructure is in disrepair.”

Berardi will ask if the current refugee crisis across Europe will be a harbinger of terror or holocaust? – “From the Balkans to Greece, from Libya to Morocco, are the ten million people amassing at these borders going to be the perpetrators of the next terrorist wave? Or will they be the victims of the next Holocaust?”

With nothing but “perpetual economic stagnation, emerging markets are crumbling, the European Union is paralyzed”: “The only imaginable way out of this hell is to end financial capitalism, but this does not seem to be at hand.”

Yet, Berardi, a believer that the neo-intellectuals of the hyperlanes can move the ball forward tells us that in this “obscurantist time” all we can do is “create solidarity among the bodies of cognitive workers worldwide, and to build a techno-poetic platform for the collaboration of cognitive workers for the liberation of knowledge from both religious and economic dogma.”

The cognitariat is part of the problem, not its fix. Look at the state of the Left. All the books published, journals written, academics spreading their usual claptrap, students occupying little and less among the meaningless margins. Berardi seems to live pre 1968 as if the old 60’s Culture could be reignited in a new world of electronic hippiedom, flower children and communist propaganda alive and well in the broadcast lanes of our network marginal drift. Knowledge liberated or not is not going to change a thing. One could speak of change of consciousness all day, all night, but it is the same old tale that has yet to change anything. If raising consciousness could really effect change then one could stop writing tomorrow, for the best and greatest literature for that has already been written. Art, music, protest? All these old forms are defunct, passé, and have become parody or parodies in our age. In an age of Reality TV people support the fantasy of fantasies their parents only dreamed of. People no longer want Truth or truths, instead we live in the age of loss and forgetting. People want to forget the problems of the world, hide away in their virtual worlds of hyperplay, raves, travels…

Berardi speaks truth when he says “the future of Europe is held captive by the opposition between financial violence and national violence”. Ethnic, religious, political violence is and will remain an emerging aspect of the next centuries civil war for the planet’s resources. The empires battle for land, resources, and power while their people are kept in ignorance or ideological hell with mediatainment systems that promise freedom and give nothing but the complete degradation of fatalism.

As Berardi says in his closing statement: “Globalization has brought about the obliteration of modern universalism: capital flows freely everywhere and the labor market is globally unified, but this has not led to the free circulation of women and men, nor to the affirmation of universal reason in the world.” While the general intellect is absorbed into the “corporate kingdom of abstraction is depriving the living community of intelligence, understanding, and emotion”.

Ultimately Berardi sees no light at the end of the tunnel, only more “mental suffering, and on the other side, the much-advertised cure for depression: fanaticism, fascism, and war. And at the end, suicide.” In an age when the fragmented mass suicide act is itself just one more Reality TV spectacle for the 15 min fame lists what is to be done? No one is secure, safe, protected from the others in their midst. One’s own family might be the most violent terror one confronts in one’s daily life. The truth is two hundred years of predatory capitalism has brought us the state of art nihilism around the globe. Now we pay the maker… the cannibals, zombies, spectral apparitions of former worlds are returning and they are pissed.

Read essay on e-flux The Coming Global Civil War: Is There Any Way Out? © 2016 e-flux and the author

J.G. Ballard: Chrontopia and Post-Consumerist Society

JGBallard

For the first time Man will be living a full twenty-four hour day, not spending a third of it as an invalid, snoring his way through an eight-hour peepshow of infantile erotica.

– J.G. Ballard – Manhole 69

Continuing the line of thought I began in Nick Land: Chronogenesis & Urbanomy we discover in J.G. Ballard’s short story Manhole 69 he will envision a world where humans no longer sleep and the future is set adrift. One of the scientists who is part of an advanced exploratory team in this new world of sleeplessness, speaking to his team members says:

‘None of you realize it yet, but this is as big an advance as the step the first ichthyoid took out of the protozoic sea 300 million years ago. At last we’ve freed the mind, raised it out of that archaic sump called sleep, its nightly retreat into the medulla. With virtually one cut of the scalpel we’ve added twenty years to those men’s lives.’ (Ballard, p. 51)

When we think of Sleep we think of its porous, and suffused in-flows between waking, night and the dreamlands or nightmares we succumb to in its dark internal worlds; and, opposing this is its light twin whose departures into activity, daylight, and work send us back to the pain of our daily lives in consciousness. Sleep is the recurrence in our lives of a waiting, of a pause, a break in the temporal flow of our timebound lives in consciousness. It affirms the necessity of postponement, and the deferred retrieval or recommencement of whatever has been postponed. Sleep is a remission, a release from the “constant continuity” of all the threads in which one is enmeshed while waking. It seems too obvious to state that sleep requires periodic disengagement and withdrawal from networks and devices in order to enter a state of inactivity and uselessness. It is a form of time that leads us elsewhere than to the things we own or are told we need. Sleep is the dream of a non-utilitarian world, a world without labor.2

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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)

Guy Debord: A Philosophy of Time

 

The revolutionary project of a classless society, of an all-embracing historical life, implies the withering away of the social measurement of time in favor of a federation of independent times — a federation of playful individual and collective forms of irreversible time that are simultaneously present.

– Guy Debord,  Society of the Spectacle

Time, power, value and technics when seen for what they are awakens us to the concept of governance which is at the core of the neoliberal global accelerationist project of absolute governance. Etymologically the concept of governance arises out of the old Latin “gubernare”: to direct, rule, guide, govern, originally “to steer,” a nautical borrowing from Greek kybernan “to steer or pilot a ship, direct (the root of cybernetics. (see Online Etymology) This notion of steering, directing, guiding, governing coalesces in the mutations of temporal relations that have transformed our planet into an accelerationist machine of consuming time, a feeding frenzy that takes in everything organic and inorganic in its closing horizon of conceptuality.

Marx in the Grundrisse would align this temporal process as the interplay between flow and interruption (disruption) of the machinic processes of capital itself. For Marx humans (labor) are seen within the machine or automatic system of machinery “merely as its conscious linkages”:

In no way does the machine appear as the individual worker’s means of labor. Its distinguishing characteristic is not in the least, as with the means of labour, to transmit the worker’s activity to the object; this activity, rather, is posited in such a way that it merely transmits the machine’s work, the machine’s action, on to the raw material – supervises it and guards against interruption [Italics Mine]. Not as with the instrument, which the worker animates and makes into his organ with his skill and strength, and whose handling therefore depends on his virtuosity. Rather, it is the machine which possesses skill and strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it…(Marx, Chapter on Capital, Notebook VI 692-693)1

This notion that the machine is the creative and vital (soulful) virtuoso rather than the humans supervising it and guarding it against interruption introduces one of the earliest renditions of what would come to be known as the cybernetic revolution that would only in our time come to complete fruition. When I read Franco Berardi’s essay on e-flux Time, Acceleration, and Violence and saw that first paragraph where he asks:

What do you store in a bank? You store time. But is the money that is stored in the bank my past time—the time that I have spent in the past? Or does this money give me the possibility of buying a future? 

We’ve all heard the old shibboleth of Benjamin Franklin, “Time is money!” Berardi will tell us that all of this is clear: value is time, capital is value, or accumulated time, and the banks store this accumulated time. He will remind us that in Symbolic Exchange and Death, Baudrillard brought forth the notion that temporality is the key to financial capitalism,  a unique fulfillment of Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” at the level of finance: the complete loss between time and value. Berardi will  contextualize this as a war between various cultural frames: Italian futurism as the masculinization of time as accelerationist warrior credo, etc. One that would lead to fascism, and would mark it as the crucial point of passage from feminine shame to masculine acceleration culture, to pride, aggressiveness, war, industrial growth, and so forth. But it remains a search for another perception of time, for a way of forgetting one’s own laziness, slowness, and sensitivity by asserting a perception of time in which one is a master—a warrior and builder of industry. (see Berardi)

As I began thinking through this biting reversal in Marx of the machine as Creative Agent rather than human labor (which is seen as subsidiary and servile, a mere regulator and gatekeeper of disruptions, etc.) , and of these various sense of time and value along with the dialectical line of various cultures of shame and guilt, deceleration and acceleration, agricultural civilization vs. industrial civilization, etc. I began realizing this “perception of time” that Berardi teases out is in need of further examination.

I decide to reread Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle recently, and realized that at the center of its theme lies the leitmotif of temporal relations as a philosophy of Time & Civilization. For it is here that he develops the kernel of this historical battle between cyclic civilizations and the accelerationist civilization of the machine that would underpin much of Marx’s critique of Capitalism. It’s not a gnostic or Manichean vision of opposites, but of a historical vision of how humans have oriented and organized their modes of life, labor, and value across time.

The Nineteenth Century would see the consolidation of the Enlightenment project with its centralization of time as irreversible: progress, development, improvement, modernity, etc. Within the void of each of these concepts would hide the concept of “efficiency”, which allowed a mathematical and quantifiable way of calculating labor time and productivity and the attenuated fears of waste, especially the waste of time.3 Efficiency was never about increasing productivity in the Progressive Era, rather it aimed at guaranteeing a reliable, regular rate of production and cultivating reliable, steady habits of character. It was a tool of self-management and personal stability in the face of turbulent change. (Alexander, KL 1451) So efficiency was a tool to control and shape time as progressive time:

Efficiency was … embedded in a rhetoric of dynamic, transformative power. Balanced efficiencies provided the reliable elements of economic or social transformation, the interchangeable and standardized parts, the unchanging substrata, upon which a new bureaucratic order of interaction and adjustment, of change, might be built. (Alexander, KL 1453)

Progressive ideologues, engineers, thinkers defined rationalization as “everything that could restore equilibrium,” and many would describe rationalization as seeking the “‘efficiency’ key to orderly social and individual life,” economic stability almost invariably given as its goal.” (Alexander, KL 1562)

Crucial to rationalization was a concept of flow. It could describe the assembly line and other practices for keeping the productive works in continual motion… But flow also carried another meaning, referring not to specific techniques but to a more general ideology of undisturbed production. If the solution to social and economic crisis lay in the raising of living standards through cheaper and more plentiful goods, then whatever imperiled production further imperiled a society already in crisis. Many technical measures were undertaken to streamline production, including standardization in many forms, of work schedules, parts and sizes, and methods of production; widespread adoption of new cost-accounting methods; and a host of technical measures to reduce waste… (Alexander, KL 1564)

As Alexander will inform us behind efficiency lay a legacy of balance and a worry about waste, expressed in its assumptions that one ought to get as much as possible out of what one had put in, not only enough to be productive or to show a profit but enough to show that the system was under control. (ibid. KL 1811) And, as we know control is both mastery and self-mastery. As we know the word control represents its most general definition, purposive influence toward a predetermined goal. Most dictionary definitions imply these same two essential elements: influence of one agent over another, meaning that the former causes changes in the behavior of the latter; and purpose, in the sense that influence is directed toward some prior goal of the controlling agent.4

The rationalization of society with the rise of the Fordist economies with their need to reduce waste opened the door to regulatory bureaucracies to control and oversee the governance and management of time, value, labor, etc. both within the governance of society, technology, and corporations. It is here that we begin to see how the older forms of control in government and markets had depended on personal relationships and face-to-face interactions; now in our time control is seen to be reestablished by means of bureaucratic organization, the new infrastructures of transportation and the Information and Communications technologies (ICTs). The new accelerationist economies based on global societal transformation, with its attendant rapid innovation in information and control technology accelerating Just-In-Time production in endless productivity cycles without waste: a process that seeks to regain control of functions once contained at much lower and more diffuse levels of society but which are now becoming invisible and ubiquitous as we move into the tecnocapitalist paradigm of intelligent economies based of the financialization of Big Data, etc.

 Society of the spectacle

Guy Debord will portray this history in phases of cyclical (agricultural society), irreversible (industrial), and pseudocyclical (postmodern) notions of time, technics, and civilization in his Society of the Spectacle. He will see within the agrarian mode of production, governed as it is by the rhythm of the seasons, the basis for a fully developed cyclical time of eternal return of the Same. Eternity is within this time, it is the return of the same here on earth. Myth is the unitary mental construct which guarantees that the cosmic order conforms with the order that this society has in fact already established within its frontiers. (Debord, Section 126)

Yet, as agricultural civilization took off and the static based food societies came into conflict with the older hunter/gatherer societies there arose the need for authority and security, so that the first cities and centralized bureaucratic organizations of religious accounting and kingship arose. The social appropriation of time and the production of man by human labor develop within a society divided into classes. The power that establishes itself above the poverty of the society of cyclical time, the class that organizes this social labor and appropriates its limited surplus value, simultaneously appropriates the temporal surplus value resulting from its organization of social time: it alone possesses the irreversible time of the living. (Debord, Section 128)

This is the time of adventure and war, the time in which the masters of cyclical society pursue their personal histories; it is also the time that emerges in the clashes with foreign communities that disrupt the unchanging social order. History thus arises as something alien to people, as something they never sought and from which they had thought themselves protected.

This irreversible time is the time of those who rule, and the dynasty is its first unit of measurement. Writing is the rulers’ weapon. In writing, language attains its complete independence as a mediation between consciousnesses. But this independence coincides with the independence of separate power, the mediation that shapes society. With writing there appears a consciousness that is no longer carried and transmitted directly among the living — an impersonal memory, the memory of the administration of society. (Debord, Section 131) Yet, Debord will see a double-edged distinction between the masters and the worker (slaves): the masters played the role of mythically guaranteeing the permanence of cyclical time, they themselves achieved a relative liberation from cyclical time. (Debord, 132)

So this notion of the common man living in an eternal present cut off from history and time as an irreversible arrow, while the upper elites, kings, warriors, etc. lived in a “recorded time”, a time that counted, and was marked down for future generations to remember would form the backdrop of all future social relations. The rulers owned time, and time was the first and greatest commodity: it guaranteed immortality and eternity for those who controlled it. We’ve seen this in those works by Herbert Marcuse (Eros and Civilization), Norman O. Brown (Life Against Death), and Ernest Becker (Escape From Evil). Each of which combined readings of Freud and Marxian critiques of solar mythologies of the ancients.  Each would hone in on the conceptual frameworks of myth, the sky based mythologies as abstract mappings of order against chaos: the sky as a mathematical system or machine that could be calculated and measured with increasing care and exactitude, giving assurance of an orderly world, in which the ancient kings became the earthly representatives of the victorious sky gods. Our mathematical sciences would begin in astrology, the mapping and mathematization of the sky. Astronomy laid the base from which all sciences emerged. The clock-work movements of the heavens and their dramas would influence philosophers and musicians to come.

After thousands of years of this interactive world of cyclic and irreversible time played out within the ancient world, came the monotheistic religions of which Judaism in the West arose. The monotheistic religions were a compromise between myth and history, between the cyclical time that still governed the sphere of production and the irreversible time that was the theater of conflicts and regroupings among different peoples. The religions that evolved out of Judaism were abstract universal acknowledgments of an irreversible time that had become democratized and open to all, but only in the realm of illusion. (Debord, 136)

Debord will remind us that it is the Middle Ages, an incomplete mythical world whose consummation lay outside itself, is the period when cyclical time, though still governing the major part of production, really begins to be undermined by history. An element of irreversible time is recognized in the successive stages of each individual’s life. Life is seen as a one-way journey through a world whose meaning lies elsewhere: the pilgrim is the person who leaves cyclical time behind and actually becomes the traveler that everyone else is symbolically. (Debord, 137)

With the Enlightenment project and commodity Capitalism we would see the slow fabrication of a new myth, the myth of progress: one that would have as its goal the elimination of waste; or, more succinctly the elimination of not only cyclical time but of historical time as well. A process that started two hundred years ago has in financial capitalism entered the ubiquitous time of an accelerating future. This is not the speed culture of Virilio’s Politics of Speed, etc. Instead as Debord tells it the main product that economic development has transformed from a luxurious rarity to a commonly consumed item is thus history itself — but only in the form of the history of the abstract movement of things that dominates all qualitative aspects of life. While the earlier cyclical time had supported an increasing degree of historical time lived by individuals and groups, the irreversible time of production tends to socially eliminate such lived time. (Debord, 142)

This will be time as a pure commodity: “time is everything, man is nothing; he is at most the carcass of time” (The Poverty of Philosophy). As Debord describes it this general time of human nondevelopment also has a complementary aspect — a consumable form of time based on the present mode of production and presenting itself in everyday life as a pseudocyclical time. (Debord, 148) As a production of commoditized time pseudocyclical time is associated with the consumption of modern economic survival — the augmented survival in which everyday experience is cut off from decision making and subjected no longer to the natural order, but to the pseudo-nature created by alienated labor. In our time pseudonature is termed the InfoSphere: the artificialization of our planet into layers of information and data, abstracted out of the dead weight of natural existence people live in virtual theatres of illusion rather than older forms of existence. Inforgs or informationally embodied organisms (inforgs), mutually connected and embedded in an informational environment, the infosphere, which we share with both natural and artificial agents similar to us in many respects.5

We’ve live in artificial constructs of a spectacular world so naturalized and ubiquitous that we forget it is virtual illusion: this is the world of RealityTV as a DIY project in which we can watch the world as a selfie in which we are starring actors at one remove, doubles of ourselves roaming the virtual lanes in infinite regress of image worlds receding further and further from our physical embedded life.

As we watch our lives lived by our doubles on RealityTV in all its glorious inanity: Its vulgarized pseudofestivals are parodies of real dialogue and gift-giving; they may incite waves of excessive economic spending, but they lead to nothing but disillusionments, which can be compensated only by the promise of some new disillusion to come. The less use value is present in the time of modern survival, the more highly it is exalted in the spectacle. The reality of time has been replaced by the publicity of time. (Debord, 154) Time as a public relations event, a RealityTV series that keeps repeating itself endlessly on late night comedy. A life in a pure void where communication is nothing more than canned laughter. All the while zombies stare into the videodrone tubes awaiting new instructions from their masters.

Against this dead world of zombie RealityTV filled with doubles and double-talk oblivion Debord would seek a “federation of independent times – a federation of playful individual and collective forms of irreversible time that are simultaneously present. This would be the temporal realization of authentic communism, which “abolishes everything that exists independently of individuals.” (Debord, 163)

A quantum time that is both cyclical and irreversible: a paradox at the heart of the production of time as lived, one that is a difference that makes a difference? Only time will tell…

1. Karl Marx. Grundrisse. Penguin Books, 1993.
2. Debord, Guy (2011-03-15). Society of the Spectacle (Soul Bay Press. Kindle Edition.)
3. Jennifer Karns Alexander. The Mantra of Efficiency: From Waterwheel to Social Control (Kindle Location 32). Kindle Edition.
4. Beniger, James (1989-03-15). The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society (Kindle Locations 212-214). Harvard University Press – A. Kindle Edition.
5. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 14). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

Posthuman Economics: The Empire of Capital

Maybe what haunts posthumanism is not technology but utopian capitalism, the dark silences long repressed, excluded, disavowed, and negated within the Empire of Capital.  Franco Berardi’s The Uprising grabs the history of art and capital by the horns as the slow and methodical implementation of the Idealist program. By this he means the dereferentialization of reality – or what we term now the semioitization of reality: the total annihilation of any connection between signifier and signified, word and thing, mind and world. Instead we live in a world structured by fantasy that over time has dematerialized reality.

In economics it was Richard Nixon (1972) who cut the link between financial capital and its referent, the gold standard which subtly dematerialized monetarism of the neoliberal era. This slow vanishing act of reality into its digital matrix has in our time become so naturalized that we have forgotten how much our lives are enmeshed in fictions divorced from even the illusion of reality. As Berardi will put it:

The premise of neoliberal dogmatism is the reduction of social life to the mathematical implications of financial algorithms. What is good for finance must be good for society, and if society does not accept this identification and submission, then that means that society is incompetent, and needs to be redressed by some technical authority.1

He speaks of the moment when the newly elected Greek President Papandreou actually had the audacity to question the EU’s austerity program and was summarily ousted by the new entity, The Markets, and replaced with a consultant from Goldman-Sachs. He asks calmly, What is this blind god, the Markets?

Markets are the visible manifestation of the inmost mathematical interfunctionality of algorithms embedded in the techno-linguistic machine: they utter sentences that change the destiny of the living body of society, destroy resources, and swallow the energies of the collective body like a draining pump. (Berardi, 32)

In this sense we are already being run by the machinic systems of math and computation at the core of our economic system. As he tells it the humans behind the system are not fascists, yet they allow society to be enslaved by a mathematical system of economics and financialization, which is clean, smooth, perfect, and efficient. The financial orthodoxy would have you believe that all things should act efficiently. Like all orthodoxies it offers comfort and guidance, but, as orthodoxies do, it also has the power to wound those who cannot follow its dogmas or who resist its rituals of conformity. It is technological because it has primarily to do with making things work, and it is particularly apparent in the contemporary emphasis on quantifiable productivity and associated fears of waste, especially the waste of time.2

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once developed his theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow—the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.3 Thinking of flow and efficiency one discovers the key is the concept of flow-of information or of goods, for example-and the role of efficiency in preventing disruptions. This suggests that beneath the zeal for efficiency lies the desire to control a changing world, to keep an optimal and peak level of flow going at all times in society and combatting and preventing anything that might disrupt that flow.

In Berardi’s mathematization of society we’re no longer consumers and users, but have instead become as Bruce Sterling tells us in The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Thingsparticipants under machine surveillance, whose activities are algorithmically combined within Big Data silos” (Sterling, KL 30). So that in this sense we are no longer embodied humans, but are instead bits of data floating among the wired worlds of our digital economy. But a fascinating aspect of the Internet of things is that the giants who control the major thrust within its reaches Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple or Microsoft could care less about efficiency. No. They in fact don’t bother to “compete” with each other because their real strategy is to “disrupt”. Rather than “competing” – becoming more efficient at doing something specific – “disruption” involves a public proof that the rival shouldn’t even exist.(Sterling, KL 212-216)

The basic order of the economic day is coded in the language of noir dime novels. “Knifing the baby” means deliberately appropriating the work of start-ups before they can become profitable businesses. “Stealing the oxygen” means seeing to it that markets don’t even exist – that no cash exchanges hands, while that formerly profitable activity is carried out on a computer you control. (Sterling, KL 224)

Yet, underneath all the glitter and glitz is the hard truth of reality. If the Internet of things is a neo-feudal empire of tyrant corporations disrupting the flows of efficient commerce in a bid to attain greater and greater power and influence, then the world of austerity and nation states outside the wires is preparing for the barbarians. As Berardi relates it outside the cold steel wires of financial digi-tyranny we can already see the violent underbelly of the old physical body of the social raising its reactionary head: nation, race, ethnic cleansing, and religious fundamentalism are running rampant around the globe. While the digital-elite pirate away the world of finance the forgotten citizenry outside the digital fortress are preparing for war in the streets: despair, suicide, and annihilation living in the austerity vacuum of a bloated world of wires.

Maybe Yeats wrote his poem The Second Coming for our century:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
   The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

1. Franco “Bifo” Berardi. The Uprising. (Semiotext(e), 2012)
2. Jennifer Karns Alexander. The Mantra of Efficiency: From Waterwheel to Social Control (Kindle Locations 29-32). Kindle Edition
3. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008-08-18). Flow (P.S.) (Kindle Locations 214-216). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

 

The Political Theory of the Future: Paolo Virno and Bifo Berardi

Political Action finds its redemption at the point where it creates a coalition with public Intellect (in other words, at the point where this Intellect is unchained from waged labor and, rather, builds its critique with the tact of a corrosive acid). Action consists, in the final analysis, in the articulation of general intellect as a non-State public sphere, as the realm of common affairs, as Republic. The Exodus, in the course of which the new alliance between Intellect and Action is forged, has a number of fixed stars in its own heaven: radical Disobedience, Intemperance, Multitude, Soviet, Example, Right of Resistance. These categories allude to a political theory of the future, a theory perhaps capable of facing up to the political crises of the late twentieth century and outlining a solution that is radically anti-Hobbesian.

– Paolo Virno, Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics

It was Bifo Berardi that coined the term cognitariat to splice together the moment when information technologies and the workers who use such technics for their livelihood took center stage upon the world market. This is also the moment when the cognitive functions of our society were divorced from both daily life and corporeality, when the production workers of signs were captured by capital. This is the alienation of cognitive labor. The cognitariat is the social class that experiences this separation. Both Berardi and Virno would have those who have been so captured to retreat, to withdraw from this global menagerie of both State and Corporate monopoly and forge new links, new coalitions of political action and public intellect, create new autonomous zones in which to share and communicate within a new sphere, a realm of the commons, a Global Republic that moves beyond ethnic, social, and cultural forms.

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A Response to a Zizekian question … Berardi and others…

Arran James in a previous post in response to Slavoj Zizek’s question ““The big question today is how to organise to act globally, at an immense international level, without regressing to some authoritarian rule.” – responds:

Zizek’s question at the end there, on the need to organise without authoritarianism, is of course the important one. I have been engaged elsewhere in talking about this question, roughly, and find it infuriating that people who claim to want to re-think “how to organise” maintain automatic positions. ‘No to electoral politics! No to working with Leninists!’- but then what are you organsing? You’re own theoretico-practical cul-de-sac? Let us rethink things, but not if it means questioning any of our assumptions! I understand the reasons to be anti-Leninism and so on, the historical reasons, the ideological ones, but to make use of things, to pick up what lies at hand…must the question always revolve around questions of reformism and revolutionism, of the necessity of the former and the poverty of the latter? I don’t even think electoral politics are pertinent to the mass of people anymore, that little game is over, and, likewise, do reform/revolution make much sense to us in a time when the majority of political actions are defensive, when the majority of would-be revolutionaries only know of revolutions from textbooks and television screens? (And among these I of course include myself!)

My response:

It’s not something one can force, either. While reading through some of Barardi he comes to a point when over a hundred thousand people came to Bologna in 1977. He says everyone was waiting for the “word” to begin, but no word ever came. I kept thinking, Why? Why does it always take one person, someone you wouldn’t really expect, the unknown X factor, to step up to the plate and start it all? Without leadership the crowd, the mass, is just that: lost, unable to act, unable to do for themselves what they know in their hearts must be done. Why do we always need confirmation first? Why have we bought into this need for some authority to tell us: It’s alright, I understand, you can begin now. You don’t have to fear anything but fear itself. Sure many of you may die, but we shall win through; for what we are doing has the force of truth in it.” Most people, sadly, are followers rather than leaders and cannot do for themselves what they should. It always comes down to: Buts… but I’m just one person, what can I do to make a difference? How can I begin? What’s to be done?” Maybe it comes down to critical mass… a sort of collective psychic trauma that spurs the mass into a collective awakening that then gets it all going… some event that wounds us to the core and forces us to rethink everything that we are or could be. One could puzzle over this for years. Psychologists have spent their lives trying to understand mass movements and why some succeed and others fail. But in the end there is no magic bullet. It’s something to do with Time…. even kairos – the right time… the moment when all the threads come together that offer the solution we’ve all been seeking to the tension of our moment.

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Franco “Bifo” Berardi: precarious rhapsody

The best way to define the new rebellion is the Deleuzian concept of line of flight: exodus from the kingdome of exploitation and the creation of a new social sphere…

– Berardi, from precarious rhapsody

Berardi reminisces on the failure of 1977 when worker’s revolution in Italy was being countered through State repression and murder, imprisonment, beatings, and a fascistic counterrevolution. For Barardi this was the year when the Western Mind collapsed and the acceleration of our catastrophism began and is still being played out:

Since 1977, the collapse of the Western Mind has assumed sneaking, subterranean, episodic trajectory, but as the threshold beyond the millennium, it takes on the rhythm of a precipice, of a no longer containable catastrophe. What the consciousness of 1977 had signaled as a danger and a possibility implicit in the acceleration of productive and existential rhythms, becomes daily news. Certain events signaled this passage, becoming viruses, carrying information that reproduces, proliferates and infects the entire social organism. The exceptional event the Twin Towers crashing in a cloud of dust… as well as Columbine school massacre, which took place some years before, might have carried a more uncanny message, because it spoke of daily life, of American normality, of the normality of a humanity that has lost all relation with what used to be human and that stumbles along looking for some impossible reassurance in search of a substitute for emotions which it no longer knows. (27-28)1

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Franco Berardi: Subjectivation and the Refusal of Work

Subjectivation in the place of subject. That means that we should not focus on the identity, but on the process of becoming. This also means that the concept of social class is not to be seen as an ontological concept, but rather as a vectorial concept.

– Franco Berardi Bifo

Instead of a history of society Franco Berardi Bifo tells us that he’d rather we speak of composition, or even “class composition” because it digs down into the molecular chemistry of our lives.1 “Autonomy is the independence of social time from the temporality of capitalism.” (ibid)  Instead of subjects and identitarian politics we get a processual migration through a continuous series of compositional scores: the becoming of social relationships, sexual identification and disidentification, and, of course, the refusal of work. Of course Berardi a friend of D&G sees the refusal of work as generated within the complex investments of desiring machines as they in their daily lives withdraw from the exploitation of capital. As he remarks:

Autonomy means that social life does not depend only on the disciplinary regulation imposed by economic power, but also depends on the internal displacement, shiftings, settlings and dissolutions that are the process of the self-composition of living society. Struggle, withdrawal, alienation, sabotage, lines of flight from the capitalist system of domination. (ibid)

Refusal of work is the laziness of creativity, the source of a defiant need to be autonomous, unhooked from the regulatory mechanisms of capital, to enter into the self-regulative fruits of one’s labors rather than be controlled by the war machines of cognitive capitalism. Yet, with this dispersed deregulated subjectivation came the other side of the coin: the deregulation of capital itself. It was during the Thatcher-Regan era that the vast machinery of rules and regulations that curbed monopolization fell away and the new economic despotism of the not so free ‘free-markets’ arose.

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