“Emancipation is for us the meaning of nihilism.” – Gianni Vattimo
What comes after nihilism? This question might seem impertinent given the actual state and trajectory of things. Everywhere traditional, reactionary, and localising ideologies compete, conflict and continue colonising and recolonising the discursive terrains of our political and personal lives. This scattered and unevenly distributed field of actualisation has made it increasingly difficult to maintain semblances of coherence at all levels. How then can we claim to grasp what comes after nihilism while our cultural-subjective fields are still littered by the decaying corpses of quasi-religious, religious and secular-romantic narratives that had previously promised us much but are delivering very little? Have we even begun to evacuate the spaces of reasoning which have led our species to the brink of social disintegration and ecological collapse? How can we be beyond something not yet fully actualised?
Despite the seeming lag in understanding our contemporary disarray, recent events – from the 2008 financial crash, the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and the intensification of global climate change, to the ongoing international acquiescence of Israel’s occupation and destruction of Gazan communities, and the handling of protesters in Ferguson, Missouri – have demonstrated the hollowness of even our most cherished and guiding Western sentiments about democracy, justice, human progress. Instead we have entered a phase in which the cultural-subjective condition of nihilism has exploded beyond any local philosophical manifestation to become the objective condition of the world.
Simultaneously, the hardly digested lessons of our sciences are leading in the direction of the realisation of the ultimate purposelessness of existence. Successive discoveries from Darwinism, the heat death of the universe, artificial intelligence and the limitations of human cognition, to the demotion of introspective and phenomenological accounts of the world to second-string players.
If nihilism is in large part an unraveling of traditional structures of meaning, accompanied by the collapse of certainty, then scientific suggestions about the limits of human “knowability” and its supporting unconscious operations can only serve to intensify the nihilistic tendency. Meaning, value, truth, agency, and consciousness are being exposed as ghost-objects dependent on imaginal associations, previously (mis)taken as ontological rather than functional singularities.
Even as we disentangle our brains and the secrets of cognition we begin to realise just how little we diverge from our most primitive animal cousins in basic functioning and perceptive prowess. We are not the ultimate purpose of creation we thought we were. And in many respects we can no longer claim to be ecologically necessary or special. Whether we look to ancestral pasts or posthuman futures we are confronted with the same seemingly terrible lesson: it has all been for nothing. We were not intended, and we may not even survive the next 100 years. Wherever we scramble for reassuring fragments of meaning being imbued in the fabric of the cosmos we are confronted with just-so stories that we cling to despite having seen them evaporate like the oceans of the future beneath an exploding sun.
It is therefore tempting to answer that what comes after nihilism is sadness. The transcendental nature of norms and values has been scorched; our rationality has been shown to be ridden with biases, systemic errors, and, as is beginning to be made painfully clear, is probably a functional delusion. It may be that this is partly why we see so much depression and anxiety today: by turning these affective relations to corrosive truth into pathologies, the denial allows the rest of us to go on. But to ask what comes after is also to ask: what remains?
The world after nihilism is populous. What rests beneath our zombie delusions and mythologies are countless sensuous bodies. What is revealed is a world composed of material entities in energetic interactions that exist within a vast mesh of ecological metabolism. Bodies jostle and exchange in, against, across and through one another in what we could conceive as transcorporeal (‘across-body’). What is of value in this view is that while our cognitions are unreliable, shot through with myth-making, we nonetheless have our embodied sapience, the wisdom of bodies that are practically engaged in a world structured and coordinated by and as assemblages of other bodies.
The term transcorporeality is borrowed from feminist materialist philosopher Stacey Alaimo and is intended to help us frame the way the world is, to provide us with an ontology. Transcorporeal reality assembles all bodies as intimately implicated with one another such that the possibility of embodied contact between things, flows, relations and excitations – whether they are human or inhuman, geological or machine, animal or informational – remains the natural condition. The philosophical question of whether we can know reality ‘in itself’ is no longer our concern: materially and consequentially we are always already in corporeal contact with the real, even if our phenomenal experience and cognitive systems can never do justice to that contact.
In such a world bodies are thus choreographed activities rather than static objects, and they are always open to and composed of one another’s activities. Your body is in part the expression of genes and their organic machine code, a morphology that has responded to natural and urban environmental pressures and a responsive pragmatic necessity, foreign bacteria, climatic conditions, the sun, as well as a host of other bodies of both microscopic and cosmic scales. They are rhythmic compositions that synchronise and become dissonant, penetrate and are penetrated, embedded in and emerging from the crowded complexity of hot and cold tempos, conducts, demands, and needs. They are as much spaces and habitats as they are spaced and inhabiting. Above all, this means they are plastic and vulnerable.
After nihilism, then, are embodied realisations of and exposures to vibrant ecologies of being offering an ultimately untameable wilderness which we participate in on an equal footing with all other bodies, even if we have an unequal ecological effect. In order to cope-with and cope-within the wilderness of being we must abandon the charnel-house of meaning and its theological tyrannies once and for all. As coping-beings we must leave our reifications behind in order to engage in post-nihilist praxis: an ecologistics of tracing these rhythms and activities, their multiple couplings and decouplings, and taking responsibility for our way of cohabiting in, with and alongside other bodies.
Such a mutant pragmatism also recognises the practicality of cultivating a carnal ethics and corporal politics of vulnerable bodies capable of abandoning all essentialisms, all magical thinking, and to attend to the naked, porous materiality of the world. The death of God is a profound liberation; this sadness is the mourning for a ruined world we must leave behind. We are Nietzsche’s bastards.
We have suffered so much talk of ‘living in the end times’ with its paralysis of thought and action. Post-nihilist praxis refuses the sadness of nihilism along with the myopic comforts of pre-Catastrophic ideological certainties. We have already lived through the collapse of conditions for possibility of certainty, what R. Scott Bakker calls “the semantic apocalypse”, and the ecological collapse has already begun: in this sense we are already living after the end of the world. And so amid the ongoing debates on how to resuscitate a disintegrating world that refuses to die we begin to sift through the ruins – as it is only from the ruins that we can rebuild.
WRITTEN BY ARRAN CRAWFORD & MICHAEL JAMES
PUBLISHED IN Occupied Times of London #26 // Apocalypse Now? OCTOBER 18, 2014
* This is only a sketch of what a post-nihilist praxis might consist. The post-nihilist tendency remains less a worked out position as it is a point of taking-leave. Variations of this tendency continue to be generated. (See, for example, the Out of the Woods Collective who have independently concretised the demand for a post-nihilist praxis in their discussion of the tactics and strategies of ‘Disaster Communism‘ – an ecological politics that shares a family resemblance with our own position. Or the Dark Mountain Project focusing on “cultural responses to an age of ecological collapse, material contraction and social and political unravelling”.)
did this get the kinds of responses that you guys were hoping for?
I’m not sure I was hoping for any response in particular…
If anything I would like discussions to revolve around a number of key issues:
1) the deflation of human phantasy – via investigation into the inherent limits of human cognition, and including facilitating cultural/popular acknowledgement of and working with tendencies towards bias, reification, and dogma/ideology (as well as the role of evolved affective neuro-circuitry; fear, loss-aversion, etc.)
2) the subsequent reframing human sapience and social activities in accordance with working sets of modified scientific/materialist images and discourse.
3) exploring possibilities for radicalizations of local to global politics in relation to infrastructural change (inclusive of human habitation, water and food access, energy use, and population vulnerabilities) and adaptation to the ongoing and intensifying combined and uneven eco-social “disasters”.
4) a reinvigoration of materialist praxis (ecologistics) – via increased appreciated for the material and ecological dynamics (transcorporeal causal relations) that drive, influence and structure action and behavior, and masked by ideology.
5) accumulation of strategies for survival, mitigation and adaptation to civilizational collapse, social unrest, and ecological catastrophe.
Are there more? I’m sure there are.
What say you Dirk? Do you have any constructive redirections re: the article? Our project? The whole post-nihil sentiment? Reactions..
hey michael, nothing new strikes me since we went back and forth about the pre-publication, poor andy pickering (who as you know has a very similar project) in that recent talk i just posted says he feels like his work puts him in outer-space (not on the same planet as the moral majority) and i can relate so was wondering if the format of this piece connected with folks and if so how.
It’s been all positive feedback so far, but not much by way of discussion. There will be strong resistance to the kinds of cognitive results nihilism can produce – since everything hitherto in our culture has been catered to have people safe-guard their habituated semantic-complexes (cognitive habits of association). From the institutionalizing effects of Religion, to the smooth functional delivery of consumer choice massaged by capitalist systems, human phantasy shows no signs of slowing its colonization of the Real.
And without axiomatic negation (nihilism as an adopted cognitive event) there can be no sense-able ecological praxis – no deflationary reflection on vibrant bodies. People have not suffered enough (apparently) to have done with the judgment of God.
Tell Pickering he can come join us here if he wants to amplify the ecologistic resonance machines.
glad it was well received as it was well written, one never knows before hand how these things will fly. haven’t had much luck in the past luring andy into the blogosphere but will certainly keep him in the loop as we make our ways going forward.
This is a very lucid account of what is required. The only thing is- I was trying to talk to this last night to a couple of very committed active anarchists- is that I think the reorientations around politics might also involve a deflation of political action. You know I describe myself as an anarchist but I often have doubts about that. For instance, I was at an action yesterday. A solidarity action for an anti-militarism action undertaken some months back. In the end I was left wondering whether both these actions weren’t a kind of attempt at consciousness-raising for people who aren’t interested in having their consciousness raised, if you follow. To say it otherwise, is there a contradiction between 3) and 5).
By the way…this could be expanded somewhat into a kind of pamphlet-y thing. Although that too is probably too close to the old modes of doing things 🙂
yeah the 60’s psychology of consciousness-raising doesn’t pan out in our current understanding of cog-biases and all, and I have serious reservations that anyone will be able to re-engineer collective actions in ways which don’t get bogged down in the usual ways so for me the question is more how do we get by patching bits and pieces of what is at hand in any particular situation and how to cultivate individual sense-abilities/response-abilities that match our actual limits of grasp/power, shedding our heroic wishful/horde thinking if you will.
I certainly sympathize with the notion of developing a ‘new kind of politics’. As you know my working slogan is ‘politics is infrastructure” – which is to say that social organization is largely determined by ecosystemic dynamics (which for me includes social and semiotic exchanges). ‘Infrastructure’ is how humans seek out and facilitate forms of life in relation to the inherent tensions of collective history and the ambient realties of natural affordance.
So problem I have with existing ‘politics’ is how most actions and engagements overemphasize the existential (ego development, identity, sentiment, cognitive biases, preferences) and ideological register in ways that neglect the more material-structuring dimensions that determine social fields. This is neglect seems inherent to most politics. Alternatively, a possible infrastructural (ecologistical) approach would focus on seeking change within the existing ecosocial configurations and functional processes of any given field/situation in order to change the causal dynamics and expressions therein.
Humans build habitats and systems that provide feedback processes and habits of expression where experiencing bodies come to subsist, know and express themselves. We carve out habitats, lifestyles, means of expression and symbolic exchange via systems of water distribution, energy generation and use, sanitation, transportation, etc., that occasion or support various institutional spaces and places and processes (“structures”) feeding back to perpetuate, intensify and/or select particular social practices (linguistic/discursive, behavioral). And any sociopolitical exchanges are entangled and to a large extent determined in specific ways by such non-discursive processes.
Of course Marx provided the most cogent early formulation of the material (ecological) basis for social formation and exchange, but many people have filled in the theoretic blanks since with regards to how “culture” and media, and other forms of symbolic and communicative power, extend and contribute to the general ecology of things.
In fact most power-wielders on both sides of the (ridiculously deceiving and parochial) political spectrum have known since ancient times that ‘history’ is determined by the causal dynamics of resource access, energy exertion, and technic superiority. War is just the confrontation between particular kinds of complex machinic and expressive assemblages in particular circumstances/ecologies. And complex governance infrastructures (municipalities, states) are only variations in assembly – albeit somewhat unique in the causal matrices they generate. All this to say real ‘power’ is ecological (material and organizational).
To be clear, by emphasizing the infrastructural/ecological I’m not trying to completely eliminate the existential and ideological registers. Human experience and belief and aspirations are a part of the general ecology and key parts of infrastructural process viz. deliberation and the coordination of expressive bodies. Rather I advocate a transvaluation of all political and cultural exchange as it relates to material-energetic organization. This includes mitigating the role of ideology in collective decision-making via technics (routinized diagnostic infrastructure, etc.) without annihilating the personal-agentic/existential level of affect organization.
The task for us now is to seek ways of understanding, appreciating, tracking, engaging and adjusting to the various complexities involved in any given context. Politics, in this sense, is about how we cope-with human and non-humans, and how humans can adapt within particular ecologies. Infrastructure as the material, energetic, technical, communicative and symbolic medium of human life is politics.
That said, I do not see a conflict between #3 and #5 because both need to be mutated via some type of nihilist/post-intentional deflation of the ideological basis for determining efficacy and impact. An ideologically minimalist appraisal of possible strategic deployments is paramount when developing an intensified post-nihilist political praxis. We need to find out what actually works to generate positive outcomes for the general ecology, how that works, and attempt to understand and track whatever complex consequences follow. We must remember that the recursive and adpatational nature of post-nihilist praxis/ecologistics is open and ongoing (and enactive) in this respect.
But is this feasible given the idealisms inherent to politics as is? Or will we have to wait until all the supports given to ideologically-based collectivization and politicking have finally collapsed – viz. human populations forced to re-prioritize their actions (communicative and otherwise) and habits around survival or mere subsistence?
Wonderful piece. I love the continental gothic tone! You actually acknowledge the boggling dimensions of the problem, which sets it apart. People need to understand how the information tsunami is just getting started, and that all traditional verities, even those that style themselves as radical, are going to be roundly recontextualized – out of existence if history is to be any guide. For me (1) and (2) are the crux of the matter. The problem really consists in getting to (3) without having first settled (1) and (2). (4) and (5) are important, but as speculative horizons, primarily.
(1) is the critical project of dismantling noocentrism, something required to block the abductive exits. (2) is the positive project of reconceiving the human in post-intentional terms. As it happens, the science continues to leap ahead the philosophy, and there’s a number of radical reconceptualizations out there.
(3) for me is the Holy Grail. The governance of life goes on regardless, but what consequence does understanding the nature of that governance hold for governance? I just don’t know how to get there yet, but I feel I’ve travelled far enough down (1) and (2) to begin making some preliminary guesses. You need (1) to motivate the defection from (what seems) commonsense intuition. You need (2) because you need an alternate account of human nature.
(3) aims to provide a theoretical groundwork for a post-intentional ethics/politics – this is arguably the biggest theoretical challenge facing humanity. It seems clear to me at least that our conduct-governing systems are heuristic, adapted to solve in the absence of the very information the sciences of the human are producing. But what does this mean? This is where we line up our guesses and debate their relative merits, always remembering that, empirically speaking, anything could be the case. We could be totally fucked, but we might not be.
So although I definitely appreciate the resignation in your concluding tone, it serves to remember it remains an open question.
I was pressed pretty hard on this in that Scientia Salon piece. I still think we’re likely screwed, but…
“The human race sleepwalked to oblivion, thinking only of the corporate logos on its shroud”
– J.G. Ballard
Thanks for the encouragement. Reading it now I cringe at how it flows (or doesn’t) thematically. I think we tried to pack too much into our sentences at the expense of readability.
I agree re: recontextualization. Even the keenest among seem ill-equipped to cognitively cope with the realities we inhabit. The future might grind us all up in its informational-material gears. As I indicated to Arran above I think we are going to need a radical reformation in infrastructure (broadly conceived) to be able to accommodate intensifying changes in human and non-human systems.
As far as 1# and #2 I think it’s a race against ‘time’, in the sense that education and a cultural diffusion of scientific images of humanity might occur at a rate that prevents ecological disaster. “Dismantling noocentrism”, as you say, is hard business and may not be achieved without a massive humbling via the collapse of civilizational supports.
In terms of politics, check out what I wrote to Arran above. What I suggest there is my first attempt at a post-nihilist/post-intentional governance model.
And is collapse still an open question? I don’t see the wiggle room given recent climate models matched to stats on industrial/carbon outputs, not to mention factoring the processes at work in our financial ‘climate’, and the vulnerability of nuclear technologies as related to the coming anarchies..? From a scientific-empirical standpoint is collapse both semantic and civilizational avoidable at this point?
The thing is, I think about the past compared to now – seems like murder every five seconds. Murdering peasants when they uprise after being oppressed. Mass murder and rape after breaking into castles. Slavery, including sex slavery, all over the place.
And this was pretty much our richest belief point.
Is the existential angst perhaps felt on the matter really just a bunch of inner monsters, dying?
Is the real concern people have actually that all we have is a bunch of inner monsters? And they are all dying?
I think the situation now is much darker. Not all of our ‘inner monsters’ or idols of mind/ Gods are dying. Certainly some ‘gods’ still loom large in the personal and social imaginaries of humans, and ideologies of all sorts still spread like so much disease online, in church, in the boardroom, etc. – affording various maladaptive circuits of disposition, kludged coherences and motivational sets which generate a variety of cultural performances. ISIS is a fascinating albeit sad example of idealist-based social expressions attempting to fill the void left by deconstructed social niches. And other fundamentalisms abound.
What we see as collapsing is the rational-empirical basis for justifying such Idols, ideologies and practices. The objective condition of the planet is thwarting all our attempts at doxa installation and rationalized stability. We are fucking up so bad that it becomes debilitatingly obvious just how ridiculous and confused we are as individuals and in groups.
As historical reflection suggests: Tribalism lead to genocide; traditionalism lead to the Inquisition; Modernism leads to ecological disaster, fascist organization and the WWs; technorationality leads to Fukushima; Post-modernism leads to consumer culture, etc., and so on. The very infrastructure that supports inflated discourse and “ism” games is unravelling.
So our question is: given the ruinous and calamitous state of human affairs, and the inherent limitation to our metacognitive reflexivity, what kinds of alternative cognitive, communicative, social and material practices can we now devise that will help us meet what seems to be a very precarious future?
Well, I think it needs to draw from the ink that is the progress on how much less we are murdering ourselves. Otherwise posts like yours seem to end up treating it as if there is only more consumer culture or more Fukishima, etc – ie, that that is all that is happening. Treating it that there are only problems being made. I suspect its actually a desire to just get back to a moralising – an attempt to avoid the subject that moralising failed to reduce killings (it increased them!) and something else reduced killings, not moralising. And the god of moralising doesn’t like that.
So moralising is going to have to enter discussion that includes frames where it failed and other processes suceeded. Without moralising going into self referencing rationalisation (“Those people deserved to die, so they don’t count against moralisings success! Why did they deserve it? Because…morals!”).
I mean really – genocide, inquisition…and consumer culture??? Why not list Hitler, Genghis Khan and that guy who sings off key on the bus while listening to his walkman? Does the third thing really fit with the other two?
On ‘ISIS’ that’s like calling a zombie by the name it had when it was actually alive. It’s a thing driven by the urge to hold severed heads by the skalp in front of a nokia phone, now. Looking on it as a sad example is like tut tut uncle Fred as he feeds on brains. There is no uncle Fred. ISIS is either the name you give the zombie, or it’s the name you let go of. I might be snapping at you over it, but from what I’ve seen, I can’t engage a sense of sadness about what is/was just an organisation.
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I got a great deal of reassurances from the post compared to what I perceive when I take a look around. The idea that all of creation was designed to make an ape is goofy when you look out at all of creation. We are one tiny step away from becoming feral savages when we need to be protective of what we cherish. But that feral savage needs to be there because we exist on a plant predicated on killing to survive. You kill and eat living foodstuff to survive, this is a savage world. Communities will never share, there is going to be atrocities because of Jealousy and Rage are a part of us. It is not gloomy to me, it is a challenge and some excitement at overcoming a savage world. There are going to be times when moving forward hurts someone and moving backwards hurts someone as well as not moving hurting someone else.
There is a saying that states two people can both be right and both have opposite opinions. Perspective is what we see and know to be right and wrong. It is personal to us as we all see things through our experiences.
I for one believe in creation. And by golly every scientists knows we were created, our planet was created and life was created by one particular thing. I like to question the idea that, to have something create us and call it a God…does that God have to be immortal or be the only God out there?
Michael: it probably comes as no surprise that I agree with what you’ve written in reply to my comment on politics. I am also interested in an ecologistical politics, one that is infra-structural. When I said ‘deflationary of political action’ I meant it in the sense of evaluating how our politics work, what they are actually doing in the ecological situation with all its constraints and so on. What I was getting at is the potential that there is a ritualistic politics that merely reproduces itself alongside that which it is ‘against’ so that it forms a coherent part of the situation. By way of explanation, there are things that were good about the solidarity action, but it was largely in terms of a show of empathy with those on trial, who were arrested carrying out an action that disrupted a drone factory for a day. now a day of disruption costs them money, is an inconvenience, brings attention to things. I’m not saying its pointless. I’m saying it isn’t what people seem to celebrate it as- as perhaps necessarily celebrate it as. The most important thing I have been involved in is the development of a social centre because it is infrastructural.
I completely agree on the points regarding working within constraint. Remember I used to talk a lot about strategic openness/ tactical pragmatism..the first thing I ever had published not on my own blog was about this…and by that I mean a collective politicisation of Epictetus: some things are under our control, some things are not. Work out what is in your power, what is in your capacity- constrained entirely by the ecosocial/the practico-inert- and work from there. This is the context in which I first used the my mantra “build from the ruins”.
I also totally agree that “real power is infrastructural”. Yes, wars have always been for resource, and yes, I agree with Virilio, technology in tandem with war has played a highly determining feature in the development of societies.
“The task for us now is to seek ways of understanding, appreciating, tracking, engaging and adjusting to the various complexities involved in any given context. Politics, in this sense, is about how we cope-with human and non-humans, and how humans can adapt within particular ecologies. Infrastructure as the material, energetic, technical, communicative and symbolic medium of human life is politics”- this is exactly how I defined ecologistics. The requirement for an ecologistical politics is why I decided to put a call out for a collision of anarchism and speculative thought
So we’re in general agreement. Hell, that’s why SZ became a thing. So that contradiction between 3 and 5 isn’t quite how you read it, which is my fault for vagueness, and for importing a pre-existent concern onto something you haven’t said.
My point was that so much of our current political visions are based on a world we no longer inhabit, they exist as politics that aren’t sufficiently infrastructural, and that aren’t perhaps “pre-ecologistic”. I took your statement on local/global politics and read my own concern in there that the politics we have, whoever that we is, are from the dead world, pre-collapse. They won’t serve. I realise you were talking about adaptation, a program I agree with, that is the essence of non-destructive forms of coping (destructive forms are things like drug addiction, denial, conservatism, strong reactivations of theological modes, that kind of thing). Clinging to old modes is a form of conservatism viewed from a post-nihilistic point of view. To my mind this means that a very good deal of existing Marxism, anarchism, what have you, these are precisely conservative politics. This is acutely difficult for me to accept, to hold onto, to be “mindfully” aware of, and to integrate because, the question of whether or not I identify as an anarchist placed to one side, I am attached to those forms of thinking and to those modes of action. I am a member of the Anarchist Federation. Some of my friends are members of the same organisation.
So its a problem I feel acutely. Sometimes this dissonance is a real problem. This is part of why I have been talking on Facebook recently about behavioural analysis as the tool for revealing commitments. The question isn’t one of identities but of practices and behaviours…whatever are my commitments are revealed through these and only these…anything else is a story. A behaviourist Sartrean, if you like, I realise so much of my declarative commitments, identifications, and so on, are, frankly, bullshit. Still, if I call myself an anarchist it is because I am in an anarchist organisation, because I couple to other anarchos, to a body called Glasgow Anarchist Federation, which is coupled to a bigger body called The International Federation of Anarchists, which couples to other international structures. This *is* infrastructural already…and the group I’m involved with in Glasgow is really a rhythmic operator…it establishes resonances; a machinic interface with the primary function of coupling various agencies together. It is part of a body. Another group is the solnet (which I am a bad member of actually)….a group actually building means of surviving right now that also images a possible future by directly practicing mutual aid in the here and now.
So I want to echo Scott that 3 is, as he put it, ‘arguably the biggest theoretical challenge facing humanity’. 3 is not a settled problem, and in large part what happens with 3 must be determined by 5. What use is it having forms of socio-political organisation that think they exist in the pre-catastrophic world? That is where the conservatism- or better “delusional conservationism”- of so many actually existing politics comes in. But scaling up from that- the global organisation..? Of course I don’t expect answers here and now, or five minutes down the line.
The first work of adaptation is actually going to be psychopolitical (psychotechnical?). Via a radicalisation of mindful approaches to psychology (that is, approaches that aren’t geared towards the maintenance of the existing order), via practices centred on an experience of the fact of psychosoma being all soma, of Earth, of various ecological embeddings, we have to come to a use of knowledge that overcomes the current hegemonic (what I’m calling) ARRC responses to the future: accelerate, rejoice, reactivate, conserve. These are all forms of denial that can might- I’m thinking on the fly now- roughly correlate to various techno-optimisms, (although not necessarily to accelerationism as a whole); Primitivism; ISIS-style theomilitancy/neo-reaction; and the kind of business as usual in which so much “left” and “right” politics takes place, respectively.
Maybe I’m not leaving enough scope here for the political imagination? I hope that is a bit clearer.
My comments were in no way meant as opposition, so no reason to qualify what you previous wrote. What I’m expressing is mere supplemental and perspectival.
I like what how you point out the “ritualistic” nature of most contemporary politics. I think politics as practiced in so-called developed countries has long been co-opted and trapped in cycles of ineffectively. Any action focusing primarily on emotional and cognitive levels of change is limited and quite honestly a distraction. Again, this is why ‘militant’ neo-liberals and communists alike know and operate on the premise that real politics is waged via resources and force, and regard discursive processes as a tactical field wherein deployment of the most effective propaganda is priority.
I was a black bloc participant at the G8 Summit in Kananaskis, Alberta, in 2002 and I observed so many ineffectual demonstrations by protestors that focused on expressions of “voice” and “solidarity” via sing-songs and chants and signs. These “actions” were utterly useless and did more to amuse, alienate and confirm the existing ideological biases of the mainstream Canadian public than it did to change business as usual. I watched as cops on horses and dressed as ninjas laughed and joked about protesters, and as business men and women rolled by in their Mercedes smirking. I decided then that all politics of signification and solidarity were at best cathartic, but mostly symptomatic of a general populous too enamored by their treasured values and abstract ideals to become aware of, let alone deal with, the deeper eco-material dynamics structuring their lives.
When you write “The most important thing I have been involved in is the development of a social centre because it is infrastructural”, I think you are on the right path. “Build from the ruins” can mean a tactical deconstruction or reconstruction of actual spaces and places that are ruinous in nature (detrimental to the general ecology) but not yet in ruins themselves. The point, of course, is biopsychosocial and material niche construction: enacting worldspaces (space-time matrices) where alternative forms of existence and exchange (flows) can emerge and become habitualized.
And, as you wrote, “pre-ecologistic” politics simply don’t have enough resonance and material potency to force change because they remain parasitic on a dying surplus and ruinous civilization. From an ecologistical perspective Marxism, anarchism, etc., are pre-nihilist programmes requiring re-purposing and retrofitting before being applied to specific situations. So being attracted to these cognitive algorithms and practices is fine as long as we ‘frame’ and accommodate them in a manner that does not fetishize or doxa-fy or routinize them, but instead uptakes them up as heuristic and genuinely open and compositional. The key is to be able to flexibly apply and revise and change (adapt) them according to the practical and bodily requirements, constraints and affordances within particular fields/causal matrices. We need to avoid being captured by our identifications and entangled in our differentiations by being open/sensitive to bodies and the rhythmic interactions of bodies – and by counteracting and supplementing our limited cognitive powers and ideational tendencies with extra-sensory inputs (everything from techno-scientific empirical methodologies to eye-glasses and smartphones to the internet).
And, yes, SZ is slowly becoming a medium for generating alternatives, at least at the level of cognition and informatics – a cyberspace that may someday act as a activating node between various meatspaces.
However, I don’t know if the first task is psycho-political or psycho-technical in nature? I think it might have to be based more on something like insurrectionary subsistence: a radical exiting from contemporary modes of subsistence, and then creation of localized production and sustainable food-cycles such that they attract bodies for the collectivizing alternative modes of existing and identifying. I think we need a politics of necessity that begets exploratory forms of psychosomatic development and exchange.
The psychopolitical task is first of all to accept the situation. Vast swathes of people don’t accept it. Shit, the situation is, in first bloom, and at various times if you get up close, depressing, despairing. Of course what comes after is what we’re interested in…but “after” is never total. The essential lesson of psychoanalysis was that the past can always reappear as repetition or as a trauma.
I’m liking the name insurrectionary subsistence. We see alternative modes of subsistence popping up all over the place, but they lack the insurrectional quality. In effect I’m for an insurrectionary everything if we mean creating new localized collectivities. For instance, I’m toying with the idea of calling for something like a distributed care system for mental health crises…a genuine nonpsychiatry that simply by existing would challenge its institutional role (let a thousand micro-Kingsley Hall’s bloom).
Acceptance is going to be a real problem for many of us still relatively removed from harsh realities of collapse. Until things start crashing down directly upon our personal situations many will only have a low grade understanding of what is happening.
I’m most interested in being able to offer people something to fall back upon, or move into after such crashes disintegrate previous modes of thought and existence than with convincing others in any conventional sense. What cognitive and practical affordances can be put in place as the old regimes enter their final decline? What resources can we provide? What lines of flight can be provided before extinction point? Ultimately this is salvagework – a building from not directly in opposition to what currently exists. I struggle with such reactionary elements within postnihil…
Although what I call glitchwork (as disruption, deterritorialization and negative acceleration ) is of interest to me as a means of facilitating transitions or guided declines. Species and plantary hospice prior to reformation? Glitchwork as a multileveled ecologistic programme of sabotage-salvaging-repurposing is then complimented by meshwork (as synthetic compositioning, reterritorialization and bridging of materials and information). Much more on this is forthcoming.
Insurrection as radical birthing of novel space-time ecologies…
“From war to hyper-exploitation, cultural immiseration to environmental devastation, these ‘dark and sinister dramas of modern social decadence’, as Bordiga dubbed them in 1956, challenge any comforting progressivist faith in the latency of emancipation.” – Alberto Toscano
There have no doubt been changes in social organization over time. And indeed some “progress” has been made, especially in technics and public civility, but i don’t know if that equates to drastic improvement in quality of life for the majority of the human species, considering the number of people living in abject poverty and the anomie, anxiety and sheer bordom many experience these days. And here I truly mean quality rather than quantity. There is mountains of ethnographic research that suggests most non-capitalist societies had much richer, intimate and meaningful lives before “progress” was jammed down their throats. I think its historically inaccurate to assume globalist civilization as it has played out thus far is an actual “advance” in modes of living as opposed to a non-valuative change.
Also, murder framed the way you want (as more or less random acts) has surely declined over time, but if you broaden your definition to include war do you still see a drastic decrease in the amount of corpses created by modern social systems? We could split hairs all over the place in this regard but for what result?
As it is with any reality things are never simple – so of course their has been ‘good news’ and ‘bad news’ when it comes to our current state of affairs. SO i’m not suggesting some singular development here (all bad news), only that the overall trajectory of civilization is leading towards collapse. Human populations and the social systems they enact have collapsed many times before [see Tainter 1988, Diamond 2005; LINK: http://monoskop.org/images/a/ab/Tainter_Joseph_The_Collapse_of_Complex_Societies.pdf%5D and our industrial-military-consumer complex will be no different given current ecological trends. In other words, there is nothing “moralizing” about acknowledging the material-energetic and ecological processes currently unfolding. Regardless of how any of us feel about any of this its still going to unfold primarily according to non-discursive dynamics. So lets deal with that.
And I agree: “moralising is going to have to enter discussion”. However, it is my contention that it enters in via a hyper-critical reappraisal of its efficacy and nature, and then a subsequent negation (ala nihilism) of its effects and operational role. Ethical deliberation is a matter of normative procedure in the context of collective action, whereas “moralizing” the reification of traditional-semantic valuation. The former is a praxis the latter is a pre-reflexive cognitive habit. But i digress.
You write: “I mean really – genocide, inquisition…and consumer culture??? Why not list Hitler, Genghis Khan and that guy who sings off key on the bus while listening to his walkman? Does the third thing really fit with the other two?”
Um, yeah it does. Consumer culture is a force of destruction (of deforestation, geological unsettling, desertification, climate change, mass species extinction, etc.) never seen on this planet before. Do you think the commodifcation and subsequent disruption of every natural ecosystem on this planet is a benign event???
Regardless of your analysis of ‘ISIS’ (which I think simplistically reduces a very complex situation) the fact remains that it has strong ideological aspects. Its tragic, brutal, disgusting, etc.,.. all that. Overall, what you call “just an organization” is still an actually existing assemblage that causes great harm regardless of its participants aspirations and disuse motivations, or how loose it hangs together.
Let me ask you this: is ‘ISIS’ or whatever you want to call it any different than the KKK or neo-nazis or The Shining Path (was) or Halliburton or BP in its aims of domination or its effect on living systems? The point is that ALL of these are/were assemblages of people and materials and discourse and practices seeking to influence and control various terrains, and post-nihilist praxis seeks to track the effects (and affects) and engage the distributed dynamics of situations beyond the ideologies and discourses they throw up, and without default reactionary reliance on the same second order abstractions and imaginaries that circulate as traditional political cultures.
(sorry if this comes off as offensive – it is a genuine question) but it seems like you are moralising here too, though… How can you claim to have passed through nihilism without having a personal crisis of valuation (in the nietzschean sense) – that is, how can you still hold on to these unreconstructed positive or negative valuations of Palestinians, or anti-cap, or racism, or brand logos, or consumer capitalism? On the truly nihilistic level all these things are as pure and innocent as each other. Why are extinction events bad? Or is this where the post-nihil begins? If so, then why does it look so similar to the species of mundane leftism we see everywhere?
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