Post-scarcity as Ethical & Political Project

this blog collective has consistently pursued the open question of how we might think of a post-nihilist praxis, a problem amenable to torsions activating new kinds of “resolutions” to such an open problem.

with that, i want to depart from an idea popularized by the anti-psychiatry movement from the 60s and 70s–“ontological precarity” (definition coming soon, below) is imbricated in a social field, a general economy of flows, political events, economic surges and downturns, and ecological stirrings.  a paranoiac’s relation to the world, just as a psychotic’s or a neurotic’s, they might argue, includes communication with elements that go far beyond the borders of one’s skin.  feelings of persecution, mania, depression are not dependent upon a hermetically sealed “meatbag,” but rather, involve the human being’s status as an “open system” in continuous communication and exchange with the world.  breathe-in air, perceive objects enmeshed with social meaning (or deviating from it, interestingly), letting out words and always indicating one’s posture facing the world, for a few examples.  but this open communication can be a rather risky operation, especially when you nor anyone else has total control over time, the cosmos, space, other people, and all those things that constitute us and the world we individually and collectively navigate.

who among us, for a more quotidian but pervasive example, does not feel anxiety today?  emerging ecological crises w/ the momentum of hundreds of years of capitalist economic activity releasing CO2 into the air, the continuing austerity and uncertainty of the future produced by neoliberalism (“the god that failed”) and the global financial crisis of last decade, their consequent spawning of a cohort of new fascisms springing up with Trump et al., severe political crisis and instability globally, and horrifying violence signaling both swaths of people (e.g. ISIS) and individuals (e.g. the Orlando shooter; the knife attack in Sagamihara, Japan; etc.)…i’m sure there’s plenty that could be added, things that i’m missing, but i think we have the general picture forming before us.  i’d be surprised if it didn’t–it’s nothing new.  “business-as-usual.”


there’s plenty, in short, of reasons for anxiety today.  a general sense of insecurity, of precarity, regarding the present and future conditions of existence for oneself, loved ones, and the rest of those less proximate individuals involved in this experiment called “civilization.”  it is very easy to deduce or incur the debilitating sense that “the future has been cancelled,” and that the present isn’t worth living.  it is this precarity that binds us, an affect or comportment that we all share to differing extents.  we are all precarious about our existences today in an era of ecological, economic, political, and social crises: “ontological precarity.”


the dank meme attests

this ontological precarity is, i want to claim, one way of understanding the nihilism that we at SZ would like to position ourselves as “post-” to.  nihilism as premised upon precarity…upon scarcity.  a real scarcity just as much as an organized and engineered scarcity:

“terminal resource depletion, especially in water and energy reserves, offers the prospect of mass starvation, collapsing economic paradigms, and new hot and cold wars.  continued financial crisis has led governments to embrace the paralyzing death spiral policies of austerity, privatisation of social welfare services, mass unemployment, and stagnating wages.” (Srnicek + Williams, Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics)

The challenge, then, for any praxis with the ambition to be “post-nihil(ist)” lies in part with taking up the problem of scarcity as both real and as in need of “overcoming” ethically and politically, individually and collectively.  in today’s climate (see above), this bears the ring of a heresy, something which our situation’s closing horizons today permit no “belief” for.  and yet, that seems to be precisely what any progressive political project worth its salt requires today, a belief that we are indeed not at “the end of history” (is there an uglier phrase, one dripping more with venomous inhibition?)…but not a belief for its own sake.  instead, a “belief” that un-rivets us from our learned helplessness writ large.  an opening up of a future that could motivate its own construction, like a time-loop of positive feedback.  an un-riveting that enables alternative ways of thinking and acting than those over-coded by the logic of scarcity.

one that lets us interact with each other on kinder terms, in more humane and error-tolerant ways striving to reject the primacy of counter-productive aggressive behaviors and the defensive complexes they arise from.  less “homo homini lupus / man is a wolf to man” (hobbes) and more “hominem homini Deus esse / man is a god to man” (spinoza).  not as if precarity and scarcity do not exist, but b/c none of us have scarcity as an “idea of the good” that would sustain us throughout our lives.  i mean, yes, we come to “desire servitude as if it were our freedom,” (spinoza) but if we could somehow be given the option “deep down” between scarcity and “post-scarcity,” we would pick the option that involved less fear, less screaming, less explosions, less self-destructive death drives, less exhaustion, and more good encounters with other people, more of a sense of agency, more control over living lives that we actually enjoy, more space for care ethics and enjoying vulnerability, more free time to use as we see fit.  in other words, we would opt for the post-scarcity and its less disabling, more enabling conditions for human freedom.  (the more universal we define these as, the more people can envision themselves as a part of such a project)

this un-riveting, both practiced and desired, also modifies our space and vision of possibilities.  if one thinks that there is no future remaining, or finds the present endlessly horrifying, then it becomes more difficult to think of ethico-political activity that would not only not be futile, but worth the effort.  why work towards a future that isn’t going to be there?  it’s hard to motivate one’s desire for post-scarcity anything if it’s disavowed as a fact of life, left to rot without any experience of post-scarcity to suggest and impel otherwise.  in so far as drugs, for example, can be found in these moments of spinning in the void, they appear friendly precisely b/c of the way that they satisfy that need of ours to feel that something else is possible, even if only for a fleeting time.  however, if one can experience post-scarcity, or understand it as a good-in-itself given its effects for us, then there is a perceptual opening up of the future-horizon allowing one to project such post-scarcity into the future as a good that is on the table again.  this in turn propels behavior, organizational planning, and thinking that can take such post-scarcity as an (complex) object to be materialized through individual and collective effort.  now, as always, political (and ethical too, for that matter) success for such a demanding project is not guaranteed beforehand, and this one is no different.  but to respond to today’s problems and crises, nothing less will do for any humanism with universalist ambitions.

if the philosopher nick land got anything right, it is the recognition of the force of our desire for libidinal dis-inhibition.  such dis-inhibition is incredibly effective as a motivator, something that we desire in so far as we can be freed from something oppressive towards the hope of something else better than what is currently given (whether situational present or anticipated future).  an interlinking of a dynamic between negative freedom (“freedom from”) and positive freedom (“freedom to”).  freedom fromthe limits and violence and fear of scarcity, and freedom to the ease and abundance and flourishing of post-scarcity.  (an aside: critique does an excellent job of the former, but can’t quite do the job of the latter as, say invention can.)  it is both, but especially the latter, that progressive, universalist humanist projects today need to become better at formulating.

take back control.”  “make america great again.”

inscribed in both of these cynical injunctives are both kinds of freedom.  there are insinuations that control has been lost, or that america is not / no longer great.  these are the perceived inhibited conditions that boris johnson and donald trump target for their discontent, for their fear, for what people desire deliverance from.  but there are also glimmers of promised effects tucked away as well in these slogans.  one can enjoy agency again, one can have one’s voice heard and participate in and directly affect the collective and the nation.  one can not only be delivered from scarcity, but also delivered towards what scarcity inhibits, to the post-scarcity goods of a sense of agency over one’s life (rather than subjected to vicissitudes) and lending one’s agency for the desirable-in-itself project of greater collective freedom.  the broad brushstrokes of these slogans can be ambiguous as to what specific policies are put forward, but it is clear that they are utilizing not only mechanisms of negative freedom–about anyone today has a list of things they’d like to be free from!–but also positively articulating the intrinsic good of a sense of agency related to augmenting individual and collective autonomy / freedom.

has *anyone* ever given you that woman’s look before? have you inspired that in another person?

trump’s supporters enjoy him perhaps not so much b/c they think his policies can really be carried out, but b/c he offers what bernie sanders offers and what neither hillary nor any of the republican candidates offer/ed: a “collective hallucination” or collective fantasy that they are indeed part of the formation of alternatives in a time when america is certainly not “great.”  the feeling of moving somewhere and enjoying the wind under one’s feet, whether at one of their rallies or even extending to the internet phenomenon of bernie sanders’ dank meme stash (deserving an analysis all on its own) and its own surprising success at creating a culture of support not enjoyed by any of the other candidates.

it’s not about picking one  kind of freedom over the other, but recognizing the necessity to mobilize both for ethico-political projects of post-scarcity.  the popularity of the leftist-tending phenomena of bernie sanders and jeremy corbyn, in the same countries, speaks to not only their ability to articulate the problems to be delivered from, but also what goods conducive to humanist agency that could be concretely moved towards (e.g. free college, re-nationalize social institutions like the NHS)…effectively implying that not only can there indeed can be a future, but it can be a desirable one that doesn’t have to be “scarcity-business-as-usual.”


“and in that moment i swear we were infinite”

this is also the draw of the (in)famous #FullyAutomatedLuxuryCommunism (#FALC…can that make us #FALCons???  god, plz, yes).  rather than restrict progressive desire to critique alone, some cheeky marxists wanted to play around with the idea that, “so, yeah, shouldn’t we all have all the luxury items we want and just have a blast together?”  re-purposing the capitalist desires we all develop or incur simply by living inside capitalist society, #FALC gestures towards a program of libidinal engineering meant to siphon this capitalist desire towards the support of leftist political approaches.  (memes are great for this, btw)


come on people, even those in the early 60s knew that #FALC was the way to go!

if projects of the emancipatory / progressive / leftist / humanist variety leave the articulation and demonstration of the plausibility of post-scarcity to the neo-fascists, the alt-right, the conservatives, chauvinists, and traditionalists, then we should not be surprised that people will be more likely to vote for the latter.  and doubtless, the right’s visions of post-scarcity will not be universalist in their ambition, meaning post-scarcity for some, scarcity-as-usual for those excluded from whatever they define their in-group as.  no doubt that real constrictions resulting from scarcity exist:–but so do tendencies angling at post-scarcity, like robotic automation of labor, renewable energy sources, and universal basic income (UBI), that need to be elaborated as existing and plausible.  “objects” for positive projects that can motivate their own materialization, which is perhaps one way to differentiate (-) and (+) freedoms in the face of some of their shared features.

so in short, the “post-” of post-scarcity needs to imply both the “negative” relation of departure from scarcity, and the temporal sense of articulating a future that isn’t premised upon scarcity alone to mark its desirability:–“i’m sorry, [gender neutral title for robot elementary teachers] X87B9, but are you saying that past humans actually worked for more than 10 hours each week?  would even die from not having enough food?” ***horrified***.


__/ post-nihilist praxis \__

5 responses to “Post-scarcity as Ethical & Political Project

  1. this is helpful thanks for spelling it out, will come back to this later with more time/care but a quick question when you say “ontological” scarcity are you just underlining the fact that there are real limits to aspects of life like the amount of physical resources available and or our own critterly limits of grasping/fixing/etc, or is this a gesture to something more meta-physical like Zizek on Lack?

  2. as in the plot of Pixar’s Walle, not the opera la wally, where there is scarcity of life post-leap

    so this is well written and interesting bur circumloquatious. hard to believe scarcity will not be manufactured somewhere to induce demand

  3. I think we can all agree that post-scarcity is a desirable goal, but I don’t think it’s the absence of a goal that leads people to nihilism, but the question of *how* to get there. That’s the much more difficult issue and the one that generates nihilistic despair. There are 196 countries on the planet and world population is 7.4 billion. In order to do anything, consensus and collectives need to be built so common action can be pursued, yet we are deeply at odds with one another and can’t even agree one what reality is (and have a thick media system that makes this even more difficult). This is the nut that needs to be cracked: not *what* is worth pursuing, but *how* to feasibly achieve that good or that aim. There’s an additional problem here as well. Post-scarcity and environmental sustainability appear, at least, to be in contradiction to one another. On the surface, at least, it seems that a post-scarcity world would be an environmental disaster, bringing about the complete destruction of the planet. How, then, to achieve post-scarcity without destroying the planet? Adequate answers to these questions requires precise and careful mapping of social systems and their ecology at their technological, material, infrastructural, semiotic, collective, geographical, communicative, and affective levels so as to determine where the knots exist that inhibit collectives and fill them with sad passions and where alternatives can be built.

    • hey levi thanks for pitching in, and indeed “Adequate answers to these questions requires precise and careful mapping of social systems and their ecology at their technological, material, infrastructural, semiotic, collective, geographical, communicative, and affective levels so as to determine where the knots exist that inhibit collectives and fill them with sad passions and where alternatives can be built.” some efforts along these lines over @
      and hopefully edmund will return at some point to his own efforts @
      we would welcome any and all help

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