Antipolitics and the Inhuman

An excellent commentary on the insurrectionary possibilities of embracing an antipolitical stance when accommodating technological acceleration. Garton continues to impress.

The Cyclonograph

A lightly edited transcript of a paper given at a symposium on machines and automation in Cardiff on May 5, 2017.

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Is it possible to conceive of society without politics?

Even in principle the question seems hard to fathom. Though many of us may wish to minimise the influence of politics on our lives, it seems that the existence of any society must, in some sense, be preconditioned by it. That distinction between friend and enemy which Carl Schmitt posited to be the heart of ‘the political’ is a radical consequence and condition of the very existence of societies as objects distinct from other societies, and as attempts collectively to reconcile the antagonisms inherent to human existence. The polis emerges necessarily from the socius as a unit of human life.

Yet while the idea of philosophy as being even potentially an antipolitical enterprise is now unfashionable, indeed in view of the…

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10 responses to “Antipolitics and the Inhuman

  1. Yup. Garton is doing some of the most interesting stuff at the minute. I drew on this post for a comment on a previous thread here. I think the Stirner revival is fascinating. For me he is a haunting figure (no pun intended). He was the first philosopher I fell in love with and no matter how far away I get from him- denials of his idealism, his dialectical dead-ending, his ambiguous political offspring- he remains someone I cannot get away from. Garton’s lengthier piece on Urbanomics and this one together is doing a great job of bringing back a focus on the anti-Hobbesian ideas that mesh so well with Bataillean anti-sovereignty. The last time the direct references to anti-Hobbes was en vogue (that I remember) was via Paulo Virno. The convergence is noteworthy because it is in his 2004 Grammar of the Multitude where Virno starts to gesture towards a leftist discourse on exit//exodus. I think Virno’s can be a more interesting point of departure in talking about exit. Here he is in interview giving a schematic definition of exit:

    “No, I am not referring necessarily to a territorial exodus, but rather to desertion in one’s own place: the collective defection from the state bond, from certain forms of waged work, from consumerism. Some authors, like Albert Hirschman, affirm that sometimes in protests, the voices don’t manage to reach a change and are then only able to leave the game, run away. For that it is not only necessary to destroy certain things but also to construct, to have a positive proposal, so that exodus will no remain a solitary act.”

    The timeliness of this is key. In the UK we’re experiencing peak-Corbyn. A wave has swollen and it is tempting to give in to the belief that a Corbyn government is now inevitable. The next temptation is to believe this will be a radical government. In fact this social democratic movement will simply be less worse. This is a reversion to the very Left-Wing Nationalism that Deleuze and Guattari advised us to accelerate away from. Nick Land has commented that the movement in favour of LWN amounts to a relapse of L/ACC into a variety of mild 20thC socialism. Returning to Virno, we see exit//exodus formulated as a refusal to fall into this trap. What Virno says in the following interview response shows the horrible symmetries of “kitsch” left nostalgia with the kind of Brexiteering bullshit the UK is also enduring:

    “It is not only an Argentine problem, also Italy or in France there exists the temptation to consider the National State as a refuge, a salvation in the face of globalization. Considering the National State as the place of possible exodus in the face of globalization, its violence, its laws. But this – in Argentina, as in France and Italy – is a complete illusion, a daydream that always run the risk of turning into a nightmare. Exodus is not nostalgic, but to consider the National State as refuge is nostalgic. Exodus is not a step back, but is rather leaving the land of the Pharaoh; the land of the Pharaoh was until one or two generations ago the National State, today it is the Global State, and the National States are like empty shells, like empty boxes and, for that, upon them is made an emotive investment but, naturally, that is very dangerous because it runs the risk of transforming sooner or later into xenophobia or, in every manner, into a rabid and subaltern attitude at the same time: rabies and subalternity together.”

    Fundamentally what passes for politics today is an attempt to pretend that the catastrophe isn’t already happening because it has already taken place.

    • The foundation of modern politics is rotten (or in process of ruination) and mostly functions as spectacle only.

      Governing systems are for facilitating social contracts and concentrated infrastructural projects, but have become completely reformatted by capitalist procedures and aims. Can we re-build or design better systems-states? Not if we continue to look at them as natural enemies of the individual (and thus remain locked into a politics of ego) and continue to ignore who controls them, how, and for what ends and with what outcomes.

      Sovereignty is a bullshit concept. There are no true binary systems. No systems of complete capture or control. Everything remains exposed and ‘outside’, and thus open to differing degrees. And with this inherent plasticity we can have agency and “freedom” while also participating in larger systems.

      The catastrophe is indeed unfolding and the old ways of erecting collective polity may also be dying, but let us never forget that we had mechanisms for deliberative social coordination. We just let them mutate into hideous forms and/or gave them away. In their absence we still may just get the actual neo-feudal sovereigns that we seem to deserve.

      • >Governing systems are for facilitating social contracts and concentrated infrastructural projects, but have become completely reformatted by capitalist procedures and aims.

        I don’t really see the distinction between “facilitating social contracts and concentrated infrastructural projects” and “capitalist procedures and aims”. The modern nation-state developed in syncopation with the development of capitalist economies (to cleave them apart or to suggest a fundamental antagonism is problematic in the extreme) – what simultaneously ended dissolved the feudal regime and produced the capitalist working class if not the partitioning of land by the state? Why did the nation-state begin to subsidize roads and ports, if to increase the efficiency and scope of capitalist trade networks? For who did the state requisition private land, finance corporations, and provide support for in the building in the railroads? It wasn’t for the townships that were connected. Was it enlightened polity that produced the highway system? I think not.

        All of which feeds into a fundamental question: what produces the incredible rates of inequality we see in the world? Is it the free market? Many will say yes – but where is this market functioning without the hand of government pushing it to delirious heights beyond itself. What was a railroad – and the consequent unification of a national market – but a massive externalization of transportation costs that *should* have been borne by the capitalist, by shifted by the state to the laboring bodies entangled in its territorial mesh? And is the highway any different? The port? Any other massified infrastructure system? If a firm had to bear the costs of transportation, would we see firms that have national monopolies? It’s doubtful. We could probably see a massive multiplication of firms, operating in regional areas, with more dynamic competition. Without a state, there is no Wal-Mart, no Dicks Sporting Goods, no box store that appears cookie-cutter in every possible crack and crevice. Without these sorts of monopolies, and with more competition, I don’t see how the situation would resemble that one we have much at all.

        But it happened, so there isn’t really anything we can do about (other than analyze and act). The most important point, one that Land really drives home, is that all those functions of the state that capitalist relied on – protection of property, honoring of contracts, issuing of currency, etc. – are being rendered obsolete. Everything that a state can do is appearing now appearing, for better or worse, on the market. It’s not so much a question of individualist ego hiding out, but of a techno-economic tendency unfolding through history in which all these processes – which are themselves real, human relations, even if they totally reconfigure the human element to its own dictates – dis-embed themselves from the substrate. How can one stop that? And moreover – why would we really want to.

      • I think the nuance lost in my original statement is that I’m referring to governance systems and not specifically the modern nation-state – which indeed developed as you suggest. You describe the exact kind of “reformatting” I was thinking of when you talk about the production of the working class. The capitalists (many of whom were once petit-nobility) reformatted governmentality along explicitly capitalist (distinct from economics per se) lines. The influence of capitalist procedures and aims intensified over time.

        Governance systems pre-date capitalism. The ethnographic literature is thick on that issue. And even though capitalist systems and projects bloomed and dominated all spheres of life and communication I believe there is a crucial distinction to be made between the economics of a given region (capitalist or otherwise) and the institutions that it evolves to deal with economic problems/tasks AS WELL AS other non-economic social phenomena and interests. And I think to suggest otherwise is to be infected by a rather virulent form of capitalist realism that is problematic in the extreme.

        And it’s past time we do even more to cleave them apart in actuality in order to push particular kinds of human interests out to the periphery of governance. We don’t need to abolish “the state” we need it to become even more inhuman, at the same time as more sophisticated. Some like to talk about Capital as an alien force all its own yet forgetting there are particular people in place executing policy and making decisions in boardrooms all over this planet. Capital is not an non-human entity but a particular technological outgrowth of all-too-human inflected base drives.

        Enlightened polis (?) aside, I have thoughts on how to make “the state” operate with more anonymity, functionality, and dynamism (the three abstract qualities of ecological governance), but that is beyond this thread. Stacks in the Patch? Patchworking the stacks? My only interest on the shape and texture of the future is in building something that generates a lot of joy and creativity.

      • Edmund, how is your ‘give governance to the firms’ any different from neo-liberalism? And yes, there would be monopolies because the field of possible economics is already dominated by massive capital entities. The days of small firms is dead – if only because certain organizations have already seized control of the means materials of production and getting those back entails war, disintegration, or state gaining control for public purposes. The only thing that has ever curbed private power is some concretization of public interest. So enacting anarchism in this already power-structured field would be pure suicide for the social body.

        Let me ask a simple question in response: what if infrastructure was created to solve ecological problems of habitation in ways that did not prioritize capitalist economics? Firms wouldn’t have to “bear costs” because they would compete for and receive government contracts that cover operations, materials, and construction – without remainder. The finances would then flow through these non-profit firms in ways that spill out into the markets (in terms of supporting services and salary) and the markets would adjust to meet the overlapping demands. If governance took the lead (as they will with universal basic income programs, abolishing automobiles in urban cores, etc.) then the corporations would adjust to follow potential profits. They are good at that! The organizations that do not adjust die.

        The capitalists will capitalize on any changes that are geared around the deeper human and ecological imperatives that larger economies were only secondarily raised to address. More separation of banks and states would be required for such critical adjustments, with states becoming better and managing taxes and land-use, and related permits.

        Where I come from (and for whom I work) the government routinely and actively reallocates financial resources out of corporate control to smaller firms operating without profit or capital. Balances are struck between economic “development” and public health improvement strategies by empowering NGOs and non-economic institutions.

      • “Everything that a state can do is appearing now appearing, for better or worse, on the market.”

        Because the state has been completely and parasitically taken over by private organizations. What was once a relation has become total domination. And for good reasons. As you suggested there is no Market without the state. And, as DeLanda has pointed out, giving way to non-state entities to control social assembly is actually “anti-market”. For capitalist organizations to become the dominant modes within the planetary ecosystem they had to eat and out survive states.

        “a techno-economic tendency unfolding through history in which all these processes… dis-embed themselves from the substrate. How can one stop that? And moreover – why would we really want to.”

        The tendency of history huh…

        There are plenty of possible ways to stop [the God of Techno-capital inevitability (can someone please come up with a snappy name for it?)], just not many readily available or understandable for those people who would be so inclined to do so. You now seem content to embrace the virus because you are convinced of its inevitability and potency rather than fight to adapt and adjust, and maybe outflank it?

        There is no real “why” outside of humans seeking to keep this or that way of life. ‘Why?’ doesn’t even enter into it if our driving motivations are simply to exist and exist well. I could just as easily ask you “why not?” – seeing as we could maybe redefine and even improve ourselves in our struggles against It..

      • Replying here to each of your comments, Mike!

        I’d like to take the DeLanda point as a launching pad. DeLanda is absolutely correct in his assessment, and that meshes with the scenario I briefly described in my initial reply. He’s drawing, in turn, on the brilliant research of Fernand Braudel. The flip-side that Braudel illustrates that against capitalism-as-anti-market is the force that he actually designates as the Market itself, as a sort of bottom-up force that comes into being without any external coercion or force. Going through DeLanda and Braudel, one is compelled to, on side of the equation, divide markets from capitalism (in which capitalism is but one kind of potential market, but one that can only actualize via state effort), and capitalism from capital on the other (capital can operate through both markets and anti-markets, with anti-market capitalism serving as the vertical capture by human agents in the form of profit – a point also made by D&G in ATP, following Braudel, while in a market capital tends to a state of circulation and more short-term profiteering). In another sense we can say that in anti-markets capital tends towards stagnation and slowness, while in markets capital tends towards speed.

        It is the latter, I suggest, that wins in the historical race: capital, as it outstrips the forces that make anti-markets possible, destroys the capitalist class without which there is no capitalism. This isn’t to say that there will be no capitalists – there surely would be – but in such a fitness landscape the large, cumbersome organizations we call corporations suffer the same fate as states (they are, after all, subjected to the same knowledge problem), and unable to allocate their resources correctly, die. There’s a reason that in the freest economic zones in the world – like the free spaces in Shenzhen, for example – the market tends towards something that doesn’t look like Western capitalism in the slightest, with a completely different manner of firm organization, different cycles of capital accumulation, rapid growth, etc. It’s a completely different set of (non)equlibrias.

        >Edmund, how is your ‘give governance to the firms’ any different from neo-liberalism?

        Well, I would protest calling it “my” giving governance to firms; after all, this is hardly my agenda, but my appraisal of the historical situation that we are lodged within, and upon whose terrain activities must operate. As for neoliberalism, I strongly disagree that it can be reduced down to corporate governance taking the reigns from states.

        >there would be monopolies because the field of possible economics is already dominated by massive capital entities.

        I disagree with this, aside from the very real issue of path-dependencies and lock-ins taking place int he economy. Massive capital entities maintaining their position requires a fairly uniform price regime across the board, which is in turn contingent upon limiting the number of actors operating on the market. There are immense barriers to market entry in the current moment, but it is at the margins (the bleeding edge of tech development, for example, where regulators cannot catch up) and in the free spaces that non-monopolistic competition is taking place.

        Of course, I don’t expect the market to be utterly self-correcting in every instance – it seems fairly obvious that people will still fight back at power structures them and stake out certain degrees of autonomy from these systems.

        I have to run atm, but will return to this convo later this evening!

  2. the relatively slow and inevitable slide in the west from thuggish plutocrats to outright warlords and their warring tribes is underway and we are likely to all get swept up in the resulting flows of debris and bodies, so how keep from being reduced to bare/mere life under such extreme and dire circumstances?

    • We side with the best or more powerful warlords among them. Humans are well-versed in being subjects to rule. And in our manic fear to avoid bureaucratic anonymity we are rushing right back into the arms of our new Lords of Capital. Primates.. go figure..

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