The ubiquitous tropes of the neo-liberal discourse – resilience, mobility, creativity, entrepreneurial flair, individualism – exist quite happily alongside their opposites – order, security, rigidity, fortification, retrenchment. Walls, literal and metaphorical, have become the norm – the walled compounds of the rich, the gated communities of the upper middle class, the walls against economic migrants and the refugees of wars almost always the result of imperial machinations and a scramble for the raw materials needed to fuel the neo-liberal economic machine. Not least Trump’s proverbial border wall, mapping a geopolitical entity, the nation state, who’s obituary turned out to be premature.
The expansion of state and private security apparatus, calibrated to monitor and curtail the activities of human beings to a degree unheard of in previous generations, is only the most visible expression of this contrary impulse; contrary that is to the stated aims of neo-liberals and libertarians and the actual unfolding of the economic and geopolitical moment as perceived by those who overestimated the effect of globalisation and underestimated the appeal of the good old ideology of national interest.
The tension at the heart of late capitalism, east and west, is most potently expressed in the resurgence of a mythology of a nation state holding out against the onslaught of migratory flows, labour mobility and the anarchy of unmediated deregulation and market unpredictably. Contrarily, tireless entrepreneurial flair must be allowed it’s hand against the stultifying effects of regulation, bureaucracy and corporatism. The cult of the individual holds sway- Bezos, Gates, Buffet, Zuckerberg, Bloomberg, Koch – pop icons of the corporate world actualising the contrary nature of the capitalist impulse – at once uniquely individual and yet collectively enabled, creative and yet strangely pedestrian, imaginative and and yet wholly replicable.
In a paradoxical twist, though, the ordinary individual is more and more confronted by an anonymous de-individualised force actualising the agency of human beings subsumed under the rule of a series of interdependent concepts and social practices – the nation state, it’s apparatus of control and it’s rule of law. As a good example of where things are heading in this regard, consider a quote from a recent Human Rights Watch report: China’s Algorithms of Repression: Reverse Engineering a Xinjiang Police Mass Surveillance App:
“As detailed below, the IJOP system and some of the region’s checkpoints work together to form a series of invisible or virtual fences. Authorities describe them as a series of “filters”or “sieves” throughout the region, sifting out undesirable elements. Depending on the level of threat authorities perceive—determined by factors programmed into the IJOP system—, individuals’ freedom of movement is restricted to different degrees. Some are held captive in Xinjiang’s prisons and political education camps; others are subjected to house arrest, not allowed to leave their registered locales, not allowed to enter public places, or not allowed to leave China.”
This situation is aggravated, of course, by the recent history of state socialism in china and the decision, after the defeat of the “gang of four” to proceed to the transformation of the economic base by way of the market while continuing to implement the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and the hegemony of the communist party. Thus the Chinese people were denied the rights and freedoms that would have ordinarily accrued to them with the victory of the Kuomintang over the Communist Party and the establishment of democratic parliamentarianism.
Despite the obvious differences, the situation in the west over the past number of years has shown the potential for a form of reaction in which parliamentary elections, and the exercise of democratic freedoms of expression and association are abandoned in favour of the Chinese approach, utilising the market mechanism to accrue massive surpluses while limiting or abolishing basic freedoms at home and consolidating and expanding national interests abroad.
The present struggle by the people of Hong Kong demonstrates the absolute necessity of defending the rights and freedoms we enjoy here in the west against the encroachments of corporitist regimes of digital control and surveillance and the rantings of demagogic populist politicians. The election of a cohort of such politicians worldwide should wake us up to the impending danger. One only has to imagine the way the present protests in Hong Kong would be dealt with on mainland China to understand that, despite their limitations, such rights are essential to further the cause of mass movements such as Extinction Rebellion. The anniversary of the Tienanmen Square massacre, which passed off without a glimmer of protest by the utterly oppressed and terrorised populace of the mainland, is a sad example of the impotence of a people denied basic rights and the difficulty of retrieving those rights once they have been taken away.
East and west, a web of delusive and addictive social practices make concrete and operational the philosophical tropes which enshrine the un-truths of neo-liberal discourse. That is the true horror. Delusions take form. As the communal structures and processes mediating between the individual and the collective are rendered dysfunctional or disappear altogether– neighbourhood, union, church, professional association, political party, extended family– the idea of the monadic individual is actualised in everyday practice. More and more machines- smartphone, atm, computer, television screen, and an endless array of technological gadgetry – mediate between the individual and the invisible powers that rule over them. The cliched image of the disaffected youth – the teenager barricaded into his bedroom, interacting with the world via smart phone or computer screen, – captures an essential aspect of our condition. Bereft of communal resources the human is, quite literally, a ghost in the machine of exchange, forced to “negotiate” the challenges of life by recourse to a spurious set of inner resources.
That popular trope of an inexhaustible inner bank, from which the “successful” have managed to extract the necessary qualities– resilience, creativity, originality, entrepreneurial ingenuity – is as widely accepted as it is absurd. That one should “dig deep” is one of the pervasive delusions saturating an Americanised global culture. As dystopian visions proliferate in popular media, these inner resources, once the mythical preserve of the capitalist entrepreneur, are now put to the service of an individual battling it out for survival in a social world reduced to the status of a quasi-Darwinian parody of our condition. Resilience is the by word of the new age.
Under the regime of the free market the human has been reduced to a node in the self-replicating socio-economic machine, endlessly circling on the materialist/consumerist treadmill or exiled from it by regimes of exclusion and pauperisation. If the truth be told the proletarianisation of the vast majority, as Marx foretold, is almost complete. The material prosperity and recognition of rights won by workers during the Fordist years continue to fall away under the onslaught of programmes of austerity and fiscal rectitude, precarity of employment and de-unionisation. The treend of wealth being concentrated into fewer and fewer hands continues unabated. If some seem to have escaped the worse excesses of that condition, all that will change as the climate catastrophe reveals the full cost of capitalist exploitation, a cost until now borne by the populations of the “third” world and the urban ghetto, abandoned to the rule of dictators, drug lords and their armies of dispossessed youth, and by the planet itself and it’s fast disappearing life forms and eco systems.
As the effects of climate change begin to bite, we in the west will suffer the future in unequal ways, by virtue of the uneven spread of neo-liberal financial, technological, organisational and distributive processes of free market capitalism. Collapse will unfold in arbitrary and unpredictable ways and at different orders of magnitude and speed of dissolution, as the network of material and social interdependencies which enable the globalised culture of consumerist materialism unravel in a sequence of low key convergences punctuated by shocks, dislocations, realignments, counter currents, dissonances and restorations. There will be no sudden demolition of our world, only a gradual degradation unequally borne. As always the poor and the powerless will suffer most.
If there is a silver lining to the prospect of social collapse, a “good news of collapse”, it is this: that we might wake up to the real-of-the political as that mode essential to the organisation of our collective life, a mode which must, at the cost of our survival as a species, transform the knowledge of our embeddedness in a network of other lives, human, animal and vegetative, into structures of social relation and exchange. We must think anew the old question of what it is to be at a living creature, an aware individual and a socialised being. This conceptual task just is the traumatic intrusion of the real into our state of philosophical enthralment:
In being sufficient, philosophy acts on man through a kind of causality resembling enchantment; logos imprisons man within a magic circle, and it closes around him a second time just as he strives to exit the circle. Francois Laruelle: Theorems on the Good News
This attempt at rethinking the concept “man” will surely be a protracted and multifaceted collective endeavour, involving contradictory and antagonistic trajectories of thought and practice. We must allow for such freedom. Indeed such freedom is the only hope for us and must be extended to include the way we conceive the act of thinking itself. We must step outside the circle of the production and consumption of concepts, that is out of the economy of philosophy, by rethinking the relation of the human to philosophical tropes as one of unilaterality — it is the human who is the condition for philosophical truths and not visa-versa.
That the human never entered into the circle of philosophical explication in the first place could become a foundational axiom, replacing the philosophical presuppositions under which the human is explicated as identical with it’s own conceptual productions as they are filtered down to the us through forms of academic commodification and specialisation, structures of power and practices of exclusion, states of repression and discourses of delusion and denial.
The human is, of course, not hermetically sealed off from the world in its dynamic actuality; rather the human-life-world in it’s actuality is foreclosed to the world as construed by an act of philosophical postulation. Philosophy, as the arbitrator of the essential nature of both the subjective I and its objects (even subsuming the authority of empirical science), sets itself up as over-seer of what is; the result is that the actual human must conform to a concept of the human, philosophically re-presented according to the limits of Philosophy’s epistemological reach, a reach which is conceived as identical with the limits of human thought as such and which therefore necessarily captures the human as identical with any or all philosophical posits of what the human should be. This is a delusional inversion in which thinking is robbed of it’s potential to allow the intrusion of the real into thinking and consequently into the philosophical and ideological structures of authority and harassment to which thinking humans are now subject.
As long as man lives under the Decision or the Principle of Sufficient Philosophy, he lives also within an impotence of thought and within an infinite culpability: Francois Laruelle: Theorems on the Good News.
The result of this inversion is this: what we are considered to be is mirrored back to us as an alien re-presentation or doubling, enabled on our collectively dis-owned activity as thinking beings. We see and suffer ourselves as the World sees and suffers us, in the process losing sight of our collective authorship of the World by way of philosophical postulates institutionalised as repetitive and habitual patterns of social relation.
If this preoccupation with out relation to thought seems too abstract and removed from our actual situation (one of dire need requiring new thinking and immediate action to stave of the prospect of human extinction) this is only a confirmation of the power of the concept to keep us in thrall, for we are, as social identities, wholly the product of the concept institutionalised and replicated as social relation. This is the dialectic of our particular World, a collective self creation we must paradoxically confront as transcendental material fashioned by our own alienated action. Fortunately such material is malleable, even after years of retrenchment and ossification. Indeed, we are confronted by it’s unwitting transformation in the discourse and practice of neo-liberalism itself. Our task must be to consciously take up the transformation of such material, creating a new account of the human without recourse to idealist absolutisms, materialist determinisms, new age eclecticism, quasi eastern exoticism, melange of the empirical and the philosophical, popular reaction or the cult of the great man.
Nothing can, except through illusion, substitute itself for man and for his identity. And man cannot, except through illusion, substitute himself for philosophy, for the Other, etc. Man is an inalienable reality. There is no reversibility between man and philosophy…. Francois Laruelle: Theorems on the Good News.