Tag Archives: #capitalism

The Few Body Problem & the Metaphysics of Stupidity

13. III 2022

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. (Max Planck)

A vibrating string represents the collective motion of a system of (practically) an infinite number of atoms. Its properties and behavior are very different from those of its constituents. When the collective sets in, the system loses knowledge of its building blocks and obeys an altogether different set of rules: A string made of nickel atoms behaves (acoustically) the same way as a plastic string composed of complicated organic molecules. In terms of complexity, the collective is a nonlinear function of the size. A one-body problem is easy to handle. A two-body is more complicated, but in most cases tractable. Three-body is very difficult, while the few-body problem is impossible. However, an infinite-body problem is easy. Loss of granularity washes away as the number of degrees of freedom increases. The wave equation describing a vibrating string is significantly simpler than the Schrödinger equation for a single atom; their discoveries are separated by two centuries.

Collective IQ < Average IQ

When it comes to intelligence, a similar pattern unfolds — size is its enemy. As the group grows, at some point, it inevitably begins to get stupider. It is not difficult to fool a single person. All you need is some persuasive skills and a little intelligence. Fooling two people can be complicated – they can compare their thoughts and come up with non-overlapping objections and increase resistance to persuasion by filtering out the nonsense more effectively. Fooling a few, say five, people is practically impossible, even if they are of average intelligence. They retain their individuality (and independent thinking) while their cooperation still remains strong. Manipulating large masses, however, can be very easy (as witnessed by numerous historical examples and confirmed by the experience of the last five years). Large groups would believe what even its stupidest members would reject on their own.

As the group grows beyond a certain size, the task of deceiving them becomes progressively easier. Individual wisdom and constructive cooperation changes and gives way to collective thinking where individuality is lost. In large groups, the collective IQ resides significantly below the average IQ – no matter how intelligent individuals are, their collective intelligence will be low. Although this inequality is an empirical observation, it is never violated in practice.

Size inspires special behavior: When a group become large, it has no resemblance to and no logic of individual behavior. Masses can always be manipulated with stories that would never work on individuals. It becomes increasingly more difficult to rebel against the consensus – the loss of individuality that results after such capitulation of the mind leads to loss of resistance to persuasion. You can disagree with collective stupidity, but your resistance is inconsequential.

Subjectlessness of humanity

Only individuals can be wise; institutions are well designed, at best. (Peter Sloterdijk)

Financial markets are often miscast as an example of an intelligent collective. Although they are treated as such, markets are not an entity in the true sense of that word, but a self-optimizing medium. All market participants have the same well-defined objectives, which streamline and unify their actions and push them to act in the same direction by doing everything possible in order to maximize profit. This leads to the propagation of ideas by the smartest players to everyone else and orients everyone towards the “smart consensus”, what is considered ex-ante as an optimal action.

Corporations are collectives. However, in their (misguided) attempts to emulate some of the market’s behavior, like meritocracy, transparency, and accountability, and transpose them to the context where they don’t belong, they create obstacles and impediments to their efficient functioning and permanent sources of corporate dysfunctionality. There is a long history of their continuous struggle against underlying the trappings which come with that predicament.

Casting businessmen (successful or unsuccessful) as political leaders is a bad idea, a very bad one, actually. Seeing society as a corporation and running it as such, cannot lead to good outcomes.

Humanity is even further removed from a market-like medium than corporations. It consists of people with heterogeneous (most often conflicting) objectives. Their goals cannot be quantified and are far from unifiable.  When applied to humanity, the classic model of learning from harm collapses before this fact. In the words of Peter Sloterdijk: Humanity is a priori learning impaired because it is not a subject. It has no self, no intellectual coherence, no reliable organ of wakefulness, no self-reflection capable of learning, no identity — building common memory. Humanity cannot be wiser than a single human being. It has no body of its own with which to learn the hard way – no hand to learn first-hand – but rather a foreign body, its place of residence, the earth, which does not become wise, but transforms into a desert[1].

Humanity is to humans what a vibrating string is to atoms — its intelligence is inferior to even the sub-average intelligence of all humans.

The intelligence problem and the power of 16-percenters

Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that. (George Carlin)

Things don’t look encouraging when observed at higher resolution. This is a graph of the IQ distribution. The average IQ is around 100 with 68% of population residing inside the two standard deviations range, between 85 and 115, which means that about 16% are of deep sub-average intelligence. These numbers are fairly robust across different countries in the developed world.

This distribution becomes particularly alarming when applied to a large relatively non-oppressive country. In the context of modern liberal societies, the synergy of stupidity, size, and democracy reinforces the malignant potential of the stupidity of the collective.

Transcription of these numbers to America implies that about 53 million (16%) people (entire population of France) are of sub-average intelligence, out of which 7 million (entire Bulgaria) is seriously impaired. These people are empowered to express their opinion and impose their will in the ballot box.

By mobilizing the left side of the distribution behind a single political movement – a maneuver that represents a collectivization of mediocrity — makes them even stupider by lowering their collective IQ further, and persuading them to believe in pretty much anything. When their discontent is streamlined and wrapped into a single narrative, in an electoral democratic system, these 16-percenters can become a decisive factor[2]. Empowered by their malignant stupidity, such people are capable of committing the most extreme atrocities as they have been throughout human history.

Humanity cannot outgrow its own death drive

Intelligence is not a theoretical quantity, but represents a behavioral quality of creatures in an open environment. (Peter Sloterdijk)

Humans are generally intelligent, but this individual intelligence fails to get collectivized. This has only become worse with progress and the general trend of increasing acceleration and addiction to speed. The long term has become so long that it now exceeds our capacity for statistical prediction, but the short-term has accelerated so much that snap decisions are the only decisions ever made. The stakes have become higher – short-term survival is no longer guaranteed, which leads to a shift of focus.

In the face of the urgency of short-term survival, long-term foresight collapses. This defines the tradeoff — the lower the odds of survival, the weaker the desires and capacities for grasping the long-term. As the group size increases and individuality fades away, collectivization inevitably leads to abdication of responsibilities. This leads to collective myopia, which attracts its membership and supports the group’s desire to grow. As a consequence, we no longer engage in intergenerational projects — passing the baton to the next generation is the best we can do (as a collective).  

This removal of the long-term perspective, its subversion, leaves power dominated by short-term forces, which under the capricious conditions of the market forces requires adaptive, liquid or transient strategies as a basic skill set. At a systemic level, change is taking the form of positive feedback. In conditions of general info acceleration and hypercomplexity, as conscious and rational will become unable to adjust to the trends, the trends themselves become self-reinforcing (up to the point of collapse)[3].

For years now, the Right-wing populism of the capitalist West has been tapping into the left side of the IQ distribution. This has proven to be a very successful strategy for their project. Unsurprisingly, in the most spectacular staging of abdication of collective responsibility, thus cultivated populist movement became the epicenter of insane resistance to simple measures of containment of the COVID pandemic.

At the core of the incoherent response to the pandemic – the spectacular failure of adjusting to the most straightforward problem of self-defense of the collective body – resides collective abdication of responsibility. This was a simple test of common sense, accepting the most basic measures any single human would normally have no problems accepting, but which collectively encountered resistance on a large scale (bordering on hysterical) causing, at the end, massive casualties, financial and economic damages, and unnecessary complications and extension of the pandemic. The resistance to alignment with simple and logical adjustment to an existential threat is just another illustration of the erosion of basic survival instincts caused by decades of deliberate and programmatic anti-science project and glorification of mediocrity.

In the world of infinite acceleration, humanity is spontaneously converging towards a state of maximum cognitive incompetence, a collective Dunning-Kruger effect. According to the latest statistics, there are about 41 million Q-anon believers in the United States.

However, this does not mean that capitalist democracies carry exclusive blame for the degradation of intellect and the rising rate of malignant stupidity. Rather, it is a combination of human nature and the law of large numbers. As much as Soviet-style communism pretended to have sought to divert the inevitable self-destructiveness of capitalism, it merely reinvented different and more efficient ways of self-destruction. A similar story goes with fascism. Communism’s record of ecological misconduct, which has penetrated deep into the territory of criminal, is just one of many examples of its self-destructive overdrive. Its pretended ideological attempts to be something else from what it really was were just failed diversions that merely accelerated the inevitable.

Welcome to Asbest

Russia is the largest country in the world by size. Nazis dreamed of conquering it as the Lebensraum for the new super-race. They failed, but so did the Russians. Instead of converting their resource-rich land into a prosperous superpower, despite Russia’s considerable cultural heritage, they have been struggling for centuries and still resemble in many ways a third-world country with staggering levels of large-scale corruption, chronic scarcity, high levels of poverty, and rampant inequality. After the failure of the Soviet experiment, Russia became a different type of Lebensraum for malignant stupidity of griftopian turbocapitalism and a laboratory of myopic ecological experimentation.

On the east side of the Ural mountain range, about 1000 miles east of Moscow and 2000 miles north of Kabul, resides the town of Asbest, the three forming a nearly perfect rectangled triangle. Asbest (the Russian word for asbestos) is one of hundreds of mono towns of the post-revolutionary Soviet Union, established according to the tenets of planned economy. As its name suggests, Asbest is the center of asbestos mining, with the largest open pit asbestos mine in the world, 1000 ft deep and the size of half of Manhattan.

As 59 countries have outlawed usage of asbestos and phased out any production due to its carcinogenic effects on humans, Asbest has become the world’s largest producer of the substance, which, by global ecological standards, is considered a criminal enterprise. About 70% of Asbest’s budget comes from the asbestos industry.

At the town’s entrance, drivers are greeted by what looks like a béton-brut installation in place of a welcoming billboard – a concrete structure, suggestive of a stylized arrow pointing downwards, with a coat of arms, representing asbestos fibers through a ring of fire at the top, and the text, below, broken in two lines: Asbest, my town and my fate! It is not clear if this was supposed to be ironic or not, but it certainly has an ominous vibe and strong overtones of dark humor. There are numerous motivational billboards in the town itself with text emphasizing the compulsory optimism of yesteryear, the most striking one stating: Asbestos is our future!

Asbest, my town and my fate

Breaking rocks and extracting the chrysotile from the mining pit is usually done with dynamite. This creates enormous clouds of asbestos dust, which covers everything in the town, from cars, rooftops, window, and parks, to fruits and vegetables people grow in their gardens.

Compared to the rest of the Sverdlovsk Oblast, Asbest has 30-40% higher incidence of cancer, a fact that remains carefully hidden from the public. Most of workers in asbestos processing plant have persistent coughs, a symptom of exposure to what they call the white needles, and strange skin ailments. Its population is slowly depleting with high mortality — the town has been losing about 1% of its population every year since the 1990s. And as if afraid to miss inserting yet another piece of irony here, local authorities have erected a monument to residents who have died (presumably from asbestos exposure) made of an asbestos block with the inscribed text: Live and Remember.

After the collapse of communism, without skipping a beat, the town of Asbest transitioned seamlessly from the clutches of ideological incompetence of the Soviet era to the unconditional greed of post-communist kleptocracy. Unlike other mono towns (where about 25 million people, 16% of the Russian population, still live), which became dying cities, Asbest did not die instantaneously. Rather, it repositioned for a slow death.

Instead of regulating human nature, capitalism as well as both communism and fascism only continue to reaffirm, time and again, what humans are truly capable of and enabled the full realization of that potential. And we haven’t seen the last of it, not yet. Free or oppressed, unable to avoid the degradation of collective intellect and preserve the wisdom of the few, humanity will always find ways to hurt itself.

Like post-communist Russia, Western democracy has been caught in a hypnotic ritualistic trance of the spectacle of its own cultural creation and self-consumption, the two fatal modes of modernity Jean Baudrillard identified as: Carnival & Cannibal. The self-imposed ignorance and collective myopia have reached the point where the West has elevated its own annihilation to a supreme aesthetic act. Against that backdrop Asbest is our future has acquired a universal metaphoric ring as a mantra of the directionless escape of mankind where the endgame appears unavoidable — a slow death in a hyperoptimized dystopian trap. This is the realization of Arthur Schnitzler’s vision of the human race as an illness of some higher organism, within which it has found a purpose and meaning, but which it also sought to destroy, in the same way virus strives to annihilate the ailing human organism and in that process destroys itself.


[1] Peter Sloterdijk, Infinite Mobilization, Polity (2020)

[2] These numbers, although larger or comparable to the USA, are less alarming when it comes to Russia, China or India. In the former two, high coercive powers of the state prevent large-scale stupidity to metastasize, while in India, where more than 50% of the country is under no one’s control, it is the fragmentation and absence of coherence along the lines of language, religion, culture, education, and social hierarchies, that prevent the collective to set in.

[3] Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty, Polity (2006)

The Year of the Abject: Making Sense of Nonsense

31. XII 2021

Within the boundaries of what one defines as subject (a part of oneself) and object (something that exists independently of oneself), there reside pieces that were once categorized as a part of oneself or one’s identity that have since been rejected – the abject. (Julia Kristeva)

Unless we are consciously drawn to it, we, for the most part, are not fully aware of our saliva. It is part of our body, an utterly neutral liquid, which we produce and swallow continuously as long as we are awake. However, this is true only as long as it remains in our bodies. Imagine periodically spiting into a glass and attempting to drink it once it fills up. The very thought of this causes utter disgust. As soon as our bodily fluids have become alienated from us, they become abject.

Abject represents the taboo element of the self; it rejects and disturbs social reason and the communal consensus that underpins social order. The Indian caste of eunuchs represent a castrated remainder of a fully functional biological body, cast out, distanced, but not completely. In modern capitalism, the excluded segment of the population — those who fell through the cracks and can no longer be reintegrated into normal functioning of society – is the neoliberal equivalent of Indian eunuchs. Their proximity reinforces an anxiety that their destiny could become everyone’s prospect; their presence is a reminder how narrow the gap is between a comfortable middle class life and precarity.

We have an ambivalent relationship with the abject — we are both drawn to and repelled by it. The ambivalence and inherent dialectics of the concept is encapsulated in the very word, which can function both as an adjective/noun as well as a verb.

The verb to abject comes from the Latin abicere, which means to throw away or to cast out. The action of abjection refers to an impulse or operation to reject that which disturbs or threatens the stability of the self and is inassimilable. As an adjective, abject has two meanings: 1) Extremely unpleasant and degrading (living in abject poverty), and 2) Completely without pride or dignity (an abject apology). [1]

The abject functions both as a repulsive and as an attractive fixed point of subjectivity. The concept is at the same time constructive (in the formation of identity and one’s relationship to the world) and destructive (in what it does to the subject): Abjection, the operation to abject, is fundamental to the maintenance of subjectivity and society, while the condition to be abject is subversive of both formations. The key to this duality is that the abject is not fully exogenous.

The body of the excluded

The volume of humans that are made redundant by the global triumph of capitalism has grown so much that it exceeds the managerial capacity of the planet. They cannot be re-assimilated into the “normal” life pattern and reprocessed back into the category of “useful” members of society. (Zygmunt Bauman)

By its very nature, capitalism generates abject social bodies as a part of an excess population. Unlike criminals, social outcasts, homeless, illegal immigrants or general categories of aliens, who are transported beyond the boundaries of the enclosure of prosperity, the redundant white underclass has escaped the transportation and remains on the inside where economic balance and social equilibrium are sought. However, the longer the redundant population stays inside and rubs shoulders with the useful rest, the less the lines separating normality and abnormality appear reassuringly unambiguous. Assignment to waste becomes everyone’s potential prospect[2].

The white underclass represents the abject social body which cannot be completely objectivized but whose presence threatens the existing symbolic order. They cannot be fully reassimilated into normal life patterns and reprocessed back into the category of useful members of society — they lack the skills required for reintegration — but they cannot be discarded either; they carry a sense of entitlement as a constitutive element of the cultural and historical heritage that defines today’s America.

The abject lean on subject’s stability — their presence threatens the implicit culturally established boundaries of what is considered normal, causing the subject to feel vulnerable because its boundaries are under threat. The white underclass cannot be ingested or incorporated into the system — they are like bodily fluids that have departed the (social) body — appalling, but, at the same time, a part of the (social) body-image that carries a prospect of everyone’s destiny. The very thought of their reintegration, has becomes revolting, while, at the same time, they cannot be fully objectivized either.

The abject gambit

The abject hovers at the boundary of what is assimilable, thinkable, but is itself unassimilable which means that we have to contemplate its otherness in its proximity to us but without it being able to be incorporated. It is the other that comes from within (so it is part of ourselves) that we have to reject and expel in order to protect our boundaries[3].

The abject is a great mobilizing mechanism. While the state of being abject is threatening to the self and others, the operation of abjecting involves rituals of purity that bring about social stability. Abjection seeks to stabilize, while the abject inherently disrupts[4].

When the mass of the excluded increases to a size impossible to ignore, they trigger rituals of abjection, which work themselves into identity politics.The repulsion and efforts to distance from the excludedthe abjection – which reinforces the self-awareness of the social standing of regular folks, are in conflict with the attraction by the powers the abject population enjoys and exudes. They are the power bottoms in this relationship as they define the location, robustness and porousness of the boundaries of the enclosure. Fascination with the abject’s power pulls the viewers in, while they remain at arm’s length because of the threats the abject exert.

This makes the excluded a tool that drives the wedge between different social groups and prepares the population for political usage of the abject as leverage.

Objectifying minorities has been institutionalized in America since its inception — from slavery and Jim Crow to ghetto and hyperghetto, prisons, wars, opioids, and other tools of soft and hard marginalization. However, with the rise of the white underclass in the second half of the 20th century, American ideology has become highly nuanced around the questions of exclusion.

To a large extent, the Right wing has stuck to its white supremacists roots of yesteryear (either in a closeted form or explicitly) while centrists, both Left and Right, have shown greater initiative in modernizing the process. However, when it came to exclusion of the white underclass, the problem proved to be more difficult. Complicated by globalization, technology, the decline of American manufacturing, weaning off conventional energy sources and the general decay of demand for labor, low-skill jobs have been disappearing irreversibly, and the ranks of white underclass grew unstoppably together with their discontent.

Social outcasts and minorities are relatively easy to objectivize. Permanently excluded – criminals, drug addicts, homeless – they have already been cast out. The residual, white precariat, which has always been perceived as a building block of this country’s social fiber, remains still on the inside, but unable to get reintegrated within the context of modern developments.

In a white dominated/ruled society the marginalization of the excluded white subproletariat has been a political hard sell. They grew in size and have acquired a sense of entitlement minorities never could. Their sudden political awareness, no matter how fragile, has become an expression of pleasurable transgressive desires. As a new center of social subjectivity, theydraw their power from this position, which serves as an inspiration for their own identity politics.

The emergence of 21st century Right-wing populism represents the biggest innovation on that terrain. Right-wingers now recognize the abject as a source of political leverage and, instead of exclusion, their program revolves around subjectivizing them. Voluntarily casting oneself as abject — identification with the white subproletariat – has become a quest for authenticity, aimed at acquiring a stigma in order to become a credible voice of the marginalized. This is the core of the modern populist abject gambit.

Poetic catharsis: Politics in the kingdom of unreason

Poetic catharsis is an impure process that protects from the abject only by dint of being immersed in it. (Julia Kristeva)

In past autocratic systems, leaders had their own eccentricities and aberrations (e.g. Stalin’s paranoia, Kim Jong-Il’s sadistic personality disorder or vindictive narcissism of countless number of dictators and autocrats), but societies, collectively, didn’t suffer from them — there was a variety of afflictions that coexisted without any coordination with their leader –people were depressed, anxious, indifferent, etc. while their leaders remained an idiosyncratic singularity. In contrast, in contemporary populism the leader is styled as an embodiment of collective afflictions – he becomes a performance artist who functions as a concentrated version of collective social traumas, grievances, and anxieties. He appropriates the collective paranoia towards the deep state, the sovereign citizens fetish, the second amendment fixation, tax evasion obsession… Self-abjection of the Western political Right is pseudo-authenticity at all cost: Racism, misogyny, denialism, antivaxerism, conspiracy fantasies, and other flat-earth derivatives channel widespread collective anxieties through their leader.

Perceived as a medium of grievance and spokesmen for collective traumas, politicians of the populist Right have been absolved of any accountability. Their biggest strength and their superpower is the absolute absence of any shame and embarrassment, even when faced with undeniable proof of their incompetence, lies, criminality and lack of an ethical backbone, no matter how obvious and damaging their culpability might be. They have been set free to establish new benchmarks of shamelessness, a unique political skill that always keeps them one step ahead of their political opponents, which has opened an entirely new political terrain never accessible before.

The Populist politics now function as poetic catharsis: Through mimicry with their constituents political leaders no longer lead but surrender, resulting in a fragile and shifty consensus that is reinforced with their each action. Their activity consists of looking for themes that create resonance points capable of producing the loudest reverberations. Politics becomes hyper-optimized — there is not a single spec of life that is not used as leverage – but, in that process, it loses its robustness, becomes thinly spread and fractures under tinniest of shocks.

The emergence of the rapidly growing white underclass and its irreversible marginalization in the last decades is beginning to get recognized as the fatal flaw of the American experiment, an outcome that is in conflict with its founding axioms and an evolving national trauma threatening to void it. Things have gone terribly wrong in the last 50 years — the accidental wounding of the American white malehood by the inner workings of neoliberalism has been the unintended consequence of capitalist progress[5] with which the system has not been prepared to deal with in any form.

The Right wing populism of the last decade has become the last desperate attempt to save this failing experiment regardless of costs. Defeated in the ballot box, the battle to save wounded white malehood has assumed a less conventional form. In its desperation it has escalated to a suicide mission whose contours were unambiguously underlined in the first week of the past year.

As much as the political center may want to distance itself from the white underclass and its populist political representation, the significance of that moment forces them to pause and rethink one more time whether they are really prepared to win this battle and write the obituary for the American experiment.

CODA

If 2017 was the year when unreason was set free, then 2021 is the year of its proliferation – it is everywhere and nowhere. There are no more individual GOP members or voices anymore, only the opaque background of unreason against which they perform a choreographed dance of non-overlapping sequential appearances on the center stage of political spectacle hoping for a moment of public attention to make the absurd palatable and promote abnormal as the facts of life.

The Right-wing political kabuki functions like a medieval mechanism of an astronomical clock on a church of unreason. The puppet-apostles of that church have a fixed position on a slow rotating carousel, parading through the window of shared reality in a mechanized procession, always one at a time, like luggage pieces on the conveyer belt of baggage claim from a flight which arrived without passengers, occasionally voicing their presence through monologues of nonsense, hoping that someone would notice them.

The mechanism of the rotating Apostles inside the Prague Astronomical Clock of the Orloj church

[1] Rina Ayra, Abjection and Representation: An Exploration of Abjection in the Visual Arts, Film and Literature, Palgrave Macmillan; 2014th edition (2014)

[2] Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted LivesModernity and Its Outcasts, Polity (2003)

[3] Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, Columbia University Press; Reprint edition (1982).

[4] Rina Ayra ibid.

[5] Wendy Brown, In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West, Columbia University Press (2019)

Kenosha

28. VIII 2020

In the next few years, social disorder in developed countries could take new dimension as demographic imbalances continue to weaken state structures further. This could be expressed through two different modes. 1) The discontent of ethnically excluded (e.g. Western Europe’s post-colonial minority populations) spreads to absorb and articulate the sentiments of other exclusions. 2) The discontent of the permanently excluded, like African Americans, provokes a reaction of the redundant natives, the white underclass, and triggers their uprising and backlash. Civil warfare, initially misdiagnosed as increase in crime, would escalate.

The scramble for protection (which has already begun) assumes new forms, as the states cannot provide it due to lack of funding and legitimation. The state’s monopoly on violence is breached and reorganized through the expansion of private protection armies, right-wing militias, and different privatized police structures. This process had already been accomplished in the post-socialist countries about 25 years ago and is likely to serve as a blueprint for a similar transformation in the western world.

Western democratic states where these transformations take place will gradually converge towards failed states. Contours of this program are already inscribed in the appointments for high public offices by the current administration. Combined with the other side-effects of globalization and the underlying social fragmentation, these developments will lead to further criminalization of societies and polarization of distribution with escalation of corruption and dismantling of the institutions of the democratic state as a natural consequence, implying further instabilities. Organized crime will blossom and reinforce its legitimacy, while developed countries will converge closer towards criminal oligarchies or other authoritarian structures.

As an economic system, capitalism (at this point) is showing an advanced decline in capacity to underwrite a stable society. What follows after such a disintegration of a system is a prolonged period of social entropy and disorder. For a significant length of time, a society would slip into less than a society – a society-lite — until it may or may not recover and again become a society in the full meaning of the term.

Out of all possible paths, this is the most radical outcome, one that is without a historical precedent and one we seem to be least prepared for. It corresponds to what Wolfgang Streeck calls the Interregnum: Disintegration of society as such, a perpetual anotherhood – pregnancy without childbirth — a trajectory where current times of trouble continue indefinitely.

The divided subject of labor market

17. IX 2017

It’s a shame that the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day is work. He can’t eat for eight hours; he can’t drink for eight hours; he can’t make love for eight hours. The only thing a man can do for eight hours is work (William Faulkner)

For the first time since the advent of industrial age, new technology is destroying more jobs than it is able to remobilize. Productivity and employment have begun to diverge from each other since the last years of the 20th century – productivity accelerates while employment decelerates. This is the new reality. While good for profits, this is becoming a major setback for labor, a source of positive feedback in the system and a destabilizing force for the entire economy and society. The profit maximization equation can no longer be satisfied: The recipient of wages (and social benefits) is expected to perform an impossible task of supporting increasing consumption, which accounts for an ever growing fraction of GDP, while being paid less in an environment of rising living costs. Credit, which had been conceived as the magic bullet aimed at bridging this imbalance, has turned to be another source of positive feedback leading to unsustainable borrowing and balance sheet crisis from which it is difficult to engineer economic and social recovery.

Work is at a crossing point of history, going through a significant transformation, second since industrial age, with profound economic and social implications. Both new technology and credit, together with dismantling of the welfare state, have been the drivers of surplus labor and erosion of demand. It is becoming clear that we need less labor to produce the same output and that further rise in growth is conceivable without a rise in employment and wages. Work has become the biggest bubble which is about to burst. This is the limit where economic and social rationalities collide. Disappearance of work in work based societies is no longer only an economic issue, but a wider social and political problem and a crisis of the entire system of values.

Work alone

A priori, there is nothing appealing about wage work. It is all about the employers; they set the rules, workers comply[1]. Work is generally an unpleasant task, something we rather would not do. It goes against our nature and conflicts with our free will. Unlike work for subsistence, which we (most of the times reluctantly) do, wage work is an outcome of a voluntary optimization process. Workers effectively agree to surrender a portion of their free time in exchange for salaries.

When seen from the modern perspective, work defines our social identity. It is a gift to society and our contribution to the project “better future”, a sacrifice we are willing to make for collective wellbeing. Work is viewed as our moral duty, social obligation and the road to personal success. However, work as we know it today is a relatively recent phenomenon. For example, in Ancient Greece freedom was exclusively located in the political realm and necessity was a prepolitical phenomenon. Those who had to work were slaves to necessity considered incapable of making ethical decisions, and therefore, not part of political life[2].

The modern notion of labor appeared with the advent of manufacturing capitalism. From the modern perspective, production was not governed by economic rationality. The objective was to work as much as it takes to earn a wage necessary for subsistence rather than earn beyond that by working as much as possible. The economic rationalization of labor was a major novelty at the time. It presented a radical subversion of the way of life. In order to overcome workers’ unwillingness to work long hours, factory owners had to pay them meager wages, which forced the former to put in long hours every day of the week in order to earn enough to survive. Labor became part of reality distinct form everyday life. However, in the course of time, with development of industrial society, work became the Siamese twin of life.

Technology and labor in postindustrial age

While in pre-industrial societies innovation and competition were strictly prohibited, postindustrial age, in contrast, is characterized by its addiction to innovation.

Innovation has turned out as a major trigger of a reinforcing mechanism of economic exhaustion. The primary reason is that innovation is a source of rent — prices are no longer commensurate with production costs, but contain a scarcity premium. Profit centers always compete in terms of their capacity to innovate. Higher output leads to more investment in innovations which lead to new technologies, which means higher output and even more innovations. However, technology reduces need for labor and so the workers have to work for lower wages, which reduces labor costs of production and increases output, which means more investment into new technologies, which further reduces the need for labor and lowers wages further. This process continues until it exhausts itself and there is no more room for labor.

When labor is scarce, workers have some bargaining power – they could refuse to work and the producers are willing to make concessions to workers. As long as profit margins are high, there will be money for everyone. Problems begin when margins begin to compress. Cost cutting eliminates jobs either through automation or relocation to regions with cheap labor or forces the workers to accept lower wages. As a consequence of innovation, work ceases to be the main productive force and wages the main production cost. Output is produced more by capital than by labor, and labor gradually loses bargaining power as its choices become reducible to dilemma between poorer working conditions and unemployment.

As a consequence of these developments we have had tree major trends that emerged in the past decades: Decline of wages, reduction of government spending (a.k.a. dismantling of the welfare state), and continued rise of consumption as a fraction of GDP (currently near 70%). Over time they have created cumulative imbalances and dead-end conditions, which have resulted in the 2008 crisis and conditions where further recovery from the crisis is becoming increasingly more difficult to engineer. These trends define the current landscape. Any attempt at change becomes a source of positive feedback that only destabilizes things further.

Devalorization of labor and the new standard of subsistence

Credit is another source of positive feedback. Low wages force more reliance on credit which causes higher living costs (more liabilities and less money for subsistence), so more people have to work (e.g. not just the head of the household, but their partners, kids….), and they have to work longer hours which further increases labor surplus and forces lower wages and amplify reliance on credit which increases living costs further. Servicing debt becomes the main liability, which further undermines bargaining power of the workers. This continues until debt becomes a burden than can no longer be born.

In some sense, we are being pulled back towards early industrial age. In those days, the unwillingness to work beyond subsistence had caused employers to pay lower wages to force workers to work long hours in order to earn for their basic needs. Labor market was inefficient: Demand for labor was high, but workers were reluctant to work. Early industrial era worker had a limited capacity to desire and the opportunity of earning more was less attractive than that of working less. Salaries had to be low to force people to work hard in order to earn for subsistence.

Although, the end result (low wages) coincides with the current predicament, the causality chain is different. Late 20th century economies grow only if people consume beyond their needs. The ability to desire – the consumer libido — has to be maintained systematically and that mechanism has to be incorporated into ideology as work ethics and wage work to become closely associated with social status. With pressure to maximize profits, and therefore limit wages, this program could only be achieved if wage recipients continued to borrow more and more, especially if their liabilities continue to grow. For that, they need jobs, but jobs do not pay. So, they have to work harder, put in longer hours, to be able to survive. Unlike early industrial age when scarcity of labor was the dominant factor, in post-industrial economies, supply of labor continue to climb together with costs of living high.

Preindustrial concept of “enough”, which in the early days defied economic rationality, gained new life in the light of postindustrial developments. Its meaning is now being redefined by credit. The problem is no longer the individual attitude towards work, but the collective response to the cumulative effects of excess rationality. Credit redefines what subsistence means. It is a conversion factor from desires to needs. As seen from the workers’ side, the effect of increased efficiency of production, brought about by technology, is offset by credit. It naturally extends what our needs are and sets a new standard of subsistence and determines how much we have to earn for survival. Contrary to the economic dogma and cults of free market ideology, competition has led to suboptimal outcome for labor. Despite all technological advances, there has not been a commensurate decrease in working hours.

Work won’t be revolutionized, it will be auctioned

The objective of profit centers is to make money and, if they happen to create jobs, that is good, but not necessary if it negatively affects their profitability. Keeping this as priority for the future, changes of the labor force would have to be made accordingly. Some contours of the fragmented labor force are already beginning to show along these lines of adjustment. The assembly line has colonized a wide range of jobs. With the rise of cognitive economy and de-emphasis of material production, workers are divided into four main categories: Inventors of ideas and desires, educators (responsible for reproduction of labor), salesmen of products and producers of desires, and routine laborers[3]. We could refer to them metaphorically as over the counter or OTC (first three) and exchange jobs (the last one). OTC jobs can never be made generic; they always carry some unique component of personal skills that cannot be fully automated. Routine laborers, on the other hand, require no particular social skills. They are an extension of assembly line workers, but in a wider context that includes technical and intellectual skills. They are always replaceable and therefore treated as expandable.

Extrapolation of the current trends leads to a limit where workers become a shadow category. They no longer exist, only their time does, always ready to engage in exchange for a temporary salary. In that environment, the next step towards improving the efficiency of transaction between capital and labor are job auctions. A finite term, e.g. 2000-hour or zero-hour, job would be offered in an auction and given to the lowest bidder. Profit centers would face high flexibility at expense of labor force whose bargaining power could decrease further. The labor force would be self-trained and offer high-level skills on an increasingly precarious landscape. Those with superior skills could demand additional accommodation that could smooth their consumption across periods without jobs, which could create a need for intermediaries, job brokers who have stables of workers with standardized skills on whose behalf they bid for part time jobs.

Added flexibility of employers eliminates pressure to have a long-term view and strategy. Instead, there is a sequence of short-term tactical positions with an ability to quickly adjust labor costs to different market conditions. If this is indeed the case, it could create a reinforcing mechanism where their output trails the economy and never completely recovers or rebounds. Disappearance of permanent jobs would have a dramatic impact on credit market. It would increase urge to save more and would affect ability of long-term borrowing, with direct impact on housing market, education, consumption, etc. and, therefore, adverse effects on economic growth.

In the extreme, demand for labor completely disappears — everyone works for himself. This is the most radical social transformation from society of workers to society of employers. The ultimate irony is people employ themselves but end up working long hours and paying themselves poorly.

Coda

Work is gradually emerging as the biggest hoax in the history of humankind. We have come a long way from the early days of capitalism where its basic antagonism was defined by the dynamics of capital and labor. It is reduction of life to work, and not capitalist exploitation, what makes work alienating. This particular aspect is what has led to the rapid dead end. In taking work as a given, we have depoliticized it, or removed it from the realm of political critique. Wage work continues to be accepted as the primary mechanism for income distribution, as an ethical obligation, and as a means of defining others and ourselves as social and political subjects[4]. There is an urgency to emancipate ourselves form work. Crisis of work is signaling also a crisis of imagination. We cannot imagine postwork society. This is the biggest problem.

[1] “Work is a paid activity, performed on behalf of a third party, to achieve goals we have not set for ourselves, according to procedures and schedules laid by the persons paying our wages.” (Andre Görz, Critique of Economic Reason, Verso 1989)

[2] ibid.

[3] Richard Sennett, The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1998 )

[4] Kathi Weeks, The Problem with Work, Duke University Press (2011)

Adventures in heterotopia: The things we left behind

25. IX 2016

Invention of a ship is invention of a shipwreck, invention of a plane is invention of a plane crash, and invention of nuclear energy is invention of a nuclear meltdown. (Paul Virilio)

Galileo’s real heresy was not so much his rediscovery that the Earth revolved around the sun, but his constitution of an infinitely open space. His findings dissolved the idea of the medieval concept of emplacement*. The space suddenly opened and disrupted the existing order of things. Localization gave way to trajectory and emplacement to extension. A thing’s place was no longer anything but a point on its trajectory, the stability of a thing was only its movement indefinitely slowed down. There was no up & down anymore, no celestial hierarchy. Instead of the universe resting on the back of a giant turtle, suddenly, everything was moving and out of place. Nobody was in charge anymore, and that was OK. The heavens were in a state of celestial anarchy. This was the emancipatory core of Galileo’s revolution. To a medieval mind, this was a picture of utter chaos. The idea of creation and design was seriously undermined and with it what was believed to be the Big Guy’s mandate (and authority). The Church, as His shopkeeper and interpreter of His will, saw this as bad for business and a problem for the franchise. Understandably, they had an issue with it, pronounced Galileo an evildoer and threatened him with violence. Galileo recanted, but it didn’t matter – religion’s golden days were over.

Four centuries later our experience of space is undergoing the second revolution, this time far more disruptive. With information technology and infinite connectivity, time is contracting, distances are shrinking and space compactifying. The space of trajectories is giving way to networks & sites. Different geographies are becoming nodes on the global grid, equidistant from each other. The outside is gradually disappearing, absorbed by the expanding and elastic inside. The world has become smaller, but within that world, things no longer have a fixed place; they are displaced and delocalized. Permanently and irreversibly.

The Network is a subversion of all terrestrial hierarchies. The concepts of center and periphery have lost their traditional meaning. All things are both equally important and irrelevant. Everything is now everywhere and nowhere — compactification and delocalization at the same time. An absolute rule of equivalence. The tyranny of transparency. The source of both claustrophobia and agoraphobia. The ultimate triumph of dialectics, simultaneously both oppressive and liberating.

Things are no longer constrained by physical separation, seasons of the year, time zone, weather, climate… Companies can relocate to countries with cheap labor and real estate, lower taxes and accommodative political climate. As long as the place is on the grid, and eventually all geographies will be, it doesn’t matter where one is. The Network is everywhere and so are the factories and companies and everything else. People are no longer bound to a particular locale; they don’t even have to leave their homes to perform work. Everyone is gradually losing their identity in the face of persistent deterritorialization and uprootedness.

Unprecedented wealth accumulation afforded by the Network gives rise to a new, ungovernable, global overclass which now makes all major political decisions. States are powerless to interfere and effectively become their extended arm. As a rising tide lifts all boats, crime becomes more prosperous, organized and powerful – increasing fraction of global wealth comes from and is destined to criminal sources. Gradually, everything becomes subordinated to the interests of global oligarchies and their prosperity comes at high social costs.

The pressure of equivalence is crushing everything in sight, histories, cultures, identities, futures, and symbolic meaning.

The same way Galileo wreaked havoc in outer space and disrupted celestial order, post-modern creation of the Network has been a disruption of terrestrial order with the dissolution of historically rigid social structures. New technology has revealed every segment of society as an instrument of production, a human resource to be arranged, rearranged and disposed of. It has created major economic advantages and unprecedented opportunities for profit making. But this embrace of convenience doesn’t come free of charge. Removal of market frictions, economic rigidities, and erasure of borders, resulted in physical and cultural displacement, loss of identity, corruption, omnipresence of crime, rise in violence, dismantling of the welfare state and a rise of carceral state, populism, regressive policies and political chaos.

The very same technology that has proven to create the main economic advantage has also reduced the system’s ability to change. The system has lost the ability to adapt and with it, its main advantage, its vitality. It has suffered an autoimmune failure and is no longer able to recover from crises. This is the shipwreck, the plain crash and the nuclear meltdown.

*Michel Foucault, Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias (1967)

 

There is something wrong with the future

28.VIII 2016

Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St. Paul
Give me Christ
Or give me Hiroshima
Destroy another fetus now
We don’t like children anyhow
I’ve seen the future, baby:
It is murder[1]

After getting accustomed to low crime rate since its peak in the 1990s, the world is once again entering a phase of accelerated crime growth. The rise of crime is palpable –- from rapes and robberies to homicides, from blue to white collar, from individual to mass murders, from random to organized and terrorist — although one cannot point to a single reason why. Crime is now at the inflection point. Its presence is felt everywhere, from info-sphere, media, entertainment and schools, to corporations, streets and politics. And the more efforts and resources are deployed to fight it, the more pervasive and out of control it gets. However, it would be a mistake to misidentify this trend as an aberration, an unwarranted side-effect of the post-industrial era. This state of affairs is an inevitable outcome of the neoliberal project at the core of which lies the idea of competition, a highly polarizing concept, which upsets the basic functioning of both society and the economy.

Neoliberalism was born at the intersection of the two crises, the crisis of governmentality and of dominant forms of power during the general contestation of the 60s. The emerging ideology outlined new forms of self-conduct, which satisfy aspiration to freedom in every sphere of existence, while the economic science was conceived as the newest technological invention through which new social reality revealed itself.

At the core of the neoliberal project lays the program of submission of human relationship to one single goal, competition, which has become a general political principle that governs reforms in all areas. This is an extension of market rationality to existence in its entirety. Its unprecedented systematization has profoundly shaped subsequent social reality, as a system of economic production became also a system of anthropological production[2].

So, how did we get here? What kind of reality has neoliberalism created and what is its future?

As the competent constituents of the past (e.g. bourgeoisie of industrial capitalism) gave way to the managerial class that turned competition into the only rule and virtue, the concept of competition gradually replaced that of competence. Only those who had become skilled in managerial functions could become wealthy through their labor. The decisions about production are more influenced by managers than experts as those decisions accounted for the reduction of costs and realization of profits. But, a managerial function detached from intellectual competence consists ultimately of fabrication, trickery, lies and fraudulent accounting, tax evasion and, if necessary, the physical removal of competitors[3].

Competition, once a guarantee of output’s quality, has undergone a major transformation. It has moved closer to the physical removal of competitors, ultimately leading to the systematic devastation of everything that does not submit to the profit of the strongest. Who competes better than those who eliminate their competitors? Mergers are just one form of physical elimination. Profit centers have used their considerable wealth to influence legislative process that removes all barriers for such activity. The state has become both an accomplice and a catalyst in this game. When was the last time government said no to a large merger?

Competition has become a reinforcing mechanism that provides a validation process for the legitimation of crime. Crime is no longer a hidden activity but the alpha & omega of every business, not just a marginal function, but the only way to stay in the game, and often the decisive winning factor in deregulated markets. Crime has disappeared thorough its proliferation. It cannot be eliminated, but it must be embraced. Its total and unconditional acceptance leads ultimately to its invisibility. Permissiveness has become the ultimate form of tyranny and capitalism has turned into a criminal system. Its survival in its present form is predicated on violence, because only violence is decisive.

Re-contextualization of murder: Society and human nature

Neoliberal government requires liberty as its condition of possibility: To govern is not to govern against liberty, or despite it; it is to govern through liberty to actively exploit the freedom allowed individuals so that they end up conforming to certain norms of their own accord[4].

Politics ultimately becomes the tool of social alignment with human nature and consists of the systematic removal of inhibitory mechanisms that allow us to come out as we actually are. Emergence of crime as a paradigm, its omnipresence, is the ultimate consequence of this political struggle. The modalities of resulting social structures have a deep resonance with who we really are.

This is the core problem of neoliberalism, the main reason why it is an anti-social project and why ultimately it either has to self-destruct or society as such has to disintegrate.

Designing a system of social organization which is in harmony with human nature is not something we should aspire to. It is generally a bad idea. A very bad one, actually. Without a considerable amount of inhibition, human nature is socially toxic. In fact, in order to become social, we have to abandon our true nature. The entire process of growing up, of becoming socially integrated – what is referred to as civility – is all about inhibiting our true impulses (e.g. toilette training, selfishness, lack of empathy, aggression, ability to engage in a dialogue,…). These inhibitory skills define us as social beings. Without them there is no society. We are born without those skills and we spend a considerable portion of our lives learning how to acquire and use them.

So, we are the real problem. Violence is inscribed in our genetic code and, as such, it becomes the essential component of neoliberalism. Killing as a (predominantly male) strategy of attaining the status position of dominant power has been adaptive. It is installed in the human brain because it worked. Murder has been a remarkably effective method of achieving evolutionary success (at least in the game of reproductive competition). Modern humans are descendants of those who succeeded in evolution. They are wired in the same way as their ancestors as dominant factors of success propagated[5]. Murder is inscribed deep into our genetic code; it only needs to be set free. The question is then, how close are we to the grand convergence when all barriers are removed and ideology becomes a true representation of ourselves. How far are we from setting free the murder? Well, we may not be there yet, but it is in the cards.

Life in neoliberal utopia. Who has the right to kill whom?

If utopia represents the impossible (imaginary places where social relations are represented, contested, and inverted), and developed society has reached the point where (almost) everything is possible, than the problem of finding our way is no longer the problem of disappearing utopia, but the problem of vision and politics. So what is the neoliberal utopia really like? What is a logical extrapolation of the neoliberal experience and what could be the next frontier for its all-around permissiveness?

Of all the issues that have emerged in the last years, murder has been the most divisive. From police brutality, to vigilante killings, mass murders, shooting of cops and terror attacks. All these cases were really about who has the right to kill whom, and at what price. Black lives matter, terrorism, the OJ Simpson trial, … they have all been about the same theme: Is it ok for the whites to kill blacks, for Muslims to kill Christians, for rich to kill poor, or even for the rich blacks to kill poor whites etc.? There has always been some implicit hierarchy of rules in that space.

Issues that have played a similar divisive role in the past have been alcohol prohibition, abortion (right to life), legality of drugs, prostitution, gay marriage, speed limits, etc. In many countries where these issues have been put to rest, tensions and problems associated with the issue have disappeared.

It is common sense to assume that removing an aura of taboo reduces the appeal of the vice. By legalizing something, one eliminates the challenge and reduces the abuse. For example, incidence of teenage drinking, drunken driving etc. are much lower in countries which have no minimum drinking age, and similarly in the case of car accidents vs. speed limit. In the same manner, one can argue, that legalization of drugs could lead to lower incidence of drug abuse and reduction of crimes associated with illegal drug trafficking. Same holds for prostitution. The upside of legalizing these activities is that society becomes less polarized – people get along better with each other – and, once divisive aspects are removed, politics becomes more constructive.

By analogy with these well-know cases, it makes sense to ask the same question regarding the murder. First, there is an insane number of murders every year. Obviously, the fact that murder is a capital offense is no detractor for killers; the rate of killing (individual/random/mass) keeps increasing. We now have more than one mass murder for each day in the year. The legitimate question to ask then is would the number of murders increase if they become legal. Most likely, there would be an initial surge, but then the trend would gradually subside and new lower murder rate equilibrium reached.

Death by shooting would gradually be accepted as a consequence of our freedoms, in the same way as death caused by traffic accidents, plane crashes, fire, or natural disasters have.

The benefits are immediately visible. First, guns would get the status of a regular appliance, like car or TV — everyone would own (at least) one. This would be plain common sense. All debates about the second amendment would become obsolete and with them the polarizing effects would go away. There would be no justification for the existence of the gun lobby. The NRA would be rendered politically irrelevant and politics, free of its influences, would be able to focus on issues that matter. Without polarization around the second amendment, republicans and democrats could even merge into a single party.

Smart guns would become the new technological innovation. Apple would produce first iGun, synchronizable with iPhone and iWatch, and Teslas would come with special road rage software and appropriate smart guns usable in such situations.

Compulsive killing would be frowned upon. It would be deemed uncool, along the lines people treat obesity. There would be awareness groups that provide counseling and talk shows where compulsive killers would be subject to shaming.

The US would enter its post-political phase (given the current political developments, this could be a blessing). There would be less need for police; private protection would be the new area of economic expansion. There would be far fewer people in prisons, both private and state run. No debates about death penalty or life sentence? All these would free the federal budget for more constructive projects. People would be much more considerate and respectful of each other’s feelings. Conflicts would tend to be avoided. Everyone would be nice to each other (assholes would have a very low chance of survival). Generally, people would get along much better. Right?

This is the face of neoliberal utopia. At the end, it is every man for himself, or in the words of Margaret Thatcher: There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.

[1] Leonard Cohen, The Future

[2] Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society

[3] Franco Berardi, After the Future

[4] Dardot & Laval

[5] David Buss, The Murderer Next Door

 

I have returned there where I had never been

30. VI 2016

Debt and guilt are two intimately related concepts. In some languages (Sanskrit, Aramaic, Hebrew, German) the two words even have the same root — the German makes it particularly explicit: Schulden (debt) vs. Schuld (guilt). In the same way guilt implies that we will have to atone in the future (or in the afterlife) for the sins committed today, debt is a handover of a part of our future in exchange for present consumption.

The dynamics of capital accumulation is based on the perpetual process of investment in a borrowed future. “Borrow today and repay later” logic carries an implicit bet on the future. Without an optimistic outlook on the future, there is no lending or borrowing. Debt links the present and the future in a circular way: A prosperous future cannot happen without the present, and the present cannot take off without a belief in (better) future. In this way, the very concept of the future undergoes a transformation in capitalism: It no longer represents a timeline we experience, but a concept we envision.

By now, accumulation of debt has become so pervasive that today there is more debt than wealth in the world. No debt will ever be repaid. It exists in a virtual space with an understanding that it can never be allowed to intersect with the real world. Today, debt links institutions and individuals through virtual default — everyone is both a victim and an accomplice in that game[1]. So why does debt still persist?

Debt defines the power structure inherent in the debtor-creditor relation. It has become the main instrument of biopolitics, especially in the last decades of neoliberal hegemony. In the absence of a real collateral (like house, car or any material good), creditor feels entitled to impose upon the debtor’s modes of behavior consistent with initial expectations of debt issuance. It is logical for the creditor to demand from the debtor maintenance of a lifestyle that guarantees his creditworthiness and ability to honor his obligations. For example, in the case of welfare (social debt), government has the power and (it assumes) the rights to pressure the welfare recepient into a conduct that increases his chances of getting back on track — rehabilitated and reintegrated into the mainstream society — so that his social debt is effectively reduced.

In the past, the United States, and other developed countries, used to finance the production of others — this was the traditional center-periphery interaction. Its credit-financed growth, which came to a halt in 2007, created domestic imbalances. This “domestic debt” had to be paid by borrowing from abroad — borrowing to service an already existing debt — a grand pyramid scheme of a sort. In an odd and misguided interpretation of the theory of comparative advantages, the United States specialized in the production of debt, but in international currency (US dollar). This enabled others, e.g. China, to “buy dollars” in exchange for its commodities[2]. To put it more bluntly, the United States imported from China commodities, labor and real products, in exchange for debt – a piece of paper, an IOU. (Who really got a better deal here, or who could get potentially screwed in this transaction?) Thus came about a strange situation in which the emerging world producers, the periphery, also became the net world creditors on condition, however, that payment of debt never be demanded.

United States, the world’s largest economy, owes foreign countries more than $6 trillion dollars, about 1/3 of its GDP (and another $10-12tr domestically). To China alone, it owes $1.2tr, to Japan $1.1tr and to European countries around $1.5tr — about 2/3 of its total foreign debt is concentrated in three economic regions. In principle, these three (and not to forget, rather powerful) creditors have the right to tell the United States how to “behave” — how to conduct its policies to insure its ability to service and repay its debt. In turn, the US is incentivized to comply with whatever the imposed rules, this implicit “code of conduct”, in order to maintain its creditworthiness and ability to borrow more in the future.  Global capital, thus, can demand access to the US political process, and, in order to allow that access, the US laws should be modified accordingly: Global creditors are given a way to have a say about who is elected in policy making offices, including the president of the United States. This is how debt becomes an instrument of global governance. This is the same mechanism already seen at play when IMF and the European Union used their “creditor rights” to disagree with the results of the Greek elections, their choice of the finance minister and a general shape of the local political landscape, followed by their insistence to impose austerity measures in order to insure Greece’s ability to service its debt to the large European banks and to the detriment of the Greek economy and people.

In this way, democratic process becomes compromised by influence of global capital which demands as collateral the ability to protect its interests through presence in domestic policy or eventually access to the real US assets, demand tighter regulations and smaller financial markets as a way of reducing the default risk, or more favorable trade agreements.

Submission to the tyranny of the Global becomes the other side of debt. Our lives become arranged to harmonize with demands of extraterritorial capital flows over which local politics has no jurisdiction and little or no influence. In order to keep global capital happy, budgets have to be balanced, welfare state dismantled, safety net removed and precarity and asymptotic unemployment as a way of life accepted. In this constellation of things politics becomes the problem instead of solution and status quo the only (peaceful) way ahead.

The acceptance of the existing democratic mechanisms as the ultimate frame is preventing a radical (or any other) transformation. Peaceful social life is itself an expression of the (temporary) victory of one class- the ruling one, with the state as an apparatus of class domination. Unable to perform the functions that states generally do, all states eventually become failed states.

Compromised democracy and loss of autonomy is the price to pay for excessive government debt. This is a perpetual process whose end is becoming only more elusive with time. It looks increasingly less like atonement and more like an eternal damnation.

[1] Jean Baudrillard, The Transparency of Evil, Verso 2009

[2] Massimo Amato & Luca Fantacci, Saving the Market from Capitalism, Polity 2014