Tag Archives: #Globalization

Asynchronous Wars & the Technology of Killing

1.VII 2022

If enemy’s body can no longer be liquidated with direct hits, then the attacker is forced to make his continued existence impossible by his direct immersion in an unlivable milieu for a sufficiently long time. (Peter Sloterdijk)

Our bodies consist of organs and technology acts as a prosthetic, allowing us to go where we otherwise could not have imagined. Shoes, autos, planes, telescopes, microscopes, hammers, axes, guns, Viagra, and other tools and weapons are all extensions of our organs that allow for new experiences and more efficient management of time for the purpose of travel, vision, work or killing. Technology changes the flow of time, shortens distances, makes the unimaginable doable, impossible efficient. It defines the way reality reveals itself to us.

However, despite the enormous advantages technology brings, it does not come free of charge. Invention of a ship is invention of a shipwreck. Invention of a plane is invention of a plane crash; nuclear power plant of nuclear meltdown[1]. One cannot innovate without creating some damage. The 20th century has been celebrated as a period with the highest concentration of innovations in history with the most far-reaching consequences. It was also the time of the greatest expressions of large-scale violence and killing, most of them with a direct link to those innovations.

When seen from an angle of technology of killing and techniques of death, the 20th century will be remembered as the age whose essential thought consisted in targeting no longer the body, but the enemy’s environment[2]. This shift completely changed the concept of war; it altered its logic and gave it new grammar. Wars could now be waged between opponents of vastly different strength, which in turn means that wars could be triggered at any point of time, or on any terrain, without significant armed forces or war machinery and with modest financing. In the last hundred years, the implementation of this new strategy of targeting enemy’s environment went through three phases. These three phases capture a gradual buildup of layers of abstraction in the evolution of the warfare, which, contrary to their appearance, reveal a regressive pattern of relapse to its barbaric mode of pre-thymotic pillage.

PHASE ONE: From destruction of bodies to destruction of the environment

The 20th century’s dawn falls on 22-April-1915 at the battle of Ypres, when a special German gas regiment launched their first operation against the allied troops using chlorine gas as a weapon. This was the first time poisonous gas had been used on a large scale. It was at this moment that war shifted from destruction of soldiers’ bodies to destruction of their landscape. When compared to the advancement from cold weapons to firearms, from swords to guns, which was a transition from blood on one’s hands to blood on the battlefield, the use of poisonous gas was a transition from bloody to bloodless warfare. As a consequence, acts of destruction became more efficient but, at the same time, appeared less barbaric, detached, and remote.

This mode of taking life quickly and silently found its place in times of peace. Executions by electric chair, in which a sentenced prisoner’s brain was fried by high voltage, was replaced by what was perceived as a more humane way of life extinction by internal asphyxiation triggered by inhalation of cyanide which blocked oxygen transport through blood.

The idea of efficient and “humane” killing underwent a perverse mutation during WWII when it was systematized for the purpose of the large-scale annihilation of ideologically dehumanized subjects. The mass killings in gas chambers evolved from the projects conducted by pest control units where efficiency was the primary goal. German chemist Fritz Haber, who served as the National Commissioner for Pest Control between the two world wars, the same person behind the invention of the gas used at Ypres, was responsible for developing Zyklon for the purpose of vermin extermination, which was later used (in its modified form as Zyklon B) in extermination camps. However, one of the most important objectives of extermination camps extended beyond mere efficiency; it was intended to protect soldiers of the firing squad from the trauma of killing other human beings.

PHASE TWO: Latency and destruction at the subatomic level

The search for an ever more efficient and potent means of destruction did not stop with gas warfare and extermination camps. It reached its apex towards the end of the WWII. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not only a demonstration of the potency of the new weapon[l4] , but also an introduction of another layer of distancing between attackers and physical destruction. It highlighted a new dimension of landscape destruction beyond mere pulverization through effects of latency at higher resolution, making the landscape uninhabitable for years to come. The released radiation, which lingered on for years, was not just polluting the air, but also contaminating the microscopic level of the landscape, the waves and particles (much smaller than the air molecules) and continued to kill people slowly long after those who dropped the bomb could connect those deaths to their actions or were even alive.

Banalization of guilt

We are wired to kill, but we are also wired to feel bad about it. And as the killing and devastation become more massive, the associated guilt grows deeper with it. How to increase efficiency of killing while desensitizing the killers became a complicated optimization problem of utmost urgency. Technology provided simultaneously a solution to both sides of this issue and has continued to play a dual role in that context. Technology displaces things from what they originally are. Each thing that presents itself technologically loses its distinctive independence and form. A soldier is seen as an instrument of war (and a worker as an instrument of production), a human resource to be arranged, rearranged, and disposed of.

Pushing a button while sitting in a cockpit 30 thousand feet above the target or in a control room in a barracks outside of the gas chamber, without facing the victims, introduces a layer of abstraction into the process of killing and increases the physical and temporal distance between attackers and their target. To kill becomes a technocratic decision, which begins to resemble a “job” rather than a direct confrontation with a human adversary and, as such, removes the innate moral conflict associated with killing.

As the 20th century progressed and the aftertaste of WWII continued to linger, the world became more resolute in its desire to distance itself from its barbaric legacy. Wars, without which humans are incapable of living, had to be reframed and reformatted, and additional layers of abstraction introduced. They would continue to be waged – that was inevitable — but they had to become less direct and less violent, at least in appearance.

Truth and consequences of the new technological revolution: A digressive foreplay in three acts

The first chapter of globalization was defined by Magellan. Perhaps, the most groundbreaking realization of the project of circumventing the globe was not only a possibility of the journey, but that a return was possible as well. The arrival of 18 survivors, the remainder of the decimated crew of 270, no matter how small, demonstrated unambiguously that the other side of the Earth also had atmosphere, so one could breathe and survive the journey (this was far from obvious at the time) and that the seas were connected with their oceans, winds, and climate. Travel and return with a bounty of spices defined a new mode of capital multiplication aimed at satisfying the insatiable demand dictated by the refined palate of that period.

1: Rule without a ruler

Towards the end of the 20th century, the second chapter of globalization began its final metamorphosis, which outlined the contours of the new era. Information technology revolutionized our perception of space and time, the most radical in its scope and magnitude since Galileo. Time now flows differently and space is compactified, no longer a space of trajectories, but a global Network. Different geographies are transformed into its nodes, all points equidistant to each other and, in terms of informational transfer and communication, instantaneously accessible from any part of the Network. Through technology, the world became smaller, but within that world, things no longer had a fixed place; they were displaced and delocalized. Permanently and irreversibly.

By its construction, The Network has remained extraterritorial & ex-judicial  — not only unregulated, but with no one having capacity to regulate it. Without a global system of law and regulation, outmaneuvering legal obstacles defined the new paradigm of profit making. Crime became an essential part of every business leading gradually to the criminalization of the globe and the globalization of the crime where all states gradually began to gravitate towards failed states. 

The disappearance of borders resulted in the systematic deterritorialization of local geographies afflicted with identity erasure and eruptions of regressive politics. A socio-economic transformation of uprootedness and a reformation of the attitude towards habitat preservation was the most fundamental change in the early 21st century. Habitat became exchangeable and portable. Technology as prosthesis gave way to transplantation.

2: The new elite

The late 20th century marks a hasty coming out of a new class of ultra-rich. Rather than serving collective interests of society, like investing in economic progress, education, welfare or environment, the oligarchic activities of this new class have focused on the extraction of resources and the impoverishment of their own habitats. This has gone into overdrive in the Wild East, the emerging post-socialist Europe and Asia. As the old state structures of the region were falling apart, they were replaced by criminal surrogates designed to operate under new conditions, which the state apparatus itself created for their own advantages. In that process, the new emerging state became both referee and player in the game of oligarchic repositioning, a practice, which became a standard modus operandi of the third world but has gradually taken root in developed economies as well, with the United States leading the way in that direction.

The conversion of public trust into private wealth and money became routine. Greed was no longer (magically) converted into a public virtue – the old capitalism’s fairytale was dead and gone. The Keynesian bond that ties the profit of the rich to the wellbeing of the poor was severed during this process of oligarchic redistribution. It has cut the fate of the economic elites from that of the masses. Porous borders, created by globalization, allowed the undisturbed circulation and permanent displacement of, generally, illegitimately acquired wealth and money across different jurisdictions.

This became an environment especially favorable for the large scale and state-sponsored kleptocracies of the Wild East and third world, who drew substantial wealth from pillaging their own habitats, which they then invested and consumed abroad, where it remained sheltered from scrutiny.

Russia has gone the furthest in that direction. Given its territorial size (an area roughly equal to that of the United States and China combined), it is a relatively small economy ($1.7tr), smaller than Texas ($1.9tr). It is a very resource-rich territory with enormous, but unrealized, potential, a condition that has been maintained for more than a century. As a result of its post-communist transformation into a criminalized oligarchy, 1/3 of Russian GDP (about $500 billions) has ended in the hands of about 100 oligarchs. A significant fraction of that capital is largely exported outside of Russia and integrated into global finance and investments. To benchmark the magnitude of the $500-billion GDP loss that was taken from the Russian state, one should recall that during the 2008 global financial crisis, the US economy lost 4.3% of its GDP while during the great depression, 1929-1933, that loss was about 30%.

3: Global provision

Confident that they would outlive the social system that was making them rich, these actors of plutonomic capitalism no longer had to worry about national economic growth because their transnational fortunes grew without it. This was further catalyzed by the symbiotic forces creating strong tailwinds for further capital outflows from developed economies to the West, where they found increasingly favorable conditions for their wealth to prosper. The exit of the super-rich from their respective countries became possible and easy – they could take their money (most of it already outside) and move to another location, like Switzerland, the UK, or any country that gives them domicile and favorable tax treatment.

This is the logic of cash in, burn bridges, and leave nothing behind – the global provision[3] of rescuing oneself and family by exiting with their wealth untouched – a unique option provided by globalization, which incentivizes the rich to move into endgame mode. While this has been mostly a game  played in the third world, the West is catching up rapidly.

PHASE THREE: The legitimization of pillage

You take my life/ When you take the means whereby I live (Shylock in Merchant of Venice)

The basic kinetic pattern of the age of globalization is capital departing from its location on a voyage around the Earth and returning with a surplus on its ledgers[4]. This pattern gets a new treatment with the late century technology. In contrast with the first phase of globalization, in the new era of global kleptocracy, capital no longer needs to circumvent the globe to multiply. Thanks to embedded global provision, it can be removed from the country of its origin to a zone where scrutiny of its acquisition can be avoided and where, through elaborate money laundering schemes, it can be integrated into the global financial system and its multiplication optimized through private wealth investments, foreign financial advisors, and money managers, or by sitting in warehouses of international duty-free zones as untaxed collateral.

However, this has not been a riskless maneuver, but merely a tradeoff between convenience and exposure. Despite all the riches new technology has created, it has exposed the global griftopian capital to predation by political adversaries. By its very nature, globalization has created the Achilles heel of thus acquired and displaced capital, which, as its size grows, becomes both more vulnerable and more attractive as a bounty.

This vulnerability defines a new phase of warfare: the freezing and seizing of assets by political adversaries, which, when combined with sanctions, becomes effectively a destruction of one’s economic habitat. So, the question is: How to create conditions for and declare an open season on foreign assets?

The absence of global law allows enormous arbitrariness in creating situations that are condemnable, and considerable flexibility around shaping a global consensus of condemnation. This presents a blueprint for the legitimization of the large-scale global pillage.

Creating conditions for war and asset freezes requires manufacturing an appropriate narrative that shapes subsequent actions. Those narrative presents a virtual layer, which ultimately legitimizes asset seizure by engineering political and/or humanitarian crises or augmenting and exploiting the existing ones. Places of massive oligarchic capital outflows present easy prey in that context. They function essentially as electoral dictatorships and have always had shaky records of humanitarian conditions, but during the initial phase of their capital’s transplantation and its multiplication abroad, these problems had always been temporarily overlooked.  

Provoked and fueled from the outside, the adversary is initially placed in a position where they cannot avoid making a series of suboptimal decisions, generally creating a downward spiral from which they cannot escape. In its initial phase, that usually starts with a crackdown on opposition and follows by seizing control of the media — an explosion in a chemical weapons factory is always convincing — and usually the bombing of hospitals, nurseries and innocent civilians, the rape of women, dead children, refugees etc. All these factors, which present massive red flags for the Western global conglomerate, are used to shape international consensus around the de-legitimation of the regime in the target country.

The first act of this play usually ends with a cathartic moment of either ritual execution of the strongman leader by domestic opposition his apprehension and a trial by international tribunals from whose jurisdiction the West has been excluded by design. This part signals that the stage has been set and that the plunder can begin.

We all remember Hussein, Gadhafi, or Noriega, who were taken out in this way because of (nonexistent) WMD, human rights violations, meddling into political affairs of the West or just for not paying the racket.

Russia is only the most recent example, which synthesizes all aspects of the underlying mechanism. A criminal utopia of with significant aspirations for global influence, it has become an unprecedented rogue player in the eyes of the developed West and a potentially dangerous competitor in energy production who interferes in domestic affairs, with a huge bounty already exported outside of its borders, ready to be taken away. The size and extent of their looted capital enabled Russian oligarchs to buy considerable political influence abroad. And as their capital grew, so did the appetite and ability to defend it by purchasing further political favors and influence. It was only a matter of time until the harvest would be declared. By freezing and seizing their assets and their partial excommunication from the international financial network, the West has practically forced Russia into a virtual default, impairing its ability to raise debt and wage war effectively, causing a gradual change in sentiment, the withdrawal of investments, and the loss of market share. It was a carefully crafted plan to get them stuck in a long war that they could not win and simultaneously destroying them economically and eliminating them as a global player for decades to come.

This was yet another instance where conflict could have been avoided were it not for the different preferences between the main decision-maker(s) and the rest of their country, a classic principal-agent problem whereby low-level criminal minds of the Russia’s leadership (former KGB operatives and communist apparatchiks) could not see beyond their own self-interests, defined through the obsession with benefits of savage capitalism and unconstrained capacity for looting, and align with the long-term wellbeing of the country.

The triangulation of a conflict

The new technology of death is no longer the physical and immediate destruction of the landscape of the adversary but turning off the life-supply faucet and its gradual and erosive decay due to economic deprivation, marginalization, and exodus of human capital. The war no longer involves just two adversaries, but requires a third party, the Victim, which completes the scene. The Victim, which can be either an internal opposition or external actor (e.g. another state),absorbs physical and human devastation. They are used as a human sacrifice at the altar of global capital, and the war, in its initial stage, is conducted as a precisely staged pagan ritual according to the strict rules that never change.

Reduced to a minimum between the two adversaries, violence and suffering is outsourced to the Victim. It is used only to trigger the initial step of the conflict aimed at shaping the global consensus of condemnation – because the civilized  world detests violence – and define the position of the Network against the perpetrator.

As war gets transformed from an art of unbearable sensations to economy of suspended rights, it becomes even less barbaric and more detached and remote, but at the same time, more to the point. The act of pillage is implemented without direct military confrontation — physical destruction of the Victim during the initial stage is merely its overture.

The seizing of assets is followed by sending them to the opposition or the victim state, who in turn use those funds to either buy arms from the West or hire their contractors and military consultants to train their troops and rebuild the infrastructure. Conflicts are no longer about people or about territory, but (like ancient wars of our barbaric past) about the benefits of pillage and its legitimation on the landscape of the global network. At the end, wars end up serving to boost demand in developed world.

When it comes to war, rational decision makers weigh potential gains and losses from it in the context of their objectives, beliefs, environmental considerations and existing constraints.  For war to occur, at least one of the two parties involved must see a net potential gain from war in given circumstances[5]. With current distribution of risk and return in international conflicts, for the developed West gains easily outweigh other considerations and war for them becomes a rational, and sometimes even an attractive, option.

In this game, the United States and the West become the Bermudan triangle on the global capital’s journey.

Barbarism as a universal reference frame

All the Western nations have been caught in a lie, the lie of their pretended humanism; this means that their history has no moral justification, and that the West has no moral authority. (James Baldwin)

The term “barbarism” is the password that opens up the archives of the twentieth century[6]. Postmodernity has set a cultural aesthetic ideal in which barbarism is denied and everyone acts as if it did not exist. This ideal excludes everything from its purview that is essentially unacceptable by the enlightened mind. However, a persistent obsessive effort at the exclusion of barbarism reinforces the awareness of its omnipresence and leads ultimately to its acceptance and surrender to barbarism, which defines a universal reference frame.

Despite all progress, cultural developments, education, enlightenment, and general efforts of distancing from its barbaric past, the world remains violent, but through technology, violence has become less direct, less visible, and more abstract. Contemporary public attention is short and fades in a matter of weeks after which the conflict, no matter how large its scale is, disappears into the netherworld of obscurity where people continue to suffer and die, but their suffering remains hidden away from the public eye. And the civilized world enjoys the delusion of itself as a less barbaric place. However, this is the world where local aggressors pay tribute to the global ones, where small rackets are taxed by big rackets and where the most barbaric rules prevail.

[1] Paul Virilio

[2] Peter Sloterdijk, Terror from the air, Semiotext(e) (2009)

[3] Wolfgang Streeck, How will capitalism end?: Essays on a failing system, Verso (2017)

[4] Peter Sloterdijk, What happened in the 20th Century, Polity (2018)

[5] Matthew O. Jackson and Massimo Morelli, The Reasons for Wars, in the Handbook on the Political Economy of War, edited by Chris Coyne, Elgar Publishing (2011)

[6] Peter Sloterdijk, You must change your life, Polity Press (2013)

Criminalization of the globe and globalization of crime

18. X 2017

Four centuries after Galileo, our experience of space is undergoing the second revolution. With the help of information technology the space of trajectories has given way to the space of sites & networks. As time contracted and distances shrunk, different geographies became the nodes of the global Network. With delocalization and infinite connectivity the world has become smaller, but within that world things no longer have a fixed place; they are displaced and delocalized: Everything is now both everywhere and nowhere. All things are both equally important and irrelevant. Equivalence has become the source of both claustrophobia and agoraphobia.

Rule without a ruler

Through the erasure of borders and deterritorialization, The Network, the site of global flows, has become extraterritorial and, since laws are inherently local, by definition extrajudicial, and therefore, unregulated. There is no global law that governs the operation of the Network. It operates in politics-free space. This means removal of market frictions and optimal capital allocation which made the Network immediately irresistible for global capital. This changed everything.

As the Network carves its way into the system, it transforms all layers of the socio-economic landscape creating in the process (new sources of positive feedback and) additional instability of an already shaky system.


1st layer: Laws are local and so is politics — the Network is not governable and cannot be regulated

No one is watching the space in which global capital operates. No one even has capacity to do so or propose such an idea. Space of global capital flows, therefore, remains eminently extraterritorial and ex-judicial. The impossibility of Network regulation is a major novelty. It presents itself as an economic advantage and is embraced by the capital. This has created conditions for the removal of economic rigidities, erasure of borders, and delocalization of the labor force, guaranteeing optimal capital allocation, which has allowed for enhanced capital accumulation at a rate not seen before. However, the convenience introduced by deterritorialization creates new problems.

2nd layer (Problems): The Network is a politics-free space

Political Impotence: Economic interests are global while politics is local. Politics, the ability to decide, remains local and unable to operate effectively at the planetary level, while power to act is moving away to the politically uncontrollable global space[1]. There is no politics of the Network.

Rise of global capital: Global capital is gaining strength at the same time as political impotence becomes more acute. This defines the underlying power relations. Politics becomes the global oligarchy’s bitsch. Gradually, everything becomes subordinated to the interests of global oligarchy and their prosperity comes at social costs. The absence of Global law is transformed into A rule without a ruler and global oligarchy emerges as an anti-social class.

3rd layer (Consequences): Tyranny of the global

The global dominate the local: Local becomes either replication of the global (Glocal), or presents itself as Radical alterity which disrupts the system and becomes the object of an exercise of the right to interfere[2]. This means that the Network is all encompassing and cannot be avoided – everyone is on the grid.

4th layer (Mutation): State becomes eminently corruptible

As a result of creation of the Network, a new form of elite, global oligarchy, emerges which now makes all major economic decisions. The absence of global polity means that super-rich operate free.

Global oligarchies do what oligarchies normally do: They use their (substantial) wealth to protect their interests through whatever means are available, from lobbying activity, shaping of the public opinion, influence on the local legislative process and politics in general, to corruption, harassment, intimidation, or physical force. They are no longer interested only in profit but in every aspect of life. Their coercive power is transmitted through influence on legislation, art, media, culture, education etc. This is the rise to biopolitics and biopolitical economy.

The new global overclass is not governable: States are powerless to interfere and have to submit to the interests of global oligarchy and effectively become their extended arm. Politicians are vetted by oligarchies and only those who comply are admitted to the table. Institutional and social changes are aligned with interests of global capital. Society is treated as auxiliary. Welfare state is dismantled and its repressive apparatus strengthened.

Debt, fiscal policy, taxation and budget deficits are an important lever arm. They become the main instrument of biopolitics. For example, the US owes $16tr to global capital ($6tr to foreigners alone), about the entire GDP (other developed and undeveloped countries are not looking much better either). As a form of collateral/insurance creditors have been or will be granted access to domestic policy and guaranteed influence over decision making institutions in general. In this way, global oligarchy becomes a stake holder in the US government. This is where things become complicated further and problems deeper.

Rise of kakocracy

What most deeply holds a community together is not so much identification with the Rules that regulate its normal rhythms, but rather a specific form of transgression of the Rules. (S. Žižek)

“When the government becomes both referee and player, the game changes rather dramatically for every other participant. Rules that might be rigorously applied to private competitors will not necessarily be applied for the sovereign who makes the rules. Government should act as regulator but is increasingly an interested party”. [3]

If global oligarchy, or private sector in general, “owns” shares of the government – they have stakes in it and the ability to influence its decisions — then anyone who is not a “shareholder” in the government is at a huge disadvantage when it comes to competing with “insiders” — they are playing the game where referee is on the side of some players and, as such, is indirectly acting as interested party. In this setup, it is no longer competence, quality of products and services, but degree of influence one commends that plays a decisive role. Influence on public and government becomes the most valuable asset.

This is a source of a reinforcing (positive feedback) loop that destabilizes the system. Under the pressure of global capital and in the absence of political power to resist it, the functioning of the state reinforces both further removal of barriers to capital accumulation (economic rigidities) as well as political impotence through continued dismantling of the welfare state and general demand for smaller state, while at the same time conforming to demands of the Network to remain unregulated.

This reinforcing loop becomes the main driver of the rapid transformation of the state from the welfare to the penal modality of its functioning. Global capital demands a smaller state to ensure the status quo, i.e. that the state remains unable to interfere with the existing order of things and that the network stays unregulated. Its increasing wealth and influence accelerates the process. This is all happening between the 2nd and the 3rd layers. Politics and law adjust to accommodate global demands. Exclusions and surplus of population grow with more efficient production process and further access to cheap labor force. Because of that, demand for fiscally accommodative environment (primarily through lower taxes and shutdown of the state sponsored programs) exerts pressure on the state to transform further by shedding the vestiges of its welfare programs through relentless privatization, while at the same time strengthening its repressive apparatus in order to gain access to the play through its monopoly on violence. Carceral mode of the state is embraced and reinforced further by the global capital as a source of additional profit maximization, e.g. war on drugs, high incarceration rate, privatized prisons, and war on poverty in general. Rising inequality is but one of the consequences of this process. It correlates with (and exacerbates) other social maladies, but is not necessarily their only or even primary cause.

Corruption becomes an intrinsic part of how the system operates. The corrupt state becomes the source of dissemination of lawlessness. Through state’s repressive apparatus, violence propagates through all the pores of life. The end game? There is no global law to violate any more, no global law that could permit setting apart of criminal pursuits from “normal business activity”[4]. The gap between legal and criminal activities is closing rapidly as legal business converges to crime. This leads to gradual criminalization of the globe and globalization of crime. Crime is everywhere and nowhere.

Progressive criminalization of the globe and globalization of the crime is the most spectacular and potentially sinister consequence of the erratic globalization process. The mechanisms of democracy no longer function, they have been seized by corporate power. With time, corporations, which generally have no internal constraints, gradually lose external constraints as well. They exploit, because that is the only thing they know how to do, until exhaustion and collapse[5]. In Mao’s words. Everything under heaven is in utter chaos: the situation is excellent.


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

[2] ibid.

[3] Cristopher Cox: Address to Joint Meeting of the Exchecquer Club and Women in Housing and Finance (Dec. 4, 2008)

[4] Franco Berardi, After the Future, AK Press (2011)

[5] ibid.



The great redistribution and the biopolitical penetration of the American brain

13.V 2017

Wealth is inherently empowering and motivating; poverty is neither [Jonathan A. Winters].

Rising inequality is not the result of economical rationality and neither is it only a function of erosion of empathy or moral fiber (although the latter is its sine qua non). It is rather a direct reflection of redistributive policies that have helped the richest get richer. On the other hand, poverty by itself neither motivates nor provides a core set of common interests for the poor the way wealth does for the rich. The presence of wealth focuses the political attention of the rich on wealth defense; its absence has no parallel effect on the poor[1].

Inequality has always been a topic in public discourse. However, after the 2008 financial crisis, the destruction of wealth on a massive scale awakened much larger segments of society to the reality that they were unable to finance the lifestyles they had previously enjoyed. Response to the crisis has been articulated through an unprecedented injection of “easy money”. But, this money was hoarded by capital and did not filter down to labor. Rather than serving the collective interest in financing general economic progress, “easy money” turned into the extraction of resources from increasingly impoverished societies. The case of airlines industry presents an illustrative example of this mechanism. Even as the price of fuel collapsed, little of that benefit was passed on to consumers or airlines’ employees: Air travel is as uncomfortable as ever, ticket prices have gone up and none of the profits resulted in higher wages of the airlines employees. Most of the “easy money” has been used to reinforce their monopolistic power.

Democracy requires commonality, inequality undermines it. The democratic process was originally conceived as a way to peacefully resolve economic disputes between people who share common values, either cultural, religious, or in terms of lifestyles or visions of the future. When inequality reaches the critical point, the bonding tissue that keeps society together begins to tear and democracy becomes compromised. In the absence of commonality disputes can no longer have peaceful resolve. Instead, the resolution occurs through negotiation or war. As electoral democracy alone can no longer safeguard the economic interests of the many people from American oligarchs, economic initiatives are no longer effective. A quest for social change takes center stage and a search for a new equilibrium is set in motion.

Social stability defines equilibrium. Social transformations, therefore, represent a change of equilibrium. They are always disruptive and have the appearance of discontinuous processes. Economic changes always take place against a particular social backdrop: When a social equilibrium is reached, society stabilizes allowing the economics to set in. The subsequent economic developments are typically linear – small departures always revert back to the equilibrium — restorative forces overpower those that destabilize the system.

2008 was a paradigm shift not only for economics but for the entire way of empirical approach to reality, which has laid the foundation of rationality and has dominated the Western thought. The crisis has set in motion a social change – the system has begun to search for a new equilibrium, announcing the end of 500 years of history. And, as history is getting unwound, the repositioning in the oligarchic space is taking the center stage. There is no left or right any more. The only meaningful distinction that reflect the type of oligarchic redistribution and its re-functioning is their emancipatory or regressive orientation.

The mindfuck

Where there is inequality of estates, there must be inequality of power. (James Harrington)

Oligarchy rests on the concentration of material power, democracy on the dispersion of non-material power. The American political economy is both an oligarchy and a democracy — a distinctive fusion of equality and inequality. Civil oligarchies represent the most significant political innovation, never seen in history before the creation of the modern state. As a characterization of the Western (predominantly American) political system, civil oligarchy is the result of a shotgun marriage of two contradictory concepts, brokered by an interesting play of numbers: The vast majority of citizens exert very little concerted material power in politics, but a small number of individuals each have at their disposal the resources it would take tens of thousands of their fellow citizens acting in sustained coordination to match[2]. The two groups stand in constant opposition — their conflict never disappears, but defines the driving force behind the underlying sociopolitical dynamics. It pushes all other themes out and becomes the main axiom of the political economy. This disparity of numbers forces a continuation of underlying antagonisms until one side declares victory. As a result, the political process loses its connection with democracy.

The reconciliation of oligarchy and democracy requires a Hegelian Aufhebung, a non-linear logical maneuver whereby the resolution of the inner contradiction is suspended until the concept is completed during synthesis — abolition of the Real to realize the Idea.

Oligarchs represent individuals endowed with enormous wealth which both empowers and exposes them to threats. In America, they constitute only a fraction of one percent of the population and have at their disposal material “voting” power that is hundreds, and in some cases tens of thousands, of times that of the average citizen. To understand the power multiplier, which reflects the underlying wealth differential, one should think of wealth as an instrument that enhances the persuasive power and influence of an individual. For example, being able to convince poor people to vote against their direct interests and in favor of the oligarchs, and to convert these things into laws and tax codes – the essence of the Republican Southern Strategy program as outlined by Lee Atwater — requires considerable resources and access to media, religious and secular institutions, lobbyist and a variety of political consultants that only money can bring. Mind-fuck is an essential ingredient for the functioning of civil oligarchies; without it, they could not persist.

The Material Power Index (MPI) is a way of quantifying the disparity of democratic participation. MPI assigns a base value of one to the average material power position of Americans across the bottom 90 percent of the population. The weakest American oligarchs have between 125 and 200 times the material power of an average citizen. Oligarchs at the very top of American society have an MPI just over 10,000, which happen to approximate the MPI of Roman senators relative to their society of slaves and farmers[3]. This has gone even more extreme after the 2010 Citizens United ruling. In this way oligarchs can legitimate their position with all of their power and influence, without resorting to force – which time and again has proven to be an expensive and fragile tool of stability.

It is not very difficult to see haw a handful of super rich oligarchs can tip the scales of any election. According to 2007 data, the 400 richest Americans have an MPI in excess of 10,000; these 400 top oligarchs have the “voting power” of four million people. Outside of this group, the average MPI of the 1/100th of a percent of the top earning taxpayers (who own about 2% of all American wealth), about 15,000 people, is around 1000. This means that 1/100th percent of the population had the “voting power” of 20 million. This is a significant fraction of the voting population (about 130 million in the 2016 US elections). Normally, elections are most often won within 1-2 million margin. Therefore, a victory can be achieved by attracting 100-200 top oligarchs.

Synthesis: Oligarchies as new cognitive coordinates

The essence of oligarchy within democracy rests on the near-veto power oligarchs retain on threats to concentrated wealth. The wealth protection instinct has been one of the strongest sociopolitical forces in human history. Although the attitude towards all kinds of inequality like slavery, racial and gender exclusions had been revised in the past, the same cannot be said for wealth inequality. The resistance against radical redistribution of wealth has been remarkably robust and resilient across a variety of political systems, from dictatorships, monarchies, peasant societies, to post-industrial formations and democracies[4].

As an approach to the problematics of comparative politics, oligarchy as the politics of wealth defense emerges as a better candidate for a unifying framework than the traditional framework based on assumptions that the dominant dimension of a country’s political actions is geographically conditioned. The oligarchic landscape defines new cognitive coordinates necessary for understanding current geopolitical developments. A variety of complex socio-political configurations and their transformations gain instant clarity and simple intuitive interpretation when seen from the point of view of oligarchic redistribution and repositioning.

The mechanism and logic behind this is relatively simple. Oligarchy should be understood as the politics of wealth defense. Outside of the context of wealth defense, different oligarchs can, and generally do, have vastly different agendas (e.g. democrats vs. republicans in the USA, pro-choice vs. pro-life, Tesla vs. Uber, or Bill Gates vs. the Koch brothers). However, they are all united in one common goal – their wealth preservation. This explains why one single common driver alone captures such a wide diversity of developments that sometimes, on the surface, appear to have no logical or rational connections.

[1]  Jeffrey A. Winters, Oligarchy, Cambridge (2011)

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

Heroin & non-consensual capitalism: As the rich get richer, the poor get higher

29. X 2016

Heroin consolidates all your problems into one big one. No more worrying about aggression, repression, poverty, futility, and frustration – just heroin and how to get a hold of it.

The street price of heroin has dropped below $100 per gram. A disturbing development. For a novice, about 10-20 mg provides a decent high. Simply put, one can get high on heroin for the price of a chocolate bar. The most addictive drug is now also the cheapest, cheaper than cigarettes. Its 20-fold price decline, from $2000 in the 1980s, is unlike any other commodity or product. This is not a result of a more efficient production process or technological advances, but a curious cooperation between the forces of geopolitical and ideological makeup. Three decades of heroin price history parallel the transformation of the neoliberal state and society. It tells an interesting story of business, politics, economics, globalization, and governmentality.


Heroin price history as experienced by wholesale, small dealers, and drug users

  • Pull back. The blood rushes in. Slowly push the plunger. I want this to last. Pull it back out again, the blood swirls back in. Now, squeeze! It rushes up my arm in tingles. Then it hits. It is like a mini explosion of pure pleasure. Everything is blissful and beautiful. It is pure joy to be alive, to have a body. Depending on the quantity and quality this is there for hours. It is sensual. All your nerves are on fire and just having someone run their fingers along your skin feels delicious. It isn’t really sexual. It is simply that the intensity of the experience lends itself to being described that way. This is when you are “high” on heroin.

In 1980 a wholesale dealer (if he had $1 million) could buy 1kg of heroin from the supplier at $1000/g (red line) and sold it to hoppers (street dealers) at $1700/g (blue line). In this transaction, he would have made $700/g profit ($700K for a kilo). In comparison, a hopper buys at $1700/g and sells to the users at $2000. His profit is $300/g, i.e. $3000 for a 10g package.

Since then, the price continues to decline at an annual rate of 9% — it drops to 1/3 of its value every 12 years. In the 1990s the wholesale price of heroin was $300/g. Dealers had to work harder (sell more heroin) to earn the same money as before. However, risks associated with drug dealing were lower and the money was still good, especially on a risk adjusted basis and when compared to the available alternatives. The business was booming.

Another decade and a half later and another threefold drop in prices: Heroin in the new century is selling for near $100. No longer is just the first hit free, but all subsequent hits are practically free as well. This changes the business model completely. Post-90s is the period of major consolidation and systematization of drug business. The dealers are no longer interested in quick profit from one-time sales to occasional users. They are now after lifetime subscribers. And the system continues to deliver them in numbers like never before. Drug businesses began to think and operate like any legal profit center, which sets in motion the true market forces.

Globalization has played a key role in these developments. It has achieved this effect in two ways. 1) Efficiency of the distribution of drugs: Lower transport costs, the use of the new IT and the enhanced worldwide competition have dramatically improved the efficiency of drug business. At the same time, the greater efficiency of the distribution process, made it easier to conceal the transport and the stock management of drugs. 2) Risk premium effect: Globalization has opened the borders of many countries with a surplus of poor and low-skilled workers. Millions of havenots who have little to lose have been attracted by the fantastic intermediation margins provided by the drug market[1].

Inelasticity of demand has defined the background as one of the main economic drivers. For heroin addicts, nothing is more frightening than being without heroin. No one who has gone through heroin withdrawal wants to repeat this experience. So, no matter how high the price, they will find the way to pay for it.

The Breakdown of communism has created new markets and sustained demand. Post-socialist countries, which have largely been sheltered from the influence of hard drugs in the past, suddenly opened up as a new untapped market. Erosion of local state institutions, and general hopelessness that ensued after its fall, were directly responsible for the surge in drug users.

The war on drugs became its own antithesis from inception. It supported high margins, which guaranteed that drug business remains more attractive, and therefore more competitive, than any other business[2]. Wholesale dealers held the racket. They effectively lowered their own risk by transferring their exposure to street dealers and were happy to accept lower margins as this increased their business longevity. What was lost on tighter margins was made up by the volume of the business. Bigger volumes and increasing profit gave access to the benefits of the legal system, attorneys and corrupt government officials, which provided an additional protective layer and reduced risks further, while elaborate money laundering schemes opened the doors to legitimate investment opportunities and further wealth accumulation. So, although margins were lower, on a risk adjusted basis, drug business never looked better.

Ideological mainlining: Biopolitical penetration of the American brain

One of the most extensive by-products of globalization is a surplus of humanity that is unwanted, inconvenient, and ultimately displaced. The volume of humans made redundant by capitalism’s global triumph grows unstoppably and comes close now to exceeding the managerial capacity of the planet; there is a plausible prospect of capitalist modernity choking on its own waste products which it can neither reassimilate or annihilate, nor detoxify. (Z. Bauman)

This is one of the biggest and the most acute problems today. The need to address this issue has shaped the transformation of the neoliberal state in the last decades from the welfare to the penal modality of its functioning. While neoliberalism produces social and economic vulnerability, criminalization produces ways to capitalize on that vulnerability. The criminalization of illicit drugs accomplishes three things at once. First, it reinforces socioeconomic vulnerability through a steady flow of pre-trial detainees, prisoners, parolees and families disrupted by harshly punitive sanctions. Second, it makes the economic viability of hard drugs dependent on a willingness to assume risk, especially as entry-level narco-labor. This willingness is a condition clearly associated with the socioeconomically marginalized – those who have little to lose but their “freedom” [3]. Third, it guarantees accessibility of hard drugs to the disenfranchised segment of the population. In this way, the very victims of global capitalism are trapped in the spider web of the carceral state and the more they struggle to survive in it, the more precarious their position becomes.

In the past, drug addiction existed as an expensive “luxury” for a small minority. Democratization of heavy drugs has been embraced by the ideological apparatus as a way of managing exclusion, poverty and discontent in general. Within the neoliberal project, the war on drugs has become synonymous to the war on poverty. And so, as poverty grew, so did the heroin usage.


As the rich get richer, the poor get higher: Decline in heroin prices vs. inequality

  • Gini coefficients are often used as a measure of wealth inequality and, as such, they are an indirect measure of poverty. Developed/civilized societies, like the most advanced West European countries, have Gini’s typically in the mid 20s. Among developed countries, the United States has the highest levels of inequality, the only one in the western hemisphere with Gini above 40. In that metric, it is on par with China, the Dominican Republic, Nepal and Ecuador for income. The Figure shows the history of the (wholesale) heroin price against Gini coefficients (on inverted axis) since 1980. The two histories, both having exponential trend, show high degree of commonality. Declining price of heroin goes hand in hand with growth of poverty: As rich get richer, poor get higher.

State as enabler of self-destruction

I bought a gun and chose drugs instead (Kurt Cobain)

While global capitalism is the engine of production of socioeconomic vulnerability, the state is the main architect of subjects and spaces of exclusion, e.g. the black American male and the post-industrial ghetto, whose political and economic exclusion catalyzes participation in illicit economies as well as vulnerability to policing. The objective of criminal justice in the neoliberal state is no longer to correct behaviors that are socially harmful, but to identify the bodies that must be excluded from the population and justify this exclusion by labeling their behaviors as abnormal. In this context, heroin has been recognized (and embraced) as a powerful tool of self-destruction, capable of turning any resisting individual into a perfectly docile social subject, eminently manageable by its dependency.

The evolution of the heroin business reveals the inner logic of the massive consolidation of the state’s repressive apparatus in the post-1968 era. When viewed in this context, the war on drugs emerges as but one of many neoliberal strategies of governing, a technique for identifying populations that must be governed in other ways. The essence of these strategies is that they do not use force to destroy dissent, but push it to self-destruct. They stay as a constant reminder that power has been deemed as a highly ineffective tool of governing. Outside of its repressive apparatus, the state no longer represents the ability to engineer change, but has become an enabler. The war on drugs is an ideological answer to the problem of surplus population, and heroin an instrument of drainage of wasted lives.

[1] C. Costa Storti, P. De Grauwe, Int. J. Drug Policy, 20 (2009) 488

[2] In the 1990s, assuming a hopper sells 10g every day, he could make $2000 a day ($250 an hour or 50 times the minimum wage commensurate with qualifications of most of the drug dealers), which, translates into $500K a year (untaxed), equivalent to an $800K of taxable annual income. This is a full-blown Wall Street salary. In most cases, they pay “tax” to the wholesale distributors who “own” the territory hold the racket.

[3] D. Corva, Political Geography, 27 (2008) 176

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)