The historian Johan Huizinga, writing about the twilight of the middle ages, argued that as things fall apart sadism is embraced as a way to cope with the hostility of an indifferent universe. No longer bound to a common purpose, a ruptured society retreats into the cult of the self. It celebrates, as do corporations on Wall Street or mass culture through reality television shows, the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt. Get what you can, as fast as you can, before someone else gets it. This is the state of nature, the “war of all against all,” Thomas Hobbes saw as the consequence of social collapse, a world in which life becomes “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” And this sadism, as Friedrich Nietzsche understood, fuels a perverted, sadistic pleasure.
The only way out for most Americans is to serve, as Biden does, the sadistic machine. The impoverishment of the working class has conditioned tens of millions of Americans to accept being recruited into the service of the militarized police that function as lethal armies of internal occupation; a military that carries out reigns of terror in foreign occupations; intelligence agencies that torture in global black sites; the government’s vast network of spying on the citizenry; the theft of personal information by credit agencies and digital media; the largest prison system in the world; an immigration service that hunts down people who have never committed a crime and separates children from their parents to pack them in warehouses; a court system that condemns the poor to decades of incarceration, often for nonviolent crimes, and denies them a jury trial; companies that carry out the dirty work of evictions, shutting off utilities, including water, collecting usurious debts that force people into bankruptcy and denying health services to those that cannot pay; banks and payday lenders that burden the destitute with predatory, high-interest loans; and a financial system designed to keep most of the country locked in a crippling debt peonage as the wealth of the oligarchic elite swells to levels unseen in American history.Chris Hedges: Don’t Be Fooled By Joe Biden – scheerpost.com
It is for this reason that we must abandon the idea of the apocalypse. Our resistance must interrupt the flow of events conjugated by the utopias of those in power. We must pierce through the state of emergency and expose the apocalypse as the perpetual reproduction of the existing order that it is. The fact is, these discourses—crisis, the state of emergency, and our unending apocalypse—are part of the same strategy: we are not governed in crisis, we are governed by means of crisis. Only when it is declared as such does a crisis properly become a crisis; and only once a problem is understood as omnipresent and pervasive does it truly become a crisis. Not only does the repetitive cry of “emergency” desensitize people, it also obscures which of all the various ongoing catastrophes might require changes that run against the grain of existing global power structures. The situation in Syria, for example, has become a perpetuum mobile of destruction for the preservation of power, a perpetual recurrence of chaos. We must ask: who profits from crisis? Why do we live in the never-ending state of emergency? And how does this influence our perception of the future?No future! Cybernetics and the Genealogy of Time Governance | Ill Will Editions
A disastrous scenario could be that of an unrecognisable Earth, less habitable overall, with hundreds of millions of refugees ruined and forced to leave their homes, whole sub-continents left to the chaos of civil wars and the extraction of resources, and ultra-militarised world powers. These authoritarian regimes would fight each other for the control of Earth’s resources, and would internally reign a dictatorship in the name of the ecological emergency and the exclusion of destitute foreigners hurrying to their doors.
In the name of climate emergency and in the face of a rapid degradation of Earth’s habitability, these regimes will abolish the moral and social boundaries: we will be offered servitude and submission in exchange for survival. The control of our personal data will guide our behaviours. This totalitarian order will present itself as an ecologist and will ration the use of resources, but will maintain enormous inequalities between a general population with diminished life and an elite that will continue to over-consume.
This is the scenario of a capitalism partially de-globalised, and re-structured in dictatorial blocks, in which the militarised state and the economic power would become one. Fully privatised ecological service markets, climate geoengineering, military and extractivist space conquest or trans-humanism would be the “solutions” proposed by these regimes to the problems of the planet. This scenario sends chills up the spine. Yet we are already experiencing these premises, in China, the United States, Russia, Europe or Brazil.
Only a massive mobilisation of civil societies and victims of climate change already facing the damage of existing “globalisation”, only an ethical and political insurrection against all attacks against the living and human dignity itself, only an archipelago of revolutionary changes towards well-being and self-reliant societies can thwart this scenario of ecofascist capitalism.
Weaving together stories of science and sociology, The Selfish Ape offers a refreshing response to common fantasies about the ascent of humanity. Rather than imagining modern humans as a species with godlike powers, or Homo deus, Nicholas P. Money recasts us as Homo narcissus–paragons of self-absorption. This exhilarating story offers an immense sweep of modern biology, leading readers from earth’s unexceptional location in the cosmos to the story of our microbial origins and the innerworkings of the human body. It explores human genetics, reproduction, brain function, and ageing, creating an enlightened view of man as a brilliantly inventive, yet self-destructive animal.The Selfish Ape is a book about human biology, the intertwined characteristics of our greatness and failure, and the way that we have plundered the biosphere. Written in a highly accessible style, it is a perfect read for those interested in science, human history, sociology, and the environment.
Unfettered, unregulated, capricious, vampiric capitalism has brought us to the brink, and the mass inability to comprehend this fact evidences how ingrained said ideology is. Our blinders are such that human tragedy that is attributable directly to our economic system is often naturalized as simply being “The way that things are,” thus precluding even the possibility of different ways of arranging our world. Deathdue to differing ideologies is always interpreted as conscious and preventable, but capitalist tragedy is simply understood as how life operates.
“Surveillance capitalism,” she writes, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”
While the general modus operandi of Google, Facebook et al has been known and understood (at least by some people) for a while, what has been missing – and what Zuboff provides – is the insight and scholarship to situate them in a wider context. She points out that while most of us think that we are dealing merely with algorithmic inscrutability, in fact what confronts us is the latest phase in capitalism’s long evolution – from the making of products, to mass production, to managerial capitalism, to services, to financial capitalism, and now to the exploitation of behavioural predictions covertly derived from the surveillance of users. In that sense, her vast (660-page) book is a continuation of a tradition that includes Adam Smith, Max Weber, Karl Polanyi and – dare I say it – Karl Marx.