Camus + Sisyphus = TLA
dana (who got back to me VERY LATE!!! 😉 ) adds:
in the dust of the planet
the following is an excerpt (the entire piece is over 250 pages), we can decide to read more in future weeks if we want.
*You must Right-Click and Save As to view the file.*
As Agrippa notes, “they are called occult qualities, because their causes lie hid,
and man’s intellect cannot in any way reach, and find them out.”1
what kinds of questions make sense for us (“us” meaning post-left, non-Answer-seeking, context-sensitive, curious, explorational people), and what kinds don’t?
how does our searching/questioning betray us to our enemies?
oppressed people have developed hidden language, in which cognates are used to mask meaning from bosses, masters, coercers. what do we have that is like that? assuming anarchists are pro-transparency, how do we practice it within our current context?
Alejandro de Acosta
Green Nihilism or Cosmic Pessimism
Men have been so mad as to believe that God is pleased by harmony
Some of us have read Desert, and opted to reprint it, to promote its discussion, maybe to promulgate (at least repeat) some of what is said in it. Despite our efforts, I still feel it has not had the uptake it deserves. I am beginning to think that the issue is less about our limited ability to distribute texts and discuss ideas, and more about the limits of the milieu itself. As to the reception Desert did get, the most one can say is that a few literate anarchists quickly processed it, either absorbing it into their position or rejecting it. This scanning-followed-by-yes-or-no operation pretty much sums up what many anarchists consider reading to be. One sort of rejection was documented in the egoist newspapers The Sovereign Self and My Own (and responded to in The Anvil): it concerned the idea that the anonymous author of Desert was engaging in a pessimistic rhetoric for dramatic effect while concealing their ultimate clinging to hope, perhaps like those who endlessly criticize love, only to be revealed as the most perfectionist of romantics in the last instance. That exchange on Desert tells much more about the readers—what they expected, what they are looking for—than the booklet itself. As does the other, sloppier, sort of rejection of the writing, which has for obvious reasons not appeared in print. More than one person has been overheard to say something to the tune of: “Oh, Desert? I hated it! It was so depressing!” And that is it. No discussion, no engagement, just stating in a fairly direct manner that, if the writing did not further the agenda of hope or reinforce the belief that mass movements can improve the global climate situation, then it is not relevant to a discussion of green issues (which are therefore redefined as setting out from that agenda and belief). In the background of both exchanges is a kind of obtuseness characteristic of the anarchist milieu: our propensity to be as ready to pick up the new thing as to dismiss it either immediately after consumption or soon after another consumes it. This customary speed, which we share with many with whom we share little else, is what necessitates the yes-or-no operation. Whatever the response is, it has to happen quickly. (We are the best of Young-Girls when it comes to the commodities we ourselves produce.) To do something else than mechanically phagocyte Desert (or anything else worth reading) and absorb it or excrete it back out onto the bookshelf/literature table/shitpile, some of us will need to take up a far less practical, far less pragmatic attitude towards the best of what circulates in our little space of reading. In short, it is to intervene in the smooth functioning of the anarchist-identity machine, our own homegrown apparatus, which reproduces the milieu, ingesting unmarked ideas, expelling anarchist ideas. Of course all those online rants, our many little zines, our few books—the ones we write and make, and the ones that we adopt now and then—are only part of this set-up, which also includes living arrangements, political practices, anti-political projects, and so on. All together, from a few crowded metropoles to the archipelago of outward- or inward-looking towns, that array could be called the machine that makes anarchist identity, one of those awful hybrids of anachronism and ultramodernity that clutter our times. But, trivial though the role of Desert may be in the reproduction of the milieu, its small role in that reproduction is especially remarkable given that it directly addresses the limits of that reproduction, and, indirectly, of the milieu itself. Its reception is a kind of diagnostic test, a demonstration of our special obtuseness. If I am right about even some of the preceding, then the increasingly speculative nature of what follows ought to prove interesting to a few, and repulsive to the rest.
* * *
I intend the or in the title to be destabilizing. It does not indicate a choice to be made between two already somewhat fictitious positions. (Quotation marks for each would not have been strong enough. To say this or that position is fictitious may seem to be belied by the advance, here or there, of those who present themselves as the representatives of positions. This is where we need to make our case most forcefully, arguing back that to take on a position as an identity simply eludes the what of position altogether, making it rest on a different, more familiar kind of fiction.) By placing the or between them I mean to mark a slippage, which I consider to be a movement of involuntary thought. Not being properly yoked to action, to what is considered voluntary, it is the kind of thought most have little time for. It has to do with passing imperceptibly from one state to another, and what may be learned in that shift. It is a terrible kind of thought at first, and, for some, will perhaps always be so, all the more so inasmuch as we are not its brave protagonists… Compare these passages:
The tide of Western authority will recede from much, though by no means all, of the planet. A writhing mess of social flotsam and jetsam will be left in its wake. Some will be patches of lived anarchy, some of horrible conflicts, some empires, some freedoms, and, of course, unimaginable weirdness.
The world is increasingly unthinkable—a world of planetary disasters, emerging pandemics, tectonic shifts, strange weather, oil-drenched seascapes, and the furtive, always-looming threat of extinction. In spite of our daily concerns, wants, and desires, it is increasingly difficult to comprehend the world in which we live and of which we are a part. To confront this idea is to confront an absolute limit to our ability to adequately understand the world at all.
The first passage is from Desert, an anonymous pamphlet on the meaning of the irreversibility of climate change for anarchist practice. The second is from Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of this Planet, a collection of essays that leads from philosophy to horror, or rather leads philosophy to horror. I bring them together here because they seem to me to coincide in a relatively unthought theoretical zone. As Desert invokes the present and coming anarchy and chaos, it admits the weirdness of the future (for our inherited thought patterns and political maps, at least); when Dust of this Planet gestures to the weirdness and unthinkability of the world, it invokes the current and coming biological, geological, and climatological chaos of the planet. They should be read together; the thought that is possible in that stereoscopic reading is what my or intends. (I mean to gesture towards the passage from one perspective to the other, and perhaps back.) If Desert sets out from the knowability of the world—as the object of science, principally—it has the rare merit of spelling out its increasing unknowability as an object for our political projects, our predictions and plans. Dust of this Planet allows us to push this thought father in an eminently troubling direction, revealing a wilderness more wild than the wild nature invoked by the critics of capitalism and civilization: the unthinkable Planet behind the inhabitable Earth. As we slip in this direction (which is also past the point of distinguishing the voluntary from the involuntary), all our positions, those little compressed bundles of opinion and analysis, practice and experience, crumble—as positions. No doubt many will find this disconcerting. But something of what we tried to do by thinking up, debating, adopting and abandoning, positions, is left—something lives on, survives—maybe just the primal thrust that begins with a question or profound need and collapses in a profession of faith or identity. That would be the path back to the perspective of Desert (now irreparably transformed). What is left, the afterlife of our first outward movements, might be something for each to witness alone, in a solitude far from the gregarious comfort of recognizable positions, of politics. To say nothing of community.
* * *
All our maneuvering, all our petty excuses for not studying it aside, there is still much to be said about this wonderful, challenging booklet, Desert. To wit, that it is the first written elaboration of sentiments some of us admit to and others feel without confessing to them. And, moreover, that it hints repeatedly at an even broader and more troubling set of perspectives about the limits to what we can do, and maybe of what we are altogether. If the milieu’s demand were accepted and these feelings and ideas were narrowed down to a position, it could indeed be called green nihilism. In this naming of a position the second word indicates one familiar political, or rather anti-political, sense of nihilism—the position that views action, or inaction, from the perspective that nothing can be done to save the world. That no single event, or series of events clumsily apprehended as a single Event, can be posited as the object of political or moral optimism, except by the faithful and the deluded. Moreover, that the injunction to think of the future, to hope in a certain naive way, is itself pernicious, and often a tool of our enemies. As to green—well, those who have read Desert will be familiar with the story it tells. Irreversible global climate change, meshing in an increasingly confusing way with a global geopolitical system that intensifies control in resource-rich areas while loosening or perhaps losing its grips in the hinterlands, the growing desert… It is the story, then, of literal deserts, and also of zones deserted by authority or that those who desert the terrain of authority inhabit. But let’s be clear about this: Desert does not name its own position. It is less a book that proposes a certain strategy or set of practices and more a book about material conditions that are likely to affect any strategy, any practices whatsoever. What is best about Desert is not just the unflinching sobriety with which its author piles up evidence and insights for such a near future, without drifting too far into speculation; it is the way they do not abandon the idea of surviving in such a decomposing world. It is neither optimism nor pessimism in the usual sense; it is another way to grasp anarchy. That is why I write that much remains to be said about it. One way to begin thinking through Desert is to concentrate less on what position it supposedly takes (is there a green nihilism? for or against hope?) and to consider how to push its perspective farther. This means both asking more questions about how it allows us to redefine survival and taking up the possibilities for thought that it mostly hints at. For example, to say the future is unknowable is a pleasant banality, which can just as well be invoked by optimists as pessimists; but to concentrate on what is unknowable in a way that projects it into past and present as well is to think beyond the dull conversation about hope, or utopia and dystopia, for that matter. Here is one example of how such thinking might unfold: Desert seems to offer a novel perspective on chaos. There have probably been two anarchist takes on chaos so far: the traditional one, summed up in the motto, anarchy is not chaos, but order; and Hakim Bey’s discussions of chaos, which may be summed up in his poetic phrase Chaos never died. The former is clear enough: like many leftist analyses, it identifies social chaos with a badly managed society and opposes to it a harmonious anarchic order (which, it was later specified, could exist in harmony with a nature itself conceived as harmonious). This conception of chaos, which is still quite prevalent today, does not even merit its name. It is a way of morally condemning capitalism, the State, society, or what you will; it is basically name-calling. Any worthwhile conception of chaos should begin from a non-moral position, admitting that the formlessness of chaos is not for us to judge. That much Hakim Bey did amit. What, in retrospect especially, is curious about his little missive “Chaos” are the various references to “agents of chaos,” “avatars of chaos”, even a “prophethood of chaos.” It is a lovely letter from its time and perhaps some other times as well; I have no intention to criticize it. It is a marked improvement on any version of anarchy is order, and yet… and yet. It comes too close, or reading it some came too close, to simply opting for chaos, as though order and chaos were sides and it were a matter of choosing sides. The inversion of a moral statement is still a moral statement, after all. What is left to say about chaos, then? The explicit references to chaos in Desert are all references to social disorder. But a thoughtful reader might, upon reading through for the third or fourth time, start to sense that another, more ancient sense of chaos is being invoked: less of an extreme of disorder and more of a primordial nothingness, a “yawning gap”, as the preferred gloss of some philologists has it. The repeated reference to a probable global archipelago of “large islands of chaos” is directly connected to the destabilization of the global climate. And this is the terrible thought that Desert constructs for us and will not save us from: that from now on we survive in a world where the global climate is irreversibly destabilized, and that such a survival is something other than life or politics as we have so far dreamt them. The meager discussion we’ve seen so far on Desert revolves around questions such as: is this true? and, since most who bother thinking it through will take it to be true, does the “no hope”/”no future” perspective (the supposed nihilism) which Desert to some extent adopts, and others to some extent impute to it, help or hinder an overall anarchist position? A less obvious discussion revolves around two very different sorts of questions: what myths does exposing this reality shatter? and, if we are brave enough to think ourselves into this demythologized space that has eclipsed the mythical future, is an anarchist position still a coherent or relevant response to survival there? The myth that is shattered here is first and foremost that wonderful old story about the Earth:
Earth, our bright home…
There are two main versions of this story. In the religious version, a god intends for us to live here and creates the Earth for us, or, to a lesser extent, creates us for the Earth. In either case our apparent fit into the Earth, our presumed kinship with it, usually expressed in the thought of Nature or the natural, has a transcendent guarantee. In the second version, which is usually of a rational or scientific sort, we have evolved to live on the Earth and can expect it to be responsive to our needs. Here the guarantee is immanent and rational. It is true that this second story, in the version of evolutionary theory, also taught us that we could have easily not come to be here, and that we may not always be here. That is why Freud classed Darwin’s theory as the second of three wounds to human narcissism (the first being the Copernican theory, which displaced the Earth from the center of the cosmos, and the third being Freud’s own theory, which displaced conscious thought from prominence in mental life). But a certain common sense, or what could be called the most obtuse rationalism, seems to have reintroduced the religious content of the first version into the second, and concluded that it is good or right or proper for us to be here. Natural, in short. In any case, the lesson here is that the psychic wound can be open and humanity, whoever that is, may limp on, wounded, thinking whatever it prefers to think about itself. What Desert draws attention to is a congeries of events that could increasingly trouble our collective ability to go on with this story of a natural place for (some) humans. Irreversible climate change is both something that can be understood (in scientific and derivative, common-sense ways) and something that, properly considered, suggests a vast panorama of unknowns. It is true that Desert makes much of its case by citing scientists and scientific statistics. But the real question here is about the status of these invocations of science. This is where a subtler reading shows its superiority. If the entire argumentative thrust of Desert relied on science, the pamphlet would be fairly disposable. Desert invokes science to put before the hopeful and the apathetic images of a terrible and sublime sort. We could say that its explicit argument is based on science, plus a certain kind of anti-political reasoning. But its overall effect is to dislodge us from our background assumption of a knowable and predictable world into a less predictable, less knowable awareness. After all, it would be just as easy to develop a similar narrative in the discourse of a pessimistic political science, emphasizing massive population growth and social chaos: an irruptive and ungovernable human biology beyond sociality. Let’s try it. From a red anarchist perspective, this could mean more opportunities for mutual aid, for setting the example of anarchy as order; chaos would be a kind of forced clean slate, a time to show that we are better and more efficient than the forces of the state. From an insurrectionary perspective, the chaos would be an inhuman element making possible the generalization of conflict. General social chaos would be the macrocosm corresponding to the microcosm of the riot. For them chaos would also be an opportunity, in this case to hasten and amplify anomic irruptions. In sum, one could make the same argument about the biological mass of humanity as about the Earth—that its coming chaos is an opportunity for anarchists because it is a materially forced anarchy. This does not mean that we are inherently aggressive or whatever you want to associate with social chaos, but rather ungovernable in the long run (or at least governed by forces and aims other than the ones accounted for in political reasoning). It does mean, however, that the idea we are ungovernable in the long run, the affirmation of which is more or less synonymous with the confidence with which the anarchists take their position, is now closely linked with another idea, that in the last instance the Earth is not our natural home. It may have been our home for some time, for a time that we call prehistory. Indeed, Fredy Perlman marks the transition from prehistory to His-Story, or Civilization, as the prolongation of an event of ecological imbalance, a prolongation whose overall effect is destructive, even as the short-term or narrowly focused results along the way are to make the Earth more and more of a welcoming and natural place for humans to be. And now our parting of ways with Hakim Bey may be clarified, for, even if he did not simply take the side of chaos, he did write:
remember, only in Classical Physics does Chaos have anything to do with entropy, heat-death, or decay. In our physics (Chaos Theory), Chaos identifies with tao, beyond both yin-as-entropy & yang-as-energy, more a principle of continual creation than of any nihil, void in the sense of potentia, not exhaustion. (Chaos as the “sum of all orders.”)
He was making an argument about what is stupid about death-glorifying art which, parenthetically, still seems relevant. But I simply don’t see why chaos (or tao, for that matter) is somehow better understood as creation than as destruction, or why it is preferable to invoke potentia and not exhaustion. In the name of what? “Ontological” anarchism? Life? And the sum of all orders… is this a figure of something at all knowable? And if not, why the preceding taking of sides? The chaos that Desert summons is not ontological. No new theory of being is claimed here. The effect is first of all psychological: stating what more or less everyone knows, but will not admit. If Desert deserves the label nihilist, it is really in this sense, that it knowingly points to the unknowable, to the background of all three narcissistic wounds. (This is my way of admitting that talking or writing about nihilism does not clarify much of anything. If it was worth doing, it is not because I wanted to share a way of believing-in-nothing. I see now that I was going somewhere else. The analysis of nihilism is the object of psychology… it being understood that this psychology is also that of the cosmos, wrote Deleuze.)
* * *
In the Dust of This Planet introduces a tripartite distinction between World, Earth, and Planet. Thacker states that the human world, our sociocultural horizon of understanding, is what is usually meant by world. This is the world as it is invoked in politics, in statements that begin: what the world needs…, and of course any and all appeals to save or change the world. It is the single world of globalism (and of global revolution) but also the many little worlds of multiculturalism, nationalism, and regionalism. But one could argue that our experience (and the gaps in our experience) also unfold in another world, the enveloping site of natural processes, from climate to chemical and physical processes, of course including our own biology. This is the Earth that we are often invited to save in ecological politics or activism. A third version of what is meant by world is what Thacker calls the Planet. If the world as human World is the world-for-us, and the Earth as natural world is a world-for-itself, the Planet is the world-without-us. Visions of the World and the Earth correspond roughly to subjective and objective perspectives; but what these are visions of, the Planet, is not reducible to either, however optimistic our philosophy, theory, or science may be. In terms perhaps more familiar to some green anarchists, the World corresponds to the material and mental processes of civilization, and the Earth to Nature as constructed by civilization. Civilization, so it would seem, produces nature as its knowable byproduct as it encloses the wild, leaving fields, parks, and gardens, along with domesticated and corralled wild animals, including, of course, our species. Does the wildness or wilderness of the green anarchists then correspond to the Planet, as world-without-us? Only if we can grasp that the wild, like, or as, chaos, is ultimately unknowable—not because of some defect in our faculties but because it includes their limits and undoing. When green anarchists and others invoke the wild, we must always be sure to ask if they mean an especially unruly bit of nature, nature that is not yet fully processed by the civilized, or something that civilization will never domesticate or conquer. Planet is an odd category, in that it seems to correspond both to the putative and impossible object of science (a science without an observer) and an inexplicable and strange image emergent from out of the recesses of the unconscious (which itself raises a troubling question as to what an unconscious is at all if it can be said to issue images that exclude us). I think about this third category in terms of Desert as I read this passage from Thacker:
When the world as such cataclysmically manifests itself in the form of a disaster, how do we interpret or give meaning to the world? There are precedents in Western culture for this kind of thinking. In classical Greece the interpretation is primarily mythological—Greek tragedy, for instance, not only deals with the questions of fate and destiny, but in so doing it also evokes a world at once familiar and unfamiliar, a world within our control or a world as a plaything of the gods. By contrast, the response of Medieval and early modern Christianity is primarily theological—the long tradition of apocalyptic literature, as well as the Scholastic commentaries on the nature of evil, cast the non-human world within a moral framework of salvation. In modernity, in the intersection of scientific hegemony, industrial capitalism, and what Nietzsche famously prophesied as the death of God, the non-human world gains a different value. In modernity, the response is primarily existential—a questioning of the role of human individuals and human groups in light of modern science, high technology, industrial and post-industrial capitalism, and world wars.
In the light of the ongoing and growing disaster called irreversible climate change, Desert clearly exposes the theological-existential roots (the modern roots, that is to say) of anarchist politics, not particularly different, as far as this issue goes, from the panorama of Left or radical positions. What matters to me is the opportunity to strike out beyond these positions, elaborating an anti-politics thought through in reference to a point of view Thacker calls cosmological. Could such a cosmological view, he writes, be understood not simply as the view from interstellar space, but as the view of the world-without-us, the Planetary view? Desert might be one of the first signs of the paradoxical draw of this view, which, it should be clear by now, is something other than a position to be adopted. But for those who like the convenience names lend to things, consider the version Thacker elaborates (in a discussion of the meaning of black in black metal, of all things). He calls it cosmic pessimism:
The view of Cosmic Pessimism is a strange mysticism of the world-without-us, a hermeticism of the abyss, a noumenal occultism. It is the difficult thought of the world as absolutely unhuman, and indifferent to the hopes, desires, and struggles of human individuals and groups. Its limit-thought is the idea of absolute nothingness, unconsciously represented in the many popular media images of nuclear war, natural disasters, global pandemics, and the cataclysmic effects of climate change. Certainly these are the images, or the specters, of Cosmic Pessimism, and different from the scientific, economic, and political realities and underlie them; but they are images deeply embedded in our psyche nonetheless. Beyond these specters there is the impossible thought of extinction, with not even a single human being to think the absence of all human beings, with no thought to think the negation of all thought.
Now the intention of my or will be clear for some (from the psyche to the cosmos…). In Dust Thacker does not draw many connections between his ideas and politics, so it is worthwhile to examine one of the places where he illustrates the paradox his view of the Planet opens up in that space. He cites Carl Schmitt’s suggestion, in Political Theology:
the very possibility of imagining or re-imagining the political is dependent on a view of the world as revealed, as knowable, and as accessible to us as human beings living in a human world. … But the way in which that analogy [from theology to politics] is manifest may change over time …
the 17th and 18th centuries were dominated by the theological analogy of the transcendence of God in relation to the world, which correlates to the political idea of the transcendence of the sovereign ruler in relation to the state. By contrast, in the 19th century a shift occurs towards the theological notion of immanence… which likewise correlates to “the democratic thesis of the identity of the ruler and the ruled.” In these and other instances, we see theological concepts being mobilized in political concepts, forming a kind of direct, tabular comparison between cosmology and politics (God and sovereign ruler; the cosmos and the state; transcendence and absolutism; immanence and democracy).
The closed loop of politics:
The republic is the only cure for the ills of the monarchy, and the monarchy is the only cure for the ills of the republic.
Thacker’s question follows: what happens to this analogy, which structures both political theory and ordinary thinking about politics to some extent, if one posits a world that is not, and will never be, entirely revealed and knowable? The closed loop is opened, and the analogy breaks down. What happens when we as human beings confront a world that is radically unhuman, impersonal, and even indifferent to the human? What happens to the concept of politics… It seems to me that a question of this sort is lurking in the background of Desert as well.
* * *
The desert may be, or sometimes seem to be, what is left after a catastrophic event, but it has also always been with us, as image and reality.
In what passes for a moon
On the galactic periphery,
Here is an austere beauty,
Like that which must have been
Experienced by men
On the ice-caps and deserts
As they once existed on earth
Before their urbanization
Harsh and unambiguous…
World-desert: the desert grows…
Earth-deserts: they are growing, too.
Cosmic deserts: on the galactic periphery… In a response to François Laruelle’s Du noir univers, Thacker elaborates on the various senses of the desert motif, suggesting both that it is the inevitable image and experience of the Planet, as a slice of the Cosmos, or what Laruelle calls the black Universe, and that it is a mirage, that there is no real desert to escape to. Hermits keep escaping to the desert, but their solitude is temporary; others gather nearby. The escape from forced community develops spontaneous forms of community. But for being spontaneous, such community does not cease to develop, sooner or later, the traits of the first, escaped, community. The issue for me is double: first, that to the two senses invoked in Desert (the literal ecological sense, and the sense of desertion) we may now add the third corresponding to the Planetary or Cosmic view, the desert as the impossible, as nothingness. Second, the ethical, psychological, or at least practical insight that some keep deserting society, civilization, or what have you in the direction of the desert and, as stated, sooner or later populating it, inhabiting it, somehow living or at least surviving in it. Even if these deserters headed towards the desert in the first sense, they were motivated or animated by the impossible target of the desert in the third sense. Now, this apparently closed-loop operation could be the inevitable repetition of some ancient anthropogenic trauma. Or it could be (we just can’t know here and now) the sane, wild reaction to Civilization: desperate attempt to return to the Earth (our bright home) via the dark indifference of the Planet or Cosmos. Of this return pessimism says: you will need to do it again and again. Is the pessimism about a condition we can escape, or one we can’t? Is it the anti-civilization pessimism of the most radical ecology, or is it despair, no less trivial for being a psychological insight, before the morbid obtuseness of humans? We just can’t know here and now. Masciandaro, Thacker’s fellow commentator on Laruelle, aptly terms this “the positivity and priority of opacity”—the opacity of the Planet and the Cosmos, Laruelle’s black universe.
O the dark, the deep hard dark
Of these galactic nights!
Even the planets have set
Leaving it slab and impenetrable,
As dark and directionless
As those long nights of the soul
The ancient mystics spoke of.
Beyond there is nothing,
Nothing we have known or experienced.
* * *
In Desert we read:
Nature’s incredible power to re-grow and flourish following disasters is evident both from previous mass extinctions and from its ability to heal many lands scarred by civilisation. Its true power is rarely considered within the sealed, anthropocentric thinking of those who would profit from the present or attempt to plan the future. Yet the functioning of the Earth System is destructive as well as bountiful and it is not a conscious god with an interest in preserving us or its present arrangement—something we may find out if the Earth is now moving to a new much hotter state.
For his part, Thacker concludes his book by discussing a mysticism of the unhuman, what he calls a climatological mysticism. It is a way of thinking, and paradoxical knowing, modeled on religious mysticism rather than scientific knowledge. But it is not reducible to the former. He writes,
there is no being-on-the-side-of the world, much less nature or the weather. […] the world is indifferent to us as human beings. Indeed, the core problematic of the climate change issue is the extent to which human beings are at issue at all. On the one hand we as human beings are the problem; on the other hand at the planetary level of the Earth’s deep time, nothing could be more insignificant than the human. This is where mysticism again becomes relevant.
This attitude of nonknowledge, as Bataille would have put it, informs life even as it decenters it. That the Earth is our place, but the planet does not care about us and the cosmos is not our home, is a thought of the ways in which we might survive here. Some will remember Vaneigem’s repeated contrast between vie and survie, life and survival. For him it was a matter of inverting the accepted, and to a large extent enforced, view in which one must survive first and live second. Some of this view seems to have been taken into the perspective that identifies life and nature, where the latter is understood as what we are or should be—that is, that there is something normative about life or nature that we can refer to. The perspective I am developing here suggests that we have no way of knowing what we are or should be, and that the wild is better conceived as that no-way, as the conditions that push back against our best effort to define ourselves, identify our selves, or know our world. Similarly, what is wild in us can only be conceived (though it is not really conceivable in the long run) as what resists, what pushes back, against any established order. But this might be closer to survival than to life. Survival has a positive value in that it is itself an activity, a set of nontrivial practices that refer back to life insofar as we know it. We survive as we can, not confident that we are living. It is this aspect of Desert that some insurrectionaries seem to have disagreed with, in that it often talks of plans for survival where they would have preferred to see plans for action, or at least calls to action. We can read there of
An Anarchism with plenty of adjectives, but one that also sets and achieves objectives, can have a wonderful present and still have a future; even when fundamentally out of the step with the world around it. There is so much we can do, achieve, defend and be; even here, where unfortunately civilisation probably still has a future.
It is passages like this one, towards the end of the pamphlet, that probably left some with the impression that its author is still attached to hope, and left others with the sense of a form of survival that still somehow resembled activism more than attack. As for the former impression, that would be to confuse the climate pessimism of Desert with a kind of overarching and mandatory mood, as though those who had this view were of necessity personally depressed or despondent. There is no evidence for such a conclusion. As for the latter, it is a little more complicated. Yes, the author of Desert often sounds like someone addressing activists; and, yes, Desert explicitly rejects the cause of Revolution in several places. One could say this adds up to a kind of political retreat. One could also say, however, that some are too used to reading political texts that always end on a loud and vindictive note! No, this is where the question of rethinking survival from an anti-political perspective inflected by something like Thacker’s cosmic pessimism or reinvented mysticism is critical. We make survival primary, not so much inverting Vaneigem’s inversion of the norm in societies like ours, but rather by noticing what in our conception of life has always been a kind of religion or morality of life, easy adjustment to a familiar nature. Whatever its faults, Desert was written to say that such a conception is no longer useful, and that one useful meaning of anarchist is someone who admits as much. Can that meaning fit with the subcultures that most of today’s anarchists compose? Probably not. The subcultures exist as pockets of resistance, of course; but survival in them is indelibly tied to reproducing the anarchist as persona, as identity, as an answer to the question of what life is or is for. To make sense or have meaning this answer presupposes the workings of our homegrown identity-machine, our collective, repeated minimal task of discerning about actions whether they are anarchist or not, and, by extension, whether the person carrying them out is anarchist. It is our way of bringing the community into the desert. Announcement of one’s intentions to overcome the limits of subculture and reach out to others, or inspire them with our actions, is not different than, but rather a crucial part of, this operation. Survival, in the sense Desert suggests it to me, is something completely different, for in it any social group or kin network, as it attempts to live on, cannot draw significant lines of difference (of identification, therefore) between itself and others. It melts into a humanity collectively resisting death. Needless to say this is something entirely different than the revolutionary process as it has been imagined and attempted. There is no future to plan for, only a present to survive in, and that is the implosion of politics as we have known it.
To survive, not to live, or, not living, to maintain oneself, without life, in a state of pure supplement, movement of substitution for life, but rather to arrest dying…
… deserting life.
* * *
A desert and not a garden: one remarkable aspect of the contemporary anarchist space is an open contradiction between two perspectives on what struggle is, or is for, that might be summed up in the phrases we have enemies and we did this to ourselves. There are countless versions of this contradiction, which at a deeper level is really not about political struggle at all, but about the essence of resistance. One version is the condemnation of the notion of enemy as a moral notion, and another is its silent return in the emphasis on friendship and affinity; there is also what a book called Enemies of Society may be taken to suggest from its title on. The contradiction surfaces most clearly in discussions influenced by primitivist positions or ones hostile to civilization, likely because of the tremendous temporal compression they require to make their case. In such talk, we zoom out from lifetimes and generations to a scale of tens of thousands of years. The enemy appears within the course of history, but the fact of the appearance of the enemy, the split in humanity, summons the second we, because of the need to presuppose a whole species in some natural state (balance, etc.) that, in the event or events that open up the panorama of civilization and history, cleaves itself into groups or at least roles. The positions we know better tend to revolve around trivialized versions of these perspectives, never really experiencing the tension between them. It is only in the play of the anarchist space as a whole (and precisely because it is not a single place, in which all involved would have to put up with each other for a few hours, let alone live together) that the contradiction unfolds. Some form of we have enemies is the great rallying for a wide array of active agents, from the remains of the Left to advocates of social war. And some form of we did this to ourselves is in the background of all sorts of moralizing approaches to oppression and interpersonal damage, but also the more misanthropic strains of primitivism. I would also argue that a modified form of it informs the deep background of egoism and some forms of individualism (splitting the forced we from the atomic ourselves). My question is, what happens if we zoom out farther? Here the virtue of invoking science as Desert does may be visible. For what is beyond history (the time of the World) and prehistory is geologic time, the time of the Planet, which leads us to cosmic time. There is a difference between invoking science and practicing or praising it. The latter simply produce more science. The former may be a way to encounter what our still humanist politics ignore. From the perspective of cosmic time, the contradiction does not dissolve (at least not for me); but its moral or political character seems to unravel. Something less centered on us emerges. Perhaps both stories—the story about enemies and the story about ourselves—ignore something much more disturbing than mere accidental guilt or immorality, something that disturbs us precisely because it is the disturbing of humanity. (“It is not man who colonizes the planet, but the planet and the cosmos who transgress the lonely threshold of man”—does this odd sentence of Laruelle’s express the thought here, I wonder?) It makes sense for Thacker to invoke mysticism when he considers the cosmos or the Planet, because its otherness has most often been referred to as divine, and related to as a god. Now, that need have nothing to do with religion, especially if we identify religion with revelation; but mysticism is a good enough approximation to the attitude one takes towards a now decentered life. I call that attitude a thoughtful kind of survival. This is closely connected to a conversation one often overhears in the company of anarchists. Someone is discussing something they prefer or are inclined to do, and doing so in increasingly positive terms. Another person points out (functioning of the anarchist identity machine) that there is nothing specifically anti-capitalist or radical about the stated activity or preferred object, reducing it verbally to another form of consumption. Anxious hours are passed this way. About such inclinations I prefer to say that we do not know if they come from above or below; we know our own resistance, and not much more. That resistance manifests in unknowable ways, obeying no conscious plan. It could well be a particularly fancy kind of neurosis; but survival means just this, that we do not know the way out of the situation and we must live here with the idea of anarchy. Another way to put this is that if our rejection of society and state is as complete as we like to say it is, our project is not to create alternative micro-societies (scenes, milieus) that people can belong to, but something along the lines of becoming monsters. It is probable that anarchy has always had something to do with becoming monstrous. The monster, writes Thacker in another of his books, is unlawful life, or what cannot be controlled. It seems to me the only way to do this, as opposed to saying one is doing it and being satisfied with that, would be to unflinchingly contemplate the thing we are without trying to be, the thing we can never try to be or claim we are: the nameless thing, or unthinkable life. Which is also the solitary thing, or the lonely one. The egoist or individualist positions are like dull echoes of the inexpressible sentiment that I might be that nameless thing, translated into a common parlance for the benefit of a (resistant, yes) relation to the social mass. That the cosmos is not our natural home is a thought outside the ways in which we might survive here. To say we survive instead of living is in part to say that we have no idea what living is or ought to be (that there is probably no ought-to about living). But also that we resist any ideal of life, including our own. Becoming monstrous is therefore the goal of dismantling the milieu as anarchist identity machine. Being witness to the nameless thing, to the unthinkable life or Planet or Cosmos, is not a goal. It is not a criterion of anything, either. It is more like a state, a mystical, poetic state (though in this state I am the poem). It is the climatological mysticism Thacker describes and Desert hints at for an anarchist audience, both deriving in their own way from the weird insight that the Planet is indifferent to us. So read Desert again as an allegory of the self-destruction of the milieu, of any community that, as it runs from its norms, places new, unstated norms ahead of itself. Such is the slippage from green nihilism to cosmic pessimism, which gives us occasion to continue speaking of chaos. Well, one might say that I have merely imported some alien theory into an otherwise familiar (if not easy) discussion. Of course I have. My aim, however, was not to apply it, but to show in what sense one play that is often acted out in our spaces may be anti-politically theorized, which is to say cosmically psychoanalyzed. Our place is not to apply the theory of cosmic pessimism (or any other theory; that is not what theory is, or is for); our place is to think, to continue speaking of chaos, not being stupid enough to think we can take its side. There are no sides. We might come to realize that we, too, in our attempts to gather, organize, act, change life, and so on, were playing in the world, ignorant of the Planet, its unimaginable weirdness.
If the earth must perish, then astronomy is our only consolation
Post scriptum. I mentioned community in passing. Most anarchists I converse with regularly treat the word delicately or dismissively, either ignoring it altogether, putting it in quotation marks, or virtually crossing it out. I suppose that crossed-out sense of community is another name for the milieu. As crappy as it is most of the time, I will admit that the milieu is a space-time (really a series of places-moments, some of them taking place ever so briefly) where one can register, to some extent, what ideas have traction in our lives. Desert‘s explicit statements are certainly more pedestrian than Thacker’s theory; but the downside to Thacker’s exciting flights of intellectual fancy, at least from where I am writing, is that it is hard to know who he is speaking to, or about, much of the time. One imagines that people do gather to hear what he has to say, or read his books in concert. I do wonder to what extent they consider themselves to be a community, a potential community, a crossed-out community.
Post scriptum bis. I mentioned solitude. It would also be worthwhile to think about friendship along these lines.
Desert. LBC Books. 2011.
Laruelle, François. “Theorems on the Good News.”
—. “On the Black Universe.” In Dark Nights of the Universe, [NAME], 2013.
Masciandaro, Nicola. “Comments on Eugene Thacker’s ‘Cosmic Pessimism’.” continent. 2.2, 2012.
—. “Secret” In Dark Nights of the Universe, [NAME], 2013.
Snyder, Gary. “The Etiquette of Freedom.” In The Practice of the Wild, North Point Press, 1990.
Thacker, Eugene. After Life. University of Chicago Press, 2010.
—. In the Dust of this Planet. Zero Books. 2010.
—. “Remote: The Forgetting of the World.” In Dark Nights of the Universe, [NAME], 2013.
we will watch part 2 of the power of nightmares by adam curtis (with better audio this time).
1. what does it mean that the most nihilist communications are coming from the environmental scene(s)? given that desert, dark mountain, and black seed are all pointing in the direction of (or outright insisting) there is nothing we can do, how does that change what we do (since we are also, always, doing something)?
2. what is the difference between Desert and Uncivilised? does it matter that one calls itself anarchist, and the other claims no political affiliation?
1) Potluck @ 7 pm!!!
2) Flesh Machine (chapter 1 & 2)
there were no study questions given for this reading (booo, lame) but here is a more recent review and some additional thoughts (including the information that CAE did an art installation on the topic, etc)
review is here.
website of art pages here.
The Destructive Character: This is short and there is no PDF. I will bring the book and we will read it aloud.
This evening we will be reading from Baeden 2 (not posted online cuz paper rules!). I’m sure the reading will be dramatic and about skool and knowledge and Benjamin.
Nothing is missing from the triumph of civilization. Neither political terror nor emotional poverty. Nor universal sterility.
The desert can no longer expand: it is everywhere. But it can still deepen.
Faced with the obviousness of the catastrophe, there are those who become indignant and those who take note, those who denounce and those who get organized. We are on the side of those who get organized.
This is a call. That is to say it aims at those who can hear it. The question is not to demonstrate, to argue, to convince. We will go directly to what is already obvious. This is not primarily a matter of logic or reasoning. What is obvious is what is perceptible, the realm of reality.
There is an clarity to every reality. What is held in common or what sets things apart. After which communication becomes possible again, communication which is no longer presupposed, but which is to be built.
And this network of obvious things that make us up, we have been taught so well to doubt it, to avoid it, to conceal it, to keep it to ourselves. We have been taught so well, that we lack the words when we want to shout.
As for the order we live under, everyone knows what it consists of: the empire is staring us in the face. That a dying social system has no other justification to its arbitrary nature than its absurd determination — its senile determination — simply to linger on; that the global and national police have received a free hand to get rid of those who do not toe the line; that civilization, wounded in its heart, no longer encounters anything but its own limits in the endless war it has begun; that this headlong flight, already almost a century old, produces nothing but a series of increasingly frequent disasters; that the mass of humans accommodate themselves to this order of things by means of lies, cynicism, brutalization, or pills — no one can claim to ignore these things any longer.
And the sport that consists in endlessly describing the present disaster, with a varying degree of complaisance, is just another way of saying: “that’s the way it is”; the prize of infamy going to journalists, to all those who pretend every morning to rediscover the bullshit they only just noticed the day before.
But what is most striking, for the time being, is not the arrogance of empire, but rather the weakness of the counter-attack. Like a colossal paralysis. A mass paralysis, which will sometimes cause people to say that nothing can be done, but who will sometimes concede, when pushed to their limit, that “there is so much to do” — which isn’t any different. Then, at the margins of this paralysis, there is the “we really have to do something, anything” of the activists.
Seattle, Prague, Genoa, the struggle against GMOs, the movement of the unemployed; we have played our part, we have taken sides in the struggles of recent years; and of course not that of extraparliamentary (for now) coalition of Leftists from Attac or the Negrist antiglobalization militants of Tute Bianche.
The folklore of protests has ceased to amuse us. In the last decade, we have seen the dull monologue of Marxism-Leninism being regurgitated from the mouths of high school students. We have seen the purest anarchism negate what it cannot comprehend. We have seen the most tedious economism — that of our friends at Le Monde Diplomatique — becoming the new popular religion. And Negrism asserts itself as the only alternative to the intellectual rout of the global left.
Everywhere militantism has gone back to raising its rickety constructions, its depressing networks, until it is exhausted.
It took no more than three years for the cops, unions, and other informal bureaucracies to dismantle the short-lived Anti-Globalization Movement. To control it. To divide it into separate “areas of struggle,” each as profitable as it is sterile. In these times, from Davos to Porto Alegre, from the French bosses’ union Medef to the Spanish CNT, capitalism and anti-capitalism point to the same missing horizon. The same truncated prospect of managing the disaster.
What opposes this dominant desolation is nothing but another desolation, just less well-stocked. Everywhere there is the same idiotic idea of happiness. The same games of spastic power. The same defused superficiality. The same emotional illiteracy. The same desert.
We say that this epoch is a desert, and that this desert is incessantly deepening. This is no poetic device; it is obvious. This obviousness holds many others. Notably the rupture with all who protest, all who denounce, and all who ramble on about the disaster.
She who denounces exempts herself.
Everything appears as if Leftists were accumulating reasons to revolt the same way a manager accumulates the means to dominate. That is to say with the same delight.
The desert is the progressive depopulation of the world. The habit we have adopted of living as if we were not of this world. The desert exists in the continuous, massive, and programmed proletarianization of populations, just as in California suburbs, where distress lies precisely in the fact that no one seems to experience it.
That the present desert is not perceived only verifies its existence.
Some have tried to name the desert. To point out what has to be fought — not as the action of some foreign agent, but as an ensemble of relations. They have talked about the Spectacle, about Biopower, about Empire. But this only adds to the current confusion.
The spectacle is not an easy abbreviation for mass media. It lives just as much in the cruelty with which our own false image is endlessly thrown back at us.
Biopower is not a synonym for social security, the welfare state, or the pharmaceutical industry; but it pleasantly lodges itself in the care that we take of our pretty bodies, in a certain physical estrangement from oneself as well as from others.
Empire is not some kind of extraterrestrial entity, a worldwide conspiracy of governments, financial networks, technocrats, and multinational corporations. Empire is everywhere nothing is happening. Everywhere things are working. Everywhere the status quo reigns.
We continue to see the enemy as a subject that faces us — instead of experiencing it as a relationship that binds us — we confine ourselves to the struggle against confinement. We reproduce the worst relationships of dominance under the pretext of an alternative. We set up shops for selling the struggle against the commodity. We see the rise of the authorities of the anti-authoritarian struggle, macho feminism, and racist attacks by anti-fascists.
At every moment we are taking part in a situation. Within a situation there are no subjects and objects, I and the other, my desires and reality — only an ensemble of relationships, an ensemble of the fluxes that traverse it.
There is a general context — capitalism, civilization, empire, as you wish — a general context that not only intends to control each situation but, even worse, seeks a way to make sure as often as possible, that there is no situation. They have planned out streets and homes, language and emotions, even the global tempo that drives all of it, only for that purpose. Everywhere different realms are made to slide by each other and be ignored. The normal situation is this absence of a situation.
To get organized means: to get out of the situation and not merely challenge it. To take sides within it. Weaving the necessary material, emotional, and political solidarities. This is what any strike does in any office, in any factory. This is what any gang does. Any underground; any revolutionary or counter-revolutionary party. To get organized means: to give substance to the situation. Making it real, tangible.
Reality is not capitalist.
Our position within a situation determines our need to become allies, and for that reason to establish some lines of communication, some wider current or tendency. In turn those new links reconfigure the situation. We call the situation that we are backed into Global Civil War. Where there is no longer anything that can limit the confrontation between the opposing forces. Not even the law, which comes into play as one more form of the generalized confrontation.
The We that speaks here is not a definable, isolated We, the We of a group. It is the We of a position. This position is asserted currently as a double secession: first a secession from the process of capitalist valorization, then secession from all the sterility imposed by a mere opposition to empire (extra-parliamentary or otherwise); a secession therefore from the Left. Here secession means less a practical refusal to communicate than a disposition to forms of communication so intense that, when put into practice, they snatch from the enemy most of its power. To put it briefly, such a position borrows sudden force from the Black Panthers, collective dining halls from the German Autonomen, tree houses and the art of sabotage from the British neo-Luddites, the careful choice of words from radical feminists, mass self-reductions from the Italian autonomists, and armed joy from the June 2nd Movement.
For us there is no longer any friendship that is not political.
The unlimited escalation of control is a hopeless response to the predictable breakdowns of the system. Nothing that is expressed in the known distribution of political identities is able to lead beyond the disaster.
Therefore, we begin by withdrawing from them. We contest nothing, we demand nothing. We constitute ourselves as a force, as a material force, as an autonomous material force within the Global Civil War.
This call sets out its foundations.
In France a new weapon of crowd dispersal, a kind of wooden fragmentation grenade is being tested. In Oregon it is proposed that demonstrators blocking traffic receive twenty-five year sentences. The Israeli army is becoming the most prominent consultant in urban pacification; experts from all over the world rush to marvel at the latest discoveries, both formidable and subtle, in methods to eliminate subversives. It would appear that the art of wounding — injuring one to frighten a hundred — has reached new heights. And then, of course, there’s what gets called Terrorism. That is, “any offence committed intentionally by an individual or a group against one or more countries, their institutions or their populations, and aiming at threatening and/or seriously undermining or destroying the political, economic, or social structures of a country.” That’s the definition of the European Commission. In the United States there are more prisoners than farmers.
As it is reorganized and progressively recaptured, public space is blanketed with cameras. It is not only that surveillance is now possible, it is that is has become particularly acceptable. All sorts of lists of suspects circulate from department to department, and we can barely make out their probable uses. Protected by the police, gangs of paramilitaries replace the positions once held by gossips and snitches, figures of another era. A former head of the CIA, one of those people who, on the opposing side, get organized rather than get indignant, writes in Le Monde: “More than a war against terrorism, what is at stake is the extension of democracy to the parts of the [Arab and Muslim] world that threaten liberal civilization, the construction and the defense of which we have worked for throughout the 20th century, during the First, and then the Second World War, followed by the Cold War — or the Third World War.”
Nothing shocks us about this; nothing catches us unawares or radically alters our feeling toward life. We were born inside the catastrophe and we have established a strange and comfortable relation of habit with it. Almost an intimacy. For as long as we can remember there has been no news besides that of the Global Civil War. We have been raised as survivors, as machines of survival. We have been raised with the idea that life consists in continually going on; walking in indifference until crushed among other bodies who walk identically, who stumble and get crushed in turn. In the end, the only novelty of the present epoch is that none of this can be hidden anymore, that in a sense everybody knows it. Hence the most recent visible hardening of the system: its motives are exposed, it would be pointless to wish them away.
Many wonder why no part of the Left or far-Left, no known political force, is capable of opposing this course of events. “We still live in a democracy, right?” They can wonder for a long time: nothing that is expressed within the framework of traditional politics will ever be able to limit the advance of the desert, because traditional politics is part of the desert.
When we say this it’s not in order to advocate extra-parliamentary politics as an antidote to liberal democracy. The popular manifesto “We are the Left,” signed a couple of years ago by all the social justice collectives and social movements to be found in France, expresses well enough the logic that, for thirty years, has driven extra-parliamentary politics: we do not want to seize power, overthrow the state, etc.; really we want to be recognized as valid representatives.
Wherever the classical conception of politics prevails, the same impotence prevails opposite the disaster. That this impotence is widely distributed between a variety of eventually reconcilable identities changes nothing about it. The anarchist from the Federation Anarchiste, the council communist, the Trotskyist from Attac and the lawmaker start from the same amputation; they spread the same desert.
Politics, for them, is what is settled, said, done, and decided between men. The assembly that gathers them all, that gathers all human beings in abstraction from their respective realms, forms the ideal political situation. The economy, the economic sphere, follows logically: it is a both a necessary and impossible management of all that was left outside the assembly, of all that was determined to be non-political and which then becomes family, business, private life, leisure, pastimes, culture, etc.
That is how the classical definition of politics spreads the desert: by abstracting humans from their world, by disconnecting them from the network of things, habits, words, fetishes, emotions, places, solidarities that make up their world, their perceptual world, and that gives them their specific substance.
Classical politics is the glorious staging of bodies without a theater. But the theatrical assembly of political individualities poorly masks the desert that it is. There is no human society separated from the sum of human and non-human beings. There is a plurality of realms. Of realms that are all the more real because they are shared. And that coexist.
Politics, in truth, is the interplay between different realms, the alliance between those that are compatible and the confrontation between those that are irreconcilable.
Therefore we say that the central political fact of the last thirty years went unnoticed. Because it took place at such a deep level of reality that it cannot be called political without bringing about a revolution in the very notion of the political. Because this level of reality is also the one where the division is elaborated between what is taken for reality and what is not. This central fact is the triumph of Existential Liberalism. The fact that it is now considered natural for everyone to have a rapport with the world based on the idea that each person has her own life. That such a life consists in a series of choices, good or bad. That each person can define herself by an ensemble of qualities, of properties, that make her, through her continual balancing of those properties, a unique and irreplaceable being. That the contract adequately epitomizes relations between individuals, and that respect epitomizes all virtue. That language is nothing but a means of arriving at an agreement. That, in reality, the world is composed on one side of things to manage, and on the other of an ocean of self-absorbed individuals, who in turn have a regrettable tendency to turn themselves into things, letting themselves become managed.
Of course, cynicism is only one of the possible features of the infinite clinical diagnoses of Existential Liberalism. It also includes depression, apathy, immunodeficiency (every immune system is intrinsically collective), dishonesty, judicial harassment, chronic dissatisfaction, denied affection, isolation, illusions of citizenship, and the loss of all generosity.
Existential liberalism has propagated its desert so well that even the most sincere Leftists express their utopia with its very terms. “We will rebuild an egalitarian society in which each person makes her contribution and from which each person gets her needs met from it… As far as individual desires are concerned, it could be egalitarian if each person consumes in proportion to the efforts she is ready to contribute. Naturally it will be necessary to redefine the method of evaluating the efforts contributed by each person,” write the organizers of the Alternative, Anti-capitalist, and Anti-war Village against the G8 summit in Evian in a text entitled When Capitalism and Wage Labor Will Have Been Abolished! Here is a key to the triumph of Empire: managing to keep in the shadows, to surround with silence the very terrain on which it maneuvers, the field upon which it fights the decisive battle: that of manipulating feelings, of defining the limits of the perceptible. In such a way it preventively paralyzes any defense at the very moment of its operation, and ruins the very idea of a counter-offensive. The victory is won whenever the militant, at the end of a hard day of Political Work, slumps down in front of an action movie.
When they see us withdraw from the painful rituals of classical politics — the general assembly, the meeting, the negotiation, the protest, the demand — when they hear us speak about the perceptible realm rather than about work, IDs, pensions, or freedom of movement, militants give us a pitying look. “Poor guys,” they seem to say, “they are resigning themselves to minority politics, they have retreated into their ghetto, and renounced any widening of the struggle. They will never be part of a movement.” But we believe exactly the opposite: it is they who resign themselves to minority politics by speaking their language of false objectivity, whose gravity consists of nothing more than repetition and rhetoric. Nobody is fooled by the veiled contempt with which they talk about the worries of The People, and which allows them to go from the unemployed person to the illegal immigrant, from the striker to the prostitute without ever putting themselves at risk — their contempt is that obvious. Their will to widen the struggle is nothing but a way to flee from those who are already there, and, above all, from those they would dread living with. And finally, it is they who are loath to admit the political meaning of sensitivity, who have to rely on sentimentality as their pitiful driving force. All in all, we prefer to start from small and dense nuclei than from a vast and loose network. We are familiar enough with that spinelessness.
Those who would respond to the urgency of the situation with the urgency of their reaction only add to the suffocation.
Their manner of intervention, of their agitation, points to the rest of their politics.
As for us, the urgency of the situation liberates us from all considerations of legality or legitimacy, which have, in any case, become uninhabitable.
That it might take a generation to build a victorious revolutionary movement in all its breadth does not cause us to retreat. We think about this with serenity. Just as we serenely recognize the criminal nature of our existence, and of our deeds.
We have known, and are still familiar with, the temptation of activism.
The counter-summits, the campaigns against evictions, against new security laws and the building of new prisons, the occupations, the No-Border camps; the parade of all of this. The progressive dispersion of collectives responding to the same dispersion of activity. Running after the movements.
Feeling our power on an ad hoc basis, but at the price of returning each time to an underlying powerlessness. Paying a high price for each campaign. Letting it consume all the energy that we have. Then moving to the next one, each time more out of breath, more exhausted, more saddened.
And little by little, through demanding, through denouncing, we become incapable of sensing what is supposed to be the basis of our engagement, the nature of the urgency that flows through us.
Activism is the first reflex. The standard response to the urgency of the present situation. The perpetual mobilization in the name of urgency is what our governments and our bosses have made us used to, even when we fight against them.
Forms of life disappear every day; plant and animal species, human experiences and countless relationships between living beings and ways of living. But our feeling of urgency is tied less to the speed of these extinctions than to their irreversibility, and even more to our inability to repopulate the desert.
The activist mobilizes herself against the catastrophe. But only to prolong it. Her haste consumes what little of the world remains. The activist answer to urgency remains faithful to the regime of urgency, with no hope of getting out of it or interrupting it.
The activist wants to be everywhere. She goes everywhere the rhythm of the breakdown of the machine leads her. Everywhere she brings her pragmatic inventiveness, the festive energy of her opposition to the catastrophe. Without a doubt, the activist gets shit done. But she never devotes herself to thinking about how to do it. How to hinder concretely the progress of the desert, in order to establish inhabitable worlds without waiting.
We desert activism. Without forgetting what gives it strength: a certain presence within the situation. An ease of movement within it. A way to apprehend the struggle; not from a moral or ideological angle, but technically and tactically.
Old militantism provides the opposite example. There is something amazing about the cluelessness of militants in various situations. We remember this scene from Genoa: about 50 militants of the Trostkyist Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire wave their red flags labeled “100% on the Left.” They are motionless, timeless. They shout their pre-approved slogans, surrounded by peace-police. Meanwhile, a few meters away, some of us fight the lines of carabinieri, throwing back teargas canisters, ripping up paving stones to make projectiles, preparing Molotov cocktails with bottles found in the trash and gasoline from overturned Vespas. When compelled to comment on us the militants speak of adventurism, mindlessness. Their pretext is that the conditions are not right. We say that nothing was lacking, that everything was there — except them.
What we desert in militantism is this absence from the situation. Just as we desert the inconsistency to which activism condemns them.
Activists themselves feel this inconsistency. And this is why, periodically, they turn toward their elders, the militants. They borrow their strategies, terrains of struggle, slogans. What appeals to them in militantism is the consistency, the structure, the loyalty they lack. And so the activists revert to old-new disputes and demand — “citizenship for all,” “free movement of people,” “guaranteed income,” “free public transport.”
The problem with demands is that, by formulating needs in terms that make them audible to power, they say nothing about those needs, and what real transformations of the world they require. Thus, demanding free public transportation says nothing of our need to travel rather than be transported, of our need for slowness. In addition, demands often end up masking the real conflicts. Demanding free public transportation only slows the spread of fare-dodging techniques, at least for this specific milieu. Calling for the free movement of people merely means avoiding the issue of a practical escape from a tightening of control. Fighting for a guaranteed income is, at best, to condemn ourselves to the illusion that an amelioration of the worst of capitalism is necessary to get out of it. Whatever form it takes, the impasse is always the same: the subjective resources mobilized may be revolutionary, yet they remain imbedded in a program of (radical) reformism. Under the pretext of overcoming the alternative between reform and revolution we sink into a timely ambiguity.
The present catastrophe is that of a world actively made uninhabitable. A sort of methodical devastation of everything that remained liveable in the relations of humans with each other and with our environments. Capitalism could not have triumphed over the whole planet if it was not for techniques of power, specifically political techniques — there are all kinds of techniques: with or without tools, corporal or discursive, erotic or culinary, the disciplines and mechanisms of control, and it is pointless to denounce the reign of technics. The political techniques of capitalism consist first of all in breaking the attachments through which a group finds the means to produce, in the same movement, the conditions of its subsistence and its existence. In separating human communities from innumerable things — stones and metals, plants, trees that have a thousand purposes, gods, djinns, wild or tamed animals, medicines and psycho-active substances, amulets, machines, and all the other beings in their realms that co-exist with humans.
Ruining all community, separating groups from their means of existence and from the knowledge linked to them: it is political rationality that dictates the imposition of the commodity as the mediator of every relation. Just as it was necessary to liquidate the witches — which is to say their medicinal knowledge as well as the movement between the visible and invisible worlds which they promoted — today peasants have to renounce their ability to sow their own seeds in order to maintain the grip of multinational agribusinesses and other organizations of agricultural politics.
These political techniques of capitalism find their maximal point of concentration in contemporary metropoles. Metropoles are precisely the arena where, in the end, there is almost nothing left to reappropriate. A milieu in which everything is done so the human only relates to itself, only creates itself separately from other forms of life, bumps into or uses them without ever meeting them.
On the basis of this separation, and to make it durable, even the most minor, tentative, attempt at living outside commodity relationships has been made criminal. The field of legality has long been conflated with the multiple constraints that make life impossible — through wage labor or self-employment, charity work or militantism.
At the same time as this field becomes increasingly uninhabitable, everything that can contribute to making real life possible has been transformed into a crime.
Where activists claim that “No One is Illegal” we must recognize exactly the opposite: today an entirely legal existence would be an entirely submissive existence.
We have tax evasion, fictitious employment, insider trading, fake bankruptcies, welfare fraud, embezzlement, forgeries, and various other scams. There are trips across borders in airplane luggage compartments, trips without a ticket inside one city or within a country. Fare-dodging and shoplifting are the daily practices of thousands of people in the metropoles. And there is the illegal practice of trading seeds that has safeguarded many plant species. There are even more functional illegalities in the capitalist world-system. Some are tolerated, others encouraged, and others still that are eventually punished. An improvised vegetable garden on a wasteland has every chance of being flattened by a bulldozer even before its first harvest.
If we add up the sum of the special laws and customary regulations that govern all of the spaces that anyone can travel through in one day, there is not a single life that can be assured of impunity. Laws, codes, and juridical decisions exist that make every existence punishable; it would merely be a matter of applying them to the letter.
We are not ready to bet that where the desert grows there also grows something that can save us. Nothing can succeed that does not begin through a break with everything that makes this desert grow.
We know that building a power of any scale will take time. There are many things that we no longer know how to do. In fact, those of us who benefit from the modernization and the education dispensed in our developed lands barely know how to make anything ourselves. Even gathering plants for cooking or medicine — rather than merely for decoration — is regarded as archaic at best, at worst as a nice hobby.
We make a simple observation: everyone has access to a certain quantity of resources and knowledge made available by the simple fact of living in these lands of the old world, and we can communize them.
The question is not whether to live with or without money, to steal or to buy, to work or not, but how to use the money we have to increase our autonomy from the commodity sphere. And if we prefer to steal instead of working, or produce for ourselves instead of stealing, it is not due to a concern with purity. It is because the flows of power that accompany the flows of commodities, the subjective submission that conditions our access to survival, have become too expensive.
There would be many inappropriate ways to express what we envision: we neither want to leave for the countryside nor reappropriate and accumulate ancient knowledge. We are not merely concerned with a reappropriation of methods. Nor with a reappropriation of knowledge. If we put together all that knowledge, those techniques, and all the inventiveness displayed in the field of activism, we would still not get a revolutionary movement. It is a question of temporality. A question of creating the conditions where an offensive can sustain itself without fading away, of establishing the material solidarities that allow us to maintain it.
We believe there is no revolution without the constitution of a common material force. We do not ignore the anachronism of this belief. We know it is both too early and too late, which is why we have time. We have stopped waiting.
We set the point of reversal, the way out of the desert, the end of Capital, in the intensity of the link that each person manages to establish between what she thinks and how she lives. Contrary to the upholders of Existential Liberalism, we refuse to view this as a private matter, an individual issue, a question of character. On the contrary, we start from the certainty that this link depends on the construction of shared realms, of placing effective methods in common.
Every day each person is enjoined to accept that it is naive, out of date, a pure and simple absence of culture to ask about the link between ideas and actions. We consider this a symptom. This is nothing but an effect of the Liberal redefinition, so fundamentally modern, of the distinction between the public and the private. Liberalism has put forward the principle that everything must be tolerated, that everything can be thought, so long as it is recognized as being without direct consequences to the current structure of society, of its institutions, and of the power of the State. Any idea can be accepted; its expression should even be supported, so long as social and state rules are accepted. In other words, the freedom of thought of the private individual must be total, as must be her freedom of expression, in principle; but she must not desire the consequences of her thought as far as it concerns collective life.
Liberalism may have invented the individual, but it invented her mutilated from the get-go. The Liberal individual, who has never expressed herself better than in the pacifist and civil rights movements of today, is supposed to be attached to her freedom insofar as her freedom does not commit her to anything, and certainly does not try to impose itself upon others. The stupid precept “my freedom ends where that of another begins” is received today as an unassailable truth. Even John Stuart Mill, though one of the essential facilitators of the Liberal conquest, noticed that an unfortunate consequence follows: one is permitted to desire anything, on the sole condition that it is not desired too intensely, that it does not go beyond the limits of the private, or in any case beyond those of public free expression.
What we call Existential Liberalism is the adherence to a series of facts, which at their core, show an essential propensity toward betrayal. We have become accustomed to functioning at a sort of low gear in which we are relieved of the very idea of betrayal. This emotional lower gear is the guarantee we have accepted for our becoming-adult. Along with, for the most zealous, the mirage of an emotional self-containment as an unassailable ideal. Nevertheless, there is too much to betray for those who decide to keep those promises, no doubt carried since childhood, and which they continue to believe.
Existential Liberalism is the spontaneous ethics suitable for Social Democracy seen as a political ideal. You will never be a better citizen than when you are capable of renouncing a relation or a struggle in order to maintain your status. It will not always be without suffering, but that is precisely where Existential Liberalism is efficient: it even provides the remedies to the discomforts that it generates. The check to Amnesty International, the fair trade coffee, the demo against the last war, seeing the latest Michael Moore film, are so many non-acts disguised as gestures that will save you. Carry on exactly as usual; that is to say go for a walk in the designated spaces and do your shopping, the same as always. But on top of that, in addition, ease your conscience; buy No Logo, boycott Shell. This should be enough to convince you that political action, at bottom, does not require very much, and that you too are capable of engaging in it. There is nothing new in this buying and selling of indulgences, but the problem becomes palpable in the prevailing confusion. The invocatory culture of Another World Is Possible leaves little room to speak of ethics beyond consumer etiquette. The increase in the number of environmentalist, humanitarian, and solidarity associations opportunely channels general discontent and thus contributes to the perpetuation of this state of affairs, through personal valorization, official recognition and its first prize of honestly awarded subsidies; the worship, in short, of social usefulness. Above all, no more enemies. At the very most, problems, abuses seen as catastrophes — dangers from which only the mechanisms of power can protect us.
If the obsession of the founders of Liberalism was the neutralization of sects, it is because they united all the subjective elements that had to be banished in order for the modern State to exist. For a sectarian, life is exactly what is required for its particular philosophical truth and how it gets explained — a certain disposition toward worldly things and events, a way of not losing sight of what matters. There is an obvious overlap between the appearance of Society (and of its correlate: Economy) and the Liberal redefinition of the public and the private. The sectarian collectivity is, in itself, a threat to what is referred to by the pleonasm Liberal Society. This is due to it being a form of divisive organization. Here lies the nightmare for the founders of the modern State: a section of collectivity detaches itself from the whole, thus ruining the idea of social unity. Two things that Society can’t handle: 1) that a thought may be embodied, which is to say that it may have an effect on a person’s existence in terms of how she manages her life, or the manner in which she lives, and 2) that this embodiment may be not merely passed on to others, but also shared, communized. Any collective experience beyond control will be banally discredited as a so-called sect.
The pervasiveness of the commodity has inserted itself everywhere. This pervasiveness is the most effective instrument for disconnecting ends from means, to reduce everyday life to a living-space we are only required to manage. Everyday life is what we are supposed to want to return to; the acceptance of a necessary and universal neutralization. It is the ever-growing renunciation of the possibility of an unpostponed joy. As a friend once said, it is the average of all our possible crimes.
Rare are the collectivities that can escape the abyss that waits for them: mashing of the real into an extreme flatness, community as the epitome of average intensity, a slow disintegration clumsily filled with a bunch of banal and falsely sophisticated banter.
Neutralization is an essential characteristic of Liberal Society. Everybody knows the centers of neutralization, where it is required that no emotion stands out, where each person has to contain herself, and everybody experiences them as such: businesses (and what isn’t a business these days?), night clubs, bowling alleys and golf courses, museums, etc. Since everyone knows what these places are about, the real question is to know why — despite that — they can still be so popular. Why wish for, always and above all, that nothing happens that might provoke stirrings that go too deep? Out of habit? Because of despair? Because of cynicism? Or else: because you can feel the delight of being somewhere while not being there, of being there while being essentially somewhere else; because what we are at base would be preserved to the point of no longer even having to exist.
These are so-called ethical questions which must of course be asked and above all, they are those that we find at the very heart of the political: how to respond to emotional neutralization and to the potential effects of decisive thoughts? And also: how do modern societies work with these neutralizations, or rather, how are they made into essential cogs in its continual functioning? How does the material effectiveness of the empire relate to our predisposition toward giving up, regardless of our collective experiences?
The acceptance of these neutralizations can of course go hand in hand with great creative efforts. You can experiment up to the point of madness, on condition that you are a single creator, and that you produce the proof of this singularity in public (your works). You can still know what the stirrings are, but only on condition that you experience them alone, and that you are limited to passing them on indirectly. You will thereby be recognized as an artist or as a thinker, and, perhaps if you are politically engaged, you will be able to toss as many bottles into the ocean as you like, with the clear conscience of one who sees farther and who has warned others.
Like many, we have experienced that emotions stuck internally turn out badly: they can even turn into symptoms. The rigidities we observe in ourselves come from the partitions that every person believes herself obliged to put up in order to define her own limits, and to contain within her self what must not burst forth. When, for some reason or other, these partitions happen to crack and break, then things come up that might be unpleasant, which may even appear frightful — but it is a fright capable of freeing us from fear. Calling into question both our individual limits and the borders drawn by civilization can be a life-saver. The existence of any real community necessitates a certain physical danger: when emotions and thoughts are no longer ascribable to any one person, when interactions are recovered in which feelings, ideas, impressions, and emotions are exchanged carelessly. It must be understood that community per se is not the solution: it is its disappearance, everywhere and always, that is the problem.
We do not perceive humans to be isolated from each other or from the other beings of this world; we see them bound by multiple connections that we have learned to deny. This denial allows the blocking of emotional exchanges through which these multiple connections are experienced. This blockage, in turn, is necessary to make us accustomed to the most neutral, the most lifeless, the most average feelings; that which makes us long for vacations, lunch-breaks, or evenings out as a godsend — that is to say something just as neutral, average, and lifeless — but freely chosen. The imperial order, which is particularly Westernized, is nourished through this boredom.
We will be told: by advocating the experience of sharing intense emotions, you go against what living beings require to live, namely gentleness and calm — quite expensive these days, like any scarce commodity. If what is meant by this is that our point of view is incompatible with authorized leisure, then even winter sports junkies might admit that it would be no great loss to see all ski resorts burn and to return that environment to the marmots. On the other hand, we have nothing against the gentleness that any living being, as a living being, carries within itself. “It might be that living is a gentle thing.” Any blade of grass knows this better than all the citizens of the world.
To any moral preoccupation, to any concern for purity, we substitute the collective elaboration of a strategy. Only that which impedes the increase of our strength is bad. It follows from this resolution that economics and politics are no longer distinguishable. We are not afraid of forming gangs; and can only laugh at those who will decry us as a mafia.
We have been sold this lie: that what is most particular to us is what distinguishes us from the common. We experience the contrary: every singularity is felt in the manner and in the intensity with which a being brings into existence something common.
At root it is here that we begin, where we find each other. What is most singular in us calls to be shared.
But we note this: not only is what we have to share obviously incompatible with the dominant order, but this order strives to track down any kind of sharing for which it does not lay down the rules. For instance, the barracks, the hospital, the prison, the asylum, and the retirement home are the only forms of collective living allowed in the metropole. The normal condition is the isolation of everyone in their private cubicle. This is where they return endlessly, however strong the repulsion they feel, however great the encounters they make elsewhere.
We have known these conditions of existence, and we will never return to them. They weaken us too much. Make us too vulnerable. Make us waste away.
Isolation, in primal cultures, was the harshest sentence that could be passed on a member of the community. It is now the common condition. The rest of the disaster follows logically. It is on account of this narrow idea that everybody has of their own home that makes it seem natural to leave the street to the police. The world could not have been made so uninhabitable, nor sociality so controlled — from malls to bars, from boardrooms to backrooms — had not everyone been previously granted the shelter of private space.
In running away from conditions of existence that mutilate us, we found squats; or rather, the international squat scene. In this constellation of occupied spaces where, despite many limits, it is possible to experiment with forms of collective assembly outside of control, we have known an increase of power. We have organized ourselves for elementary survival: scrounging, theft, collective work, common meals, sharing of skills, equipment, loving inclinations — and we have found forms of political expression: concerts, demos, direct actions, sabotage, leaflets.
Then, little by little, we have seen our surroundings turn into a milieu and from a milieu into a scene. We have seen the enactment of a moral code replace the elaboration of a strategy. We have seen norms solidify, reputations develop, metaphors begin to function; and everything become so predictable. The collective adventure turned into a gloomy cohabitation. A hostile tolerance grasped all relations. We adapted. And in the end what was believed to be a counter-world amounted to nothing but a reflection of the dominant world: the same games of personal valorization in the realm of theft, fights, political or radical correction — the same sordid liberalism in emotional life, the same spats over access and territory, the same split between everyday life and political activity, the same identity paranoia. And for the luckiest, the luxury of periodically fleeing from their local poverty by introducing it elsewhere, someplace still exotic.
We do not impute these weaknesses to the squat form. We neither deny nor desert it. We say that squatting will only make sense again for us on the condition that we clarify the basis of the sharing we engage in. In the squat, like anywhere else, the collective creation of a strategy is the only alternative to retreating into an identity, either through assimilation or the ghetto.
On the subject of strategy, we have learned all the lessons from the tradition of the defeated. We remember the beginnings of the labor movement. The lessons are near to us.
Because what was put into practice in its initial phase relates directly to how we are living, to what we want to put into practice today. The building up of what was to be in force called the labor movement first rested on the sharing of criminal practices. The secret strike funds, the acts of sabotage, the secret societies, the class violence, the first forms of unemployment insurance seen in the recovery of individual clearheadedness, that were developed with the consciousness of their illegal and antagonistic nature.
In the United States the overlap between forms of workers’ organization and organized crime is most tangible. The power of the American proletarians at the beginning of the industrial era stemmed from the development, within the community of workers, of a force of destruction and retaliation against Capital, as well as from the existence of clandestine solidarities. The perpetual transposition of worker into criminal called for systematic control: the moralization against any form of autonomous organization. Anything that went beyond the ideal of the honest worker was marginalized as gangsterism. Ultimately, there was the mafia on the one hand and the unions on the other, both products of a reciprocal amputation.
In Europe, the integration of workers’ organizations into the state management apparatus — the foundation of social democracy — was paid for with the renunciation of the least ability to be a nuisance. Here too the emergence of the labor movement was a matter of material solidarities, of an urgent need for communism. The Maisons du Peuple were the last refuges for this confusion between the need for immediate communization and the strategic requirements of a practical implementation of the revolutionary process. The labor movement then developed as a progressive separation between the co-operative current, an economic niche cut off from its strategic raison d’être, and the political and union forms working on the terrain of electoralism or joint management. It is from the abandonment of any secessionist aim that this absurdity was born: the Left. The climax is reached when unionists denounce any resort to violence, loudly proclaiming to all who wish to hear it, that they will collaborate with the cops to control rioters.
The recent increase of policing functions of the State proves only this: that Western societies have lost all ability to cohere. They are only able to manage their inexorable decay. That is to say, essentially, to prevent any re-consolidation, to crush anyone who stands out. Anyone who deserts. Anyone who gets out of line.
But there is nothing to be done. The condition of inner ruin of these societies allows an increasing number of cracks to appear. The continual renovation of appearances can achieve nothing: there, worlds form. Squats, communes, groupuscules, barrios, all try to extract themselves from capitalist desolation. Most often these attempts come to nothing or die from autarky, for lack of having established contacts, appropriate solidarities. Also for lack of conceiving of themselves as full-time partisans in the Global Civil War.
But all of these attempted re-consolidations are still nothing compared to mass desire, with the constantly deferred desire to drop out. To leave.
In ten years, between two censuses, a hundred thousand people have disappeared in Great Britain. They have boarded a truck, bought a ticket, dropped acid, or gone underground. They have disaffiliated. They have left.
We would have liked, in our disaffiliation, to have had a place to rejoin, a side to take, a road to follow.
Many who leave get lost. And never arrive.
Our strategy is therefore the following: to establish and maintain a series of centers of desertion, of poles of secession, of rallying points. For runaways. For those who leave. A series of places where we can escape from the influence of a civilization that is headed for the abyss.
It is a matter of giving ourselves the means, of finding the methods whereby all those questions can be resolved; questions which, when addressed separately, can drive us to depression. How to dissolve the dependencies that weaken us? How to organize ourselves so we no longer have to work? How to settle beyond the toxicity of the metropole without going Back To Nature? How to shut down nuclear plants? How not to be forced to resort to psychiatric pulverization when a friend goes mad; or to the crude remedies of mechanistic medicine when she falls ill? How to live together without mutual suppression? How to take in the death of a comrade? How to ruin Empire?
We know our weaknesses: we were born and we have grown up in pacified societies, dissolved. We have not had the opportunity to acquire the strength that moments of intense collective confrontation can provide. Nor the knowledge that is linked to them. We have a political education to develop together. A theoretical and practical education.
For this, we need locations. Places where we can organizes ourselves, where we can share and develop the required techniques. Where we can learn to handle all that may prove necessary. Where we can co-operate. Had it not renounced any political perspective, the experimentations of the Bauhaus, with all the materiality and the rigor it contained, would evoke the idea that we can create for ourselves space-times dedicated to the transmission of knowledge and experience. The Black Panthers equipped themselves with such places, to which they added their politico-military capacity, the ten thousand free lunches they distributed every day, and their autonomous press. Before long, they formed a threat so tangible to Power that the Feds had to be sent in to massacre them.
Whoever constitutes themselves as a force knows that they become partisans of the global course of hostilities. The question of the resort to or the renunciation of what is called violence does not arise in such a partisan. And pacifism appears as a supplementary weapon in the service of Empire, along with the contingents of riot police and journalists. The considerations that concern us are the conditions of the asymmetrical conflict which has been imposed on us; we must consider the modes of appearance and disappearance suitable for each of our practices. The demonstration, the action with our faces unmasked, the indignant protest: these are all unsuitable forms of struggle against the current regime of domination. They even reinforce it, feeding up-to-date information into the systems of control. It would seem to be judicious, in any case, given that the flakiness of contemporary subjectivity extends even to our leaders (but also from the perspective of a lachrymose pathos in which we have succeeded in burying the least important citizen), to attack the material devices rather than the men that give them a face. This is for purely strategic considerations. Therefore, we must turn to the forms of operation distinctive to all guerrillas: anonymous sabotage, unclaimed actions, recourse to easily copied techniques, targeted counter-attacks.
This is not a moral question about the manner with which we provide ourselves with the means to live and fight, but a tactical question of the means we give ourselves and the use we make of them.
“The expression of capitalism in our lives is sadness,” a friend once said.
The point now is to establish the material conditions for a shared receptivity toward pleasure.
On the one hand, we want to live communism; on the other, to spread anarchy.
We are living through times of the most extreme separation. The depressing normality of the metropole, its lonely crowds, expresses the impossible utopia of a society composed of atoms.
The most extreme separation reveals the sense of the word communism.
Communism is not a political or economic system. Communism can manage without Marx. Communism doesn’t give a damn about the USSR. And we cannot explain the fact that every decade for the past fifty years some have pretended to rediscover Stalin’s crimes, crying “look at what communism is!” if they did not have the feeling that in reality everything pushes us there.
The only argument that ever stood against communism was that we did not need it. And certainly, until recently and here and there, as limited as they were, there were still things, languages, thoughts, and places that were shared and that endured; at least enough of them not to fade away. There were worlds, and they were inhabited. The refusal to think about, the refusal to bring up, the question of communism had practical arguments. Those have been swept away. The ’80s, as much as they endure, remain the traumatic point of reference of this ultimate purge. Since then all social relations have become suffering. To the point of rendering preferable any anesthesia, any isolation. In a sense, by the very excess of its triumph, Existential Liberalism is what is driving us to the brink of communism.
The communist question is about figuring out our relationship to the world, to other beings, to ourselves. It concerns the elaboration of the interplay between different worlds, about the communication between them. Not about the unification of global space, but about the institution of what is perceptible, that is to say the plurality of worlds. In that sense communism is not the extinction of all conflict; it does not describe a final condition of society after everything has been said and done. For it is also through conflict that worlds interact. “In bourgeois society, where the differences between men are only differences that do not relate to Man himself, it is precisely the true differences, the differences of quality that are not retained. The communist does not want to create a collective soul. He wants to create a society where false differences are eliminated. And those false differences being eliminated, all their possibilities open to true differences.” Thus spoke an old friend.
It is obvious, as they claim, that the question of what suits me, of what I need, of what makes up my world has been reduced to the legally enforced fiction of private property, of what belongs to me, of what is mine. Something belongs to me insofar as it joins the realm of my usage — not by virtue of any juridical title. Ultimately, private property has no other reality than the forces that protect it. So the question of communism is, on one hand, to do away with the police, and on the other, to elaborate modes of sharing and uses, among those who live with each other. It is the question that is avoided everyday with “give me a break!” and “whatever, dude!” Communism of course is not given. It has to be considered, it has to be made. Almost everything that opposes it boils down to an expression of exhaustion: “But you’ll never make it… It can’t work… Humans are what they are… And it’s already hard enough to live your own life… Energy is finite; we can’t do everything.” But exhaustion is not an argument. It is a condition.
So communism starts from the experience of sharing. First, from the sharing of our needs. Needs are not what capitalist rule has accustomed us to. Needs are never about needing things without at the same time needing worlds. Each of our needs links us, beyond all shame, to everyone who experiences that link. Need is just the name of the relationship through which a particular perceiving being gives meaning to such or such an element of its world. That is why those who have no worlds — metropolitan subjectivities for instance — have nothing but whims. And that is why capitalism, although it satisfies the need for things like nothing else, only spreads universal dissatisfaction: in order for it to do so it has to destroy worlds.
By communism we mean a certain discipline of paying attention.
The practice of communism, as we live it, we call The Party. When we overcome an obstacle together or when we reach a higher level of sharing, we say that we are “building the Party.” Certainly others, unknown to us at present, are building the Party elsewhere. This call is addressed to them. No experience of communism at the present time can survive without getting organized, tying oneself to others, taking sides in crises, waging war. “For the oases that dispense life are wiped out when we seek refuge in them.”
As we understand it, the process of instituting communism can only take the form of a collection of acts of communization, of making common such-and-such space, such-and-such contraption, such and-such knowledge. That is to say, the elaboration of the mode of sharing that attaches to them. Insurrection itself is merely an accelerator, a decisive moment in this process. As we intend it, the Party is not an organization — where everything becomes insubstantial by dint of transparency, and it is not a family — where everything smells like a con by dint of opacity.
The Party is a collection of places, infrastructures, communized methods, and the dreams, bodies, murmurs, thoughts, desires that circulate among those places; the use of those methods, the sharing of those infrastructures.
The notion of the Party responds to the necessity of a minimal formalization, which makes us accessible as well as allowing us to remain invisible. It belongs to the communist way that we explain to ourselves, to formulate the basis of our sharing. So that the most recent arrival is, at the very least, the equal of the eldest.
Looking closer at it, the Party could be nothing but this: the formation of intuition as a force. The deployment of an archipelago of worlds. What would a political force be, under Empire, that didn’t have its farms, its schools, its arms, its medicines, its collective houses, its editing desks, its printing presses, its delivery vans, and its bridgeheads in the metropole? It appears more and more absurd that some of us still have to work for Capital — aside from the usual work of infiltration of course.
The offensive power of the Party derives from the fact that it is also a power of production; however, in essence, those relationships are only incidentally relationships of production.
In the final analysis, capitalism consists of nothing more than a reduction of all relations into relations of production. From business to the family, consumption itself appears as another episode in the general production, the production of society.
The overthrowing of capitalism will come from those who are able to create the conditions for other types of relations.
Therefore the communism we are talking about is the exact opposite of what has been historically termed “communism,” which was mostly nothing but socialism, a form of monopolist state capitalism.
Communism is not made throught the expansion of new relations of production, but rather in their abolition.
Not having relations of production within our milieu or among ourselves means never letting the search for results become more important than paying attention to the process, bankrupting all conventions of value, and watching that we do not disconnect affection and co-operation.
Being attentive to worlds, to their perceptible configurations, is exactly what renders the isolation of something like relations of production impossible. In the places we open, around the means we share, it is this favor that we seek, that we experience. To name this experience, we often hear about everything being free. Instead of free, we prefer to speak of communism — for we cannot possibly forget what the practice of this freedom implies in terms of organization, and in the short term, of political antagonism.
So, the construction of the Party, in its most visible aspect, consists of the sharing or communization of what we have at our disposal. Communizing a place means this: setting free its use, and on the basis of this liberation, experimenting with refined, intensified, and complexified relations. If private property is essentially the discretionary power of depriving any person of the use of the possessed thing, communization can only mean depriving the agents of Empire of that possession.
From every side we oppose the extortion of having to choose between the offensive and the constructive, negativity and positivity, life and survival, war and the everyday. We will not respond to it. We understand only too well how this dismembering alternative splits and re-splits all existing collectives. For a force which is deployed, it is impossible to say if the annihilation of a device that harms it is a constructive or offensive matter, if achieving dietary or medical autonomy constitutes an act of war or subtraction. There are circumstances, like in a riot, in which the ability to heal our comrades considerably augments our ability to wreak havoc. Who can say that arming ourselves would not be part of the material constitution of a collectivity? When we agree on a common strategy, there is no choice between the offensive and the constructive; obviously there exists, in every situation, what increases our power and what harms it, what is opportune and what is not. And when the evidence is lacking, there is discussion, and in the worst case, there is gambling.
In a general way, we do not see how anything else but a force, a reality able to survive the total dislocation of capitalism could truly attack it, up to the very moment of its dislocation.
When that moment comes, it will be a matter of actually turning the generalized social collapse to our advantage, to transform a collapse (like the Argentine or the Soviet) into a revolutionary situation. Those who pretend to separate material autonomy from the sabotage of the Imperial machine show that they want neither.
It is not an objection against communism that the greatest experiment of sharing in the recent past was the phenomenon of the Spanish anarchist movement between 1868 and 1939.
Communism is possible at every moment. To date what we call History is nothing but a set of roundabout means invented by humans to avert it. The fact that this History has for a good century now come down to nothing but a varied accumulation of disasters shows how the communist question can no longer be put off. In turn it is this deferment that we cannot postpone.
“But what do you actually want? What are you proposing?” This kind of question may appear to be innocent. But unfortunately these are not questions. They are operational issues.
Referring to every We that expresses itself to an unfamiliar You means first warding off the threat that this We somehow names me, that this We passes through me. Thereby constituting the one who merely writes down particular terms — that cannot be attributed to anyone — as their owner. So, in the methodical organization of the currently dominant separation, terms are allowed to circulate only on condition that they can show proof of an owner, of an author. Without which they risk being in the public domain, and only that which is expressed by Them is permitted anonymous diffusion.
And then there is this mystification: that caught in the course of a world that displeases us, there would be proposals to make, alternatives to find. That we could, in other words, extricate ourselves from the situation we’ve been put in, by discussing it in a dispassionate manner, with reasonable people.
But no, there is nothing apart from the situation. There is no outside to the Global Civil War. We are irremediably there.
All we can do is elaborate a strategy. Share an analysis of the situation and elaborate a strategy within it. This is the only possible revolutionary We: a practical We, open and diffuse, of whoever acts along the same lines.
As we write this, in August 2003, we can say that we face the greatest offensive of Capital of the last twenty years. Anti-terrorism and the abolition of the last gains of the defunct labor movement have created the prevailing mood of a population in lockstep. Never have the managers of society known so well from which obstacles they are emancipated and which means they hold. They know, for instance, that the planetary lower middle-class that currently (and from now on) lives in the metropole is too disarmed to offer the slightest resistance to its programmed annihilation. Just as they know that from now on the counter-revolution they lead is inscribed in millions of tons of concrete, in the architecture of so many new towns. In the longer term it seems that the plan of Capital is to separate out a network of high-security zones on a global scale, continuously linked up with each other, and where the process of capitalist valorization would encompass all the expressions of life in a perpetual and unhindered way. This Imperial comfort zone, comprised of deterritorialized citizens, would form a kind of policed continuum where a more or less constant level of control would prevail, politically as well as biometrically. As they advance the process of its pacification, the rest of the world could then flourish as a foil and, at the same time, as a gigantic Outside to civilize. The savage experiments of forced cohabitation between hostile enclaves as it has been taking place for decades in Israel would be the model of social management to come. We do not doubt that the real issue for Capital in all this is to reconstitute society in its own image from the ground up. No matter what form, and however high the price.
We have seen with Argentina that the economic collapse of a whole country was not, from Capital’s point of view, too high a price to pay.
In this context we are allied with all those who feel the tactical necessity of these three campaigns:
- To prevent, by any and all means, the recomposition of the Left.
- To advance, from natural disaster to social movement, the process of communization, the construction of the Party.
- To bring secession right into the vital sectors of the Imperial machine.
1. Periodically the Left is routed. We enjoy it, but it is not enough. We want its rout to be definitive. Irremediable. May the specter of a reconcilable opposition never again arise to cloud the minds of those who know themselves to be incompatible with capitalist functions. What everybody admits today (but will we still remember it the day after tomorrow?) is that the Left is an integral part of the mechanisms of neutralization peculiar to liberal society. The more the social implosion proves real, the more the Left invokes Civil Society. The more the police exercise their arbitrary will with impunity, the more the Left declares itself to be pacifist. The more the State throws off its last judicial formalities, the more they become obedient citizens. The greater the urgency to appropriate the means of our existence, the more the Left exhorts us to wait and beg for the mediation, if not the protection, of our masters. It is the Left which enjoins us today, faced with governments which stand openly on the terrain of social war, to speak truth to power, to write up our grievances, to form demands, to study political economy. From Léon Blum to Lula, the Left has been nothing but that: the party of Humanity, of the Citizen, and of Civilization. Today this program coincides with a fully counter-revolutionary program. That of maintaining the ensemble of illusions that paralyze us. The vocation of the Left is therefore to expound the dream of what only Empire can afford. It represents the idealistic side of Imperial modernization, the necessary steam-valve to the unbearable pace of capitalism. It is even shamelessly written in the very publication of the French Ministry of Youth, Education, and Research: “From now on, everyone knows that without the concrete help of its citizens, the State will have neither the means nor the time to carry on the work that can prevent our society from exploding” (Longing to Act: the Guide to Commitment).
Defeating the Left, which means keeping the channel of social disaffection continuously open, is not only necessary but is also possible today. We witness, while the Imperial structures become increasingly stronger, the transition from the old workerist Left (gravedigger of the Labor movement though born in it), to a new global, cultural Left, of which it can be said that Negrism is the most advanced point. This new Left is still imperfectly established on the recently neutered Anti-Globalization Movement. The new lures they hold out are not yet effective, while the old ones are long gone.
Our task is to ruin the global Left wherever it becomes manifest, to sabotage all of its formative moments methodically, meaning in theory as well as in practice. Thus our success in Genoa lay less in the spectacular confrontations with the police, or in the damage inflicted on the organs of State and Capital, than in the fact that the spreading of the practice of confrontation peculiar to the Black Bloc to all the parts of the demonstration scuttled the expected triumph of the Tute Bianche. Even so, our failure was not to have known how to extend our position in such a way that this victory in the streets would become something other than a specter raised systematically since then by pacifists.
The retreat of this global Left into the Social Forums — a withdrawal due to the fact that it was defeated in the streets — is now what we must attack.
2. From year to year the pressure increases to make everything function. As social cybernetization progresses, the normal situation becomes more urgent. As a consequence, situations of crisis and malfunction multiply in a completely logical way. From the point of view of Empire, a power failure, a hurricane, or a social movement are all the same. They are disturbances. They must be managed. For now, meaning on account of our weakness, these situations of interruption appear as moments in which Empire pops up, takes its place in the materiality of worlds, experiments with new managerial procedures. It is precisely there that it attaches itself more firmly to the populations it claims to assist. Empire always devotes itself to being the agent of returning the situation to normal. Our task, conversely, is to make the situation of exception livable. We will genuinely succeed in blocking corporate society only on condition that such a blockage is filled with desires other than those for a return to normal.
What takes place during a strike or during a natural disaster is, in a way, quite similar: a interruption of the organized stability of our dependencies. The existence of need (the communist essence) — that which essentially binds us and essentially separates us — is laid bare during each of them. The blanket of shame that normally covers it is torn up. Receptiveness for encounters, for experimentation with other relations to the world, to others, to oneself, as it manifests in these moments, is enough to sweep away any doubt about the possibility of communism. About the need for communism as well. What is now required is our ability to self-organize, our ability (by immediately organizing ourselves on the basis of our needs) to prolong, extend, and ultimately render the situation of exception effective, against the terror upon which Imerial power rests. This is particularly striking in social movements. Even the expression social movement seems to suggest that what really matters is what we are moving towards, rather than what’s happening here and now. Up till now in all social movements, there has been a prejudice to avoid seizing the time, which explains why they are never able to get together; rather they seem to chase each other away. Hence the particular texture, so volatile, of their sociality, where any commitment appears revocable. Hence also their invariable dramatic arc: a quick ascent thanks to some popular resonance highlighted in the media; next, due to this hasty aggregation, a slow but inevitable erosion; and finally, the dried up movement, the last handful of diehards who get a card from this or that union, found this or that association, thereby hoping to find an organizational continuity to their commitment. But we are not looking for such continuity: having premises where we might meet, and a photocopier to print leaflets. The continuity we seek is the one which allows us, after having struggled for months, not to go back to work, not to start working again as before, to keep doing harm. And this can only be built during movements. It is a matter of putting into place an immediate, material sharing, the construction of a real revolutionary war machine, the construction of the Party.
We must, as we were saying, organize ourselves on the basis of our needs — to manage to answer in turn the collective questions of eating, sleeping, thinking, loving, creating forms, coordinating our forces — and conceive all this as an opportunity in the war against Empire.
It is only in this way, by inhabiting the disturbances of its very program, that we will be able to counter that economic liberalism which is only the strict consequence, the logical application, of the Existential Liberalism that is accepted and practiced everywhere. To which each one is attached as if it were the most basic right, including those who would like to challenge Neo-Liberalism. This is the way the Party will be built; as a trail of habitable places left behind by each situation of exception that Empire encounters. We will not fail to notice, then, how the subjectivities and the revolutionary collectives become less flakey, as they show what they’re really made of.
3. Empire is nowadays manifest through the constitution of two monopolies: on the one hand, the scientific monopoly of so-called objective descriptions of the world, and of techniques of experimentation on it, and on the other hand the religious monopoly of techniques of the self, of the methods by which subjectivities elaborate themselves — a monopoly to which psychoanalytic practice is directly related. On the one hand a relation to the world purified of any relation to the self — to the self as a fragment of the world; on the other hand a relation to the self purified of any relation to the world — to the world as it goes through me. So it happens that science and religion, in the very process of tearing each other apart, have created a space in which Empire is perfectly free to move about.
Of course, these monopolies are distributed in various ways according to the zones of Empire. In the so-called developed lands, where religious discourse has lost this ability, the sciences constitute a discourse of truth to which is attributed the power to formulate the very existence of the collectivity. It is therefore precisely here where we must begin to prompt secession.
Prompting secession from the sciences does not mean pouncing on them as if on a citadel to conquer or raze, but increasing the prominence of the fault lines than run through them, siding with those who emphasize these lines, who attempt to unmask them. In the same way that rifts constantly plague the false density of the social, every branch of the sciences forms a battlefield saturated with strategies. For a long time the scientific community has managed to give itself the image of a large united family, consensual for the most part, and anyway respecting the rules of courtesy. This was even the major political operation attached to the existence of the sciences: concealing the internal splits, and exerting, from that smoothed over image, an unequaled influence of terror. Terror towards the outside: the deprivation of the status of truth for any and all discussion that is not recognized as scientific. Terror towards the inside: the polite but fierce disqualification of potential heresies. “Esteemed colleague…”
Each science implements a series of hypotheses; these hypotheses are so many decisions regarding the construction of reality. Today this is widely admitted. What is denied is the ethical significance of each of these decisions, in what way they involve a certain life-form, a certain way of perceiving the world (for instance, experiencing the evolution of various beings as the unwinding of a genetic program, or joy as a question of serotonin).
Considered in this way, scientific language games seem made less for establishing communication between those who use them, than for excluding those who ignore them. The airtight equipment in which scientific activity is ensconced — laboratories, symposiums, etc. — carries in itself a divorce between experiments and the worlds they may describe. It is not enough to describe the way the so-called core research is always connected in some way to military-commercial interests, and how, reciprocally, these interests define the contents, the very parameters of research. To the extent that science participates in Imperial pacification it is firstly by carrying out only those experiments, testing only those hypotheses that are compatible with the maintenance of the prevailing order. Our capacity to ruin Imperial Order is conditioned upon opening spaces for antagonistic experiments. For these experiments to produce their related worlds, we need such cleared spaces, just as the plurality of these worlds is needed for the smothered antagonisms of scientific practice to be expressed.
It is important that the practitioners of the old mechanistic and Pasteurian medicine rejoin those who practice what might be called traditional medicine — all new age confusion aside. The attachment to research needs to cease being confused with the judicial defense of the integrity of the laboratory. Non-productivist agricultural practices need to develop beyond organic labels. Those who endure the insufferable contradictions of public education, between the defense of good citizenship and the workshop of the diffuse entrepreneuriat, need to become more and more numerous. Culture should no longer be able to boast about the contributions of a single inventor.
Alliances are possible everywhere.
In order to become effective, the perspective of breaking the capitalist circuits requires that secessions multiply, and that they consolidate.
We will be told: you are caught in an alternative which will condemn you in one way or another: either you manage to constitute a threat to Empire, in which case you will be quickly eliminated, or you will not manage to constitute such a threat, and you will have once again destroyed yourselves.
There remains only to gamble on the existence of another outcome, a thin ridge, just wide enough for us to walk on, just enough for all those who can hear to walk on it and live.