Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

Franco Berardi was a key member of the Italian Autonomist movement, alongside the likes of other authors such as Antonio Negri, Christian Marazzi, Mario Tronti and Paulo Virno, and was a close associate of Felix Guattari, the French philosopher. Berardi’s work has only recent been translated from Italian into English, and Soul at Work was published in 2009 as part of the semiotext(e) foreign agents series.

The central themes of the Soul at Work are that the human faculties which in previous eras would have been considered to be constitutive of the soul, our capacities for language, creativity, emotion, empathy and affect, have now become central to the economy of digital capitalism (Berardi’s term is Semiocapitalism)

Putting the soul to work: this is the new form of alienation. Our desiring energy is trapped in the trick of self-enterprise, our libidinal investments are regulated according to economic rules, our attention is captures in the precariousness of virtual networks: every fragment of mental activity must be transformed into capital. (p24)

This is contrasted with the situation under industrial capitalism, wherein the labour of the working class was largely confined to an eight-hour day in a factory, where for a portion of the day their bodies functioned as cogs rented to maintain the production of gigantic machines. While their bodies laboured their minds or souls were still perceived as free. But as economic production became increasingly based up intellectual rather than physical labour, Berardi argues that a fundamental change has occurred, which requires a reconceptualization of the political field.

Once digital technologies made possible the connection of individual fragments of cognitive labor possible, the parceled intellectual labor was subjected to the value production cycle. The ideological and political forms of the left wing, legacy of the 20th Century, have become inefficient in theis new context. (p29)

After tracing a pathway through some of the Workerist ideas of the 1960’s, and particularly the role of alienation labor within this context, Berardi moves  on to analysis of how the

decisive transformation of the 1980’s was the systematic computerization of the working process. Thanks to digitalization, every concrete event can not only be symbolised, but also simulated, replaced by information. Consequently it becomes possible to progressively reduce the entire production process to the elaboration and exchange of information. (p95)

And how this change to the system of production and consumption accumulates as an ever-increasing torrent of information which he argues is conducive to conditions of mass panic (in the sense that the word stems from the etymological root pan – or everything) and depression.

If in modern society the vastly prevalent pathology was repression induced neurosis, today the most widely spread pathologies assume a psychotic, panic driven character. The hyper-stimulation of attention reduces the capacity for critical sequential interpretation, but also the time available for the emotional elaboration of the other, of his or her body and voice, tries to be understood without ever succeeding. (p183)

Searching for ways to approach these changes in social context, Berardi draws on Deleuze and Guattari’s work in arguing  that

Ethical conciousness cannot be founded on the binomial of Reason and Will – as during the modern period. The roots of rationalism have been forever erased, and rationalism cannot be the major direction of the planetary humanism we must conceive.

Today the ethical question is posed as a question of the soul, that is to say of the sensibility animating the body, making it capable of opening sympathetically towards the other…A new conceptualization of humanism must be founded on an aesthetic paradigm, since it has to take root in sensibility. The collapse of modern ethics needs to be interpreted as a generalized cognitive disturbance, as the paralysis of empathy in the social psychosphere. (p133).

It is interesting to contrast and compare Berardi’s vision of a revised humanism here with the various schemas of posthumanism proposed by the likes of Katherine Hayles, Donna Harraway and Robert Pepperell. The logic of basing ethics on feeling and connectivity with other(s) certainly has resonance between these authors despite their respective stances on whether humanism is a project in need of reconceptualization or a patriarchal, bourgeois, historical phenomenon which has led to the epistemological errors and artificial separation of nature and culture, humans and other living creatures and body and soul – many of the problems which Berardi examines.

Beradi goes to to present an interesting analysis of Baudrillard’s work around simulation, and contrasts this with the desire-based radical analyses of Deleuze and Guattari. Berardi argues that

The semiotic acceleration and the proliferation of simulacra within the mediatized experience of society produce an effect of exhaustion in the collective libidinal energy, opening the way to a panic-depressive cycle… Baudrillard sees simulation as the infinite replication of a virus that absorbs energy to the point of exhaustion. A sort of semiotic inflation explodes in the circuits of our collective sensibility, producing effects of mutation that run a pathological course: too many signs, too fast and too chaotic. The sensible body is subjected to an acceleration that destroys every possibility of conscious decodification and sensible perception. (158/159)

The problem, according to Beradi, is that the explosion of information leads to a paralysis and subsequent depression as the pace and scale of information flows expands far beyond what the human brain is capable of processing. The field of desire, which for Deleuze and Guattari possesses liberating potential, collapses in on itself and is confined to desiring the ever-increasing number of consumer fetishes that permeate upgrade culture. This leads to a contemporary scenario Beradi describes as the poisoning of the soul, as desire no longer reaches out for connectivity with the other, but instead is restricted to focusing on the self and personal accumulation. Looking for potential ways out of this situation, Beradi contends that

Perhaps the answer is that it is necessary to slow down, finally giving up on economistic fanaticism and collectively rethink the true meaning of the word “wealth.” Wealth does not mean a person who owns a lot, but refers to someone who has enough time to enjoy what nature and human collaboration place within everyone’s reach. If the great majority of people could understand this basic notion, if they could be liberated from the competitive illusion that is impoverishing everyone’s life, the very foundations of capitalism, would start to crumble. (p169)

Read Full Post »

The Three Ecologies is one of the final works published by Felix Guattari (1930-1992), a French philosopher, political militant and institutional psychoanalyst. While Guattari is perhaps best known for his co-authored projects with Gilles Deleuze; Anti-Oedipus, A Thousand Plateaus and What is Philosophy; The Three Ecologies provides an excellent insight into Guattari’s stance on politics, social movements and subjectivity.

The concept of the three ecologies; three interconnected networks existing at the scales of mind, society and the environment, was originally formulated by influential theorist Gregory Bateson in Steps to An Ecology of Mind, however Guattari seeks to elaborate and refine the concept in more detail, while additionally adding a more radical form of poststructuralist Marxism to Bateson’s ecological system.

Pre-empting the global networks of power and resistance described by Hardt and Negri in Empire and Multitude, Guattari argues that ‘The only true response to the ecological crisis is on a global scale, provided that it brings about an authentic political, social and cultural revolution, reshaping the objectives of the production of both material and immaterial assets.’ (28) Whereas previous revolutionary movements have concentrated on creating political changes at the level of the nation state, Guattari claims that the shared nature of the environment that we live in, and our collective impacts on it such as anthropogenic climate change, reveal the commons on which we are ultimately dependent, and thus the ecosophical position he advocates is one of global resistance to what he describes as ‘Integrated Wold Capitalism,’ which is very close to a less deeply theorised version of Hardt and Negri’s Empire, and resonates with Castells’ delineation of the rise of the network society, and Jameson’s understanding of postmodern capitalism.

Such a global and unificatory position may at first appear to contrast sharply with commonly understood models of postmodernism, which following Lyotard claim that postmodernity is marked by the death of the modernist meta-narrative, and indeed some such as George Myerson have claimed that ecology, and ecological crises mark the end of the fragmented and partial era of postmodernism. To such claims, Guattari argues that ‘The ecosophical perspective does not totally exclude unifying objectives such as the struggle against world hunger, an end to deforestation or to the blind proliferation of the nuclear industries; but it will no longer be a question of depending on reductionist, stereotypical orderworlds which only expropriate other more singular problematics and lead to the promotion of charismatic leaders.’ (34) While ecosophy can hold unifying ideas and objectives, these do not insist on a scalar homogeneity – difference and plurality are encouraged at each of the levels of ecology, mind, society and environment – however these differences themselves are not absolute, and so limited unifying objectives aimed at securing freedoms and rights for all subjects are possible under such a philosophical framework.

Consequently Guattari’s argument is that ‘Environmental ecology, as it exists today, has barely begun to prefigure the generalised ecology that I advocate here, the aim of which will be to radically decentre social struggles and ways of coming into one’s own psyche… Ecology must stop being associated with the image of a small nature-loving minority. Ecology in my sense questions the whole of subjectivity and capitalistic power formations.’ (2) For Guattari then, as with Bateson, ecology is far more than a concern for the environment, it is an epistemological system based on an understanding of nonlinear systems governed by feedback loops and nonlinear causality. An understanding of connectivity, of balanced systems, network topography and complexity theory are fundamental to the way in which this ecosophical model operates. In contrast to a capitalist system predicated on economic growth, Guattari’s ecosophy seeks balance allied with a reevaluation of what we value; going well beyond GDP as an indicator of quality of life, in what can be understood as a decentred socialism, or ecologically informed variant of anarchism, where goals are collectively negotiated rather than dictated by economic elites.

According to Guattari, creating such an ecosophical society requires a reorientation of thought, so that we understand ourselves, the society we live in and the ecosystem we inhabit as three different scales of ecology, linked by a series of processes (or abstract machines). ‘Now more than ever, nature cannot be separated from culture; in order to comprehend the interactions between ecosystems, the mecanosphere and the social and individual Universes of reference, we must learn to think ‘transversally’. (43) Indeed Guattari goes as far as to argue that ‘It is quite wrong to make a distinction between action on the psyche, the socius and the environment. Refusal to face up to the erosion of these three areas, as the media would have us do verges on a strategic infantilization of opinion and a destructive neutralization of democracy. We need to kick the habit of sedative discourse, particularly the ‘fix’ of television, in order to apprehend the world through the interchangeable lenses of the three ecologies.’ (42)

The role of mediated communications occupies a central position for Guattari, and he is particularly scathing about the effects of television as a centralising and hierarchical media which privileges economic and social elites’ perspective on public discourse, effectively negating the potentiality for a dialogic and democratic debate about how to create more sustainable and equitable relationships within and between the three ecologies. Indeed, Guattari states that ‘An essential programmatic point for social ecology will be to make the transition from the mass media era to the post-media age, in which the media will be re appropriated by a multitude of groups capable of directing its resingularization. Despite the seeming impossibility of such an eventuality, the current unparalleled level of media-related alienation is in no way an inherent necessity.’

The three ecologies was written a few years before the creation of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee, and Guattari’s death meant that he never saw the explosion of user-generated content and dialogic forms of communication which are currently to be found online, and it would have been fascinating to learn as to whether Guattari would classify some of the co-creative models for collaborative communication such as; Indymedia’s open publishing or the wiki’s used by sites such as Wikipedia and Crocodyl, as examples of ecosophic media.

One hugely positive message to be found within the ecological warning of impending disaster across all three ecological registers (the increase of mental health disorders and stress related disorder; warfare, failed states run by competing warlords, the rise of right wing religious fundamentalisms in both the East and the West, and of course the ecological crises of anthropogenic global warming and natural resource depletion) is that the solutions to these problems are already at our doorsteps. ‘Wherever we turn, there is the same nagging paradox: on the one hand, the continuous development of new techno scientific means to potentially resolve the dominant ecological issues and restate socially useful activities on the surface of the planet, and, on the other hand the inability of organised social forces and constituted subjective formations to take hold of these resources in order to make them work.’ (31) Industrial capitalism has enhanced our knowledge and technological capabilities beyond belief. Yet despite this technical and scientific advancement we still are faced with massive inequalities of wealth, poverty on an enormous scale, millions of annual deaths from easily treatable diseases and numerous wars, both between and inside states. As Martin Luther King famously stated back in the 1960’s “We have learned to swim the seas like fish, and fly the skies like birds, but we have not learned to walk the earth like brothers.’ Guattari’s ecosophy then is a philosophical attempt to remedy this situation, calling for a new way of understanding the world and our place in it allied with a new method of being to create an ecologically sustainable and socially equitable world. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Today the purposes of consciousness are implemented by more and more effective machinery, transportation systems, airplanes, weaponry, medicine, pesticides and so forth. Conscious purpose is now empowered to upset the balances of the body, of society, and of the biological world around us. A pathology – a loss of balance – is threatened.

On the one hand we have the systemic nature of the individual human being, the systemic nature of the culture in which he lives, and the systemic nature of the biological ecological system around him; and on the other hand, the curious twist in the systemic nature of the individual man whereby consciousness is almost by necessity, blinded to the systemic nature of the man himself. Purposive consciousness, pulls out from the total mind, sequences which do not have the loop structure which is characteristic of the whole systemic structure. If you follow the common-sense dictates of consciousness you become, effectively, greedy and unwise.

Lack of systemic wisdom is always punished… Systems are punishing of any species unwise enough to quarrel with its ecology. Call the systemic forces God if you will.

Bateson, 1972:440

Gregory Bateson serves as a wonderful introduction to some of the central concepts of ecology. The son of William Bateson, the scientist who popularised Mendelian inheritance and introduced the term genetics into scientific discourse, Gregory was a disciplinary wanderer, with a career in academia which saw him drift through departments as diverse as anthropology, biology, psychology and cybernetics.

Bateson understood that the academic system he inhabited excelled at the process of analysis (meaning to take apart), which had yielded many of the advances of industrial capitalism. However it lacked a similar system of synthesis, or putting knowledge together. Students gained detailed understanding of subjects which remained isolated from each other, a problem still rife within academic education today. How are students expected to understand the ways in which economics, science, politics, history and cultural geography intersect when they are always partitioned into separate areas?

Bateson excelled at making connections between these areas, in seeing the patterns that connected seemingly disparate areas, a theme which underlay much of the work conducted by cyberneticists who were interested in understanding the processes of feedback which allowed control of systems, but also allowed insight into the way that learning occurs.

Bateson’s gift for connectivity made him one of the godfathers of modern ecology – etymologically meaning the science of (connections between) the household. A key concept introduced by Bateson is that of three ecologies; mind, society and environment. Each of these interconnected complex systems can be understood as a dynamic ecology of subsystems, which together display emergent qualities which cannot be reduced to the activity of the parts.

Forgoing the dualistic ontology which has in many ways dominated western culture Bateson instead preached an understanding of being based on immanence. Whereas Descartes saw the body and mind/soul as two distinct entities, for Bateson consciousness is an emergent phenomena which occurs due to the complex interplay of the human brain, body and external physical environment. Consequently, Bateson is one of the founders of the concept of distributed consciousness. When answering the question as to whether or not a computer could think, Bateson claimed that the thinking system is always the man and the technology and the environment in which they are situated. The knowledge cannot reside in any single component if somehow abstracted from the larger system.

Bateson also campaigned politically, arguing that the competitive ethos of capitalism which saw man try to control nature rather than understand the ways in which society is always dependent on ecological circuity, was leading to a loss of balance within the environmental systems on which humans are ultimately dependent.

The unit of survival is organism plus environment. We are learning by bitter experience that the organism which destroys its environment destroys itself.

Formerly we thought of a hierarchy of taxa – individual, family line, subspecies, species etc – as the unit of survival. We now see a different hierarchy of units – gene-in-organism, organism-in-environment, ecosystem, etc. Ecology in the widest sense turns out to be the study of the interaction and survival of ideas and programs (ie differences, complexes of differences) in circuits.

Bateson 1972:491

With the current global understandings of climate change and resource depletion, Bateson’s predictions from over 35 years ago appear ominously accurate. In understanding his ecological methods to approaching these systemic problems, perhaps we can begin to find solutions beyond the technological quick fixes which have thus far failed, searching instead for genuine sustainability allied to social action which will address the material inequalities which plague our global village.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 37 other followers