Posts Tagged ‘book review’

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)

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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…)

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Naomi Klein’s latest book features a review on the back which says ‘If you only read one non-ficition book this year, make it this one.’ While I’m normally suspicious of such superlative praise, this book may well justify it.

First things first. This is not a chirpy or upbeat book. The first 442 pages are almost unflinchingly grim, stark and bleak… The concluding 20 pages are certainly brighter, but they’re still an awfully long way from euphoria. There are times where this book is liable to make you so angry that you will likely cry. However, despite the darkness there is something that I found deeply comforting about the Shock Doctrine. And out of that comfort springs hope, belief and the possibility of social change.

The Shock Doctrine details the rise of what Klein has termed disaster capitalism, an evolution in capitalist praxis which is more commonly referred to as neoliberalism, globalization or Empire. Klein gives a brilliant exposition of these developments, from their birth in the University of Chicago economics department and the writings of Milton Friedman to their current hegemonic status within orthodox capitalist economics and international institutions such as the IMF and WTO.

Where Klein departs from the traditional path is the comparison she draws between Freidman’s economic shock therapy policies and the shock therapy of Dr Ewen Cameron, an American psychiatric doctor who extensively employed elector-shock therapy and total sensory deprivation to try and turn his patients into a clean slate on which to work. Cameron believed that he could shock mentally disturbed patients well; that by removing the patient from their usual understanding of themselves and the world he could re-create their personalities to conform to social norms. Cameron’s work was overwhelmingly a failure to treat patients, indeed many who suffered from anxiety and other minor ailments ended up severely traumatized and unable to function socially, however his techniques have since been extensively employed by the CIA and US military from the 1960’s onwards, and their influence was notably seen at Guantanamo bay and Abu Ghraib, where sensory deprivation allied with electroshock have proved valuable weapons in torture. Whereas conventional beatings often reinforced the individual’s values and pre-existing notions of right and wrong, sensory deprivation and electro-shock yield a sense of confusion which interrogators have found more useful methods of obtaining information.

Klein’s hypothesis is that the shock of sensory deprivation and electro-shock, with its aim of creating a blank slate on which the doctor is to create anew is analogous to the economic shock treatment advocated by Friedman and his acolytes, which seeks to shock economies into functioning according to a free market model. In order to implement this shock therapy. Whereas Cameron’s shock therapy works on the ecology of mind, at the level of the individual, Friedman’s shock therapy achieves similar effects within the social ecology. Friedman himself has claimed that

Only a crisis, actual or perceived-produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas lying around. That I believe is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable

Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, 1962 ix

In other words, whist normal social and economic conditions abound people will be opposed to the dramatic changes which Friedman advocated: the privatization of public managed wealth, lowering taxes for the rich, allowing foreign multinational corporations to compete freely with small domestic companies and opposing any form of state intervention in the economy to subsidize (for example) staple foods and water. That such measures would be dramatically unpopular, especially among the poorest sections of society ought to be obvious, and this explains why they have unanimously failed to be implemented via democratic means.

In a crisis however, be it a war, a coup, or a natural disaster; Friedman saw the opportunity (as indeed did Lenin) to implement drastic changes to society while the general population is suffering from the shock of the crisis. Once the crisis is resolved the changes will have been made, and there are stipulations put into practice which make reverting these changes difficult bordering on impossible. Essentially this kind of shock therapy acknowledges that the ideas of the free market are null and void within a democratic society, however in times of crisis and shock democracy can be temporarily suspended, allowing the neoliberals to attain their goals.

While the homology between the sense of shock and disorientation of Friedman’s economic program and Cameron’s electro-shock therapy are in many ways fascinating, Klein has a tendency to overstate the similarities, making things which contain interesting parallels in certain ways, but remain heterogeneous in others appear to be part of a unified and homologous program. The brilliance of this book though is not the overarching theme of psychological and socio-economic shock, as the detailed cases by case analysis Klein conducts, examining where, when and how neoliberalism came to hegemony.

Starting with Pinochet’s coup in Chile, where the democratically elected and popular nationalist leader Salvador Allende was overthrown by the fascistic general whose forces went about ensuring control through overt violence, to the similar scenario in Indonesia, where another nationalist leader, Sukarno, was again overthrown by a bloody and violent military leader, Suharto, to the military juntas in Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia, a similar story is told. Democratically elected leaders removed forcibly, and while the violence surges and the people are left shocked and awed by the scale of the bloodshed economic reforms are implemented which see unemployment soars as the poor get rapidly poorer as the rich and their friends the multinational corporations get vastly richer.

Following the theme of a crisis or a shock, Klein goes on to document how extraordinary circumstance have been used by neoliberals to implement unpopular and often disasterous policies. Be it Thatcher’s use of the Falklands War to revitalize her flagging first term in office, to the way that the Asian Tsunami, Hurrican Katrina and 9/11 have been used as opportunities to push through unpopular laws while the publics’ attention is elsewhere.

Particularly enlightening are the chapters of the transition to capitalism experienced by Russia. Whereas the mainstream media talks of the end of the Cold War as a jubilant time, they conveniently omit to mention the fact that in order to push through the reforms which saw 1/3rd of the Russian population plunged into poverty virtually overnight as state assets were handed out to Yeltsin’s friends and family, the President had to declare a state of emergency, dissolve the elected parliament, and then turn the military’s guns on both the parlimentarians who decried his actions, and many of their supporters.

The story of a nation strangled at birth is repeated in both Poland and South Africa under very different circumstances. The similarity however is that both nations negotiated political freedoms, from Soviet bureaucracy and Apartheid, however their desires for political freedoms were catastrophically undermined by economic agreements they were cowed into signing, which essentially prevented the implementation of the political programs of both the ANC and Solidarity.

Why did I find such tales of suffering, violence and misery in any way positive then? The answer is that by systematically exposing the violence and exploitation that has accompanied the rise of neoliberalism Klein exposes the lies endlessly repeated by the corporate media; that free markets go hand in hand with free people and that neoliberalism has been a democratic success. The truth as the Shock Doctrine exposes is very different, and led to reaffirm these two statements in my mind.

I believe in free people NOT free markets

I believe in democracy not capitalism

Noam Chomsky famously said that he believed people needed to take forms of intellectual self defence against the propaganda emanating from the corporate media. The Shock Doctrine’s exposition of the rise of neoliberalism, divulging the anti-democratic, violent methods by which we have arrived at our current juncture in history serves the function of intellectual self defence by allowing readers not only to glimpse the violence of global capitalist institutions, but also by suggesting the possibility for alternatives to the shock doctrine of the free market; mass movements which instead present alternative values of social solidarity, democracy and freedom.

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Hardt and Negri’s much lauded text has been a major talking point amongst radical left wing theorists and activists since its release in 2000, being described by some as a Capital for the 21st century, taking its dual heritage from Karl Marx and the radical materialist poststructuralism of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.

The departure point presented by Hardt and Negri is that since the 1970’s society has undergone a paradigm shift which has rendered traditional forms of activism defunct, while creating an opportunity for new forms to arise. This paradigm shift is described in numerous ways throughout the text as a transition from Imperialist power to Imperial power, from the sovereignty of the nation state to the control society of the world market, from a Foucaultian disciplinary society to a Deleuzian society of control, from modernism to postmodernism or from an industrial economy to an informationalized economy.

While this in itself is not radically new – similar arguments have been made by the likes of Manuel Castells, Fredric Jameson and David Harvey – what Hardt and Negri focus on, unlike other authors, is the possibilities of resistance created by the transition to globalized capitalism.

Indeed, Hardt and Negri trace the roots of the new paradigm to the crisis of modernity presented by the counter-cultural movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the feminist, civil rights, gay rights, hippy, punk and other subcultural movements who expressed dissatisfaction with the homogenization and striations of a mass society. Arguing that

Capital had to confront and respond to the new production of subjectivity of the proletariat. This new production of subjectivity reached (beyond the struggle over welfare)what might be called an ecological struggle. A struggle over the mode of life. (p269)

As such, the imperial regime of Empire goes beyond the disciplinary society whereby the formation of subjectivity was tied to specific places and institutions such as the factory, the school and the prison and moves into a struggle over biopower; a struggle over life’s ability to produce and reproduce life itself. Evolving to neutralize the threat of the 1960’s counter-culture, capitalism evolved into its postmodern cultural phase, whereby

More often than not, the Empire does not create division but rather recognises existing or potential differences, celebrates them, and manages them within a general economy of command. The triple imperative of the Empire is incorporate, differentiate, manage.’ (p201)

Difference is no longer seen as a threat to the singular body of the people, but presents the opportunity to sell alternative consumer lifestyles to different groups based on their race/gender/class/taste etc. Difference is no longer an essentialist case of Other and Self, but is understood through numerous immanent and corporeal differences which afford industry the potential to sell different products to different groups of people.

Consequently, Hardt and Negri forcefully argue against numerous postmodern and postcolonial critics who advocate a politics of difference and hybridity, contending that

When we begin to consider the ideologies of corporate capital and the world market, it certainly appears that the postmodernist and postcolonial theorists who advocate a politics of difference, fluidity and hybridity in order to challenge the binaries and essentialism of modern sovereignty have been outflanked by the strategies of power. (p138 )

This leads them to argue that while ‘Postmodernism is indeed the logic by which global capital operates,’ (p151) and within its cultural logic ‘Every difference is an opportunity.’ Essentially Hardt and Negri contend that while a politics of difference was a viable method of resistance to the unitary sovereign figures of modernity, globalized capitalism has incorporated aspects of these critiques within its contemporary make up.

They are however quick to emphasize that ‘The global politics of difference established by the world market is not defined by free play and equality, but by the imposition of new hierarchies, or really by a constant process of hierachization.'(p154) Globalized capitalism may respect differences with respect to consumer choices, however the mode of production and capitalist accumulation requires the creation and maintenance of new hierarchies and new forms of exploitation.

Hardt and Negri are also dismissive of the absolute relativism and rejection of truth espoused by postmodern thinkers such as Jean Baudrillard and Jean-Francois Lyotard, stating that

In the context of state terror and mystification, clinging to the primacy of truth can be a powerful and necessary form of resistance. Establishing and making public the truth of the recent past… appears here as the ineluctable precondition for any democratic future. The master narratives of the Enlightenment do not seem particularly repressive here, and the concept of truth is not fluid or unstable.(p155)

Consequently, Hardt and Negri adopt a neo-Marxist position centering on production, although production within a biopolitical context which creates not only goods, but affects, social networks and communities, in other words production over all of life.

Difference, hybridity and mobility are not liberatory in themselves, but neither are truth purity and stasis. The real revolutionary practice refers to the level of production. Truth will not always make us free, but taking control of the production of truth will. Mobility and hybridity are not liberatory, but taking control of the production of mobility and stasis, purity and mixtures is. The real truth commissions of Empire will be constituent assemblies of the multitude, social factories for the production of truth.(p156)

While the vast majority of Empire is dedicated to analyzing the rise of modern sovereignty and its transition to Empire, Hardt and Negri to begin to sketch the figure of the revolutionary figure; the new social composition of the proletariat, which they see as possessing the potential to replace the exploitation of Empire. This is their conception of the multitude, a concept further explored in the sequel to Empire, which is entitled Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire.

Whereas throughout modernity societies have been ruled by a Hobbsian Leviathan, a single entity, be it the Monarch, the Church, the President, the Party or the People, Hardt and Negri see the multitude as the heterogeneous assemblage of people whose diverse voices have always been overcoded by the sovereignty of the single voice which speaks for them all. The transition to an economy where immaterial labour , communication and information hold a pivotal role, allied with the massive boom in decentralized communications technologies allows for the first time, according to Hardt and Negri an absolute and global democracy, where the multitude is able to self-organize and govern itself, rather than rely on centralized forms of command and control.

Hardt and Negri stress the importance of global resistance to globalized capitalism, contending that

We believe that toward the end of challenging and resisting Empire and its world market, it is necessary to pose any alternative at an equally global level. Any proposition of a particular community in isolation, defined in racial, religious or regional terms, ‘delinked’ from Empire, shielded from its powers by fixed boundaries, is destined to end up as a kind of ghetto. Empire cannot be resisted by a project aimed at a limited, local autonomy… Globalization must be met with counter-globalization, Empire with a counter Empire. (p206)

Consequently, the figure of the heterogenous and plural cacophony of the multitude has been compared to the emergent movement which began with the protest against the WTO in Seattle and has subsequently followed the G8, WTO, IMF and other supranational capitalist institutions around the globe.

Hardt and Negri conclude then that

Far from being defeated, the revolutions of the twentieth century have each pushed forwards and transformed the terms of class conflict, posing the conditions of a new political subjectivity, an insurgent multitude against imperial power. (p394)

That the possibilities for a global and absolute democracy accompanying the overthrow of global capitalism are possible today in ways that have never previously existed. Hardt and Negri end Empire with three demands of the multitude which they see as essential starting blocks on a path to global democracy.

Firstly a universal global citizenship, ending the systems whereby markets and capital are free while people are segmented, striated and bounded to territories.

Second a social wage and guaranteed income for all, extending the social welfare of the global rich to all global citizens, ensuring that no one will starve or die of easily treatable diseases

Finally a right to reappropriation, as the current material inequalities which divide the globe serve to perpetuate the hierarchies born of capitalist exploitation and the legacy of imperialism and colonialism. Reappropriation then is deemed necessary for the multitude’s right to self control and self production.

While these are only starting points, Hardt and Negri seek to avoid imposing a strictly defined teleos on the multitude, stating that

Only the multitude through its practical experimentation will offer the models of and determine when and how the possible becomes real.(p411)

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The latest offering from one of Britain’s best known social and environmental activists is a compilation of over 50 of his newspaper articles written over the last few years. As such, for avid Monbiot fans there isn’t really any new material here, however for those seeking an easy to read introduction which demonstrates the breadth of Monbiot’s research and consequent opinions Bring on the Apocalypse summarises the main areas Monbiot cas campaigned around.

While Monbiot is best known (at least in the UK) for his campaigning around climate change, and his previous book Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning, where he aims to illustrate how Britain could implement a 90% cut in carbon dioxide emissions without reverting to a pre-industrial society, Bring on the Apocalypse covers a broad range of topic, with the book being divided into six parts, each of which contains a selection of arguments dealing with the topic. In order, these sections are

1. Arguments with God: In which Monbiot addresses religious fundamentalism, particularly American Evangelical Christianity

2. Arguments with Nature: In which Monbiot addresses environmental issues, particularly anthropogenic climate change

3. Arguments with War: In which Monbiot addresses the War on Terror, especially the War in Iraq

4. Arguments with Power: Which deals with corporate exploitation, transnational non-democratic institutions such as the IMF and issues surrounding neoliberal globalization

5. Arguments with Money: Which investigates various ways in which corporations and the super rich elite who benefit from their prominence avoid paying taxes, and have generally attempted to avoid participating in welfare state styled socialist democracies, preferring a cut throat privatised state whereby the rich get richer and look after themselves while the poor are left to their own devices

6. Arguments with Culture: Wherein Monbiot examines aspects of contemporary British culture, such as anti-speed camera organizations and drivers associations groups whose individualistic values concur with neoliberal ideology, but conflict with Monbiot’s preference for a society based on free people rather than free markets.

In general I found myself nodding along to the vast majority of what Monbiot has to say across a broad range of topics. His knowledge on a vast array of topics is exemplary, and he consistently puts forwards logical and well-reasoned arguments. Part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much was the way that it addresses so many topics, giving a holistic perspective on many of the key areas where social struggles can create a beneficial impact on other people’s lives. It is rare to find a book which is accessible, enjoyable and manages to cover environmental activism, the anti war movement, a critique of aspects of contemporary culture allied with a rejection of religious fundamentalism.

A general criticism of the book would be that on each issue covered, there is far more left out than left in, however given the form of the book this is entirely to be expected, and Monbiot has indeed published far more comprehensively on Climate Change (Heat: How to Stop the Planet Buring), the rise of Corporatism (Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Great Britain), and the anti-democratic nature of the international capitalist institutions and some thoughts as to how to replace them with democratic, transparent and publicly accountable replacements (The Age of Consent).

My favourite quote from this book is contained in the Arguments with God section, where Monbiot addresses reincarnation/the afterlife and gives a materialist perspective not dissimilar to my own:

‘I like the idea of literal reincarnation: that the molecules of which I am composed will, once I have rotted, be incorporated into other organisms. Bits of me will be pushing through the growing tips of trees, will creep over them as caterpillars, will hunt those catepillars as birds. When I die I would like to be buried in a fashion that ensures that no part of me is wasted. Then I can claim to have some use after all.

Is this not better than the awful lottery of judgment? Is a future we can predict not more comforting than the whims of inscrutable authority? Is eternal death not a happier prospect than eternal life? The atoms of which we are composed, which we have borrowed momentarily from the ecosphere, will be recycled until the universe collapses. This is our continuity, our eternity. Why should anyone want more.’

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Slovenian cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek’s latest offering is a look at the way in which western societies understand, and importantly misunderstand violence.

Zizek’s central thesis is that the liberal conception of violence is limited to subjective forms of violence, violence which is performed by a clearly identifiable human agent. Zizek claims that what is required to understand the logic and motives behind contemporary acts of subjective violence is to step back from the visible violence which often appears spontaneous and inexplicable, allowing us to ‘perceive the contours of the background which generates such outbursts.’ (p1) What lurks behind the easily perceptible forms of subjective violence according to Zizick are forms of objective or systemic violence.

Objective violence is precisely the violence inherent to the ‘normal’ state of things. Objective violence is invisible since is sustains the very zero level standard against which we perceive things as subjectively violent. Systemic violence is thus something like the notorious dark matter of physics, the counterpart to an all to visible subjective violence. It may be invisible, but it has to be taken into account if one is to make sense of what otherwise seem to be ‘irrational’ explosions of subjective violence (p2)

Thus Zizek urges reader to reject the fascination shown by the western media for various forms of subjective violence and instead to analyse the systemic violence which creates the social conditions and actors required for the outbursts of subjective violence. To this end Zizek examines a number of prominent exemplars of recent subjective violence; the reactions to the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammed, the Parisian riots of 2005, the violence involved on both sides of the War on Terror and the violence in the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and explores the ways in which material inequalities, poverty, cultural imperialism and liguistic/symbolic violence can be understood as the underlying causes of the subjective violence which dominates media discourse on the topics.

Applying such thought to a local level, how do we make sense of the recent attacks along the Easton cyclepath or the near daily outbursts of road rage on our heavily congested streets? Do we demonise the people who committed this violence, treating it as evidence of their wrongheadedness and ‘evil’ as subjects, or do we examine and act to change the structures surrounding those people and the systemic violence they suffer; coming from disadvantaged backgrounds in a society whose rich are growing rapidly richer while the poor go nowhere, where class mobility is far less than a generation ago, living in a community that lacks youth centres and other activities for young people to enjoy, questioning Bristol City Council’s bizarre urge to fill the inadequate roads with ever increasing volumes of traffic (see the new Cabot Circus Car Park) and the lack of affordable and reliable public transport (its current guise of First Great Western providing private profits allied with extortionate prices and atrocious service)? Do we seek ways to effect and change the ideology of competitive individualism which sees young people growing up in a society which urges them to look out for themselves and no one else or do we simply label them little bastards, wrongful creatures who have exercised their free will to be irrationally evil?

Critiquing the liberal concept of pacifism as the rejection of all forms of subjective violence, Zizek instead implores the endorsement of forms of emancipatory violence, as ‘To chastise violence outright, to condemn it as ‘bad’ is an ideological operation par excellence, a mystification which collaborates in rendering invisible the fundamental forms of social violence.’ (p174) The argument here is that by colluding with the social, economic and political conditions of massive inequality and extreme poverty, people are perpetrating forms of systemic violence which breeds the necessary qualities of resentment and anger which cause the subjective violence abhorred by pacifists. What Zizek claims is necessary then, is a systemic transformation to eliminate or at least minimise the systemic violence endemic to globalised capitalism.

Consequently, Zizek argues that ‘Sometimes, doing nothing is the most violent thing to do.’ (p183) In situations where everyday life perpetuates a cycle of poverty and misery for others – often those who have laboured to produce goods consumed in the first world, but also marginalised groups within western nations – the most violent thing a person can do is to simply ignore this systemic violence and lead an uneventful life, claiming to hate violence while creating the conditions of a society which produce it.

Where I feel Zizek falls down somewhat is his lack of meaningful discussion as to what activities he feels are necessary for a massive reduction of systemic violence. Drawing on Che Guevara, Zizek argues that love is an essential component of revolutionary thought and action, as out of love for others alongside solidarity, the desire for the overthrow of repressive socio-economic systemic machinery is born. This emphasis on love as an essential component of opposition to global capitalism is something Zizek shares with Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, the authors of Emprire and Multitude, whose writings maintain that the information revolution is in the process of creating radical social formations capable of challenging the system of global capitalism. Zizek however critiqes Hardt and Negri, somewhat unfairly contending that ‘Negri himself, the guru of the postmodern left, praises digital capitalism as containing in nuce all the elements of communism – one only has to drop the capitalist form and the revolutionary goal is acheived.’ (p14) Such a grossly oversimplified account of Negri’s search for revolutionary potentiality within emergent technologies and contemporary activism sees Zizek align Negri with the likes of Bill Gates and the CEO’s of Shell Intel and Google, allowing him to ridicule them all as the faces of liberal communism; those who fight subjective violence while perpetrating acts of systemic violence.

While Hardt and Negri stress their support for new activist movements such as the Zapatistas, Indymedia and the anti- War G8 and WTO protests, Zizek is somewhat less forthcoming about where he sees hope and potential in contemporary activism. While his elaboration of systemic violence and how this effects subjective violence is a practically useful one for activist movements and critical thought, his claims that the Porto Alegre movement has failed, and furthermore that while ‘Leftist political movements are like banks of rage. They collect rage investments from people and and promise them large-scale revenge, the re-establishment of global justice,’ (p158 ) the current situation according to Zizek sees a reality in which ‘There is no longer a global rage potential.’ (p159 ) If there no longer exists the potential for the coming together of the worlds people to fight for global justice, freedom and democracy, then how does one go about effecting large scale changes to the systems which inflict violence on so many peoples and their environments? Zizek offers no real answer here beyond the adoption of emancipatory violence, another concept he shares with Hardt and Negri.

Such sentiments appear to offer little hope in the way of emerging movements to challenge the systemic violence present in the current global order, and so in my estimation take the sheen of what otherwise is an excellent exposition of the violence which often appears invisible but thoroughly permeates the fabric of neoliberal culture.

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