Friday, February 22, 2019

Achille Mbembe: Deglobalization

‘We see less and less of what is there for us to see and more and more of what we desperately want to see, even though what we want to see does not correspond to any original reality. Perhaps now more than ever, other people can stand before us as a concrete, tangible and physical presence and yet be no more than a spectral absence, an equally concrete, almost phenomenal void. This is what happens to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.’
Digital computation is engendering a new common world and new configurations of reality and power. But this ubiquitous, instantaneous world is confronted by the old world of bodies and distances. Technology is mobilized in order to create an omnipresent border that sequesters those with rights from those without them.

Every sphere of life has been penetrated by capital and subjected to quantification. In this context, borders have become nothing other than the violence underlying our world’s order, a war against mobility that is filling Europe with dead bodies and migrant camps. Can we dare to imagine the abolition of borders? The escalation is undeniable. No sphere of contemporary life has been left untouched by the spread of capital. Admittedly, its penetration is uneven. In many parts of the world, it operates primarily by proxy. Stupefied by poverty, destitution and deprivation, whole classes of people experience first-hand the dissociation between the world as actually lived, the material world of life at a specific place on the Earth’s surface, and the ubiquitous and blissful world of the screen – visible but utterly untouchable, uncontactable, unpossessable.
Nothing seems to escape capital’s control, whether affects, emotions and feelings, linguistic skills, or manifestations of desire, dreams or thought – all of life, in short. Capital extends its grasp deep into the underbelly of the world, leaving in its wake vast fields of debris and toxins, waste heaps of men ravaged by sores, abscesses and boils. Now that everything is a potential source of capitalization, capital has made a world of itself: a hallucinatory phenomenon of planetary dimensions that produces, on a grand scale, subjects who are simultaneously calculating, fictional and delirious.

Capital having been made flesh, everything is now a function of capital, even interiority. The processes driving this universal expansion are erratic. Everywhere they create randomness and uncertainty. Everywhere they institutionalize the risk inherent in the misfortunes of reality. Every-where they are subject to diversion and solicitation. No matter: capital has become our shared infrastructure, our nervous system, the transcendental maw that maps out our world and its psycho-physical limits.

Digital computation
This world creation process is going on at a time when all societies are organized according to the same guiding principle: digital computation. The term must be understood in three ways. First, as a technical system or mechanical device specialized in the abstraction, and so the capture and automatic processing, of data (material and mental) that must be identified, selected, sorted, classified, recombined and activated. If digitization is a task of abstraction, that task is inseparable from another: calculation – of both the liveable and the thinkable.

The computational is a force that produces and serializes subjects, objects, phenomena, but also consciences and memories and traces, which can be coded and stored and which are capable of circulating. Finally, the computational is the institution through which a common world, a new common sense, and new configurations of reality and power are brought into being and shaped. This world and this common sense result from the fusion of three types of reason, each subject to constant extension and augmentation: economic, biological and algorithmic. These three forms of reason are haunted by a metaphysical phantom: technolatry.

Computational mechanisms, algorithmic modelling and the extension of capital into every sphere of life are all part of one and the same process. Whether operating on bodies, nerves, material, blood, cellular tissue, the brain or energy, the aim is the same: first, the conversion of all substances into quantities – the pre-emptive calculation of possibilities, risks and contingencies with a view to their financialization; second, the conversion of organic and vital ends into technical means. Everything must be detached from any kind of substrate, from all corporeality, from all materiality; everything must be artificializedautomated and autonomized. Everything must be subjected to quantification and abstraction. Digitization is nothing other than this capture of forces and possibilities and their annexation by the language of a machine-brain transformed into an autonomous and automated system. All this is now driving an unprecedented unification of the planet... read more:

Read also Adam Tooze’s account (A Time of Debt) of the emergence, a decade ago, of the dogma of austerity from the ruins of the global financial system: Two years after global economy crashed in 2008, austerity politics swung into action. Using Greece as its example, a transatlantic alliance of right-wing fearmongers, conservative political entrepreneurs and centrist fiscal hawks abandoned stimulus and instead turned the screw.