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Depression for revolution

A future without a future
Forfatter: Mikkel Krause Frantzen
Forlag: Informations Forlag (Danmark)

Art can break the cracks in the culture and help reverse the current state of depression. 

(PS. This article is machine-translated from Norwegian)

No agenda in the world seems more significant than the climate. Despite the persistent warnings of science, despite the UN's 17 world goals, the Paris Agreement and despite many national and local initiatives that seek to reverse development, we continue to steer toward temperature increases that will pose a threat to civilization. We only know the phenomenon too well: We do not act in accordance with the information available – in time. Unlike when we face the phenomenon of personal life where the consequences can prove serious enough for the individual, we, with global climate change, depend on a world community that, with all its ramifications of decision-making platforms, takes character and makes radical decisions on behalf of of future generations, yes, on behalf of civilization. It is still unclear whether this will happen – in time.

Leave the car!

An old saying goes that we are lying as we have been saved. With economic globalization, the economy since 1968, and neoliberalism and its culmination in the financial crisis of 2007, have moved in a direction where the problems of the world economy are facing daily. System Crisis is today the right diagnosis on the state of the world. Czech economist Tomas Sedlacek, who has been financial adviser to former Czech President Václav Havel and the Czech finance minister, expresses his relationship with the economy figuratively as follows: "If the economy was a car, you should not get into the car at all."

Creativity is no longer a source of protest, but of profit.

The world economy dominates political decisions in a political landscape that does not focus on necessary long-term decisions, but on short-term, market-oriented and national-egoistic interests. In the book A future without a future Mikkel Krause Frantzen has focused on «depression as a political problem and the alternative narratives of art» and delivers a «culture-critical societal diagnosis», as the author himself calls it.

Society with tongue

The debt crisis, the perpetual pursuit of individual happiness and self-optimization, as well as a competition-driven labor market, have contributed to widespread depression, now also as a political problem. Here, the state itself must function on the market's premises – as a competitive state.

Different was the picture when implementing industrialization. With a growing international working class, the vision of a world revolution and the building of socialism represented a future picture of an upcoming – and fought – society. Following the collapse of the Soviet state in 1991 and the decline of social democracy and cooperation for the mammon of the consumer society, the left was challenged by reformulating a new vision, now adding consequences of the impact of capitalism on the natural foundations – including the climate challenge and the threat to biodiversity – with new challenges to understanding where the world community is. and the nation-state is moving. And not least, where the right-wing populism – and the worse – has got hold of the electorate.

The economy as a state of nature

A life of meaningless consumption for the so-called general population, and a societal depression expressed in the impotence of an action – this is the result of a colonization of the imagination. Not only has the power of imagination been integrated into the capitalist mode of production, where creativity is no longer a source of protest, but of profit; in the new reality under neoliberalism, man has been transformed into a creative, entrepreneurial, self-realizing being who does not seek distance from the surrounding community, but instead seeks proximity, but now as human capital who must always be on the road to establishing small, profitable businesses.

Unlike past times, you are not directly ostracized by society. On the contrary, your creative independence as a contractor is constantly and insistently demanded. In doing so, you are exhausted by the new requirements to produce 24/7, with an imminent risk of stress, burnout and worse – in depression.

With the fall of one social or so-called socialist experiment after another, the economy appears more and more as a state of nature, where it is nature that appears as the variable quantity. Professor Francis Fukuyamas described it, after the fall of the Soviet state, with the thesis of the end of history.

The Movement of Art

Where do we find the healing powers? Frantzen describes how man is stressed, parallel to how nature is pressed, as a consequence of capitalism's demand for sustained economic growth. In such circumstances, the task of art for the individual may be to help develop spaces for critical reflection. Yes, in the human encounter, the conversation may prove to be greater and different in value than the diamond Goethe wrote. 

If one has not known freedom, the light, one does not despair of freedom and darkness.

If one has not known freedom, the light, one does not despair of freedom and darkness. Frantzen mentions Lars von Trier's film Melancholia, Danish Theis Ørntoft's poems as well as French Houellebecq's universes as examples of artistic descriptions of the culture of depression. With such works of art, cracks in the culture can arise, into an understanding of some larger contexts and thus to a possible imaginative power that can result in the negation of depression culture. 

In his new book, Frantzen more than suggests that what is needed is the development of new committed communities – living communities with a new economy and life-support systems such as water, electricity, sanitation – and a new understanding of holiness. With inspiration from the ecovillage movement, permaculture and Transition Networks to build a new world, such a movement can be seen in development – a counterculture to mainstream culture. 

Will the development of a new social imagination, developed through experiments in many types of binding societies and in social movements, help to transform the depression of the individual into a revolutionary potential for social development, yes, for civilization?

Niels Johan Juhl-Nielsen
Juhl-Nielsen resides in Copenhagen.

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