Theater of Cruelty

The power of impotence

Futurability. The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility
Forfatter: Franco Berardi
Forlag: Verso Books (USA)
We need a new activism – not through revolutionary change, but through systematic efforts to develop a humane and free society.


Since Franco Berardi was part of the anarchist environment of Bologna's Radio Alice in the 60 century, he has worked tirelessly to understand the relationship between working life, culture and capitalism – to find the outlet for the liberating impetus that lay under the cultural the revolutions in Italy. That the anarchist movement was beaten with raw power seemed to confirm that the enemy was real and that the anarchists were part of a struggle against a society that was truly oppressive.

The Deception of Late Capitalism. When Berardi has followed various activist movements up to our days, all the way to the Occupy movement, which is discouraged, he ends up in a time he describes as "impotent". The reference to the male, bodily and sexual is more than a metaphor: At the center of the West's frustrated situation stands the white, male worker – precisely the class that is lured into new reactionary movements. The root of impotence – which in a broader sense is a depressive state of powerlessness – is an oppression not exercised through violence, but rather through the almost invisible forms of fraud, extortion and theft by late capitalism. According to Berardi, the fact that we cannot see how society loses our power is both the condition and effect of capitalism modus operandi: Precisely because we are convinced that there is no alternative to the lifestyles we are offered, the individual's horizon of possibilities shrinks – and life becomes a train where necessity is hooked on necessity and where the railroad determines the direction.

For an employee of an Asian technology company who works for lice pay and lives in the factory dorm, the slavery situation and the lack of resorts are visible and obvious. For unemployed young adults in the West who, through endless hours at the laptop, try to realize themselves through underpaid creative professions, the feeling of hopelessness is far more diffuse. Berardi is addressing the ever-expanding precariat – those who live from one short-term contract to another – and what he calls the "cognitariat" – those who sell their intelligence and creative abilities for the living, who, like the classic proletariat, is systematically prevented from really changing their living conditions.

Opportunity room and power. Berardi continues the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari in a poetic investigation of the possible: a chaotic magma of bodily impulses and fantasies and ideas that well up in the individual in the encounter with the environment. This current is gradually being channeled by society through limitations that may well be disciplining and guiding in a fruitful way, but which may also stifle the individual's life unfoldment. Power, understood as the exercise of power, consists in reducing opportunities, Berardi states – and thus delivers a powerful definition. But isn't there something missing here? Isn't power just about possessing opportunities? Is not wealth precisely the freedom to choose, the means to realize? Sure – but this opportunity space of wealth that some acquire presupposes that others have their space narrowed – since capitalism necessarily creates winners and losers. Often the individual ends up as both winner and loser – as a large number of life opportunities are sold and exchanged for those to whom money gives access. The real winner is the world economic order – an all-encompassing competition that constantly strengthens its deadly grip not only on the individual human being, but on the planet and civilization as such. One necroeconomics.

Auschwitz on the beach. According to Berardi, we are in a state of global civil war, where the world population's tendency to perceive "the others" as competitors has been reinforced through decades of neoliberalism: Solidarity and community have been gradually built up in almost every area of ​​life. When migrants starve at the borders of the rich world, we see in practice what it means to defend their own space of opportunity: The others are forced into a zone where life is marked by need and a continuous struggle for life's most basic necessities – or where life is right and simply becomes impossible. When the space of opportunity is understood as a privileged living space of protected wealth and other citizens of the world are considered invasive threats, the (un) final solution becomes an "Auschwitz on the beach" – a murderous marginalization.

When other world citizens are seen as invading threats, the (un) final solution becomes an "Auschwitz on the beach".

Impotence. When "futurability" – the future understood as a panorama of possibilities – is narrowed, it is because we are increasingly led to see the world and ourselves in the light of the economic key to interpretation. It is about far more than that money has become the standard of life, that all identity lies in one's work or that we become goal-rational model people – homo economicus; this is an automated board
form that makes language and conversation powerless. The problem is seen in its purest form when we call a service phone and encounter a menu of pre-programmed options – it becomes impossible to negotiate the situation, and our question may not even be among the options. If we finally meet a human being, he should "so gladly help, but unfortunately can not do anything because the system does not allow it". Both customer and employee are powerless – neither language nor goodwill helps. The same thing is repeated at higher levels – as when democratically elected politicians fail to keep their promises because the government is embedded in procedures that have their own compelling logic. Humans become instruments, and the automated processes become the real and faceless subjects of action.

Silicon Valley Revolution. The knowledge that can provide a basis for criticism and that can shape society in better directions can still be developed, but it has poor conditions within the institutions – and especially within the free market, from which it is becoming increasingly difficult to free oneself. According to Berardi, the development of an independent and liberating knowledge must take place in the sphere where the exploitation of the creative energies' cognitive energies is greatest: in Silicon Valley. The area is becoming a global state more than a place on the west coast of the United States: here young people are working their lives to invent the next breakthrough technology. The oppression of the real community creates a real oppression – which can be potent: The hope is that energy can be invested in a truly social platform – a community of knowledge that is both and can set us free.

See Beached on the beach

Anders Dunk
Anders Dunker
Philosopher. Regular literary critic in Ny Tid. Translator.

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