Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi
Other languages: Italiano
One might be forgiven for thinking that America is dead.
The country does not have a president. Biden, if he ever existed, has been annihilated by the disaster of the retreat. This country does not have one people but two, and they are at war with each other. The allies are melting away and, last but not least, China is winning the diplomatic battle and also the economic competition.
All this is true, but you should not forget a non irrelevant detail: America is also a techno-military complex (Google and the Pentagon and so on) in possession of a destructive power capable of razing the planet and eliminating mankind not once but many times over, and it is acquiring the ability to evacuate a small minority of humans from planet Earth towards no one knows where.
The Afghan defeat marks the turning point in a process of disintegration of the West whose signals have accumulated over the past two decades.
Here I use the word West to mean a geopolitical entity that corresponds to the Judeo-Christian cultural world (and therefore includes Russia itself).
Perhaps capitalism is eternal, a hypothesis to be verified if we have the time, but I don't think we will. The West does not. And unfortunately, the techno-military complex that the West has at its disposal, and which continues to feed despite its ability to overkill, does not respond to the logic of politics, but is an automatism that responds to a logic of deterrence. Once upon a time deterrence was bipolar and symmetrical, but after the collapse of the USSR it has a multipolar, asymmetrical and therefore interminable dynamic. Furthermore, the techno-military complex is also an economic power that must produce war in order to reproduce itself.
This is why we should not be too pleased with the collapse of the West: the crumbling of the West will not be an (almost) peaceful process, as was the collapse of the Soviet Empire between 1989 and '91.
Before collapsing, the West could erase the world not because of political reasons, (the political brain is evidently affected by necrosis), but because of a chain of technical, military and psychological automatic reactions.
Think of Italy: despite being a second-tier military power, the country where I live has only 15 anti-fire aircrafts, while it has 716 fighter aircrafts. What do we do with this disproportionate arsenal? Why is Italy investing a huge amount in a fighter plane called Tempest, along with Germany and England, while the effects of Covid are destroying the welfare of many?
Can you tell me why?
Now, after yet another defeat that the West (NATO, the US, Europe) has suffered in a conventional war, it is naive to think that the West is giving up on war. The West, therefore, will soon be led into unconventional warfare.
Capitalism is no longer able to allow the reproduction of mankind; expansion has reached its peak. Capitalist valorization is now essentially achieved through the extraction of physical and nervous resources that are on the verge of exhaustion, and through the destruction of the planetary physical environment and the collective brain. At this point, I see two diverging perspectives: the dissolution of capitalism followed by the creation and spread of autonomous, egalitarian and frugal communities.
Or war. More likely: both perspectives at the same time.
What is certain, however, is the inability of the West to accept what is now its manifest destiny: decline, dissolution, disappearance.
The collapse of the West is linked to processes that we can now pick out with the naked eye: the first is the growing infertility of the peoples of the north of the world (in 50 years the fertility of males of the Northern hemisphere has dropped by 52%). Whether it is due, as Sarah Swan argues in her recent book Count Down, to the spread of microplastics in the food chain, and to hormonal disorders caused by these microplastics, or whether it is due to the more or less conscious choice of women not to give birth to victims of rapidly spreading global fire, does not matter. The white dominators of the planet are senescent and tend to disappear.
The second process is the emergence of anti-Western capitalist powers (China) which for reasons inscribed in the psycho-cognitive formation have been more easily adaptable to the dynamics of the digital swarm with which Western individualism conflicts. (See in this regard Yuk Hui’s book Cosmotechnics, published by the MIT Press).
The third is the mental crisis, the self-contempt and the suicidal drive of the white population, unable to cope with the great migration, a consequence of colonization and wars, that is undermining the global order.
(Perhaps it would be worth rereading and updating some of Mao Tse Tung's and Lin Piao's considerations on the peripheries surrounding and strangling the center).
The European population, defending white privilege tooth and nail, is incapable of dealing with migration. Europeans refuse to recognize the need for a restitution of stolen resources, and fear a “great replacment” by non-white people. This is why neo-reactionary movements of nationalism and racism are on the rise in Europe.
According to Achille Mbembe,
Ultranationalism and racial supremacy ideologies are experiencing a global renaissance. The idea of an essential human similarity has been replaced by the notion of difference, taken as anathema and prohibition ... Concepts such as the human, the human race, the human race or humanity mean almost nothing, even if contemporary pandemics and the consequences of the ongoing combustion of the planet continue to give them weight and significance. In the West, but also in other parts of the world, we are witnessing the rise of new forms of racism that we could define as paroxysmal. The nature of paroxysmal racism is that, in a metabolic way, it can infiltrate the functioning of power, technology, culture, language and even the air we breathe. The double turn of racism towards a techno-algorithmic and eco-atmospheric variety is making it an increasingly lethal weapon, a virus. This form of racism is called viral because it goes hand in hand with the exacerbation of fears, including and above all the fear of extinction, which seems to have become one of the driving forces behind white supremacy in the world.
Mbembe speaks of late-Eurocentrism. I prefer the expression ‘nazi-liberal suprematism,’ because colonial privilege is the junction point between social darwinism and the politics of extermination: natural selection.
I am curious to see how the upcoming twentieth anniversary celebrations of the Islamist attack on the Manhattan towers unfolds. Perhaps there will be no celebrations. European newspapers will not write: "we are all Americans," like they did the day Bush declared war on Afghanistan. In fact, America has lost.
While the defeat in Vietnam was a national drama, the Afghan defeat does not scratch the American conscience because the American population is incapable of seeing failure because of the epidemic of dementia that grips it.
The defeat in Vietnam was not terminal; the defeat in Afghanistan is. While still the greatest military power of all times, the United States no longer has one essential thing: itself. There is no longer the United States of America, there are at least two, and they are in fierce struggle. So, as fires consume an ever-widening area of territory and converge on its megacities, as psychotic shootings remain a daily occurrence, the country no longer has a governing government and never will again.
Osama bin Laden’s victory is now final, and the victories of all the great leaders of past history pale in comparison. Bin Laden has defeated the two greatest powers of all time: the USSR and the USA. What happened to the Soviet Union after the Afghan defeat is well known. We are now waiting to see what will happen to the United States, and it is legitimate to hope that the effects will be equally definitive. American society is irreparably split, engaged in a headlong process of social, cultural and psychic disintegration. The civil war is not political, but daily, molecular, omnipresent.
Can we hope, then, that the collapse of American power will restore humans to the human?
I'm afraid not, because this collapse comes too late: America has already largely completed its mission, which was not to establish the kingdom of democracy, as they told us, but to destroy mankind.
John Sullivan coined the expression Manifest Destiny to define the civilizing mission of the American idealists (but weren’t the leaders of the SS, the propagators of the joy of the German superior race, also idealist?). That mission was to bring freedom into the world, or more realistically to transform human life into a mere articulation of the absolute domination of capital.
The stages of this process: primitive accumulation based on slavery and on genocide. Constant intensification of the productivity of workers through the systematic dehumanization of social relations.
That mission is accomplished.
While some big companies (Big Pharma, Amazon, big finance) are making unprecedented profits today, and increasing their earnings every day, psychosis takes over the collective mind, depression is rampant, freely available weapons of war kill unfortunates every day, wages are decreasing, working conditions are increasingly precarious, and in the meantime the forests burn and the cities are hopeless traps.
The purpose of the American wars was not to win. It was to destroy the conditions of life, and to reduce the living to insane ghosts like those who now roam the metropolises of the world. So the neo-human automaton will thrive.
In 1992 the first summit on climate change was held in Rio de Janeiro. On that occasion, the American president, George Bush senior, declared that "the standard of living of Americans is not negotiable."
The standard of living of Americans consists in consuming four times more energy than the average inhabitants of the planet. It consists of psychopathic bulimia that produces obesity and acquisitive aggression.
It consists of consuming meat in insane quantities. And so on.
Consumerism and commercial advertising were perhaps the most decisive contributions to the destruction of the conditions of livability of the planetary environment, as the extermination of the human is intrinsic to the neo-human character of Puritan Protestantism from which the idea of the Manifest Destiny was born. The digital automaton is the accomplishment of this American Dream.
In the twenty-first century, the manifest destiny of the USA has turned into the cancellation of conjunctive impurity, the full realization of the project of integral digitization and connection of the biological within the neo-human flow.
The integral automation project is now underway, but due to a surprising joke (fate is cynical and cruel), it will not be the Westerners that will enjoy it (so to speak).
What is more likely is that the beneficiary of this accursed bonanza will be a nation both more patient and less individualistic, with a people who tends to operate as if in the mode of a unified cognitive organism, and whose vocabulary is not anchored in that most deceptive of words: "freedom."
In pre-capitalist history, technics developed as a structured and functional mode of objects handled by man. In the course of the modern evolution of the capitalist mode of production, however, technology has been transformed into an operational framework within which man is forced to act, and from which he is not permitted to leave.
Following Heidegger, the Chinese thinker Yuk Hui sees in the concept of Gestell or ‘enframing’ the keystone of that transformation whereby technics becomes a key player in the mutation of humanity into a cognitive Automa. Technology establishes Gestalten (structured forms) within which human action is increasingly pre-ordered, to the point of operating like a swarm.
This technological mutation, which found its laboratory in California and which took the West as its field of experimentation, established the "neo human" model of a formatted, compatible, and connected man. Society becomes a swarm in which the movements of individuals are guided by a single brain, on which individual brains depend.
But the experimental automaton is only partially operative in the West, for reasons that are bound up with the cultural and cognitive peculiarities of the individuation process in the Western sphere: the common cognitive basis, linked to language learning, is thin, and resistance to the swarm-model is high.
The automaton seems to work much better in the sphere of ideographic languages, namely China, because the process of individuation is based on a twofold common cognitive basis: the learning of spoken language and the ideographic transcription. The Chinese mind is more easily integrated thanks to the different characteristics of the identification process (language acquisition, double neural molding, easy adhesion to the swarm model).
Cashing-In on Devastation
Sangihe is one of the countless islands of the Indonesian archipelago. The island was once home to a blue bird. It seemed as if the bird had all but disappeared, when it was recently discovered that he still hops in the forests. But there is not only the sparrow, there are also some tens of thousands of people living on the island. Fishermen, gatherers, craftsmen, teachers, students.
Some time back, a Canadian company obtained a concession on half of the subsoil because it was recently discovered that there is gold. Until recently, Indonesian state law prohibited extraction from the subsoil of the islands, but last year international pressure led to the abolition of that law. Extraction is now legal, and the Canadian company that owns the exploitation rights is coming forward to enforce its rights.
This story — documented in a BBC video you can find here — is by no means a new one. It has been like this for a few hundred years: white predators arrive in any place on earth, they discover that they can extract a mineral that has value for the white economy (perhaps a useless mineral like gold, loaded with immense religious significance, to the point that it can be considered the totem of that superstitious belief known as "economics”). The white predators destroy everything, they subject the humans who inhabit the territory to an excruciating pace of work in return for which they give them a salary, a car, a house with all the essential accessories of that mousetrap in which salaried workers are accustomed to dwelling. By now they have destroyed almost everything, so now the world has begun to burn, and will certainly burn, until the human race is erased, except perhaps a few specimens that will manage to escape aboard shuttles into outer space, where they will spend the rest of their sad days in cages floating around in the void.
But some islands of the planet earth have not yet been totally captured by the exterminators, because they are too remote. For example, Sangihe.
To the question: “what will you gain by carrying out your project” (cutting down the forests, drilling the ground, extracting the ore that economic superstition considers precious)? the bald peaceful representative of the mining company replies with a good laugh: “Millions and millions of dollars. When we are at full capacity we plan to extract thousands of ounces a month in a few years."
And there will be work for five thousand people. Five thousand people will be able to stop fishing, build useful objects for the community, study, and will finally go a few hundred meters underground eight hours a day in exchange for a salary that allows them to have a car, to replace their home with a mousetrap and so on.
The story left an impression on me, because it contains nearly everything you need to know about modernity in four and a half minutes of film. The destruction of life, pleasure, beauty, affection, joy, sunrise, sunset, food, breath, in exchange for a car, a salary, and lung cancer — in a word: the economy.
After five centuries there are still places on which such Western ‘care’ has not been imposed. Forests are burning, rivers are overflowing, wars are multiplying, depression is rampant, but somewhere, progress has not yet arrived. Let's bring it there quickly, before the show is over.
It's a matter of years now. Extinction is no longer a distant prospect, but an issue that concerns the present generation, the same one that cannot even go to school because there is a mysterious virus. Before being swallowed by the rapidly spreading apocalypse, we must not neglect to drag the poor inhabitants of Sangihe into it, since they have not yet enjoyed the fruits of Western progress.
This progress finds in the United States of America its vanguard and its symbol.
-August 25th, 2021
A version of this article first appeared in Italian on the site Effimera.
Images: Tom Kiefer, "Journey West"