Survival After Hope

For all his failures and all that remains disappointing in his work- impossible not to be disappointed- Franco Berardi remains the only leftist that speaks about anything that resonates with me. I often feel that Bifo might be saying everything I could say. Though he would doubtless reject the interpolation it feels to me that Bifo constitutes part of an ambiguous pessimist leftism…or a post-nihilist left. Along with his former student Federico Campagna, Bifo consistently works from a position that refuses to be suckered into the inane and delusional optimism of the contemporary left. They are the only two writers that seem to pay attention to the dark undercurrents and counter-flows of our metastatic present. In his discussion of the Pope’s recent big important letter he gets right to its crucial absent kernel:

What is striking in these words is the Pope’s intellectual courage to abandon the discourse of hope. In doing so, he interprets theprevailing sentiment of our time: the hopeless perception of thefuture. However, he translates this hopelessness in terms of mercy,compassion, and friendship.

As we have consistently maintained at syntheticzero we live in the age of realized nihilism. The catastrophe has already occurred and we are living within the duration of the slow violence of collapse. The psychodramatic rituals of sacredness surrounding the elevations, defamations and tearing down of Syrizia are evidence enough of the psychoaffective bipolarity of the leftist/anarchist in response. The leftist and the anarchist swing wildly from deluded hope to utter despair, occasionally crossing into that mixed state of masochistic purity that predicts and celebrates defeat: we want to fail, we want to be fucked over, it’s more exciting and more pleasurable than any partial victory. Within this catastrophic time unfold the multiple catastrophes that few of us are quite prepared to face up to: what face would be left after confronting them?

The ecological crises and the coming resource wars, and the accelerated securitisation and militarisation of states; the millions of displaced climate refugees; the physical collapses of bodies in the blistering heat and fatal winters; bursts of violence, aggression and despair that accompany them; the wreckage of failed states, abandoned cities and wildfire devastated regions; mutations in consciousness- already we see the emergence of collapse related suicides and speculation of more to come; all this giving rise to illness and the perfect breeding grounds for infection; in amongst all this the escalation of existing trends towards religious fundamentalism and ethno-nationalism; the fortification of minds, homes and whole cities creating a Neo-Feudal psychosphere of the siege; the blossoming of fascisms and victimologies; the need for scapegoats and the creation of zones of invulnerability; Guilty Remnant style doomer cults; the necessary and rapid transformation of our synthetic environments refitted and repurposed for survival and discrete pockets of pleasure. Who knows what psychoaffective mutations will occur in the wake of this conjuncture. Fuck, who knows what anticipatory psychopathologies are already unlocking themselves with the very idea of such a Primitivist Futurism? Have you been paying attention to yourself lately?

It will be argued that I am a doomer. Wikipedia explains that a doomer is

one who believes that problems of ecological overshoot, such as over population, climate change, pollution and especially peak oil, will cause the collapse of industrial civilization, and, a significant human population die-off. Many doomers are also survivalists. or preppers

How depressing. How utterly depressing. And how naive. If left intellectuals have produced anything of value it orbits around the accelerationist and xenofeminist manifestos. Centred on a revived rationalism and the emancipatory repurposing of technologies they promise a shining vision of a Fully Automated Communism that will reprogram nature. Outside of the left are the addivist and solarpunk manifestos, the promise that capitalists like Elon Musk and his private space programs will deliver us from the impending collapse. It is as if a dialectical materialism haunted the present conjuncture: before communism we must pass through the age of space capitalism. There is so much to be hopeful about. Even as the European simulation collapses and the neo-nazis position themselves to occupy the populist agenda. Even if the catastrophic processes are already unfolding and can’t really be stopped. We can mitigate them. We can do better than mere survival- have we ever done better than that- we can thrive and flourish.

And maybe we can. We shouldn’t pin everything on the global collapse of everything like the primitivist fetishists who would tear it all down voluntarily. The first scenario would genuinely be a nightmare scenario. Our entire history of atrocity and annihilating lust would blush in comparison to that brave new dark age. But we can’t pin our hopes on a shiny future either. We can’t assume capitalism or accelerationism or our favourite left sect or anarchist organisation is going to save us. The catastrophe is already happening. The most likely outcome is some admixture of the dark and shining futures. Some will be more protected than others. Some places will become zones susceptible to revolutionary forms of existence while others won’t be. There is a common rhetoric device today that we don’t believe in progress or linearity or the necessity of history. Except that whoever has the audacity to raise doubts that tomorrow will be better than today, or that the distribution of the fall-out of the present will create a “combined and uneven” post-catastrophic landscape, is met with aghast looks and accusations of doom.

It should be noted here that I am not even approaching what happens after the semiotic apocalypse finally takes hold and the manifest image of man in the world must finally be abandoned. The possible emergence of post-human beings “disconnected” from us is also being left to one side. My goal here isn’t to indulge in pessimistic thoughts for their own sake or to revel in doom, but to draw attention to the possibilities that the left doesn’t want to look in the faceless face.

I am a mental health nurse. I am resolutely not a philosopher or theorist. I understand things from the perspective of psychopathology and the ways in which people cope. And people cope in perverse and self-destructive ways. They tell themselves things will be alright while shooting heroin into their blood. They drink to face the day and drink to get to sleep. They shut themselves up into their homes so that the chaos and unpredictability of the outside and the other doesn’t have to be faced. They make prisoners of themselves in addiction, ignorance and illness. There is not a single person on this Earth who is immune from this. Everyone carries their symptom as a shield against the horror of the real. We imagine we are invulnerable or make ourselves excessively vulnerable. We lie and we distort. We look only for what confirms us in our positions. We live in disconnected bubbles simulating our own reality because the real is too much to bear. We are animals of symbols and fictions. We cling to our experience despite knowing that it is delusional, hallucinatory, almost completely fabricated. I am certainly not immune from any of this but a list of my own symptoms would be self-indulgent and boring.

The point I’m making is this: when someone we love dies we cry and we scream and we kick out or we go numb an shut down and go to work as if it were nothing. We might get stuck or we might mourn. If we mourn it’s likely we’ll see them. It’s common to have visions of the dead during periods of grief. We hear their voice. We feel the weird absence of weight and opacity in the empty seat across the table.  Even outside this process of mourning we have our mantras to reinforce our baffling resilience- or is it our failure to finally make an end of things? A million variations of “everything will work out” and “it’ll be okay” distilled into the ideological affirmation “keep calm and carry on”.

So it is that the left has its own reflexive mantras and favoured illusions. It’s necessary. It gets us through the long hours and the short days. We invoke human ingenuity or adaptability, laying claim to some essential something about the human being that makes it the eternal and indefatigable survivor. We forget that for us to survive a lot of other homo sapiens had to die. It’s this pathological optimism of the left that makes it so susceptible to shock and trauma and continues to leave it prone to defeat. Look at the actual predictions for the impacts of climate change and the impacts it is already having. Look to the ongoing sixth extinction. Look at the weakness of the movements and their perpetual position of resistance. Is there time to build a revolutionary movement capable of building communism? Maybe. But I’m not pinning my hopes on it. The optimistic future of accelerationism is built on such mantras and on a temporal stasis that assumes the future is a continuation of the past. Its for this reason that hat so much of accelerationism remains science fiction.

All of this has been put much more concisely by the arch-pessimist Schopenhauer, who just also happens to be the philosopher who grounds ethics in compassion. According to Schopenhauer

hope is the confusion of the desire for a thing with its probability.

Despite a resolute critique of the vapid evil of positive psychology and its cognitive-behavioural insistence that we change our point of view it is becoming increasingly difficult to prise the assumptions of much of the left apart from the “think big, think positive” approach. The idea that ‘Hope is precious: it must be rationed’  gets closer to the truth- and I’m certainly interested in salvagepunk– but the idea revivifying the left couldn’t be further from what is required. What is going to be the container of hope this time? I’m afraid that pessimism of the intellect can’t have any optimism of the will unless what that means is radically transformed. If there is such a thing as a collective will- and if there is time to create any viable collectivity that can organize and appeal to the masses without treating them like idiots or proselytizing a new faith- it will need to be without hope.

It will need to be open eyed. It will need to be able to see the present and accept it in order to be able to adapt: a psychosurvivalism willing to use any and all tools that come to hand. This isn’t a will that will undertake great schemes of social engineering or establish a global anarcho-communist society. All that belongs to yesterday. It might be time to admit that the “Idea of Communism” is nothing but a Faith. All of this means that

we must abandon hope: the world machine is ungovernable, and human will is impotent. Only friendship is left. This is how I understand Francis’s words.

But perhaps some will say this constitutes a resignation. I’d like to think of it more as a resignation letter; a resignation from the politics of the world before nihilism. I am a mental health nurse and a damaged man. I would burn all my identifications. I would strip my ego until there was only the nothing behind the illusion left. But we live by illusion. We need a little so as to survive. I believe in the achievement of getting the day…of getting through the night. Survival is a revolutionary act.

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3 Comments

  1. My own project is to develop a left survivalism – focusing on low/no income consumers and with an individualistic slant.

    But what i’m trying to put forward is a kind of survivalism that embraces automation and technology while also accepting the obsolescence of humanity. Rather than apocalypticism (which is a vice) what we need is to accept our own obsolescence. Bifo points out that most of our economy could have been automated as far back as the 70s and imo THIS is the real reason for the current crash.

    Interesting that you brought up Ruppert – the problem with his regressive anti civ stuff is that it is mostly empirically wrong. The peak oil stuff is wrong, his BS about renewables not being able to pick up the slack is wrong. I don’t mean this in a moral sense but in a literal sense.

    Apocalypse is just not realistic. A future of abundant energy is actually scientifically realistic. But the human with its anthropomorphism, delusions of omnipotence and fantasies of self/mastery cannot admit this.

    Now of course there will be starvation, collapse, disaster, war and loads of micro apocalypses but ultimately the truth is that techno science will DROWN us in abundance, or at least have the potential to. There is a lot of idiot universalism and guilt that is holding us all back. I am trying to lay out a path by which even the lowest income proles in the rich cores can work towards scenarios where they don’t have to sell their labour to survive. Obviously the state, cops, rent payers won’t be happy about this and we’ll see more Battle of the Beanfields – but the fact is that solar tech is getting better and better. The lab based tech to grow food/proteins whatever has already obsolesced the old agri-logistics of breeding cows and crops and waiting for the sun to grow them. We can fight for mass producible versions of that tech and we can spread it by p2p IF we can destroy the disgusting ethic of paying for media when file sharing has literally anti-capitalized it. You can already get 3d print designs on torrent sites – like you say, things are hopeful in many respects but I just don’t see other people embracing these potentials and it saddens and worries me. I made my own Soylent for a while but its cheaper to buy the stuff in bulk and its getting cheaper and cheaper all the time. What is the average response to a nutritionally pure, cheap and brilliant invention which is being constantly upgraded and optimized and will lift masses from starvation and improve the nutrition of millions? It’s derision of course!

    I am trying to expose the libidinal dynamics at work in our resistance to automation – Nicholas Carrs recent book The Glass Cage is unconsciously revealing about this. Automation is – RIGHT NOW – putting an end to much of the sweatshop slavery of factories in China and the left STILL won’t embrace it!?!? There is a lot of onto-theological crap talked by people trying to put some limit on AI or project their pathetic xtian omnipotence fantasies onto it. The fact is the self driving cars will drive past those clinging to their denial and ignorance. It reminds me of Baudrillards last book (and noone reads him any more because he’s out of fashion and dredged up to be shit upon by a load of academic twats) where he keeps repeating the mantra “humans are going to disappear”. It’s typical of his brilliance the way he leaves it so vague – he’s outlining a 3rd possibility – you have extinction or just perpetual growth/infinity and then he introduces the idea of disappearance. He says we will disappear into an integral technological reality that is not even aware we exist and that views us as an infantile illness. In a sense this is happening now, I tried to talk about Uber to a taxi driver in a city it is setting up shop in and he pretended he knew what it was then tried to explain how it could not possibly work. There is a confusion that is inherent to people – their blind brains (withdrawn objects) don’t realize that his hippocampus, muscle strength and spatio temporal capabilities are competing with other objects that will obsolesce them. People by and large don’t believe that the stuff their brains do exists as an object, they see it as an omnipotent control system that programmes and creates external reality itself. You try and tell them and they don’t want to listen, even though their business is gonna go bust soon. I have known businessmen that would have lost the entire fucking operation if it weren’t for a partner prepared to embrace the internet – and they’re still in denial. And even so, it will fall apart soon enough anyway. I try and warn people about the due date on their career and they don’t wanna know. All they wanna tell me is that computers can’t know everything. I see a strong correlation between half a century of declining wages leading to total economic meltdown in such attitudes.

    Anyway, the blog has been down for a while but should be back soon and i’ll post a link here in case anyones interested.

    • By & large agree. Im not apocalyptic, just catastrophic. Along with automation will come all kinds of deprivations. To my mind- with the AI stuff, and David Roden’s posthumanism- the best option for all this tech is to finish with the human. I call it transpessimism: the deliberate project to go extinct by becoming radically posthuman entities.

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