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<nettime> McKenzie Wark: Birth of Thanaticism
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<nettime> McKenzie Wark: Birth of Thanaticism


< http://www.publicseminar.org/2014/04/birth-of-thanaticism/ >


Birth of Thanaticism

   McKenzie Wark -- April 3, 2014


   I don't know why we still call it capitalism. It seems to be some sort
   of failure or blockage of the poetic function of critical thought.

   Even its adherents have no problem calling it capitalism any more. Its
   critics seem to be reduced to adding modifiers to it: postfordist,
   neoliberal, or the rather charmingly optimistic `late' capitalism. A
   bittersweet term, that one, as capitalism seems destined to outlive us
   all.

   I awoke from a dream with the notion that it might make more sense to
   call it thanatism, after Thanatos, son of Nyx (night) and
   Erebos(darkness), twin of Hypnos (sleep), as Homer and Hesiod seem more
   or less to agree.

   I tried thanatism out on twitter, where Jennifer Mills wrote:
   "yeah, I think we have something more enthusiastically suicidal.
   Thanaticism?"

   That seems like a handy word. Thanaticism: like a fanaticism, a
   gleeful, overly enthusiastic will to death. The slight echo of
   Thatcherism is useful also.

   Thanaticism: a social order which subordinates the production of use
   values to the production of exchange value, to the point that the
   production of exchange value threatens to extinguish the conditions of
   existence of use value. That might do as a first approximation.

   Bill McKibben has suggested that climate scientists should go on
   strike. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 2013
   report recently. It basically says what the last one said, with a bit
   more evidence, more detail, and worse projections. And still nothing
   much seems to be happening to stop Thanaticism. Why issue another
   report? It is not the science, it's the political science that's
   failed. Or maybe the political economy.

   In the same week, BP quietly signaled their intention to fully exploit
   the carbon deposits which it owns the rights. A large part of the value
   of the company, after all, is the value of those rights. To not dig or
   suck or frack carbon out of the ground for fuel would be suicide for
   the company, and yet to turn it all into fuel and have that fuel
   burned, releasing the carbon into the air, puts the climate into a
   truly dangerous zone.

   But that can't stand in the way of the production of exchange value.
   Exchange value has to unreel its own inner logic to the end: to mass
   extinction. The tail that is capital is wagging the dog that is earth.

   Perhaps its no accident that the privatization of space appears on the
   horizon as an investment opportunity at just this moment when earth is
   going to the dogs. The ruling class must know it is presiding over the
   depletion of the earth. So they are dreaming of space-hotels. They want
   to not be touched by this, but to still have excellent views.

   It makes perfect sense that in these times agencies like the NSA are
   basically spying on everybody. The ruling class must know that they are
   the enemies now of our entire species. They are traitors to our species
   being. So not surprisingly they are panicky and paranoid. They imagine
   we're all out to get them.

   And so the state becomes an agent of generalized surveillance and armed
   force for the defense of property. The role of the state is no longer
   managing biopower. It cares less and less about the wellbeing of
   populations. Life is a threat to capital and has to be treated as such.

   The role of the state is not to manage biopower but to manage
   thanopower. From whom is the maintenance of life to be withdrawn first?
   Which populations should fester and die off? First, those of no use as
   labor or consumers, and who have ceased already to be physically and
   mentally fit for the armed forces.

   Much of these populations can no longer vote. They may shortly loose
   food stamps and other biopolitical support regimes. Only those willing
   and able to defend death to the death will have a right to live.

   And that's just in the over-developed world. Hundreds of millions now
   live in danger of rising seas, desertification and other metabolic
   rifts. Everyone knows this: those populations are henceforth to be
   treated as expendable.

   Everybody knows things can't go on as they are. Its obvious. Nobody
   likes to think about it too much. We all like our distractions. We'll
   all take the click-bait. But really, everybody knows. There's a good
   living to be made in the service of death, however. Any hint of an
   excuse for thanaticism as a way of life is heaped with Niagras of
   praise.

   We no longer have public intellectuals; we have public idiots. Anybody
   with a story or a `game-changing' idea can have some screen time, so
   long as it either deflects attention from thanaticism, or better -
   justifies it. Even the best of this era's public idiots come off like
   used car salesmen. It is not a great age for the rhetorical arts.

   It is clear that the university as we know it has to go. The sciences,
   social sciences and the humanities, each in their own ways, were
   dedicated to the struggle for knowledge. But it is hard to avoid the
   conclusion, no matter what one's discipline, that the reigning order is
   a kind of thanatcisim.

   The best traditional knowledge disciplines can do is to focus in
   tightly on some small, subsidiary problem, to just avoid the big
   picture and look at some detail. That no longer suffices. Traditional
   forms of knowledge production, which focus on minor or subsidiary kinds
   of knowledge are still too dangerous. All of them start to discover the
   traces of thanaticism at work.

   So the university mast be destroyed. In its place, a celebration of all
   kinds of non-knowledge. Whole new disciplines are emerging, such as the
   inhumanities and the antisocial sciences. Their object is not the
   problem of the human or the social. Their object is thanaticism, its
   description and justification. We are to identify with, and celebrate,
   that which is inimical to life. Such an implausible and dysfunctional
   belief system can only succeed by abolishing its rivals.

   All of which could be depressing. But depression is a subsidiary aspect
   of thanaticism. You are supposed to be depressed, and you are supposed
   to think that's your individual failing or problem. Your bright
   illusory fantasy-world is ripped away from you, and the thanatic
   reality is bared - you are supposed to think its your fault. You have
   failed to believe. See a shrink. Take some drugs. Do some retail
   therapy.

   Thanaticism also tries to incorporate those who doubt its rule with a
   make-over of their critique as new iterations of thatatic production.
   Buy a hybrid car! Do the recycling! No, do it properly! Separate that
   shit! Again, its reduced to personal virtue and responsibility. Its
   your fault that thanaticism wants to destroy the world. Its your fault
   as a consumer, and yet you have not choice but to consume.

   "We later civilizations...  know too that we are mortal," Valery
   said in 1919. At that moment, after the most vicious and useless war
   hitherto, such a thing could appear with some clarity. But we lost that
   clarity. And so: a modest proposal. Let's at least name the thing
   after its primary attribute.

   This is the era of the rule of thanaticism: the mode of production of
   non-life. Wake me when its over.


McKenzie Wark

     * zizek
       i'm guessing this is for lols, but the defintion says nothing about
       private property & the state's violence enforcing work

          + mckenziewark
            You want it all in a thousand words, huh?

               o Jeremy Varon
                 Ken, I love your stuff. I can't tell if it's a put on or
                 for real, mimicry of ghosts of theory past or a
                 perspective reliably "your own," or which shows how easy
                 or hard it is to sound like a smart person. Half the fun
                 is not knowing the answer. And each time I walk away with
                 a phrase, a turn of thought, some ex-cathedra
                 pronouncement about the morbid post-human condition too
                 probing and tantalizing to dismiss.
                 Not sure, however, if there is some subterranean
                 consensus that "it's all over, civilization done." Beware
                 universalizing this kind of anomie and exhaustion; we
                 heard it before with much postmodernism and it grew,
                 well, tiresome.

                    # mckenziewark
                      But its quite the reverse. This civilization will
                      keep expanding forever. Its the infrastructure
                      underneath it that won't last.

                          {AT}  Jeremy Varon
                           Maybe, but I wouldn't count on it. Sure,
                           America may be more no eternal than Rome, from
                           a cosmic view. And it's the new vogue to be
                           certain that crisis portends collapse. But it's
                           amazing how societies can also muddle through,
                           with ultimately sustainable admixtures of
                           achievement, failure, distraction, and
                           discontent.
                           I suppose we could check back in 50 years. If
                           it's "Mad Max" I'll share a litre of purloined
                           petrol with you. If things are more or less the
                           same you can buy me a hologram beer.

                          {AT}  mckenziewark
                           The record on `muddling through' climate change
                           is not good. Its probably what took down the
                           Indus river civilizations. And that was not on
                           a global scale.
     * Etienne
       Is there perhaps a resonance between Heidegger's notion of
       `bestand' ... "standing reserve" and your exchange value?
       Heidegger's warning was that it would be extremely dangerous for
       society to start giving more importance to the "standing reserve"
       than to the purposes that this reserve ultimately aim to fulfil.

          + mckenziewark
            I don't find Heidegger at all useful in this context.

     * DonE
       There may be a new analogue to Marx's industrial reserve army which
       increasingly falls distance to Thanaticism, that small pool of
       people with advanced degrees but no prospect of work within their
       field. For example, bioscience PhDs on their second postdoc,
       scratching out funding for rare disease assays that cater to the
       small scrap of market leftover from big pharma. It seems to me that
       the idea of Thanaticism sheds light on some of the conditions that
       those folks seem to be experiencing. How, then, could they be
       mobilized? Are we past the point of mobilization? If the climate
       scientists that you mentioned would go on strike, could they be
       heard any more loudly than when they issue the latest edition of
       the IPCC report?

          + mckenziewark
            I don't know, but its an interesting question.

     * EndThe DrugWar
       REALITY is we live on free range serf farms structured via a
       top-down pyramidal money system , maintained by mass conditioning
       schooling and mass programming media .

          + mckenziewark
            In a word, yes.

     * Tom Leckrone
       Yes! Capital stagnates and strangles, closing off light and life
       via fractally inventive (and desperate) means. Imperative to get
       the currency flowing, distributing misbegotten and life-denying
       capital in all these emerging circuits of network and community.

     * Evan Sarmiento
       Way to rip off Guy Debord, you're plagurizing.

          + mckenziewark
            which text?

     * >>>>>>>>>>>>
       So you're saying Freud and his Thanatos/Eros dynamic was on to
       something after all?

          + mckenziewark
            No, I don't think Freud is at all useful in this context.

     * Allen gamble
       Sounds very Baudrillardian

     * MarkD
       I don't understand why Freud isn't relevant here - aren't you
       talking about a death drive?

          + mckenziewark
            Yes. This has very little to do with the death drive.

     * Christo
       "Money" is the value of human effort, and possessing "Capital" is
       possessing potential effort.
       With no people willing to put the effort, the value of "Capital"
       disappears.
       So with the rise of "Capital" the human is simplified to an "effort
       exerting being" and other "life purposes" must diminish. It is not
       exactly Thanatos, but the road is getting tougher.
       Capitalism was another Broadway and we are on it for some time,
       (the story of the Choice of Hercules.)

          + furkanmustafa
            Actually lately (since the money as we know it), Capital
            doesn't appear with efforts. Authorities print some paper and
            they state that people owe their efforts to authorities
            because of those papers, and distribute those papers to their
            thightly connected acquitances, so they can fetch efforts with
            them, build upon it, here is your capital. sounds like fair,
            give paper, get effort, print more paper, get more effort. And
            (we,) the stupid people are just fine about working for
            worthless papers. Only effort put in capitals before they make
            people work for it is tracking and protecting those papers,
            preventing anyone else to make same papers, etc.
            But again still, thank you for this explanation, which I
            totally agree and want to encourage; put no effort, there is
            no capital.

     * ibf
       thanks for this nice deflection

     * eeg
       "Thanaticism: a social order which subordinates the production of
       use values to the production of exchange value, to the point that
       the production of exchange value threatens to extinguish the
       conditions of existence of use value." This process is perhaps most
       akin to that of cancer or a virus. I think it is helpful to further
       specify the `Thanos' in the manner of certain, specific cell death.
       One grouping of cells that first needs another grouping of cells to
       thrive, to grow off of, then changes the grouping of cells
       fundamentally so much that it ultimately kills those original cells
       and itself in the end. It seems to give too much to say it is the
       WILL to death. Cancer doesn't suicide itself, its more a
       pathological lack of foresight, lack of any will, just eating
       itself to death like a one-note fool.


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