Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Negri

‘The Need for Dissatisfaction Is Implicitly Recognized by Keynesian Economics, Which Sees the Capitalist System as Threatened by the Possibility of Individual or Collective Satisfaction, Manifest as a Demand Shortfall’

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Depression is the iconic illness in this respect. Indeed, we might say that if ‘immaterial’ labour is now the hegemonic form of production, depression is the hegemonic form of incapacity. Typically, depression is characterized by a lack of any clear clinical definition; indeed it is often defined as anything that can be treated with anti-depressants. [5] Depression is just sheer incapacity, a distinctly neo-liberal form of psychological deficiency, representing the flipside of an ethos that implores individuals to act, enjoy, perform, create, achieve and maximize. In an economy based in large part on services, enthusiasm, dynamism and optimism are vital workplace resources. The depressed employee is stricken by a chronic deflation of these psycho-economic capacities, which can lead him or her to feel economically useless, and consequently more depressed. The workplace therefore acquires a therapeutic function, for if people can somehow be persuaded to remain in work despite mental or physical illness, then their self-esteem will be prevented from falling too low, and their bio-psycho-economic potential might be rescued. Many of the UK government’s strategies for reducing incapacity-benefit claims and health-related absence focus on reorienting the Human Resources profession, such that managers become better able to recognize and support depressed and anxious employees. Lifting the taboo surrounding mental illness, so as to address it better, has become an economic-policy priority.

William Davies, “The Political Economy of Unhappiness.” Via Marc Bousquet.

Optimistic theorists of cognitive capitalism, such as Hardt and Negri, believe that the positive externalities or spill-over effects associated with immaterial production create the conditions for a new commons. Efforts to measure and privatize human, intellectual and cultural resources must ultimately fail; the hegemonic character of immaterial labour means that the most valuable economic resources are becoming socialized, despite the best efforts of capital to prevent this. The proposition I wish to investigate here is in some ways the inverse: while policy-makers, doctors and economists seek to contain the negative externality of unhappiness as a measurable psychological deficiency and economic cost, it has inherently political and sociological qualities that lend it critical potential. One contradiction of neo-liberalism is that it demands levels of enthusiasm, energy and hope whose conditions it destroys through insecurity, powerlessness and the valorization of unattainable ego ideals via advertising. What is most intriguing about the turn towards happiness amongst political elites and orthodox economists is that it is bringing this truth to the fore, and granting it official statistical endorsement. Even a cursory examination of the evidence on unhappiness in neo-liberal societies draws the observer beyond the limits of psychology, and into questions of political economy.

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November 6, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Hardt and Negri on Occupy Wall Street

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At CNN: If the forces of wealth and finance have come to dominate supposedly democratic constitutions, including the U.S. Constitution, is it not possible and even necessary today to propose and construct new constitutional figures that can open avenues to again take up the project of the pursuit of collective happiness? 

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October 11, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Negri on Obama

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Tony Negri on Obama.

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November 28, 2008 at 10:17 pm

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On the plane I got a chance to look through Hardt and Negri’s follow-up to Empire (blogged previously), Multitude, which I enjoyed quite a bit. In terms of what I sometimes loosely imagine to be my project, the first chapter (“War”) is clearly the most helpful, and not coincidentally the bit I read most carefully:

War really became absolute only with the technological development of weapons that made possible for the first time mass and even global destruction. Weapons of global destruction break the modern dialectic of war. War has always involved the destruction of life, but in the twentieth century this destructive power reached the limits of the pure production of death, represented symbolically by Auschwitz and Hiroshima.

If you’ve talked to me about my thoughts of apocalypse before, you know that I think of these as two importantly distinct figurations central to the way the world has been spatialized in late capitalism—Tribulation and Rapture—though for Hardt and Negri’s purposes that distinction isn’t necessarily all that important at the moment.

They go on:

The capacity of genocide and nuclear destruction touches directly on the very structure of life, corrupting it, perverting it. The sovereign power that controls such means of destruction is a form of biopower in this most negative and horrible sense of the term, a power that rules directly over death—the death not simply of an individual or group but of humanity itself and perhaps of all being. When genocide and atomic weapons put life itself on center stage, then war becomes properly ontological.

War thus seems to be heading at once in two opposite directions: it is, on the one hand, reduced to police action and, on the other, raised up to an absolute, ontological level by technologies of global destruction. These two movements, however, are not contradictory: the reduction of war to police action does not take away but actually confirms its ontological dimension. The thinning of the war function and the thickening of the police function maintain the ontological stigmata of absolute annihilation: the war police maintain the threat of genocide and nuclear destruction as their ultimate foundation.

What’s most important, I think, about the impulse Hardt and Negri are identifying is that in either case the specter of Tribulation/Auschwitz/genocide or Rapture/Hiroshima/nuclear war wind up motivating Empire always in the same direction, that is, the repeated and “necessary” application of bios-preserving violence in the post-colonial spaces it has incorporated into itself but yet still keeps perpetually at a remove.

The later chapters about the Utopian possibilities of the networked multitude are interesting, though it’s probably this first chapter that I’ll most need to return to at some point.

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September 7, 2007 at 7:52 pm

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A little random Googling has revealed that the entire text of Hardt and Negri’s Empire is actually available in .PDF online. The tiny bit I was talking about last night is page 154-156. Here’s the definition of Empire from the preface, for those who haven’t read the book and want to get a flavor of what it’s all about:

The concept of Empire is characterized fundamentally by a lack of boundaries: Empire’s rule has no limits. First and foremost, then, the concept of Empire posits a regime that effectively encompasses the spatial totality, or really that rules over the entire “civilized” world. No territorial boundaries limit its reign. Second, the concept of Empire presents itself not as a historical regime originating in conquest, but rather as an order that effectively suspends history and thereby fixes the existing state of affairs for eternity. From the perspective of Empire, this is the way things will always be and the way they were always meant to be. In order words, Empire presents its rule not as a transitory moment in the movement of history, but as a regime with no temporal boundaries and in this sense outside of history or at the end of history. Third, the rule of Empire operates on all registers of the social order extending down to the depths of the social world. Empire not only manages a territory and a population but also creates the very world it inhabits. It not only regulates human interactions but also seeks directly to rule over human nature. The object of its rule is social life in its entirety, and thus Empire presents the paradigmatic form of biopower. Finally, although the practice of Empire is continually bathed in blood, the concept of Empire is always dedicated to peace—a perpetual and universal peace outside of history.

Hence the importance to Empire of the figure of the terrorist, who does not stand outside the Empire as an enemy nation might (because there is no outside in which to stand) but who is instead always the hidden enemy within.

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August 16, 2007 at 4:00 pm

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The postmodernist epistemological challenge to “the Enlightenment”—its attack on master narratives and its critique of truth—also loses its liberatory aura when transposed outside the elite intellectual strata of Europe and North America. Consider, for example, the mandate of the Truth Commission formed at the end of the civil war in El Salvador, or the similar institutions that have been established in the post-dictatorial and post-authoritarian regimes of Latin America and South Africa. In the context of state terror and mystification, clinging to the primacy of the concept of truth can be a powerful and necessary form of resistance. Establishing and making public the truth of the recent past—attributing responsibility to state officials for specific acts and in some cases exacting retribution—appears here as the ineluctable precondition for any democratic future. The master narratives of the Enlightenment do not seem particularly repressive here, and the concept of truth is not fluid or unstable—on the contrary! The truth is that this general ordered the torture and assassination of that union leader, and this colonel led the massacre of that vilalge. Making public such truths is an exemplary Enlightenment project of modernist politics, and the critique of it in these contexts could serve only to aid the mystifactory and repressive powers of the regime under attack.

In our present imperial word, the liberatory potential of the postmodernist and postcolonial discourses that we have described only resonates with the situation of an elite population that enjoys certain rights, a certain level of wealth, and a certain position in the global hierarchy.

This passage from Hardt and Negri’s Empire really leapt out at me as perhaps the difference between 1999 and 2007: the Bush administration has again taught elite intellectuals the incomparable power of truth, of knowing and of being able to name. The “postmodernist epistemological challenge to the Enlightenment” we saw reach its apex in the 1990s is possible only in a moment in which politics is viewed as essentially inconsequential—now that we know that (surprise) history isn’t actually over and (surprise) it’s still possible for the forces of global capital to make human life much, much worse, those old master narratives don’t seem quite so destructive or misleading anymore. There’s something there worth rehabilitating.

This isn’t to say that we must return to some epistemology of rationalist certainty, or that we already have—quite the opposite, any movement forward will need to synthesize positivism and relativism while moving past both—but merely that a politics of utter truthlessness has no ground on which to stake a claim, much less revolutionize anything. And this ground will never ultimately be anything but ethical-moral—the concept of justice, as in every resolution in every high school debate I ever did, remains our central value, the only rhetorical space worth claiming.

I think this notion of the irreducible supremacy of justice, and the inescapable claims it makes on us, is what Derrida is getting at from the other direction when he talks about fidelity to the spirit of Marx in chapter 3 of Specters of Marx, a book I really need to read again soon:

For it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelize in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy that has finally realized itself as the ideal of human history: never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and humanity. Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the “end of ideologies” and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, never have so many men, women, and children been subjugated, starved, or exterminated on the earth…

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August 16, 2007 at 2:11 am