Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi on the Necro-Economy

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Are we heading into the Third World War? Yes and no: war has been with us for the past fifteen years, it promises to be with us for a long time, and it threatens to destroy the last remnants of modern civilization. The exacerbation of xenophobia across the West and the rise of nationalism in countries like France are causes and effects of a looming war whose sources lie in the past two hundred years of colonial impoverishment and humiliation of the majority of the world population, not to mention neoliberal competition and the privatization of everything—including war itself.

Pacifism is becoming irrelevant as the conditions of war become irreversible.

—Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, “The Coming Global War: Is there Any Way Out?

At this moment, there is no longer any need to describe how far Europe has fallen into xenophobic greed and insecurity. Bifo says in an interview for Radio MACBA that if we look at the environment, the arctic ice caps, the Greek debt, and the Spanish debt we realise that we are committing suicide – financial capitalism is a path to suicide. And I must admit, that this is how it feels to live in Northern Europe now. It is not a sudden realisation, although many leftist voters seem surprised at every national election, murder, or war for the past 15 years.

Are we heading toward a global war? Not exactly: no declarations of war are being issued, but innumerable combat zones are proliferating. No unified fronts are in sight, but fragmented micro-conflicts and uncanny alliances with no general strategic vision abound. “World war” is not the term for this. I would call it fragmentary global civil war.

And the fragments are not converging, because war is everywhere.

This is perhaps more clear in the US where – as Nicholas Kristof writes – “in the last four years more people have died in the United States from guns (including suicides and accidents) than Americans died in the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined.” This is the beginning of the worldwide necro-economy, which is the result of neoliberal deregulation.

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In Europe, these combat zones are proliferating and we shall soon become just as jaded to the news of gunshots as our North American brothers and sisters. So far, the biggest fear is not physical violence against our own, but the rise – and not least normalisation – of nationalist parties and their opposition to a European coalition and globalisation. These pervasive political parties have more in common with Putin’s Russia than they might currently realise.

This anti-euro front of European forces is converging with Russian nationalism under the authoritarian leadership of Putin and the banner of national populism and unrelenting Islamophobia.

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Though I do not feel particularly Danish (culturally, politically) I cannot help but speak from a Danish standpoint. The Mohammad cartoons, the war in Iraq, the sale of energy company stocks to Goldman Sachs, casual racism, the 2015 shootings in Copenhagen, ads in Lebanese papers dissuading refugees from coming to Denmark, the 27% vote for the Danish People’s Party, and overall move towards xenophobic neoliberalism has long since made pacifism irrelevant. Aside from a lack of understanding, tact, acceptance and humanity, Denmark currently suffers from a lack of sophistication.

Capital flows freely everywhere and the labor market is globally unified, but this has not led to the free circulation of women and men, nor to the affirmation of universal reason in the world. Rather, the opposite is happening: as the intellectual energies of society are captured by the network of financial abstraction, as cognitive labor is subjugated to the abstract law of valorization, and as human communication is transformed into abstract interaction among disembodied digital agents, the social body is detached from the general intellect. The subsumption of the general intellect into the corporate kingdom of abstraction is depriving the living community of intelligence, understanding, and emotion.

As Danish universities cut back class time to as low as two hours a week, freeze PhD-admissions, and rush students through their degrees and into a non-existent labour market, we clearly see the capture of sophistication and intelligence by financial abstraction and individual valorisation.

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At the moment, it is hard to foresee an awakening from this nightmare.

The only imaginable way out of this hell is to end financial capitalism, but this does not seem to be at hand.

Nevertheless, Bifo sees no other prospects in these times. He calls for solidarity amongst the bodies of cognitive workers worldwide, and the construction of a techno-poetic platform for collaboration in order to liberate knowledge from religious and economic dogma. The only way out is through irony and autonomy. Bifo also speaks of a desire to move beyond ideas of revolution, and instead talk of reprogramming – how to reprogram ourselves out of automation and abstract power.

A social reprogramming through withdrawal in order to sow the seed of compassion and autonomy…

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