An Interview with Paul Virilio by Bertrand Richard
Bertrand Richard: The propaganda of progress raises the question of the propagandists. Who are the people behind this propaganda? And if there are no propagandists, how are we to understand it?
Paul Virilio: There is a destiny connected to the considerable event that has speed dominate light. Speed now illuminates reality whereas light once gave the objects of the world their shapes. In the light speed of electromagnetic waves that create this instant interactivity, speed has taken power. In a way, waves and not rays illuminate reality; it is a major phenomenon that I would not hesitate to call illuminist. What we are living through now has taken the shape of a religion; it is not unlike a return to sun worship where speed has replaced light. We are experiencing the return of a major myth supported by the propaganda of progress. There is nothing behind it, no deus ex machina or pope. We are no longer in the Enlightenment: we are in the century of light speed.
Obscurantism propagates fear. You are trying to trace the reasons behind this contemporary fear, but is it a real fear? Or is it more of an anxiery, a fear without an object, or a phobia, the projection of internal anxieties on an external object?
The question of fear is clearly polysemic and covers all three of the notions that you j ust mentioned. Fear is very resourceful and can use anything at hand, but it has a very concrete explanation. It comes at a time in history when three major fears (the balance of terror with the atomic bomb, the imbalance of terrorism with informational bombs and the great ecological fear with the fear of the explosion of a genetic bomb) have displayed their incredible conditioning power. Gunther Anders, whose broad theoretical reach we have already mentioned, affirmed in his work The Outdatedness of Human Beings (1956): "The power of an ideology is not only measured by the answers it can provide but by the questions that it is able to suppress." In the propaganda of progress as I defined it, the question of speed and its violence (unsanctioned violence) has been purely and simply suppressed. There was a missed connection at the origin in the history of ideas, but afterwards the ideology of progress prevented the development of the political question of relativity and the question of its violence. We have conscientiously established an ideology of speed, with all of the fear and terror that comes with it. As the philosopher of war Sun Tzu aptly noted: "Speed is the essence of war." And if time is money, speed is power, the essence of power. How could you not be afraid of the power, ubiquity, and instantaneousness that, very significantly, were first the attributes of the gods?
And yet, when we are afraid, that is not what we are afraid of. . . There are many intermediate, more prosaic fears (jobs, health, security) that take the place of what we should really be afraid of, which is that the world is becoming, as you describe it, unlivable, compressed, shrunk by speed. And the worst part is that we still want even more speed and instantaneity. What does it mean?
My task, as you know, is to focus on the fear that is hidden by the ideology of progress. The hothouse effect of the siege mentality, the claustrophobia of masses of individuals under siege are the phenomena that draw and require my attention. During the Second World War, an American journalist entered the Warsaw Ghetto and noticed that the windows were open in the middle of winter even though the inhabitants were burning their furniture to keep warm. When he expressed his surprise, people there replied: "You wouldn't want us to have to close our windows too." This is the siege mentality: foreclosure. The growing atmospheric pressure caused by global warming is joined by dromospheric pressure, the tension created by speed in our daily lives and work. At the intersection between the environment and our ways of life, we can find fears that are related to socio-economic contexts. On this topic, how can we not think of the wave of suicides that swept France Telecom at the beginning of winter in 2009-20 1 0? And the scale! How can we not see that fear has been administered, in the strict meaning of the term, by instant interactivity, in particular in the functions that relate to real-time communications? The acceleration of reality has had a considerable impact on social rhythms and has started to wreak havoc. The notion of arrhythmia that I also mentioned earlier is obvious in the slogan "Time to move," the management program implemented within France Telecom to ensure the permanent mobility among its executives. The rhythms of the past were tied to seasons, the liturgical calendar, Sunday holidays, the Sabbath; they have been pushed aside in favor of 24/7. "For what reason should we stop people from working on Sunday?
The world is changing," is the refrain we now hear. With the rural exodus in the 1 9th century and the urban exodus that is beginning (since a number of Western cities have seen a decline in the net migration rate) , with the change from an artisanal rhythm to an industrial rhythm to a postindustrial rhythm characterized by logics of synchronization, we are now experiencing firsthand the loss of the sociopolitical rhythmology that has always governed human beings.
Temporal compression, as it is technically called, is an event that concretely modifies everyone's daily life at the same time. In the face of this acceleration of daily life, fear has become an environment, even in a time of peace. We are living in the accident of the globe, the accident of instantaneousness, simultaneity and interactivity that have now gained the upper hand over ordinary activities.
What do you mean by environment?
The word "environment" is an Anglicism in French. The key word to remember here is "habitat" or the place of our habits. But there is almost no space left, because of both spatiotemporal compression and the ruin of ecosystems. This contraction has made a fusion possible between the sanitary ideology of ecological Great Health and the security ideology of the search for Lebensraum. This hybridization can lead to biopolitics, as Giorgio Agamben has denounced it, and to meteorologicalpolitics. Seasons and their rhythms no longer condition and shape our social temporalities; it is now a meteorological-politics w.\iere weather patterns threaten to replace the geopolitical chronicles of History.
Biopolitics is the contemporary extension of the Great Health government announced by Nietzsche, a utopia proclaiming the death of God. It was taken up and perverted by the Nazis with their creation of Lebensborn, centers for the birth of pure, Aryan children. They turned it into something other than the aristocratic morality of Nietzsche; it became a "raciality'' "scientifically" developed through racism. Fear has become an environment in the sense of the fusion of security (video surveillance, movement control, etc.) and health; it is extremely problematic and traceability has replaced any real identity.
The fusion of these ideologies has also led to the return of strictly individual existence. "Strictly" because we are very much a society of individuals, yet it is a society of mass individualism. As filmmaker Joseph Losey observed, "It is too late to do anything in private life." The communism of affects is the privatization of communism. In this way, communism has not disappeared from History; it has been privatized, creating a community of synchronized emotions. Something happened with progress and its propaganda to make us constantly preoccupied with progress and perpetually occupied by it. We are now in a situation of occupation in both the temporal and martial meanings of the word: we are under the pressure of permanent occupation. This occupation places us under surveillance, watching us, scanning us and evaluating us, revealing us and it is increasingly present, increasingly accepted as a fate, a destiny. Promoting progress means that we are always behind: on high-speed internet, on our Facebook profile, on our email inbox. There are always updates to be made; we are the objects of daily masochism and under constant tension.
I am reminded of Pascal who found that people's unhappiness comes from not knowing how to be still, in their room. Their room is now Facebook. They put pictures on their "wall" but it is also the opposite of Virginia Woolf's "room of one's own. " Yet there must be something to this progress and even some liberating qualities.
The room is the box: the high-speed terminal and its container. The container is an architectural figure of the box. It becomes an interconnected locus solus. I don't want to be cast as the eternal Cassandra of technology, but it must be said that we are encountering a phenomenon that is not at all secular. This ideology of progress, which is not progress, can be seen in certain practices. The notions of resistance and collaboration as I described them at the beginning of this conversation come to mind. But we no longer feel occupied, we feel free, and even increasingly free, delivered. And in fact we are freed from the space-time of duration. The question is whether it is good to be free of it, unless the ideal of liberation becomes freedom without content, intransitive secession. And we notice with this pressure that performance and its demands place us under constantly renewed evaluation, which is the source of enormous stress. Stress: the "mot-valise" that translates the dromospheric pressure I mentioned before. Terror is therefore the accomplishment of the law of movement. When suicide itself becomes a workplace accident (and we are on the verge of official recognition of suicide as a workplace accident), the administration of fear is again at work, albeit now in peacetime. It is a movement from Freudian psychopathy to the sociopathy of the Suicidal State. It is no longer a particular psychological state, it is a common sociological state.
from the book: The Administration Of Fear by Paul Virilio
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