The Precarious Soul (Part 1)
by Franco "Bifo" Berardi
Deregulation and control
Baudrillard remarks that the word liberation has been losing its meaning since power stopped being founded on the norm, on the disciplinary regulation of bodies and of social, linguistic and moral relations, that is to say since the world was submerged by generalized indeterminacy.
In the Fordist era, the fluctuations of prices, salaries, and profits were founded on the relation between the time of socially necessaire labor and the determination of value. With the introduction of micro-electronic technologies, and the consequent intellectualization of productive labor, the relationships between existing units of measure and the different productive forces entered a regime of indeterminacy. The deregulation launched by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan at the beginning of the 1980s is not the of such indeterminacy, but its political inscription. Neolibelralism registered the end of the rule of value, and made it into an economic policy. The decision that Richard Nixon made in 1971 to delink the dollar from gold gave American capitalism a pivotal role within the global economy, freeing it from the constitutional frame established in Bretton Woods in 1944. Since then, the American economy was no longer subject to the control of economic laws (if this control ever existed), and only relied on force.
American debt could grow indefinitely, since the debtor was millitary stronger than the creditor. Since then, the USA has made the rest of the world pay for the ramping up of their war machine, and uses its war machine to threaten the rest of the world and force it to pay. Far from being an objective science, economics revealed itself to be a modeling of social relations, an enterprise of violent coercion, whose task is the imposition of arbitrary rules on social activities: competition, maximum profit, unlimited growth.
In Symbolic Exchange and Death, Baudrillard had an intuition about the general lines of the evolution characterizing the end of the millennium:
"The reality principle corresponded to a certain stage of the law of value. Today the whole system is swamped by indeterminacy, and every reality is absorbed by the hyperreality of the code and simulation."
The entire system fell into indeterminacy, since the correspondences between referent and sign, simulation and event, value and time of labor were no longer guaranteed. The decision that inaugurated the end of the dollar's convertibility inaugurated an aleatory regime of fluctuating values. The rule of convertibility was dismissed according to an act of political will, while in those same 1970s, the entire technical and organizational system ruled by the mechanical paradigm, started to crumble.
How is value established, then, within the aleatory regime of fluctuating values? Through violence, swindling and lies. Brute force is legitimated as the only effective source of law. The aleatory regime of fluctuating values coincides with the domination of cynicism in public discourse and in the public soul.
In order to understand the social effects of Neoliberal deregulation, we have to understand the phytopathogenic effects that the precariousness of social relations produces on the individual and the collective soul. Beginning with the 1970s, deregulation assumed a central role in the ideology of power, upsetting not only the relations between the economy and society but also the coordinate of critical discourse. The word deregulation is false. It looks as if it originated in the history of the anti-systemic avant-garde to bring a libertarian wind into the social sphere and heralding the end of every norm and constructive rule. In reality, the deregulatory practices that accompany the victory of monetary neo-liberalism consist in clearing away all rules, so that only the rules of the economic dominated, uncontested. The only legitimate rule is now the strictest, the most violent, the most cynical, the most irrational of all the rules: the law of the economic jungle.
In the works that Foucault devoted to the genealogy of modern power formations, the key concept was discipline, understood as the modeling of the bodies in the Fordist context. In his early writings, where he studied the formation of the modern disciplinary structures - mental hospitals, clinics, prisons-Foucault built a theory of modern power that included a theory of subject formation.
Now that the despotic regime of liberalist deregulation has fully developed itself, the discourse Foucault developed in his early writings needs to be updated. Foucault himself realized it, as we can see in The Birth of Biopolitics, the subsequently published form of his 1979 seminar at the College de France. Here Foucault retraces the post - Fordist transformation as an implosive insertion of the neoliberalist form within the animated social body. In his seminar, contemporary with the election of Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain and of Ronald Reagan in the USA, Foucault broadens the scope of his genealogical and biopolitical perspective in order to include the economic processes that in those years were only beginning to take shape.
In his Course Summary, Foucault writes:
"The theme was to have been 'biopolities,' by which I meant the attempt, starting from the eighteenth century, to rationalize the problems posed to governmental practice by phenomena characteristic of a set of living beings forming a population: health, hygiene, birth rate, life expectancy, race ... We know the increasing importance of these problems since the nineteenth century, and the political and economic issues they have raised up to the present."
With the word biopolitics, Foucault introduces the idea that the history of power is the story of the living body being modeled by deeply mutational institutions and practices, capable of introducing behaviors and expectations and indeed permanent modifications in the living. Biopolities represents a morphogenetic modeling of the living operated by the habitat with which it is required to interact.
Liberalism (or rather neo-liberalism, since we want to refer to the particularly aggressive variant of liberalism that was proposed throughout the 1 970s by the Chicago School of economics and later adopted by American and British governments until it finally became, after 1989, the central dogma of global politics) is a political program whose purpose implies the inoculation of the enterprise principle to every space of human relations. Privatization and the fact that every fragment of the social sphere was reduced to the entrepreneurial model freed economic dynamics from any tie be they political, social, ethical, juridical, unionist or environmental. In prior decades, these ties were able to shore up privatization thanks to the public investment policies that had been stimulated by Keynes' reforms and the workers' organized action.
But the more liberal deregulation eliminates any legal ties within production and the juridical person is freed from regulations, the more living social time is caught in linguistic, technological and psychological chains. Foucault explains that biopolitics is a process of internalization: economic chains are incorporated in the physical and linguistic sphere once society has been freed from any formal rule. In this sense the question of freedom today is a biopolitical problem.
Let me indulge, now, in a Marxist digression.
In his so-called "Unpublished Sixth Chapter" of Volume I of Capital, published in the 1960s, Marx talks about the passage from to real subsumption by capital. Formal subsumption is based on the juridical subjugation of the laborers, on the formal disciplining of the bodies. Real subsumption means instead that the workers' lifetimes have been captured by the capital flow, and the souls have been pervaded by techno-linguistic chains.
The introduction of pervasive technologies, the computerization of productive processes and of social communication enact a molecular domination upon the collective nervous network. This the domain of the dead object, the commodity, which objectifies human activity reducing it to a cognitive automatism. In this sense we should speak of "thanato-politics" (from the Greek "Thanatos" meaning death): the submission of intelligent life to the dead object, the domination of the dead over the living.
Neo-Liberal theories reduce the concept of freedom to its formal, juridical dimension. But contemporary totalitarianism has forged chains that are different from those of political absolutism: its instruments of domination have moved from the domain of politics to that of the technical production of subjectivity, from the realm of the juridical person to the animated body, to the soul.
Neoliberalism aimed, on one side, at the elimination of all legal norms and social regulations that resulted in the limitation of competitive dynamics. On the other side, it wanted to transform every domain of social life (included health care, education, sexuality, affects, culture, etc) into an economic space where the only valid rule is that of supply and demand within an increasingly absolute privatization of services.
Neoliberalism eliminated the ties that protected society from the economical dynamics of competition; therefore an effect of biopolitical branding was produced in the collective mind-body.
"It means generalizing the 'enterprise' from within the social body or social fabric; it means talking this social fabric and arranging things so that it can be broken down, subdivided, and reduced, not according to the grain of individuals, bur according to the grain of enterprises. The individual life must be lodged [ ...]
within the framework of a multiplicity of diverse enterprises connected up to and entangled with each other [ ... ]. And finally, the individual's life itself-with his relationships to his private property, for example, with his family, household, insurance, and retirement-must make him into a sort of permanent and multiple enterprise [ ... ]. What is the function of this generalization of the 'enterprise' form? On the one hand, of course, it involves extending the economic model of supply and demand and investment-cost- profits so as to make it a model of social relations and of existence itself, a form of relationship of the individual to himself, time, those around him, the group, and the family [...] The return to the enterprise is therefore at once an economic policy or a policy of the economization of the entire social field, but at the same time a policy which presents itself or seeks to be a kind of Vitalpolitik with the function of compesating for what is cold, impassive, calculating, rational, and mechanical in the strictly economic game of competition".
The reign of the enterprise is at once a political deregulation process and an epistemic process of a new segmentation of time, and cultural of time, and cultural expectations. In this sense it is a Vitalpolitik, a politics of life a biopolitics.
On a political level, the neoliberal victoty leads to the creation of what Foucault defines:
"a sort of economic tribunal that claims to assess goverment action in strictly economic and market terms."
Every government choice, social initiative, form of culture, education, innovation, is judged according to a unique criterion: that of economic competition and profitability. Every discipline, knowledge, nuance of sensibility must conform to that criterion. Neoliberalism represents an attempt to build the homo oeconomicus, an anthropological model incapable of distinguishing between one's own good and economic interest.
At the origins of the liberalist vision there is a reduction of human good (ethical and aesthetic good) to economic interest, and the reduction of the idea of wealth to that of ownership. The idea of wealth is separated from the pleasure of free enjoyment and reduced to the accumulation of value.
excerpt from the book: THE SOUL AT WORK/ FROM ALIENATION TO AUTONOMY/ Franco "Bifo" Berardi
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