Birth of Thanaticism
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 to 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.