Market-ideology, Semiocapitalism and the Digital Cognitariat
At the final stage of the anti-globalization movement Berardi Bifo Franco both analyzes the dynamics of class forces in the last decades and the "movement". He predicts other, less ethically inspired fights in an inevitable struggle against Bush & Berlusconi´s National Liberalism that in his opinion produces ignorance and depression. Abstract of talk at Dark Markets Conference, Vienna, October 3, 2003
I have five stories, five things to tell you. I happened to translate Geert Lovink's book "Dark Fiber" – and I found a lot of suggestions for my work. I found a lot of suggestions also for the problem that is my problem now: what is the future of the global movement? That movement that has been called the anti-globalization movement, but in reality is the only one global force existing at the moment. So I have five points about what the future of the movement – and, I would say, also the future of mankind – can be at this point.
The first of these points concerns the alliance: During the past decade, we have witnessed a kind of alliance between cognitive labor and recombinant capital. I call "cognitive labor" the kind of activity that generates semiotic flows and generates wealth, surplus value and capital in the semiotic field through a semiotic diffusion of merchandise and of goods. And I call "recombinant capital" those sections of capital that are not specifically engaged in a section of the production, but are flowing from finance to production; for instance venture capital, pension funds, net trading, advertising; all this kind of, I would say with a French word "asignifiant", "capital asignifiant", a distribution of capital which has no specific asignifiant, no specific function but may be used inside different networks. So, during the Nineties we have seen an alliance between cognitive labor and recombinant capital. This kind of alliance has been the source, the origin of the dynamic of the network capitalism during the decade. But has also been the source of a kind of ideology that has identified labor and enterprise. Cognitive workers are in a sense entrepreneurs, are in a sense people who invest their knowledge, who invest their singular ability and in this sense the relationship, the integration between work, cognitive work and enterprise; and enterprise has a materialistic foundation. But at the same time this kind of integration has produced an ideological effect and a kind of psycho-pathogenic effect on the social forces of cognitive labor.
Second point: The Prozac economy and the Prozac crash. The integration of cognitive work and recombinant capital has produced a kind of euphoria, of hyper-excitation and has produced a demotion, an erasing, a forgetting of the physical, the erotic and the social body of the cognitive worker. We have been taken in this kind of irrational exuberance and we have forgotten that we have a body – that we are a body. So the cognitive worker in this kind of hyper-excitation completely or partially has been forgetting the relationship to the society and the relationship to the physical body. We have seen, we cannot forget, the relationship between the psychopharmacologic section and the general virtual economy. The psychopharmacologic production has been essential in the irrational exuberance of capitalism during the long boom of the Nineties. The ideology of Prozac is essential in the understanding of this kind of permanent electrocution, which is the center, the core of the relationship between cognitive labor and recombinant capital. Panic is the issue, is the point, is the conclusion of this process. You see, the information overload produced by this connection of labor and capital has met a situation of growing scarcity of social attention. When Davenport and Beck in their horrible book "The Attention Economy" speak about the scarcity of attention they are speaking of something that can be understood as an accident. It is no accident. The attention scarcity is the result of a discrepancy, of a contradiction I would say, between cyberspace and cybertime. Cyberspace can be enhanced, can expand itself without limits. Cybertime is our organic, physic, erotic, social time – it is the time of our brain, of our body. This discrepancy of intermingling and contradiction of cyberspace and cybertime has produced a kind of panic wave, which is now ending in the Prozac-crash. It is this crash of euphoria that introduces a new phase – the dark markets, the crack in the corporate mind.
Point three: Depression. James Hillman says that a society that could be completely depressed should be a society much closer to the truth than our society. Depression is a very good point to see the truth, to see the truth of capitalist exploitation, to see the truth of capital oppression. Depression is now coming in the Western society and you see the global class, you see the national liberalism of the Bush-Administration facing depression with the amphetamines of war. What is happening in the political scene in the world nowadays is a desperate attempt to counter depression, to stop depression. But we know very well that depression cannot be stopped. The only way to face depression is to know the truth that depression means to us. They are not able to do that, of course. They are liars. They don't know anything about truth. They do not know anything about the truth of society. They need war, they are going to produce war, they are going to lose this war because this is a war against chaos. And chaos cannot be beaten by war, because chaos feeds on the weapons that are directed against it. The Western society is entering the deadly phase of the war against chaos, which is the final victory of chaos. So what?
Point four: We have to expect a massive distraction of intelligence. What is going to happen is a general attack, a general war against the general intellect, against collective intelligence. It is evident that capital investments are escaping from the field of innovation. We will find less and less money for our cognitive work. We are going to find less and less money for art, for innovation, for research, for the general intellect and for cognitive work. The militarization and the securitization of intelligence is the other face of this kind of massive distraction of intelligence. National liberalism is the source of a massive production of ignorance. Not only because there is less money for the schools – for public schools. Not only for that, but because national liberalism is forced to destroy the relationship between intelligence and society, is forced to destroy for instance the relationship between economy and the net. The alliance is over. So what?
Point five: What is the movement going to become? So far the movement has been the ethical insurrection of the first video electronic generation. I would see the movement from Seattle to Genova as the insurrection of this kind of new form of labor. Cognitive labor networking itself in society, in NGOs, in voluntary action, in media activism, in the Open Source movement, and so on. But so far this movement has been an ethical movement and the people who were in the streets, the ethical revolutionaries, the ethical insurgents, have been socially integrated. They do not need to fight. They do not need to be against capital. They come from a decade of alliance with the recombinant capital. The people who were in the street of Genoa were mostly people who in the past decade were thought to have – or really had – a social possibility of being wealthy; I would not say of being happy, but of being socially integrated. All this is over. And so I think that we are going to witness a deep crisis, but also a deep restructuring of this movement. I think that this movement, which has been the movement of a noble but ineffective ethical revolt, is going to become a socially rooted movement fighting for its own life. And this changes everything. What happened during the last three years from Seattle to Genoa is the emergence, the spreading of a wide movement of people who were protesting and protesting and protesting. Street protest is very good but is ineffective, is unable to act against the recombinant domination of capital. When the domination and power are rooted in the immaterial network of recombinant capital, there is no use in protesting in the streets. It may be useful – but useful as the fuel, as the energy that you have to accumulate in order to step into another phase.
We are stepping in the other phase. And the other phase, I think, will be the phase of pauperization of the cognitive labor, will be a phase of darkening of our existential and our social horizons. Yet it will also be the phase of more and more socially rooted experience of the movement. The movement is going to face a direct fight with recombinant capital inside the territory, where the recombinant capital accumulates its power. The paradigm of Open Source is going to be spread all over the different fields of social production, and this means that we shall be forced to act in an Open Source way. In fact not only in the information domain, but in every field of daily life. So I think that the next decade will be the decade of social rooting, of social connection, of this cognitive movement becoming the movement of the cognitariat. Maybe we ran out of time, maybe everything is lost, maybe that the force of the military aggression is stronger than the political and intellectual forces of freedom and of progress. Maybe, I do not know. I am not sure that we still have any hope. But what we are going to do is absolutely natural: we are going to do what we are naturally carved to do, what we feel absolutely connected with our nature of cognitive proletarians. What does it mean? It means that we need means to understand the world; we need means to socially connect. What we need is the same thing that the overall society needs. Society needs cognitive innovation and we need a relationship with society. Perhaps the national liberalism of Mr Bush and Mr Berlusconi began a war that will destroy any possibility of intelligent survival on the earth. But the fight we are going to fight is not only our choice, it is inevitable for us.