Archive for virtual capitalism

For Whom is This Financial Crisis?

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
It would be cool if the disaster actually looked like this.

It would be cool if the disaster actually looked like this.

For whom is this financial crisis? For us and everyone else in this world, definitely. During this meltdown, hardly any nation is left to flourish by itself, not impacted by the crisis. Then, why ask this question? Is it not already obvious?

Surely, people are losing their jobs, prices are rising, and so on. But what does it all mean? What does it mean, a “$700 billion bailout”? What is exactly $700 billion, do we even naively understand it? Does it not, instead, belong in the same realm of hermeneutics as the distance between stars or the age of the universe — numbers too great to integrate to our stupid daily existence? I am not only speaking for us, the idiotic common people having nothing to do with all the great economic system, but also for the very players of economy themselves — do they not able to understand these numbers, the prices of their stocks, government funding, etc, only through office desks, formal letters, and computer screens?

Such is precisely the point. Do we not, today, rather consider this entire financial crisis as a marvelous tragic spectacle happening before our very eyes? A fascinating common reaction today to this news is how we struggle to relate it to our daily lives: yes, we are suffering from this crisis, yes, prices are going up, yes, people are getting fired, so this must all be a real thing. This spectacle of financial crisis takes effort to relate to, especially because not many of us understand how the economy works. The crisis today is so big and marvelous that the only way to integrate it to our symbolic existence is to take it as an awesome spectacle. There is hardly any other hermeneutics. It feels like a war without a bad guy, a natural disaster without the embarrassing trees falling down. A virtual disaster, a disaster of numbers, a real-life interactive movie.

But what does this all mean?

So many people today talk about this crisis as the so-called “end of capitalism.” Indeed, the first thing we relate to when dealing with the notion of some global system of important numeric entries we never really understand is this vague blur called capitalism. We talk of its limits, as everybody today champions Keynes over Hayek and Friedman. But at the same time, we have of course all these discussions that all the while we have never really been a true free market capitalist, we have always been state-controlled (“military-imperialistic Keynesian”), etc.

We all know perfectly well that today’s global capitalism runs precisely on its self-distantiation — the you-can-only-get-rich-if-you-do-not-want-to ideology, the spiritualization of global capitalism so trendy even for the Left today. And what better way to strengthen such ideological workings than pretending it no longer works for us, that the system no longer exists, and all that is left to do is to work out a way to do a more humanitarian and spiritual economics? Let us have no illusions: capitalism is a system that thrives on its very crisis. It will emerge stronger than ever. And we know it will.

Yes, of course we do. Is that not why we blindly trust all the government, the big companies, and the banks? Is that not why we take this whole crisis as some kind of (pseudo-)natural disaster without being able to clearly blame people? Is that not why we do not question why the government suddenly has $700 billion to save capitalism, while all these years, as Alain Badiou put it, “at the least demand from the poor, the same characters responded by turning their pockets inside out, saying they hadn’t a cent”?

What is the economic system, really? What do we understand of it? It is a giant system of non-people, of desires turned objective numbers, and that is it. It is a system of no clear bad guys and no exact scientific tools. Even the best advice Naomi Klein — today’s possibly most popular icon of the Left — gives is for us to brace ourselves as disaster comes, to be able to resist exploitation. Alain Badiou calls for a politics of grassroots economics, while Mario Tronti suggests us to focus on the problem of worker exploitation. But what to do? Do we understand anything at all? For whom is this financial crisis? Because for those who suffer most, the crisis is not a financial one — it is, first and foremost, a crisis of true democracy, a lack of a system that truly engages.

The Monitor and the Screen: Lacan and Deleuze on the Cyborg

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

In my media studies, I tend to make quite a strong distinction between monitor and screen. The screen implies a cinematic experience, an experience of an observer fluid in embodiment but not in control of that embodiment, in the sense that we cannot choose whose gaze we are to adopt next. The (computer) monitor, on the other hand, implies choice in part of the observer. The gaze returned from the monitor is not only a gaze of the other as in cinema (read Slavoj Žižek’s film studies), but also a gaze of oneself through a kind of a mirror — an evolved mirror of the 21st century, as when one photographs oneself through web cams. However, again as with web cams, and with game avatars, etc, it is a strange mirror — one in which one’s reflection never returns the gaze, making one both a master and a slave of the Imaginary, a subject both perverse and divine.

Friedrich Kittler has observed the evolution of discourse networks and its relation to embodied action (see his essays on the typewriter). Katherine Hayles has also extrapolated media and information theories and theorized her flickering signifier concept. I would claim that a lot of this change come from our experience and interaction with the monitor as such, for, with Lacan, it is the primal misrecognition with the signifier of the self that generates a desiring decentered subject. Thus, I extrapolate from here the Lacanian mirror phase to include a second mirror phase, one I call the monitor phase.

Gilles Deleuze stated that the body is an avatar of the soul — does the very word he chose not ring very familiar in this Postmodern 2.0 society? Further along the Deleuzian line, I would claim that his perception of desiring-production is more relevant today than ever, where the de- and reterritorializations happen more in the realm of the virtual than the physical and the semiotic logic requires a computer/informational layer/s to be taken into mind. All in all, Body-without-Organs dynamics in the Web 2.0 sphere has to be interrogated more critically so as to better understand the workings of a (still?) schizophrenic system of digital capitalism. I would however reject the pseudo-Deleuzian notion that positions him as a prophet of an all-too-permissive capitalism in the name of multitude and so on, and instead would lean more towards his more (in the words of Žižek) “Guattarised” theories to engage in a politically-urgent dissection of digital capitalism.

I am planning to develop several theses on this extrapolation of Lacanian and Deleuzian concepts that take into mind a cyborg subject with posthuman subjectivity, and in turn should show why this gesture is, as I have always claimed, politically urgent. I would inform you when I get them out, but for now, feel free to comment and discuss.

Divine Subjects and Liberal Capitalism’s Collapse

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on June 18, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Let’s face it: every economist who is not an idiot knows very well that today’s global market no longer functions in the standard simple supply and demand chain they teach in high schools. On the contrary, global capitalism relies on inherently unstable speculations. The dark side of this is that, even if they know, not many economist would admit it. Of course, the notion that there is an invisible hand controlling the market is comforting to capitalists. But there is no invisible hand — the tiniest speculation in the capital market can spark a trend that can destroy national economies within hours, as they destroyed mine and so many others in 1998, leaving us with a permanent scar. As Naomi Klein has pointed out, Friedmanite capitalism does not work. But sadly, it is precisely this logic of unfettered market that governs today’s capitalism in the global range.

Our actions today have so much more consequences than we can imagine. With informatics, we have become so much more powerful, as our embodiments shift towards more fluidity and our private and social spaces are altered fundamentally. Even a simple daily act of seeing and socializing is radically revolutionized with Web 2.0. Now, we are practically divine, viewing ourselves as not only omniscient subjects but also omnipotent ones. The connection? Postmodern 2.0 simply has no room for invisible hands — anybody can do anything and effect everybody else. Its history is not a Hegelian self-correcting history. Capitalism is not built for this. Even today’s intellectual commodities have a radically different structure of reification than its original ones. As Slavoj Žižek has noted, some cultural phenomena today simply could not be solved within the framework of capitalism.

As a theorist, my approach would be a fundamental one I draw from Lacanian psychoanalysis and various branches of informatics. But it does not take a philosopher to understand the fall of capitalism. It does not take an economist to understand how intellectual property is highly problematic to capitalism. It does not take a psychoanalyst to grok our perceived posthuman divinity. The very notion of the subject is changing, and our current economic-political framework has not taken this new subject into account.

This is far from a positive attitude. What will come after a liberal-democratic global capitalism collapses? Following Naomi Klein, I believe we may be, in fact, seeing the answer at this very moment: disaster capitalism. Soon, disaster capitalism may not only be a complex, but a primary mode, since disasters may very well be the only event in which the subject returns to its primal state of non-divinity, a powerless human subject that fits perfectly into the framework of capitalism. If the postmodern is a cultural logic of late capitalism, I see Postmodern 2.0 as a cultural logic of the collapse of capitalism, but which may very well also be a logic of the rise of global disaster capitalism. We already have the scenarios for that — Iran, Palestine, global Muslim rage, climate change…

This time is crucial. We must act fast and think of economic-political alternatives that acknowledge the novel free-flowing, global-reaching, informational subject and, as with Žižek, resist the trap of hasty socio-political actions. We must realize that the implications of our actions in this day and age are great, and a lot of the time, irreversible. Without a clear cognitive mapping of what is going on, wisdom will not be possible.


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