Archive for disaster capitalism

Database and the Absence of Quilting Points

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

It is interesting to note that the Lyotardian postmodern disappearance of grand narratives is celebrated during the rise of the computer age in the 1980s. As media historian Lev Manovich has pointed out (in his The Language of New Media, but also elsewhere), during that time, not only was grand narratives disappearing, but also narratives as a dominant form of media, as they are slowly but surely giving way for the more dominant form of media and culture at large — the database. In database culture, we no longer have the linearity of the cinematic narrative that guide us through. Instead, we have a series of virtually unlimited choices to structure our own experiment. Manovich himself was already very well aware of this, as he notes how the logic of the database mirrors the politically correct logic of democratic freedom and a universal equality of things.

The Lyotardian grand narratives, on the other hand, can in many ways be equated with the Master Signifier of Jacques Lacan, signifiers which open up worlds proper and fixes the other signifiers in place, acting as a means of point de capiton (“quilting points”). But these Master Signifiers work in the paternal logic of strict “yes” and “no”, without attempting to universalize (“Spinozize”, as Žižek would put it) the order. However, we today, in our noisy claims of being politically correct modern societies, reject strict “yes” and “no” answers. The fall of grand narratives is the disappearance of point de capiton.

Many contemporary psychoanalytic philosophers, most notably Alain Badiou, are very aware of this danger — the postmodern global capitalism opens up no world proper. Thus, how can you subvert an essentially worldless condition? Our history so far consists of dialectics between worlds, and we do not yet know how to oppose properly a worldless state of things. (Although, i argue, a dialectics is possible, but would involve radical idealism in which embodiment becomes the terrain of fight, a sort of posthuman-charged Hegelianism I briefly noted here.) This is precisely why capitalism is very tricky and troubling, and seem to only rejoice at its attempts of subversion, as many are already well aware.

I am not opposing capitalism because I am a romantic Left with nostalgic stories of the past and Leninist dreams of a communist future. I am only partly opposing capitalism because I am an intelligent person with a heart. I am opposing it most precisely because I personally think it won’t last long, while too many people have too much faith in it and if we do not change soon, the costs will be detrimental. Already we are in the midst of climate change, and global capitalism is thriving on its very idea.

What would be my spontaneous reaction and ultimate methodology against capitalism? Philosophers like Žižek like to point out that we can only do it by reasserting these quilting points. Here I prefer to take things into a more specific level (and perhaps differ from him in some senses). If you are at all familiar with my writings, you should know I am always researching on the problems of embodiment and subjectivization. For me, the way is not to reassert quilting points as such (points of “yes” or “no” that define the narrative plots of our life), but how to redefine the points and worlds. To me, the answer lies in studying the database logic itself, to generate what Manovich would call “info-aesthetics” (although I prefer a more political idea). What we need now is a radical new philosophy of computer semiotics and cognitive science, not only in regarding AI problems, but also in the political sphere. Do we still need to debate, now, that we have become cyborgs?

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.