Sunday, April 28, 2013

Unaccounted for

'Hypercapitalism is emancipating itself from its Western heritage and its so-called "values", but this unveils a terrible sight: without the heritage of Humanism and the Enlightenment, capitalism is a regime of pure, endless and inhuman violence'. Franco 'Bifo' Berardi's aphorism in The Soul at Work is not just about the attacks on the humanities, arts and culture in Europe and North America. It is about the automation of the trade in symbols, from finance capital's algorithmic trading to the obsessive self-documenting in social media that Jodi Dean calls 'compulsory communication'.

If, as Bifo contends, contemporary capitalism is semiocapitalism, and production means the production of symbols, those who cannot or do not engage in that trade are superfluous to requirements. Only economic values are valued; no other values count. But since so much symbolic production is unpaid (including this blog), that too approaches zero value. Its value lies in abstracting from it the behaviour of those who read it, or at least visit, leaving traces of their activity that can be monetised by tracking.

What is left out of account, out of accountancy and out of the accounts we gve each other of our story? Those excluded by geography, biography or disability from the generation of economic value. The attack on education, and the narrowing of school curricula, is about reducing and narrowing the pool of people needed to work in the semiotic factories. Current policy initiatives in the UK, across Europe, and increasingly elsewhere share a common disdain for whoever does not join in the pursuit of semiotic profit, including those who will no longer be able to get into higher education, or stay in long enough for the higher qualifications demanded by advancing neo-liberal semiocapitalism. This is Bifo's inhuman violence. At its extreme, it involves abandoning whole populations to war. In a gentler mode, it means gradually cutting off health, housing, the remnants of the social wage. We can concentrate too much on policies designed to send even more wealth to the wealthy. The radical impoverishment of the poor increases at even greater speed.

We cannot call this genocide. We are not allowed to call what Israel does in Palestine genocide, or even ethnic cleansing, and this is a slower exorcism of the economically inefficient, though in its way just as brutal. Like 'refugee', the word 'genocide' lies under embargo. There are those who do not like the word 'genocide' applied to the assault on African Americans by drugs and incarceration. We may need a new word for the slow strangulation of the people, the phased eradication of the unaccountable.

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