Friday, May 3, 2013

Integral Waste

From a chapter on Decolonising Eco-criticism in the Cultural Politics Reader, edited by John Armitage, Ryan Bishop and Doug Kellner, that should be out next year from Duke.

Contemporary semiocapitalism divides its derivation of wealth from handling symbols into two sectors. One sector operates through international regimes of patents, copyrights, trademarks and designs, the other through finance, which today is not only entirely electronic, but in increasing degrees automated as algorithmic ('algo') trading. Those who are not privileged to sit at the centre of intellectual and finance capital produce a diminishing amount of the value in each commodity. Those who can, or are forced to, work, and are treated like the victims of the Bangladeshi factory collapse of Aril 2013: supernumerary, unregarded, a repressed that returns only momentarily as news item. Those who cannot are abandoned to civil war, famine and disease: conditions that, in the case of the Congolese war, have persisted for over a decade as the unconscious of metropolitan consumption (United Nations 2002). Meanwhile metropolitan populations superfluous to both intellectual work and offshore industry are pushed further into ghettos, with diminishing health, education and social resources, prey to drugs and guns, that increasingly resemble the reservations set aside for indigenous peoples in the genocidal heyday of settler expansion. With the abdication of vision common to parliamentary parties of the industrialised and in many instances the industrialising world, the only organic intellectuals left are the gangs, hounded by police in an ethnoclass war to secure human status (Wynter 2003) that extends increasingly into Europe from its origins in 1930s USA. Between civil war and gang war, the trajectory of the mode of destruction instigated by consumerism would appear to lead to the auto-destruction of the consumer class.

Waste is not an unfortunate by-product of consumerism. Without waste, there can be no consumer capital. We are all Batailleans now. Waste takes the form not only of garbage, or of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) but of populations excluded from the centres of capital. Productive labour of the old proletarian kind still persists, but downgraded and exported: it is in countries where productive labour remains significant that we still find a recognisably working-class mode of politics, as in Tunisia and Egypt in January and February 2011, even though mass protests and direct action were promptly painted in the colours of social media by Western news media. The protest against corruption was in part a protest against a systemic waste of common wealth and popular energies by the ruling kleptocracy. That nothing similar has happened in the UK or Russia has everything to do with the move from material to symbolic production, and politics conducted through the same mobilisation of symbols that provides such economic growth as persists. Neo-colonial production likewise is founded on the systemic waste to which it contributes in the cycles of fashion and consumption. The undoubted catastrophe of WEEE, and the consistently colonial structure of the recycling industry (Gabrys 2010, Grossman 2007) can still be seen as curable aberrations: we are on the trail of an integral waste.

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