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The Age of Humanism is Ending

Mail Guardian Africa

December 22, 2016

killing-earth

There is no sign that 2017 will be much different from 2016.

Under Israeli occupation for decades, Gaza will still be the biggest open prison on Earth.

In the United States, the killing of black people at the hands of the police will proceed unabated and hundreds of thousands more will join those already housed in the prison-industrial complex that came on the heels of plantation slavery and Jim Crow laws.

Europe will continue its slow descent into liberal authoritarianism or what cultural theorist Stuart Hall called authoritarian populism. Despite complex agreements reached at international forums, the ecological destruction of the Earth will continue and the war on terror will increasingly morph into a war of extermination between various forms of nihilism.

Inequalities will keep growing worldwide. But far from fuelling a renewed cycle of class struggles, social conflicts will increasingly take the form of racism, ultra nationalism, sexism, ethnic and religious rivalries, xenophobia, homophobia and other deadly passions.

The denigration of virtues such as care, compassion and kindness will go hand in hand with the belief, especially among the poor, that winning is all that matters and who wins — by whatever means necessary — is ultimately right.

With the triumph of this neo-Darwinian approach to history-making, apartheid under various guises will be restored as the new old norm. Its restoration will pave the way to new separatist impulses, the erection of more walls, the militarisation of more borders, deadly forms of policing, more asymmetrical wars, splitting alliances and countless internal divisions including in established democracies.

None of the above is accidental. If anything, it is a symptom of structural shifts, which will become ever more apparent as the new century unfolds. The world as we knew it since the end of World War II, the long years of decolonisation, the Cold War and the defeat of communism has ended.

Another long and deadlier game has started. The main clash of the first half of the 21st century will not oppose religions or civilisations. It will oppose liberal democracy and neoliberal capitalism, the rule of finance and the rule of the people, humanism and nihilism.

Capitalism and liberal democracy triumphed over fascism in 1945 and over communism in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed.  With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the advent of globalisation, their fates were disentangled. The widening bifurcation of demo-cracy and capital is the new threat to civilisation.

Abetted by technological and military might, finance capital has achieved its hegemony over the world by annexing the core of human desires and, in the process, by turning itself into the first global secular theology. Fusing the attributes of a technology and a religion, it relied on uncontested dogmas modern forms of capitalism had reluctantly shared with democracy since the post-war period — individual liberty, market competition and the rule of the commodity and of property, the cult of science, technology and reason.

Each of these articles of faith is under threat. At its core, liberal democracy is not compatible with the inner logic of finance capitalism. The clash between these two ideas and principles is likely to be the most signifying event of the first half of a 21st-century political landscape — a landscape shaped less by the rule of reason than by the general release of passions, emotions and affect.

In this new landscape, knowledge will be defined as knowledge for the market. The market itself will be re-imagined as the primary mechanism for the validation of truth.

As markets themselves are increasingly turning into algorithmic structures and technologies, the only useful knowledge will be algorithmic.

Instead of people with body, history and flesh, statistical inferences will be all that count. Statistics and other big data will mostly be derived from computation.

As a result of the conflation of knowledge, technology and markets, contempt will be extended to anyone who has nothing to sell.

The humanistic and Enlightenment notion of the rational subject capable of deliberation and choice will be replaced by the consciously deliberating and choosing consumer.

Already in the making, a new kind of human will triumph.  This will not be the liberal individual who, not so long ago, we believed could be the subject of democracy. The new human being will be constituted through and within digital technologies and computational media.

The computational age — the age of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — is dominated by the idea that there are clean slates in the unconscious. New media forms have not only lifted the lid previous cultural eras had put on the unconscious. They have become the new infrastructures of the unconscious.

Yesterday, human sociality consisted of keeping tabs on the unconscious. For the social to thrive meant exercising vigilance on ourselves, or delegating to specific authorities the right to enforce such vigilance.

This was called repression.

Repression’s main function was to set the conditions for sublimation. Not all desires could be fulfilled. Not everything could be said or enacted. The capacity to limit oneself was the essence of one’s freedom and the freedom of all.

Partly thanks to new media forms and the post-repressive era it has unleashed, the unconscious can now roam free. Sublimation is no longer necessary.

Language has been dislocated. The content is in the form and the form is beyond, or in excess of, the content.

We are now led to believe that mediation is no longer necessary.

This explains the growing anti-humanist stance that now goes hand in hand with a general contempt for democracy.  Calling this phase of our history fascist might be misleading unless by fascism we mean the normalisation of a social state of warfare.

Such a state would in itself be a paradox because, if anything, warfare leads to the dissolution of the social. And yet under conditions of neoliberal capitalism, politics will become a barely sublimated warfare. This will be a class warfare that denies its very nature — a war against the poor, a race war against minorities, a gender war against women, a religious war against Muslims, a war against the disabled.

Neoliberal capitalism has left in its wake a multitude of destroyed subjects, many of whom are deeply convinced that their immediate future will be one of continuous exposure to violence and existential threat.

They genuinely long for a return to some sense of certainty, the sacred, hierarchy, religion and tradition. They believe that nations have become akin to swamps that need to be drained and the world as it is should be brought to an end. For this to happen, everything should be cleansed off. They are convinced that they can only be saved in a violent struggle to restore their masculinity, the loss of which they attribute to the weaker among them, the weak they do not want to become.

In this context, the most successful political entrepreneurs will be those who convincingly speak to the losers, to the destroyed men and women of globalisation and to their ruined identities.

In the street fight politics will become, reason will not matter. Nor will facts. Politics will revert into brutal survivalism in an ultracompetitive environment.

Under such conditions, the future of progressive and future-oriented mass politics of the left is very uncertain.

In a world set on objectifying everybody and every living thing in the name of profit, the erasure of the political by capital is the real threat. The transformation of the political into business raises the risk of the elimination of the very possibility of politics.

Whether civilisation can give rise at all to any form of political life is the problem of the 21st century.

 

 

[Achille Mbembe is based at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research. His new book, The Politics of Enmity, will be published by Duke University Press in 2017.]

What Would it Take to Get Israel to Stop? What the American Left Has Trouble Saying

“However much he deplored violence, Gandhi did deem it much preferable to inaction in the face of injustice. Should one be incapable of nonviolently resisting an outrage, the only honorable option would be to resist violently, whereas flight would be wholly shameful. For, if there was one thing Gandhi detested more than violence, it was ‘mute submissiveness’ — and what was yet worse, such submissiveness masquerading as nonviolent resistance.” – Norman Finkelstein, 2008

 

“The question central to the emergence and maintenance of nonviolence as the oppositional foundation of American activism has not been the truly pacifist formulation, ‘How can we forge a revolutionary politics within which we can avoid inflicting violence on others?’ On the contrary, a more accurate guiding question has been, ‘What sort of politics might I engage in which will both allow me to posture as a progressive and allow me to avoid incurring harm to myself?’ Hence, the trappings of pacifism have been subverted to establish a sort of ‘politics of the comfort zone’…” -Ward Churchill, 2007

 

“Time and again, people struggling not for some token reform but for complete liberation — the reclamation of control over our own lives and the power to negotiate our own relationships with the people and world around us — will find that nonviolence does not work, that we face a self-perpetuating power structure that is immune to appeals to conscience and strong enough to plow over the disobedient and uncooperative. We must reclaim histories of resistance to understand why we have failed in the past and how exactly we achieved the limited successes we did. We must also accept that all social struggles, except those carried out by a completely pacified and thus ineffective people, include a diversity of tactics. Realizing that nonviolence has never actually produced historical victories toward revolutionary goals opens the door to considering other serious faults of nonviolence.” – How Nonviolence Protects the State

by

 

Here’s an answer to the question of what it would take for Israel to stop that you won’t hear from most of the American left: violence, Palestinian violence. Don’t agree? Here’s what an Israeli journalist said about it on November 17, 2012:

If history has taught us something, it’s that in those rare occasions when the other party is able to inflict too much pain and discomfort on Israelis – thus making the status quo “less tolerable” – concessions are finally made. This is the way the First Intifada led to Oslo and the second one to the disengagement (much in the way the 1973 war lead to the peace treaty with Egypt). In all these cases, the Palestinians (or Egyptians) paid a heavy price – much heavier than Israel – but they were able to move Israel out of its comfort zone. Israeli leaders often express the desire to “teach the Palestinians a lesson against the use of violence” or “to burn it into their consciousness,” as Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon famously said. But in reality the terrible lesson we have taught them is that in order to get something out of Israel, violence is not enough – one needs a lot of violence. It seems that the world understands that, and after two decades of diplomatic efforts, the latest escalation is met with indifference (which Israelis wrongly interpret as support). 1

– Noam Sheaf, Israeli journalist

The arguments being emphasized now by American leftists about how the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian resistance are so low compared to the thousands of Palestinians killed by Israel are of course true.

But all this talk of the disproportionate impact on Israel is really a way to not deal directly with the truth: Palestinian families have a legal right to resist occupation, including the use of violent resistance. Therefore, Israel has no right to self defense.

“…[A]ccording to international law today, Israel has no rights to or in the Occupied territories of Palestine.  According to the same international law, the occupation ought to have ceased one year after its beginning, that is by June 1968.  The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution requiring Israel to withdraw from all occupied territories, Resolution 242 in November 1967.” 2

– Lynda Burstein Brayer, South African, Israeli trained human rights lawyer.

Catherine Charrett’s piece on Mondoweiss says it perfectly:

Palestinian factions represent a non-state (as we all know way too well Palestine does not have its state yet) and therefore, any form of violence Palestinian movements engage in will be, by de facto, that of a non-state actor. War or violence launched by a non-state actor, is so quickly coupled with militant or terrorist in the Western discourse on legitimate uses of violence. Palestine continues to be forbidden its status and capability as a viable state; how then is Palestine meant to resist its occupation, when Israeli leaders wage their own war on Palestine and simultaneously work so energetically and aggressively to dissallow its status as a state? How are Gazan resistant movements, which do enjoy almost unanimous support from the entire Gaza population, meant to resist in a way which is legitimate to western governments? If these Western narratives were more dedicated to their own professed adherence to human rights then they would not be able to stand in defence of Israel. According to the Geneva Conventions a people under occupation have the legal right to resist their occupation; this Article 1 (4) of Protocol 1 stresses that force may be used to pursue the right of self-determination. States and actors who attempts to suppress the Palestinian right to resist violent occupation is in direct contradiction with the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which all legally aim to provide support to those fighting colonial regimes. The Western discourse on the legitimate use of violence needs to sensitise and educate its view: Palestinians have the legal right to resist and that is exactly what they are doing. 3

So, not only is Palestinian resistance, including the use of violence, legal, it’s also effective. And given how ineffective the world community is at even recognizing Palestinians as Israel’s target of genocide, much less defending Gaza, any support for Gaza now should include uproarious cheers for every rocket that lands in Israel.

Perhaps this is why, as even the New York Times knows, Gaza is a place “where resistance is an honored part of the culture.”4

 

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