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Reenvisioning Freedom: Human Agency in Times of Ecological Disaster

Constellations – 2023 – Cooke – Reenvisioning Freedom Human Agency in Times of Ecological Disaster
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Sonst bist du verloren

Frankly, I don’t think that political awareness is going to prove the best medicine for our current malady. Most people know that financial dictatorship is destroying their life; the problem is knowing what to do about it. It is possible that nothing can be done, that power has become so deeply entrenched in the automatisms regulating daily life, connecting our interchanges, and infiltrating our words, that bio-financial control cannot be undone, or avoided.

So what can be done when nothing can be done?

I think that ironic autonomy is the answer. I mean the contrary of participation, I mean the contrary of responsibility, I mean the contrary of faith. Politicians call on us to take part in their political concerns, economists call on us to be responsible, to work more, to go shopping, to stimulate the market. Priests call on us to have faith. If you follow these inveiglements to participate, to be responsible — you are trapped. Do not take part in the game, do not expect any solution from politics, do not be attached to things, do not hope.

Dystopian irony (dyst-irony) is the language of autonomy. Be sceptical: do not believe your own assumptions and predictions (or mine).

And do not revoke revolution. Revolt against power is necessary even if we may not know how to win.

Do not belong. Distinguish your destiny from the destiny of those who want to belong and to participate and to pay their debt. If they want war, be a deserter. If they are enslaved but want you to suffer like them, do not give in to their blackmail.

If you have to choose between death and slavery, don’t be a slave. You have some chance to survive. If you accept slavery, you will die sooner or later anyway. As a slave.

You will die anyway; it is not particularly important when. What is important is how you live your life.

—Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Heroes, (London: Verso, 2015), 224-225.


Wir sind die letzte Generation mit Hoffnungen gewesen. Wir hatten die große Hoffnung, daß eine menschlichere Gesell­schaft auf der ganzen Welt möglich ist. Ob diese Hoffnung nun berechtigt war oder nicht und ob unser Beitrag der richtige gewesen ist, bleibe mal dahingestellt. Doch diese Hoffnung kann heute niemand mehr haben, der bei klarem Verstand ist und sich auch nur einen Tag lang die Nachrichten anhört.…Es sieht rabenschwarz aus.

Ich meine allerdings: Ob man nun noch einen Hoffnungsschimmer sieht oder nicht, man sollte auf jeden Fall etwas tun. Die Hoffnung auf den Fünfjahresplan, die gibt es nicht mehr. Aber Herrschaft zu bekämpfen, dort wo sie ungerecht oder unerträglich wird, für eine solidarische, menschlichere Welt ein­treten, das solltest du zumindest in deiner näheren Umgebung versuchen. Sonst bist du auf jeden Fall verloren.

—Bommi Baumann, 1991 introduction to »Wie alles anfing«, (Berlin: Rotbuch Verlag GmbH, 2007), 7-8.

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In his last book, Chaosmosis (1992), Guattari writes that ‘Among the fogs and miasmas which obscure our fin de millenaire, the question of subjectivity is now returning as a leit motiv …’ He first adds: ‘All the disciplines will have to combine their creativity to ward off the ordeals of barbarism, the mental implosion and chaosmic spasms looming on the horizon.’ Then he writes: ‘We have to conjure barbarianism, mental implosion, chaosmic spasm’.

This last expression marks the consciousness of the darkness, and of the pathology that capitalism is bringing about. In that book Guattari foretold that the millennial transition was going to be an age of fog and miasmas, of obscurity and suffering. Now we know that he was perfectly right. Twenty years after Chaosmosis, we know that the fog is thicker than ever and that the miasmas are not vanishing, but becoming more dangerous, more poisonous than they have ever been.

Chaosmosis was published just a few months before the death of its author in 1992, when the world powers met in Rio de Janeiro to discuss and possibly to decide about the pollution and global warming that in those years was becoming increasingly apparent as a threat to human life on the planet. The American President George Bush Senior declared that the American way of life was not negotiable, meaning that the US did not intend to reduce carbon emissions, energy consumption and economic growth for the sake of the environmental future of the planet. Then, as on many other occasions afterwards, the United States government refused to negotiate and to accept any global agreement on this subject.

Today, twenty years later, the devastation of the environment, natural life and social life have reached a level that seems to be irreversible. Irreversibility is a difficult concept to convey, being totally incompatible with modern politics. When we use this word we are declaring ipso facto the death of politics itself.

The process of subjectivation develops within this framework, which reshapes the composition of unconscious flows in the social culture. ‘Subjectivity is not a natural given any more than air or water. How do we produce it, capture it, enrich it and permanently reinvent it in order to make it compatible with universes of mutating values?’

The problem is not to protect subjectivity. The problem is to create and to spread flows of re-syntonization of subjectivity in a context of mutation. How can the subjectivity flows that we produce be independent from the corrupting effects of the context, while still interacting with the context?

How to create autonomous subjectivity (autonomous from the surrounding corruption, violence, anxiety)? Is this at all possible in the age of the spasm?

—Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Heroes, (London: Verso, 2015), 218-219.

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The ethical foundation of the modern social scene was based on the responsibility of the bourgeois class and the solidarity between workers. The Protestant bourgeois was responsible to God and to the territorial community which made his prosperity possible. The worker was united with his/her colleagues through the consciousness of sharing the same interests.

Both of these ethical foundations of modern ethics have dissolved. The post-bourgeois capitalist class does not feel responsible for the community and the territory because financial capitalism is totally deterritorialized and has no interest in the future well-being of the community. On the other hand, the post-Fordist worker no longer shares the same interest as his/her colleagues, but, on the contrary, is forced to compete every day against other workers for a job and a salary in the deregulated labour arena. Within the framework of this new precarious organization of labour, building solidarity becomes a difficult task.

During the last three decades social movements have tried to re-establish the conditions of modern ethics and to reaffirm the values that were the foundations of the bourgeois civilization: democracy, job security and the respect of law.


While the Neoliberal wave, taking advantage of new technology-based lifestyles, was transforming cultural and political expectations, the Left has been defending the ethical rules of the past and the established political institutions. Driven to an inherently conservative position, the leftists lost their character and their identity.

Now, it is finally crystal clear: resistance is over. Capitalist absolutism will not be defeated and democracy will never be reinstated. That game is over.

What will be the game to come?

—Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Heroes, (London: Verso, 2015), 203-204.

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Ron DeSantis announces presidential campaign

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Only non-involvement and the ability to remain extraneous, to refuse any identification with one’s job and with one’s working condition, only a radical rejection of the ethics of responsibility, might offer workers the possibility of navigating a way out from this productivity blackmail.

Unfortunately, the ethics of responsibility, the phoney discourse on participation and collaboration, are prevailing in today’s political and cultural life. We invest our psychic energies and our expectations into work because our intellectual and affective life is poor, because we are depressed, anxious and insecure. So we are trapped. The industrial worker who was obliged to repeat the same gesture a thousand times every day had no reason to identify with her work — so she invested her psychological energies into solidarity with colleagues, and her mind was free to hate the assembly line, and to entertain thoughts that had nothing to do with her daily slavery. Conversely, cognitive workers have been lured into the trap of creativity: their expectations are submitted to the productivity blackmail because they are obliged to identify their soul (the linguistic and emotional core of their activity) with their work. Social conflicts and dissatisfaction are perceived as psychological failures whose effect is the destruction of self-esteem.

—Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Heroes, (London: Verso, 2015), 166-167.

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“We had something to say, not something to sell.” —Suze Rotolo


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The entire strategy of the system lies in this hyper-reality of floating values. It is the same for money and theory as for the unconscious. Value rules according to an ungraspable order: the generation of models, the indefinite chaining of simulation. Cybernetic operationality, the genetic code, the random order of mutations, the principle of uncertainty, and so on: all of these replace a determinist and objectivist science, a dialectical vision of history and consciousness.

—Jean Baudrillard, ‘Symbolic exchange and death’ in Selected Writings, p. 122.

Baudrillard is talking of value in economic terms. In the post-Fordist transition, the relation between work-time and value is jeopardized, as immaterial production and cognitive work are difficult to properly gauge. But the random effect is not limited to the sphere of the economy, as it spreads both to the sphere of social relations and to that of ethics. The current, generalized perception of widespread corruption is neither a superficial impression, nor the effect of a deterioration of the moral character of people. It is a systemic effect of the randomization of value. When value can no longer be determined by the precise relation to work-time, its determinant factors become deception, swindle, violence. Mafia ceases to be a marginal phenomenon of lawlessness, instead becoming the prevailing force of emerging capitalist economies like Russia and Mexico. At the same time, fraud is legalized and organized in the global financial market as a systemic feature.

—Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Heroes, (London: Verso, 2015), 76-77.

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Наталья Евгеньевна Горбаневская, *26.05.1936 – †29.11.2013

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