We Are Being Held Hostage
By: R. Foust
There has been no better time in recent memory for direct, collective action.
We can no longer trust a system that has left us in the dust and continues to do so.
A makeshift sign posted in Clackamas County, Oregon— it is not difficult to imagine the word “arsonists” replaced with “anarchists” in this scenario.
Last week, protests broke out across the country over the verdict to not indict the officers responsible for the murder of Breonna Taylor with requisite charges. Caught in a cycle of rioting over state and police violence, those in the streets run the dangerous risk of settling for reform.
Multiple disasters are converging on the global horizon, with economic and social instability metastasizing in the short term, and foreboding far worse as to what sort of widespread failure awaits us in the future. COVID-19, climate change, and the indifference of governments to the suffering of their people are just three of an endless list of crises contributing to the global meltdown– all products of capitalism. It has become apparent that crisis is now capable of its own production, of reproducing itself.
These threats triangulate the death drive of late capitalism, which we’ve been thrust unwillingly in the middle of. We have had opportunities to shift the pillars that capital uses to entrench itself, yet, as crises gain momentum, the pillars become more fortified.
The global pandemic response also presented an opportunity for the swift ushering in of austerity version 2.0 – a reactionary financialization of the health crisis – that further defines the consistency of inequality under neoliberalism. The pandemic has threatened the livelihoods of the working class and members of what Marx called the “lumpenproletariat,” yet has afforded rich elites unprecedented returns on their investments. As the adage goes, the rich are growing rich, while the poor are growing poorer; However, what can’t be explained using platitudes recycled by the Left is the recurrence of economic destabilization at a rate that is becoming predictable. 2008 was a turning point, or so it appeared to revolutionaries, but what it really revealed was the inevitable ‘resilience’ of the one percent to avoid downturns resulting in a significant class restructuring.
Amongst all else, the backdrop of current political and social unrest has been the scenes of climate catastrophe produced by massive wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington. The images which characterize this new era of Anthropogenic climate change express the degree of irreversible damage being inflicted on the environment by large corporations. “Just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988,” reported The Guardian in 2017. And now, in the three years since the article was published, public perception has remained largely unmoved despite instances of mass attention drawn towards mainstream media headlines.
In a study published just three months ago on the driving forces of various perceptions of climate change, researchers aggregated reports suggesting that wealth plays a significant role in determining individuals’ relationships to their own conceivable extinction:
Libidinally, this transference of affect by wealthier populations onto vectors of capital represents a disinvestment in humanity’s own future; an end with no means of reversing this position, and an uptick in collective preference of immediacy rather than longevity. In this version of the libidinal economy, it is more apropos to hedge one’s bets according to what will be culturally and socially fashionable tomorrow in order to protect one’s class interests rather than act in good faith for the rest of society down the road.
There is also an exponentially greater cost to living through multiple crises than neoliberals would like to address: the toll on human life. Six months into a pandemic that has caused a shock in labor felt deeply by workers, it’s insufficient to say there has been little support. With no timeline for a vaccine in the public domain, and back pay on unemployment funds running out, people faced with eviction and other threats to their wellbeing have few options. Time is running out. It has also been disclosed that “Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation,” according to the CDC. In late June alone, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health and substance abuse, and corporate healthcare profits haven’t performed better in years.
Capital’s ruthless appropriation of all things living has zero bounds; a process of commodifying being, the essence at the cores of its subjects are transformed into objects of little to no speculative value, occuring at the hands of its own self-expansion. The disimbrication of human life from the value-form central to capital is the only way to escape mutually assured destruction.
How can we achieve this? The late theorist Mark Fisher proposed in one of his lectures collected in the recently released Postcapitalist Desire that the “libidinal attractions of consumer capitalism [need] to be met with a counterlibidio, not simply an anti-libidinal dampening”. What will be the driving force of this generation’s “counterlibidio”? Could it be the revolutionary potential(s) of technology? Perhaps the pandemic, in its permanent and negatively ramifying capabilities, will illuminate a new kind of class consciousness that Fisher articulates as such:
To have one’s consciousness raised is not merely to become aware of facts of which one was previously ignorant: it is instead to have one’s whole relationship to the world shifted. The consciousness in question is not a consciousness of an already-existing state of affairs. Rather, consciousness-raising is productive. It creates a new subject — a we that is both the agent of struggle and what is struggled for. At the same time, consciousness-raising intervenes in the ‘object’, the world itself, which is now no longer apprehended as some static opacity, the nature of which is already decided, but as something that can be transformed. This transformation requires knowledge; it will not come about through spontaneity, voluntarism, the experiencing of ruptural events, or by virtue of marginality alone.
A new generational dialectic between subject and capital will have to be formed. If it is not already clear now to younger generations through witnessing the response of Western liberal democracy to the pandemic that no amount of protesting can adequately challenge or subvert the dynamic of state and citizen within this system, then the unalterable material conditions resulting from the pandemic will need to instill new modes of consciousness– whether based on age, class, or a similar unifying trait, time will have to tell, but the emergence of radical networks of organizing in the past six months alone promises more than we could’ve hoped for from the beginning of the latest threats to all organic life imposed by capital.
1 Riley, Tess. “Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says.” The Guardian, Monday July 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71-global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change. Accessed 10 September 2020.
2 Czeisler MÉ , Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1049–1057. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6932a1external icon.
3 Fisher, Mark. Postcapitalist Desire. Edited by Matt Colquhoun, 1st ed. (London, Repeater, 2020), 19. Monoskop.org. Accessed 26 September 2020.