Writings: After the Future

After the Future

“We have never been more fully able to describe the world, yet its foundations have never been less certain. Reality is revealed as multiple, polyvalent and contingent; we view our age through a prism of complexity.”

*Damian Griffiths, p.19 in Garageland magazine, issue 10.Published by Transition Editions.

Italian critic and media activist Franco ’Bifo’ Berardi has been described as a ’master of global activism in the age of depression’. In his book titled After the Futurehe traces the genesis of future-oriented thought through the punk movement of the early 70s and into the media revolution of the 90s. Cyberculture, considered by many to be the last truly utopian vision of the future, has ended in a meltdown, or as ’Bifo’ puts it – the future has failed us. What’s left behind is an ever-growing system of virtual life and actual death, virtual knowledge and actual war.

According to Bifo the future of the ’moderns’ (modernity) had the following two reassuring qualities: It could be known, as in the trends of human history could be traced in linear directions through time, and from these lines science could discover the laws of human evolution. Secondly, it was possible to transform / affect the future by human will, by industry, economic techniques, and through political action.

The 20th Century trusted in the future because it had faith in the scientists who foretold it, and in the politicians making rational decisions in order to affect it. But we’re no longer living in ’modern’ times.

”Space has expanded with no limits since we have entered virtual space. Virtual space is a vanishing point, the meeting point of infinite assemblages of enunciation.

Virtual time, on the contrary, does not exist. There is no such thing as a time of virtuality because time is only in life, decomposition, and the becoming-death of the living. Virtuality is the collapse of the living; it is panic taking power in temporal perception.

This is why the future is no longer a comfortable subject. We understand that it’s not likely to be known, just as we understand that the lines of intersection between the info-assemblages are so complex and fast that we cannot reduce them to any scientific law. And we are starting to doubt that the future can be governed by political strategies and military strength”.

*Franco ’Bifo’ Berardi: After the Future, p. 51-52

According to ‘Bifo’ the process of decision making and projecting a future in which one future among many can be selected depends less and less on human will. He refers to this ‘condition’ within the sphere of social politics as the ‘paradox of the decided’: as the circulation of information becomes faster and more complex, the time available for the elaboration of relevant information gradually dissolves. In other words, the more space is taken by available information, the less time there is for understanding and conscious choice.

“ The future becomes a threat when the collective imagination becomes incapable of seeing alternatives to trends leading to devastation, increased poverty, and violence. This is precisely our current situation, because capitalism has become a system of techno-economic automatisms that politics cannot evade. The paralysis of the will (the impossibility of politics) is the historical context of today’s depression epidemic.”

*France ’Bifo’ Berardi: After the Futurep. 59.

We think we’ve got access to all the information in the world, and in theory we do.  We think the world has never been more open to us, and in theory it is… but in reality, the opposite is true. The overwhelming complexity makes it almost impossible for us to choose, edit, act, make decisions and be present enough to experience the vast landscapes of information and possibilities ‘available’ to us. We dream about one day being able to make use of the individual freedom and access to the entire world we’ve allegedly gained.

City of Panic

The urban territory is increasingly traversed by streams of diasporic, heterogeneous, and de-territorialized imaginaries. Panic tends to become the urban psychic dimension. It is the reaction of a sensitive organism subjected to stimulation that is too strong and too rapid. The reaction of an organism urged on by impulses too frequent and intense to be emotively and conversationally elaborated…

The metropolis is a surface of complexity in the territorial domain. The social organism is unable to process the overwhelmingly complex experience of metropolitan chaos. The proliferation of lines of communication has created a new kind of chaotic perception…

In the city of panic, there is no longer time to get close to each other; there is no more time for caresses, for the pleasure and slowness of whispered words. Advertising exalts and stimulates the libidinous attention, person-to-person communication multiplies the promises of encounters, but these promises never get fulfilled. Desire turns into anxiety, and time contracts.”

*Franco ’Bifo’ Berardi:  After the Future, p. 93-96

The Age of Loneliness

“This is the Age of Loneliness. … We were social creatures from the start, mammalian bees, who depended entirely on each other. … We are shaped, to a greater extent than almost any other species, by contact with others. The age we are entering, in which we exist apart, is unlike any that has gone before.”

*Quote from George Monbiot:  The Age of Loneliness is killing us, The Guardian 14. Oct. 2014.

In The Age of Loneliness, published in The Guardian 14th October 2014, George Monbiot writes that the war of every man against every man – in other words, competition and individualism – has become the religion of our time. A religion justified by a mythology of lone rangers, sole traders, self-made men and women, all going it alone and fighting an endless, lonely battle for success.

Factories and other work places have closed, unemployment is spreading like wild fire, people travel by car instead of using public transportation, we use YouTube instead going to the cinema, order take away food instead of going to restaurants. You can find so many examples of human behavioral patterns shifting towards isolation during the past decades, but these shifts alone fail to explain the expanse and the speed of our social collapse. According to Monbiot, these structural changes have been accompanied by a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation.

According to evolutional theory, human beings are (still?) the most social of creatures, supposedly incapable of surviving and prospering without love, connection and human contact, and yet we seem to have somehow moved beyond the social and our human dependency on others. Statistics show that children no longer aspire to grow up and have ’normal jobs’ or careers that require training, hard-earned skills, or have any social function whatsoever. In one survey of British children results showed that the sole ambition of 40% of the kids involved was ’wealth and fame’. When asked what they were hoping to achieve as adults many of them said ’I just want to be rich’ or ’I just want to be famous’ with no comments about how they were hoping to get there, or which specific skills or talent they would develop. Furthermore, a government study in June 2014 revealed that Britain has become the ’loneliness capital’ of Europe.

Inner catastrophes

“These days potential catastrophes are everywhere you look. The world is so full of danger, stress, competition, overload and insecurity, and most of the time it feels very likely that we are all going to be dead soon, the only question is when and how, exactly? Assuming that we, against all odds, survive the pitfalls of the future that lies ahead, is creativity going to be the thing that saves us? Will our imagination become an escape route, a place where we can hide and pretend to be alive for real, or will it be the one thing that forcefully confronts us with the truth and gives us the strength needed to make a change? What kind of art would a generation of unlikely survivors produce, and where would they find their inspiration?  What influence would surviving a catastrophe have on our values, ethics, and our perception of truth and how might this influence visualize itself in the art of the future?”

*Quote from the original ICWDD manifesto / exhibition proposal 2010.

Lately, there’s been an important ‘shift in scale’ as far as catastrophes go, and the anxiety we picked up on in 2010 with the first ICWDD exhibition and which signified the collective ‘externalized’ fear of the unknown future, while still very much present today seems to have been somehow ‘internalized’ or overruled by less obvious forms of fear, pain, stress and anxiety – a new post-social condition or disorder you might call ‘inner catastrophes’ (read ‘subjective’).

These days we’re all subjected to such vast amounts of information, entertainment and virtual stimuli that we hardly have time to feel our bodies, concentrate on doing our work (concentration = no interruptions before a thought pattern is complete), or come up with new ideas before we have to make our presence known by posting a ’status update’ online. Documenting, sharing or blogging about what we’re doing has become an obsession for most of us. We try to create a perfect online image of our lives that we can use as a shield… against what? and then we hope…  we keep our fingers crossed and hope that everyone else out there is just as busy and stressed out as we are, because if they are it’s unlikely that anyone will notice how much we’re actually struggling, and how lonely our struggle is.