Our Necrophilic Culture of Doom: Life and Death in Apocalyptic Times

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| S.C. Hickman | alien ecologies |

One of the underpinning’s of my thought is that we’re entering the stage of the Last Man Nietzsche once spoke of, the fractured age of a completed nihilism. The point of my research into this whole gamut of the fantastic, marvelous, uncanny, grotesque, macabre, horror, weird, bazzaro, et. al.. is that people have allowed themselves to be lured into a trap… Nietzsche diagnosed it, Bataille expanded on it, Land defined it… Baudrillard codified it… J.G. Ballard fictionalized it… we are victims of our immersion in artificial worlds. We’ve constructed these Human Security Systems to hide from reality, to defend ourselves from the natural world, the indifferent and impersonal cosmos… and it has proved our undoing, our entry into a full-blown civilization of sociopathic schizoids with tendencies to murderous or suicidal impacts.

I sometimes think people assume I affirm the things I write about… that I’m actually for this whole tradition of the fantastic… actually it’s just the opposite… it’s this immersive idealism that has itself spawned our fractured and apathetic civilization we see around us that has entered what Nietzsche termed the stage of the Last Man, the passive and conformist world of the non-human that has merged with his technologies to the point that nothing else matters outside of this little screen. That is completed nihilism… Nietzsche said it was coming… it just came a little sooner than he expected. The cure: he went mad before he finished that part… we’ll have to figure that out on our own.

I see no salvation, no romantic redemption… not sure where you find that in what I say? For the most part I see nothing more than a terminal end ahead, a collapse of the Human Security System.

Nietzsche once diagnosed modern humanity saying it is like a gigantic heap of backyard compost waste, a pile that creaks and moans under the weight of its own decay. Motley, reactive, exhausted, used up, no longer good for anything purposeful…

In diagnosing the modern age as suffering from rot, Nietzsche is indicating that one of its constitutive drives has gotten out of control and is threatening to convulse the body of modernity and choke it to death. That is why décadence is a diagnosis with a terminal prognosis. The reactivity of decomposing matter—its subjection to its own internal dissolution as its driving force—is an exhaustion that inevitably culminates in its own extinction.

Ours is a Necrophilic culture, we feed off the living dead, we are all apathetic Zombies, a herd culture, conforming, homogenized, caged in, bound to the Reality TV syndrome of a visual matrix of image ideologies dumbed down to the nil. Even watching the UK and US election cycles shows just how stupid we’ve all become. We’re far past redemption… we’re in collapse mode of a final corruption and decadence. The outer form of climate collapse is just an affirmation of the collapse that has already taken place within civilization itself. We’re doomed to our own self-loathing, and defeatism… marketed to our own narcissistic self-modulated screen life, we’ve become the avatars of destruction rather than construction, death not life enfolds us in its declining embrace…

Nietzsche would have laughed at the decadence of our artificial culture, our dreams of surpassing organic life, of becoming immortal machines or living transhumanist medical or nanotech glorified monstrosities. He would have seen it as one more escape from life, from the power of health and a imbecilic leap into a neohumanist salvation within machinic being. A machinic life in cold and impersonal systems that conform not to the chance dictates of organic being, but rather to the controlled algorithms of pure logic and binary code. Finally we’d be locked into an external environment, imprisoned in a network of total control and discipline; bound to the strictures of a system of coercion that required only one thing: total obedience. Otherwise one would be expulsed, excluded.

When seriousness is deflected from the self-preservation and the enhancement of the strength of the body—that is, of life—when anemia is construed as an ideal, and contempt for the body as “salvation of the soul”—what else is this if not a recipe for décadence? – Beyond Good and Evil

Décadence is a uniquely Modern disease because its toxicity is particular to a uniquely Western form of life, a Secular and Religious form of life, which has created a condition wherein “the majority of mortals” are now “physiologically deformed and deranged.” This deformity is intrinsic: it is an “expression of the physiological contradiction—of being modern.” This physiology of decay explains the otherwise unnerving biological determinism in Nietzsche’s texts—as one may recall, the prognosis for modernity was terminal because the very definition of décadence entails death: it is a decay that has exceeded its healthy boundaries and convulsed the entire organism.

As Charles Derber in Sociopathic Society: A People’s Sociology of the United States recently said of our Western Civilization ours is a world of sociopaths, that sociopathic individuals in the [West] are often successful and well-adjusted, most of them sane and socially integrated. They are more likely to be conforming to the values and rules of conduct in our society than violating them. It is the rules and values that are at least metaphorically “sick.”1 This homogenized world of conforming individuals who have allowed themselves to be herded into debt regimes.2 Maurizio Lazzarato in his The Making of the Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal Condition shows us the debt system on our modern global system began long ago in the notion of Credit:

Credit is one of the most effective instruments of exploitation man has managed to create, since certain people, by producing credit, are able to appropriate the labor and wealth of others. (ibid.)

Over time this debt-relation moved from the individual to the nation, and became the model of integration of finance, banks, and monetary systems integrated into a larger international frame that imposed austerity and debt on nations. At first it became a part of what Naomi Klein once termed the Shock Doctrine:

In one of his most influential essays, Friedman articulated contemporary capitalism’s core tactical nostrum, what I have come to understand as the shock doctrine. He observed that “only a crisis— actual or perceived— produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”  Some people stockpile canned goods and water in preparation for major disasters; Friedmanites stockpile free-market ideas. And once a crisis has struck, the University of Chicago professor was convinced that it was crucial to act swiftly, to impose rapid and irreversible change before the crisis-racked society slipped back into the “tyranny of the status quo.” He estimated that “a new administration has some six to nine months in which to achieve major changes; if it does not seize the opportunity to act decisively during that period, it will not have another such opportunity.”  A variation on Machiavelli’s advice that injuries should be inflicted “all at once,” this proved to be one of Friedman’s most lasting strategic legacies.3

The off-loading capital from citizens to bail-out the “too-large-to-fail” banks back in 2007-2008 was the greatest heist in history. Yet, it all began back in the 90’s with the repeal of the Glass-Stegall Act under Bill Clinton’s watch. The financial crisis might not have happened at all but for the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall law that separated commercial and investment banking for seven decades. In 1999, Democrats led by President Bill Clinton and Republicans led by Sen. Phil Gramm joined forces to repeal Glass-Steagall at the behest of the big banks. What happened over the next eight years was an almost exact replay of the Roaring Twenties. Once again, banks originated fraudulent loans and once again they sold them to their customers in the form of securities. The bubble peaked in 2007 and collapsed in 2008. The hard-earned knowledge of 1933 had been lost in the arrogance of 1999.4

To alleviate the failure of the US economy that tanked, and brought down many of the other Western nations as well, a new notion of austerity arose. As Richard Seymour glibly states it “the label ‘austerity’ covers a multitude of sins”.5 As he tells it for parts of the Right, the argument is simple. You can’t spend more than you take in; sound finances means clearing debts as quickly as possible. In this version of events, the state is something like a household, and austerity nothing more than a little belt-tightening. For the Left, which knows that the state is nothing like a household, it looks like a simple bait and switch job, transferring the costs of a crisis of the banks onto the public sector, thus harming working people and protecting the rich. (ibid., 4)

So here we are in 2016 moving into a world of stasis and decay in both the economy, politics, culture, and civilization. Looking to our leaders to solve the mess they created is like going from bad to worse. Politics and a change in party – especially since these parties have become pawns to the very “Establishment” system of monetary, economic, and financial disaster capitalism that they would solve is both ludicrous and idiotic. People are now running on empty, bound to emotion and fear, becoming extreme on Left and Right through populist forms of crisis and violence, the future does not bode well for Western Civilization.

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Solutions? Oh… there all over the place, take your pick, almost every journalist who presumes to be an economist or willy-nilly thinker off-the-cuff or not, academic or philosophical outrider seems to have something to offer us these days. Everything from post-capitalism to Inventing the Future (2015). Rutger Bregman in Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-hour Workweek (2016).Bregman’s answer to this dilemma is that we need use this wealth to buy ourselves more time and more security, not more stuff. What he is proposing is that we establish a universal basic income. This idea has a surprising and long history. Did you know that Richard Nixon almost succeeded in enacting it in the United States? And the results have been very positive wherever it has been tried. It has been shown to be a much more cost effective solution to homelessness than the current mishmash of programs provided by the middle class homelessness industry, for example. But the idea was already proposed by Srnicek and Williams in their Inventing the Future… already old hat. As they’d tell us what is needed is a new type of freedom, synthetic freedom:

A primary aim of a postcapitalist world would therefore be to maximise synthetic freedom, or in other words, to enable the flourishing of all of humanity and the expansion of our collective horizons.  Achieving this involves at least three different elements: the provision of the basic necessities of life, the expansion of social resources, and the development of technological capacities.  Taken together, these form a synthetic freedom that is constructed rather than natural, a collective historical achievement rather than the result of simply leaving people be. Emancipation is thus not about detaching from the world and liberating a free soul, but instead a matter of constructing and cultivating the right attachments. …synthetic freedom demands the provision of a basic income to all in order for them to be fully free.  Such a policy not only provides the monetary resources for living under capitalism, but also makes possible an increase in free time. It provides us with the capacity to choose our lives: we can experiment and build unconventional lives, choosing to foster our cultural, intellectual and physical sensibilities instead of blindly working to survive.  Time and money therefore represent key components of freedom in any substantive sense.6

Great… utopia at last, or not? Most of this hopeful thinking is as most of Marxist history, great on paper but the moment we try to implement it things go South. I think the key here is the notion of freedom itself. Is this really something we’re after? Frank Ruda in his latest outing, , tells us that the only way to think freedom is to show that a proper concept of freedom can arise only from a defense of absolute necessity, utter determinism, and predestination.7 For Ruda freedom as we’ve known it has succumbed to the substantialized formalism of Aristotle:

I will argue that one fundamental conceptual maneuver that is necessarily involved in turning freedom into a signifier of disorientation is the tendency to understand freedom in terms of a capacity that one has. However, by defining freedom as a personal capacity, we turn freedom into something that a person has and owns— something that is someone’s property and can be invested in multiple ways. But there is another consequence of this definition of freedom. As soon as we understand freedom as a capacity, we assume that freedom is not only a capacity but also a possibility. But by understanding freedom as a possibility, we conceive of it as already being real and actual in the form of this possibility (that then can be actualized). Reduced to being a capacity, freedom already has its reality (maybe even its full reality) in its possibility. With this conceptual move, freedom as possibility is identified with freedom as actuality. This, however, is a conflation because it leads to the idea that freedom is already real without actually being realized. Against this conflation, which is, as I will argue, fundamentally Aristotelian in nature, this book will attempt to exorcise the last remaining bits of Aristotelianism from contemporary thought. To put it simply, this book seeks to be fundamentally anti-Aristotelian. (ibid.)

He tells us that even the most staunch opponents on the political spectrum or even philosophical divide have fallen back into this substantialized formalism: on one side, people start from the assumption that human beings are always already inscribed into a space of reasons (and thereby cannot but realize reason, since any step they take occurs within this space); on the other, people assume that being as such is dynamic and allows for certain realizations. Both sides identify being with time as the ultimate version of possibility and thereby are both radically Aristotelian in nature. (ibid. KL 119)

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Against such a move Ruda “defends fatalism not only as a means of countering indifference and the identification of freedom with a given capacity but also as the very precondition for articulating the proper concept of freedom. I therefore do not claim to develop here a concept of freedom, even though I will occasionally refer to some of its crucial components. I will only delineate its necessary prerequisites”. (ibid., KL 221) He goes on to say:

I will argue that fatalism is an assumption that makes it possible to prepare for what one cannot prepare for— that is, for what Badiou calls an “event.” My argument resembles to some extent what Jean-Pierre Dupuy calls “enlightened doom-saying.”  Dupuy argues that what might seem impossible, namely a final (for example, ecological) catastrophe that would end the present order of things, is nonetheless absolutely certain based on our present knowledge. Assuming that this catastrophe is our destiny might then retroactively change the conditions of possibility of this very destiny. It may retroactively make it possible to change what appears to us as fate. My argument also bears a strong similarity to what Slavoj Žižek calls the “inversion of the apocalypse”— a maneuver that does not take the apocalypse as something that we will have to face in the future but as something that already took place. (ibid., KL 224)

In the book by Dupuy The Mark of the Sacred he argues simply for the Jonah paradox, the notion of the perfect deterrence which deters nothing. He’ll go on to describe the fatalist as the prophet of doom (and I quote at length):

The prophet of doom cannot be satisfied with a sort of supermarket metaphysics in which possible worlds make up a very long aisle of options from which the futures shopper is free to choose. As a fatalist, the prophet tells of events that will come to pass, come to pass as they are written down on the great scroll of Fate— immutably, ineluctably. How, then, can one prophesy a future one does not wish for, so that it will not occur? This is the Jonah paradox, whose logical structure is exactly the same as that of the paradox of perfect (self-refuting) deterrence. The key to the enigma is found in the dialectic of fate and accident that forms the core of existential deterrence, in regarding nuclear apocalypse as something that is at once necessary and improbable. But is there anything really new about this idea? Its kinship with tragedy, classical or modern, is readily seen. Consider Oedipus, who kills his father at the fatal crossroads, or Camus’s “stranger,” Meursault, who kills the Arab under the blazing sun in Algiers— these events appear to the Mediterranean mind both as accidents and as acts of fate, in which chance and destiny are merged and become one.8

As Ruda mentions Zizek and his “inversion of apocalypse” we discover him saying in his Less Than Nothing:

It is against this background that we should read the basic Paulinian notion of living in an “apocalyptic time,” a “time at the end of time”: the apocalyptic time is precisely the time of such an indefinite postponement, the time of freeze in-between two deaths: in some sense, we are already dead, since the catastrophe is already here, casting its shadow from the future— after Hiroshima, we can no longer play the simple humanist game of insisting that we have a choice (“ It depends on us whether we follow the path of self-destruction or the path of gradual healing”); once such a catastrophe has happened, we lose the innocence of such a position, we can only (indefinitely, maybe) postpone its reoccurrence.9

I quoted at length most of this to show how certain aspects of leftist materialist dialectics is seeing into this time or era of  decadence that Nietzsche had described from more reactionary diagnosis on the right. It’s interesting to see that both intellectuals of the right and left are fairly well on the same page of what is happening, even if their proposed solutions diverge. The basic drift from both sides is that the catastrophe from the future has already occurred, but we’ve been blinded to this retroactive occurrence in our sleeping and unthinking lives. Like sleepwalkers we roam the apocalypse of Western Civilization as it fractures into ruination, corruption, and doom squabbling over minor issues of who will be our next Leader. Does it really matter? Should we not realized that like the tale of the young man who stuck his finger in the dike in Holland that it’s a little too late to plug the leak, that sooner or later that plugged hole is going to crack and drown both him and us in a final conflagration? Or, can we do something else? Is it that our very thought patterns are constructing the future we see collapsing upon us? Could we become more creative and envision another alternate future? Maybe enact a new model or hyperstitional meme that might actuate an escape from our present fatal strategies?

When I watch Hilary and Trump, or the strange happenings across the ocean in the UK I think its like the WWII film King of Hearts, where locals flee and, left to their own devices, a gaggle of cheerful lunatics escape the asylum and take over the town — thoroughly confusing the lone Scottish soldier who has been dispatched to defuse the bomb. French director Philippe de Broca’s comic anti-war fable, was not a commercial hit upon its release, but it soon became one of the most enduring cult favorites of its time, and its popularity continues in many circles to this day. Even considering the somewhat heavy-handed obviousness of its message and the whimsical approach de Broca took to the story, the film resonated with a generation of non-conformists and opponents of the Viet Nam war. The notion that those deemed insane by society may actually be saner than the people who put them away was, of course, a highly romanticized view that glided past the painful realities of mental illness. Still, the questioning of authority and senseless brutality was reflective of the counter-culture movement in much of the literature and drama of that era, and it reached a peak of mainstream acceptance with the multiple Academy Award-winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).

The genesis of the movie can be traced to de Broca’s experience serving as an army newsreel cameraman in the Algerian war. He later said it was his time in North Africa that shifted his focus to comedy, a reaction to the ugliness and brutality of the world around him. The germ of the story itself came from a news item about 50 French mental patients during World War I who left their hospital after it was bombed, dressed themselves up in the uniforms of dead American soldiers, and wandered the countryside until they were mistakenly massacred by German troops.

Yet, in our time it’s our Leaders who have been let out of the asylum to play the part of legit representatives of the people, but instead they are performing the inverse and becoming the perversity of our society’s madhouse. Our leaders are psychopaths who seem hell-bent on destroying what little remains of Western Civilization.

I know at times on my site I’ve had posts on Bataille, Nick Land, Gnosticism and the dark corners of magic, Satanism, decadent authors, New Age conspiracy, etc. … all part of an ongoing subcultural investigation into the dreamworlds of the mass mind that seems to thrive on alien history, ghosts hunters, decopunk gothic and cyberwar, etc. We seem enamored with the bizarre and weird, the strange worlds of the hidden and unknown that surround us, populating it with all sorts of beasties, monsters, frightful creatures of the imagination, when in fact most of it is more about our fears of the natural and artificial worlds we inhabit in our actual lives. Our Symbolic and Natural orders seem to be fracturing around us so we wander in our fantasias seeking solace from the madness only to find worlds much darker and sadistic full of murder and mayhem, sex and mystery. Rather than doing something to change our actual daily lives we fantasize. We try to escape into drugs, rock-n-roll, and sex, else we fall into the extremes of our drive toward death, our thanatropic speed festival in the ultimate death carnival. We seem to be living in a Stephen King novel at the moment with no prospect of escape, and no one is coming to save us: no one. Because no one is there, because “there is no there is” (Ruda).

Nietzsche notes dryly:

“Things are bad generally. Decay is universal. The sickness goes deep.” Or, as he sighs in Twilight of the Idols, “Nothing avails: one must go forward—step by step further into décadence (—that is my definition of modern ‘progress’ . . . ). One can check this development and thus dam up degeneration, gather it and make it more vehement and sudden: one can do no more.”

  • Derber, Charles. Sociopathic Society: A People’s Sociology of the United States (Kindle Locations 232-234). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
  •  Lazzarato, Maurizio. The Making of the Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal Condition. Semiotext(e); Reprint edition (August 31, 2012)
  • Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (pp. 7-8). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.
  • Seymour, Richard. Against Austerity: How we Can Fix the Crisis they Made. Pluto Press (March 19, 2014)
  • Nick Srnicek; Alex Williams. Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (Kindle Locations 1522-1527). Verso.
  • Ruda, Frank. Abolishing Freedom: A Plea for a Contemporary Use of Fatalism (Provocations). University of Nebraska Press (May 1, 2016)
  • Dupuy, Jean-Pierre. The Mark of the Sacred (Cultural Memory in the Present) (Kindle Locations 3873-3881). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  • Zizek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 21888-21893). Norton. Kindle Edition.

 

 

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