Franco Berardi suggests to us a new activism – not through revolutionary changes, but through a systematic effort to develop a humane and free society.
Since Franco Berardi was a part of the anarchist society in Bologna’s Radio Alice in the 1960’s, he has worked tirelessly to understand the relationship between working life, culture and capitalism. Especially when it comes to the various expression of the liberal impulses that characterised the cultural revolutions in Italy. When the anarchist movement was thrown down with unprecedented power, it only strengthened the impression that the enemy was indeed real, and that the anarchists were part of a battle against a society that was truly oppressive.
A state of powerlessness
Berardi has followed various activist movements up until recently, and has ended up characterising the current situation as «impotent». The reference to the male, bodily and sexual is more than a metaphor: At the centre of the frustrated situation of the West, stands the white, male worker – it is exactly this segment of the society that is entrenched into new reactionary movements. The root of impotence – or a depressive state of powerlessness – is oppression, not exercised through violence, but rather through the almost invisible forms of fraud, extortion and theft of late capitalists. The fact that we do not notice how society empowers us is, according to Berardi, both the condition and the effect of the modus operandi of capitalism. Precisely because we let ourselves be convinced that there is no alternative to the forms of life we are being offered, thus shrinks the horizons of the individuals’ possibilities. Life becomes a train where the railway determines the direction.
For an Asian employee, working for a technology company for petty wages while living in the factory dormitory, the situation resembles that of slavery. The lack of «an exit» is obvious. But in terms of unemployed young adults in the West, who through endless hours in front of their laptops, attempt to realise themselves through underpaid, creative professions, the sense of hopelessness is far more diffuse. Berardi addresses the ever-growing precariat in his book – those who live from one short-term contract to the other – and what he calls the «cognition» – those who put their intelligence and creative abilities up for sale. Just like the classic proletariat, they will too be systematically prevented from changing their living conditions.
«When other world citizens are considered invasive threats, the final solution becomes an «Auschwitz on the beach». »
Winners and losers
Berardi continues the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari in a poetic survey of the possible: a chaotic magma of bodily impulses, fantasies and ideas that enfold in the individual when facing the environment. This flow is gradually channelled through society by the constraints that might intend to serve as disciplinary and directional, but which can also end up suffocating the individual’s life-expression.
«Life becomes a train where the railway determines the direction.»
Power, in Berardi’s terms, is the exercise of power that consists of reducing opportunity – thus delivering a powerful definition. But isn’t something missing here? Is not power itself a way to possess opportunities? Is not wealth just freedom to choose, funds to realise yourself? Sure, but the window of opportunity when it comes to wealth and that is left open to some, will at the same time minimize this opportunity for others. Thus, capitalism creates winners and losers. Often the individual ends up as both a winner and a loser – as a large number of life opportunities are sold and exchanged between those to whom money is made available for. The actual winner is in fact the economic world order – an all-encompassing competition that constantly enhances its deadly grip, not just on the individual human, but on the planet and civilization as such.
Auschwitz on the beach
According to Berardi, in a state of global civil war, the world’s tendency to perceive «the others» as competitors has been strengthened for decades of neoliberalism. Solidarity and the community have gradually been built down – virtually in all areas of life.
«Power, in Berardi’s terms, is the exercise of power that consists of reducing opportunity.»
When migrants starve at the borders of the rich world, we see in reality what it means to defend your own space of opportunity: The others are pushed into a zone where life is characterized by distress and a continuous battle for the most basic necessities of life – where life simply becomes impossible. When the space of opportunity is understood as a privileged living space of protected wealth, and where other world citizens are considered invasive threats, the final solution becomes an «Auschwitz on the beach» – a death camp at the beaches and borders of the Western world.
When «futurability» – the future as a panorama of opportunity – is narrowed, it is because we are increasingly led to see the world and ourselves in light of economy. Money becomes the measure of life standards, and our identity is reflected only in one’s work, turning ourselves into homo economicus. It is an automated form of control that makes the language and conversation powerless. The problem is seen in its purest form when we call a service phone and are introduced to a menu with pre-programmed options.
It becomes impossible to negotiate the situation, and our questions may not even be answered. And if we eventually are introduced to a person – who would «gladly help» – but unfortunately «cannot do anything at the moment», because the system does not allow it to do so. Both the customer and the employee are in turn powerless – neither language nor goodwill can come to rescue. This is also being repeated on much higher levels, for example when democratically elected politicians fail to keep their promises because management is embodied in procedures that have their own compelling logic. Humans become instruments while the automated processes become the actual and anonymous performers.
A community of knowledge
Knowledge that provides a basis for criticism and which direct the society in a good direction, can still be developed. Unfortunately, it seems that knowledge is a non-mandatory element within the free market, where the latter is becoming increasingly difficult to shy away from.
«Humans become instruments while the automated processes become the actual and anonymous performers.»
According to Berardi, the development of an independent and liberating knowledge must take place. And the sphere where the exchange of the creative energies of the cognition is greatest is Silicon Valley. The latter is becoming a global state more than any other place on the American West Coast. Here, young people work tirelessly to invent the newest and breaking technology. The hope is that the energy can be invested in a real social platform – a community of knowledge that in turn will set us free.