As knowledge has become so specialized, many people would rather ignore or criticize highly evolved specialist discourses rather than admit they simply cannot understand them. This allows specialists to emerge as genuine masters who come to dominate others through this particular dimension of objective superiority, whereas honest admissions of ignorance and uncertainty would be an empirically and normatively sophisticated basis for unifying the large mass of normal people into a living project transcending capitalism (i.e. mass movement). The crucial political insight here is that self-aware stupidity is far more scientifically correct and powerful than misleading performances of intelligence. The overwhelming majority of public performances of intelligence understate the significant uncertainty around even most true claims, as this brings material and psychological rewards, and little cost to the individual, especially as social media allow us to mute opposition. But when we all pretend we’re equally up to speed on the objective dynamics characterizing contemporary society, this simulation enforces and obfuscates the unfair distribution of intellectual legitimacy based on cultural capital.
We either attune to the disinterested objective truths of being or else the vicissitudes of capital attune us to an infinite future of hell. Insist upon the ultimate human equality of our ultimately shared, cosmic worthlessness (you are welcome to call this dignity, but you’d have to believe in god). Otherwise, feigning equality where it does not exist will always be a servomechanism of capital. It is a tactic of cultural capital accumulation through brute force, which is not excused by its being also weak and unsuccessful. The reality we have to process is that the hierarchy of intellectual command today is not a gradually distributed pyramid (an image that incorrectly flatters most people by suggesting they are only a little below the top while also being above many others). It is better visualized as one small group in a hot-air balloon, with computers drilled into their skulls, drifting away from almost everybody existing, all of whom are equally lost, confused, and helpless. As I will try to show, this is not sad but rather an ecstatic realization.
An activist who sounds convincing in a meeting might be 90% wrong about how the world works, but they are convincing simply because within their milieu they have an above average stock of cultural capital (verbal fluidity, education, seniority, etc.). The problem is not that this is “unfair” or “counterproductive” (common euphemisms), the problem is far more drastic: in a frighteningly literal way, that activist is a flesh-robot programmed and installed by capital, to serve the overall stability and growth of a system in which capital is the only possible adjudicator. By under-reporting our honest ignorance and uncertainty, we misleadingly command from others a kind of pathetic, sterile respect rooted in little more than their own comparatively worse illnesses, whereas an honest reporting of our own helpless stupidity is generative of energies for collective search (“most people are as stupid as I am, so my chance of figuring out what to do is as good as anyone else’s”); sincere irreverence and non-conformity leading to the breakdown of bourgeois repression (“all these people who want me to be a normal servomechanism of capital are dumb and powerless”); an increase in risk-tolerance through a decrease in false hope (“I used to be cautious because I thought I had a chance of surviving, but now that I see none of us will survive at present, I might as well try to do something I find interesting, which, ironically, makes me feel like maybe there is a chance…).” If we all admitted that, compared to specialists, most people are equal in their absolute incompetence, we might just be able to do something they can’t.
Remember those human-computers I asked you to imagine floating off into outer space, leaving us behind? If such cyborg intelligences designed the optimal virus to ensure the spread of capitalism, and then released it upon the earth, it would have to look eerily like the modern left-wing project: an exploitative drive to symbolically out-exploit the dominant exploiters, which convincingly presents itself as opposition to exploitation, not only spreading the culture of exploitation but super-charging it, as the competitive proliferation of obfuscation reaches a density that no human being could possibly penetrate in one lifetime. Not to mention that the already dominant exploiters also possess economies of scale in the production of obfuscation, dooming the left to lose even at the level of moral one-upmanship. It is the left that initiates an arms race of increasing stupidity, on top of the arms race of exploitation, without in any way decreasing the spread or intensity of exploitation, indeed pushing it deeper and deeper into instinctual intersubjective dynamics (the soul). If capitalism is a series of injuries inflicted on the weak, the history of anti-capitalism hitherto is a series of insults added to each injury, sold to the injured as preventative medicine.
To speak of left-wing activists as possessed by a capitalist virus sent here by a super-intelligence from the future might sound like science fiction, but hasn’t the average perspective always rejected radical political theory as science fiction? That this diagnosis will sound to many like science fiction becomes objective data that it might just be correct, an authentic realization about how the world works and what is happening, beyond what is conceivable within the ideological boundaries of what is defined as reasonable. I believe the inevitable next move of any coherent revolutionary anti-capitalism will be to accept this as an objective characterization of our history on this planet, and to update our beliefs and activities accordingly. Ultimately, only time will tell.
At first, these realizations may be depressing, but depressingly true realizations are the price of entry to the ecstasy of moving from lost to found. When the lost find themselves in the radical equality of honest and absolute helplessness, my hypothesis is that we will be uniquely capable of moves that are psychologically and sociologically prohibited to those who currently command their specialized sectors of the global cybernetic apparatus. Ultimately, they are the most enslaved by this system, that’s why the system selected and promoted them. We are those who were unfit to be slaves of this system (anyone silly enough to still be reading this blog post on the internet is, by definition, included in this “we”), that’s why we are being left to rot at the bottom of its garbage disposal. But one of the primary reasons this is so oppressive is simply because we are obsessed with the excruciating and exhausting work of pretending the situation is otherwise. For those willing to acknowledge where they really are, new and unexpected winds begin to blow, the room to maneuver suddenly appears tremendous, and communication once again becomes possible, as if for the first time.
It is only the fearful and defensive will to decelerate that makes acceleration so brutal and insufferable; genuine submission to unconditional acceleration appears the only pathway to a sensible and durable calm, if only the white noise of unbiased chaos. Nothing about this prohibits creative, collective emancipatory projects to establish equal freedom and abundance for all, after the acceptance and integration of objective realities.
Share this post:
Murphy, Justin. 2017. "Activism is a capitalist virus from the future (honesty is stage-one cybernetic communism)," https://jmrphy.net/blog/2017/05/02/activism-is-a-virus/ (November 19, 2018).