Radical passivity: a threat to National security

April 14, 2016 § 2 Comments

Security will be treated under the very simple definition: the resistance of order when faced with change or chaos. A security threat, then, can refer equally to a terrorist attack, foreigners both newly-arrived & long-seated, & public demonstrations; indeed, we are seeing the conflation of these categories all the time in today’s public consciousness & media. Sometimes it feels perfectly staged, such as a Syrian passport discovered at the site of the 13th November 2015 terror attacks in Paris. At other times, the situation is mystified by post-identity unity as we saw in Donetsk & other parts of Ukraine — a situation further clouded by impenetrable political & military alliances.

It is the same desire for security — the state of vulnerability — that leads one to resort to terrorism, migration, & demonstration. They belong within the logic of security-concerned dominant powers by which they are created & which they resist. In a way a co-dependence exists. Yet absolute security can only be achieved by entirely terminating the Other [particularly evident with regard to the War on Terror] or making the Other exactly like oneself [Gramsci’s cultural hegemony]. The repercussions of absolute security we already know to be genocidal, self-perpetuating, & totalizing. Security develops a cultural impetus “to return” to a universality that never was because only then, under completely homogeneous & calculable conditions, can security be achieved at all. The rhetoric of human rights is equally guilty in promoting this impetus for universalism as the rhetoric of war.

More & more, the capitalist system is being taken at face-value for not providing the majority freedom from fear or want, but only its promise [pertaining to the modern concept of future]. In the words of Berardi Bifo, “Moderns are those who live time as the sphere of a progress toward perfection, or at least toward improvement, enrichment, & rightness” (After the future 28). They believe in the automobile, in speed, & in Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Yet the belief is now faltering en masse. By means of debt, low-paying jobs, & a brutal advertising industry capitalism in fact inflicts fear & want on the vast majority of the employed – & it does this unequally, punishing those who are threats to the white hetero-normative male hegemony [even incidentally, when born Other to it] by offering fewer opportunities & significantly lower pay. A focus on employment rates has distracted us from these issues, detracted from the potentials of leisure time, & even lead to the creation of many undignified jobs. This focus is in place because the unemployed are threatening to National security, perhaps the most threatening being assailable to the triptych of threats above [terrorism, migration, & activism].

Berardi Bifo continues: “The ideology of security is the product of a paranoia fuelled by the media & geared to create an economic system of global security that can always feed on new paranoia. We need to protect our quality of life. This is the only sentence that corresponded to the truth in all the war propaganda: 20 percent of humanity did not wish to give up the consumption of 80 percent of the world’s resources” (73). Human security buys into this. But how realistic is securing quality of life? I repeat, absolute security can only be achieved by entirely terminating the Other or making the Other exactly like oneself. But all 100 percent of people cannot consume as the 20 percent do at present. Arguing for an increase in production will not work, as it corresponds again to further inequality which harbours continued insecurity. In short, security is an unachievable goal which seems inevitably to lead to class, ethnic, & holy warfare.

That is the future as we presently imagine it; no ideology underlies it [which is what Berardi Bifo means by after the future], but there is a value-system of production. Let’s depart from Berardi Bifo’s work with a final quote: “A radical passivity would definitely threaten the ethos of relentless productivity that neoliberal politics has imposed. The mother of all the bubbles, the work bubble, would finally deflate. We have been working too much during the last three or four centuries, & outrageously too much during the last thirty years. The current depression could be the beginning of a massive abandonment of competition, consumerist drive, & dependence on work” (122).

Now we are ready to approach radical passivity with the sufficient background & respect. The words are carefully chosen. Note that we aren’t speaking of free time — which would be paradoxical given how utterly unfree society is, bombarded by values heteronomously — or leisure — with its relations to the bourgeois leisure industry that is now being sold to middle classes.

Adorno was among the first to take this subject seriously; it complimented his strand of leftist academia that ascertained that culture & psychology would be at least as crucial in tearing down capitalism as economic alternatives. For him, “free” time was a concept created to serve labour with the function of recuperating energy for maximum productivity. Furthermore, the “hobbies” practiced are regulated to be mind-numbing, from the perspective of the dominant value system, & designed to dull the imagination.

People have been refused freedom, & its value belittled, for such a long time that now people no longer like it. They need the shallow entertainment, by means of which cultural conservatism patronizes & humiliates them, in order to summon up the strength for work, which is required of them under the arrangement of society which cultural conservatism defends. This is one good reason why people have remained chained to their work, & to a system which trains them for work, long after that system has ceased to require their labour. (‘The Culture Industry’ 193)

In order to break these chains, social behaviour needs to depart from the emphasis on productivity. We need to pose the question, What are the acts of radical passivity? Preliminary responses [?]: choosing ethics over morals, abandoning security logic & identitarian thinking, shoe-gazing, art, combining what you love with what you do, stop spreading the lies that everything has a purpose or that everything costs, stop wanting to believe the lies, enjoy the excess & the absurd, don’t ever allow yourself boredom or too much comfort, keep watch for even the smallest acts of totalitarianism [essentially, ideology itself].

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