How do 7 billion interconnected bodies resolve an endless crisis?
The neoliberal political economy hit a limit in 2008, and the first thing everyone said was: “This is the end of an era.” But the Titanic takes forever to sink, so most of us didn’t understand our own words. What looked like a bankers’ bust turned into a long-term decline of social welfare in countries across the world. Then came the cascading political and military consequences: the debt crisis in Greece, the Arab Spring, Occupy, the Libyan, Ukrainian and Syrian civil wars, the refugee crisis in Europe, the rise of Islamic State terrorism, the Latin American lurch to the right, Brexit, and most recently, the US elections punctuated by gunfire in all directions. Each new unbelievable event hits you like a media fist from a dozen linked devices – and then, before anyone can take stock, make sense, form a plan or take a decision, the next body blow comes, and the next one, and the next one. How does democracy function in the maelstrom of meaning? Who is the follower? Who is the leader?
The tumultuous events of 1968 unleashed a comparable wave of global chaos, reverberating throughout the early 70s. But in those days, the only thing stronger than the proliferating utopias of social, sexual and psychic revolution were the Cold War ideologies that ultimately brought back a repressive stability. Today, beneath the shadows of climate change, no one has such resources of heartfelt inspiration or ironclad belief. Politics seems to have collapsed into the sheer unmitigated onslaught of the news.
All we can do is relay the shocks, message to message, body to body, like exploding pixels in the passion of infinitely pulsating screens. Frankly I don’t see this ending any time soon.
Globalism has produced an unprecedented concentration of socially and ecologically unbearable wealth, an oligarchy beyond anyone’s control. It is too corrupt to govern, too unjust to bear and too powerful to stop without a detailed, sweeping and widely comprehensible project, capable of swaying millions of hearts for more than twenty-four hours, and for more than twenty-four years. No one will create such a project by simply vibrating on the wavelengths of the present. We are entering the kind of era that gives birth to great philosophies and messianic religions. The secret societies of today do not conspire, they don’t use encryption, they don’t plan spectacular campaigns or media coups. They meet steadily and publicly to express emotions, exchange ideas, map systemic trends and constitute world pictures. They learn resilience, renewal, and above all, the capacity to recognise the efforts of similar groups without necessarily coming to immediate agreement.
A different kind of self can only emerge from resistance to the psychic tsunami of continuous crisis. Disconnecting from the neoliberal neural net does not mean ignoring emergent facts, earth-shaking events or split-second changes. It means re-attuning bodies and minds to the deep time of necessary and inevitable transformations in the earth system.
BRIAN HOLMES is a cultural critic based in Chicago.