Nationalism and The Destruction of Reality

With apologies for applying a half-assed title, some additional formatting, and without having secured his permission, I am reproducing this incisive tweet storm by the excellent circadianwolf.  CW, if you want me to make any modifications, or delete this altogether, let me know in comments.


Been said many times but nationalism is a project of convincing the working class to compete against each other.  Nations are myths constructed by the global ruling class to distract workers from the structural operation of exploitation. They function very similarly to narratives of individual heroic and villainous actors (with which they are often conflated). Putin/Russia as some unified super being, quite literally occupying the same functional space as the devil, the power lurking in the shadows.

The enemy of workers everywhere is the ruling class and their enforcers, today centered absolutely in the US government and military. The fantasies are sufficient so long as they distract from working class organization against empire, even if they are not believed. Indeed the destruction of facts and material reality as a stable referent is a long running project of capital/empire. As with the countries they attack-where a puppet state may be nice but chaos is a perfectly acceptable result as well. So too is the destruction of fact largely sufficient for victory of capital even without successfully replacing it with a specific fantasy. The structures of capital/empire persist through violence, without need of belief in or understanding by the exploited.

In Pattern Recognition, Gibson said “we have no future because our present is too volatile. we have only risk management.” As a liberal invested in the apolitics of capital he blamed technology, but of course while technology enables this, it is not the cause. It is capitalism that causes technology’s abolition of labor to produce unemployment & insecurity rather than plenty & freedom from work. Our technological potential applied to productive processes should today give us a world of unprecedented security and real freedom. Instead capital uses this very independence from material necessity to enforce a nightmare world of terror and endless virtual bureaucracy. Yet though capital takes power from this freedom from material necessity, it is still a system for the exploitation of human labor.

If the labor of workers becomes unnecessary, where does that leave capital? This is an open question. We can see some capitalists’ ideas in the internet of things, the digital tagging and tracking of every object & concomitantly of people. In social media, the metricization of social relationships, & in the enclosed corporate ecosystems of ‘virtual economied’ run on corporate script. In ‘playbor’ & paying for the opportunity for a fantasy of stable work. This projection of the future is a frictionless digital. A world of pure ideology (I like to say that in his story of cartography borges never conceived of google maps).

But while capital may seem capable of escaping materiality (tho CS has something to say about this), human bodies definitely cannot. Of course climate change is likely to cause such catastrophic destruction as to render our technological gains moot, recreate real scarcity. Idk; the future indeed seems a terrifying event horizon to me, but one we can nonetheless approach through material analysis & theory.


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17 Responses to Nationalism and The Destruction of Reality

  1. No worries! I’m honored.

  2. wendyedavis says:

    thank you both, tarzie and circadianwolf. i wish i could say that i’ve understood it, but some of the terms are unfamiliar to me, i did look up the wiki on ‘pattern recognition’, and a few other words, but some of this is unfamiliar territory to me. i’d add that workers are being threatened by promised automation and robotics to keep them quaking in fear of not being productive’ enough, or gettin’ ‘uppity’ enough to ask for what they need from The Bosses.

    you’ve likely seen nick beam’s ‘‘Economic nationalism and the breakdown of the post-war order’ at wsws.

    • Tarzie says:

      I didn’t understand the last section about capital’s post-labor designs entirely myself. But I thought there was lots of clarity in the first 3/5ths and considered the rest worth chewing on.

      In case you haven’t already found out, Pattern Recognition in this context is simply the title of a William Gibson novel.

    • Tarzie says:

      i’d add that workers are being threatened by promised automation and robotics to keep them quaking

      Yeah, while at the same time competition with cheap labor via immigration is where their anxiety is being channeled politically. How many of these jobs that Trump’s promised penalties for off-shoring are supposed to bring back won’t be done by machines in five years?

      • wendyedavis says:

        i did in fact look at the wiki on gibson’s ‘pattern recognitions’ book, and ended up clicking on a lotta terms that were hyperlinked as well. given that ii don’t use any social networks, it took a few times reading to gasp the metricization” concept, but i reckon that is akin to: “I have 10000 followers!!! ” or some such.

        now i did finally find a source that explained both ‘playbor’ and ‘weisure’ (my stars) but i’m still not sure i’m catching on.

        yes, indeed, on “at the same time competition with cheap labor via immigration is where their anxiety is being channeled politically: i saw a headline yesterday about a bit of a push for a guaranteed annual income to ‘offset increased automation’ (or was it robotics?). but while that notion is a newish bright shiny objects to dangle in front of the rubes, no way it would offset the ever-decreasing social safety net or the massive hits on pensions, would it?

        i suppose i can’t begin to speak intelligently on trump’s penalties for off-shoring jobs since i haven’t paid attention save for reading a few headlines on “no automotive plants to mexico”, and i really dunno what robots can do. i did see a little r-D2 nurse in a hospital room, but i didn’t even click in. ah, but i do remember when i used to cover trade union news and blues under obama, that high-tech manufacturing CEOs would tell the unions that *they* needed to pay for that sort of training for their members. yeah. but then the corruption and fealty to Ds of Big Unions are one of the reasons we are where we are, no? some of the shit i’ve learned about trumpka as the head of the global AFL/CIO since those days? jeezum crow. talk about “the boss’s gatekeeper”.

        anyway, i thought i’d signed up for comments, guess i hadn’t. sorry if this is too long and a bit tardy.

      • Tarzie says:

        no way it would offset the ever-decreasing social safety net or the massive hits on pensions, would it?

        I haven’t looked into it, but considering how this idea is catching fire with the worst of the Ruling Class, I think your instincts are good. Quite possibly a stealth austerity measure.

  3. higharka says:

    I understand the discussion of government- and economic-nationalism here, and I’d be interested to hear circadianwolf’s thoughts on how this is affected by genetic nationalism.

  4. wendyedavis says:

    you’ve likely heard this stunningly woooot-worthy wonderful news; hard to believe, but never mind that for now:

  5. gbelljnr says:

    Only just got around to reading this. It really is great and makes me want CW to blog. Thanks Tarzie, and thanks CW.

    As to capital’s post-labour designs, well, isn’t it also the case that a vast swathe of the labor force will be (is being) allowed simply to die off? People in Black communities literally decimated by racist policing, the “drug war,” genocidal criminal justice policy, and a prison industrial complex which reinstitutes slavery, white people in post-industrial wastelands, all abandoned to a grim fate under austerity, left without social services, pensions, child support, forced to pay private health insurance that won’t save them anyway, dealing with the crushing polydimensional math of precarious labour and uncertain income, always on call, never at rest, gnawed to the bone with stress, handing over their scant income to Big Pharma for addictive drugs that make them feel worse and slowly kill them. Useful to capital only by dying in as profitable a way possible. Removing the problem of what capital does in a developed economy where open genocide would break the illusion and create conditions unfavorable to capital.. It is no longer necessary to keep a vast section of the working class alive. Social democracy is not being erased because it can’t be afforded, nor because the people doing so have some puritanical conviction that it should go. Its removal is instrumental. All those people for whom there are no jobs anymore; they are not needed, in fact they are dangerous as things stand. They have to go. So why retain the organs of the bourgeois state formerly necessary to sustain and grow and keep alive and incentivize labor? And why not bleed the last dime out of the masses as age and illness and deepening poverty are allowed to take their toll unimpeded?

    And all of this coexists with the the possibility you mention, of crazed and accelerating extraction of informational value from human activity evident in the proliferation of smart sensors into middle class homes, implants, wearables, smart devices, fridges everything, measuring, generating data, sending it back, as you say, and in the metricization of social relationships, the capture of intellectual labor and production, the capture of public infrastructure by Silicon Valley, the attempt to take over health, currency, transport, municipal governance, with privatized automated “solutions” which trade convenience for valuable data.

    There are an array of parallel trends, solutions to the problem you raise. These trends will contradict and play off each other, driving history, to give us the future.

    • gbelljnr says:

      As an aside, this is why the messianic optimism of people like Paul Mason, who raves about the liberating wonders of automation and the post-capitalist, post-work economy, do not ring true to me. When work no longer becomes necessary, that means people get to enjoy their leisure only in a society where people are kept alive and supported in being alive for their own sake. In a society where only the socially necessary labor is done. In our society, people are created, supported and kept alive only insofar as they are of instrumental value to capital. In this world, since the beginnings of industrial capitalism, automation means people just being allowed to die off. Having read his book, I am no wiser about why Paul Mason thinks things are different now because “internet.”

      • robertmstahl says:

        There is only so much spacetime. Either, humanity [sic] occupies it or, if u let the machines into the same space will, over time (quickly, immediately?), occupy that same space…
        Frederick Douglas:
        “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.”

    • Tarzie says:

      Lot to chew on here, George. And to also have nightmares about.


  6. wendyedavis says:

    @ gbelljnr it does seem to be the case that capital is reducing the surplus population at an ever faster rate, both in amerika and around the globe. i looked at the wiki on mason’s book ‘PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future’, and while i can’t claim to understand even that smattering well, i also can’t say that what he posits is altogether different that what davos 17 ‘responsible leadership’ (ha.) is saying. but as well, the presenters are purporting to make a case that ‘we’ should take care not to leave the rabble behind…

    i spent waaaay too much there yesterday knowing that it’s the global oligarchs who would be touting AI and ‘the fourth industrial revolution (IT), innovations that will ‘transform the lives of small farming’,’basic income: dream or delusion’ (the devil’s in the details, of course).

    but see…the oligarchs want was best for us rabble, as long as they get to decide for us. like bill gates’ implantable microchip BC hormone that’s remote controlled. and funding ‘anticipated global pandemics, developing vaccines’, never mind how all those ‘tests’ worked in pooooor
    nations who were in such need of the help of the masters of all.

    ‘The rise of the machines: lessons from history on how to adapt’ is kinda fun advice, really. the sustainable ways to cure hunger was more interesting in what it didn’t say v. what it did say; it was quite sensible in some ways.

    going digital-only currency curls my toes, but yes: narenda modi, hind thug new friend to the rulers of the world, and genocidaire paul kagakme made their speeches on that. well, good luck to all of us.

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