Montag, 8. Dezember 2014

affirming collapse - a little political manifesto

The talk about crisis and impending collapse is omnipresent in contemporary discussion. This is well illustrated by some titles of recent publications of some of the most read philosophers of our times: temps de crises by Michel Serres (2009), Living in the End Times by Slavoj Žižek (2010) and Failed States by Noam Chomsky (2006) to just give a few, rather random examples.
We all seem to agree that we live in a time of huge crisis, in which many of our old structures of social and economic, as well as private and ecological organization seem to fail and / or fall apart. Critique of capitalism has now made it into the mainstream and even boulevard press and it seems to have become some kind of consensus, that we need to change our ways in a more or less radical way to stop global warming and prevent ecological collapse. We also talk about a crisis of philosophy and our values since the notorious 'Death of god' and the subsequent deaths of metaphysics, the author, history, gender and even sometimes civilisation. We seem to live in a time of confusion and lack of reliable concepts for structuring reality in any satisfying way. 
This sense of times of crisis and living in the End Times is also well reflected by our economic situation - or by what so called experts tell us, what our economic situation is. It is said, that we are now at the end of the sixth year of global and especially European economical crisis. This, further on, is used as a permanent justification for drastic cuts on the well fare state and it's social and cultural programs. "We really would like to maintain all the wonderful benefits and achievements of the socialist dream of the well fare state" the people in power seem to be saying "but the times are just not like that. We are sorry - but we first need to save the banks and the financial system, they have top priority because they support and primordially enable the well fare state's being. If that is done, we will go back to the good old times." So, for six years now, we are struggling to keep up the system in a more or less status quo. We spent and spend billions to prevent impeding economical collapse, which is said to almost have happened in 2008.
This event in recent economic history - the notion of almost-collapse and our sacrificing struggle to prevent it ever since - is what interests me in this little essay. 
crises and stability alternating
It is often said, that the history of humanity is structured by periodically alternating times of stability and crisis. In this line of argumentation it is said, that humanity - up until now - has never been linear or stable in it's development, being or becoming. Times of comparable stability, peace and prosperity gave way for times of crisis, war and collapse, which in turn have ended in more peaceful and prosper times again and so on...the oscillation between crisis and stability, thrive and collapse is said to be an essential part of history. Following this train of thought, the more cynical realists of our times say or sigh, that the next time of crisis and collapse is now afore. The last decades were comparatively peaceful and stable1, they say, and now it is time for collapse and war again, which we really can't do much about. They justify this view with historical events, like the last huge financial crisis in 1929 and its eventual resulting in World War Two, with the huge crisis of farming and starvation in France in the late 18th century, that resulted in upheaval and eventually - but not for long - democracy, or the fall of the Roman Republic which - after times of chaos - was replaced by Augustus' - comparatively stable and prosper - Imperium.
It is Michel Serres' main message of temps de crises that all of our contemporary crises are connected and have to be seen as an entity, which can not be effectively be divided into parts. So, by attempting to save merely the contemporary financial system and doing nothing about the rest, we do not actually get to the root of the problem. It actually seems, that the more we try to hold the financial system stable and save it from collapse, the bigger the crisis in other domains of life gets (the growing of social inequality, of extremist and fundamentalist views, of the number of potential and actual wars and of Carbon-dioxide emissions and environmental catastrophes and crimes). If we accept that everything earthly (systems, humans, continental plates, flowers, everything...) is periodically prone to times of crisis and possibly collapse, it therefore seems that trying to prevent the financial, capitalist, growth-based economy from collapsing is actually a dangerous undertaking. In trying to maintain a system that apparently doesn't seem to work any longer in any satisfying kind of way, we are risking to let the general crisis of our time grow to such an extent, that a violent, war-like and horrible collapse will result from it. Because - if we see crisis as a natural part - we should wrap our head around the thought of changing something more radical to get out of the crisis again. Sticking to the old systems seems flawed, because it apparently reached its best-buy-date and we should dispose of it, when it's not working any longer. If not, we will make the crisis grow in other domains. We maintain our human-exploitation based economy and social upheaval and war will grow. We maintain our nature-exploitation based economy and we will face ecological collapse, which might make earth uninhabitable for human beings. To prevent these horror scenarios, we should therefore consider thinking about collapse in a completely different way. We should see it as a natural part of things it and accept it, live with it. In other words: we should experiment with the idea of affirming collapse, which I will quickly present in the following sentences.
If we accept, that humanity's development has never followed a straight line, but has taken weird turns, twists and roundabouts and therefore see times of crisis, decline or even collapse as an normal part of humankind, we should find a way of domesticating these "darker" sides of human development. We shouldn't thrive to maintain humanity and society in an ever growing, ever-prosper and ever-the-same state, but should learn to accept, that there are times of growth and times of decline, and that they are naturally alternating. That humanity and its social structures are ever-changing, to put it in one word. And - first and foremost - we should never forget that we are the people who are worth saving, and not the system.
Maynard Keynes
So - if we say that the financial system was very close to collapsing in 2008 and we are ever-since trying to prevent it from doing so, we should probably learn to wrap our head around letting the system collapse. Let's stop all these immense fiscal and social efforts to maintain a system which does no longer work. Let's go with the flow of economic development and accept that the system is dying. This line of thought is actually and rather surprisingly in accordance with what one may call the chief designer of the liberal financial system, Maynard Keynes, who himself stated, that this system will only work for about five generations (and we are this fifth generation) and that afterwards we will have to think up something completely new. 
So to let the system collapse is actually in line with the most neo-liberal doctrine one could think of. In fact, this is much more liberal than the neo-liberal capitalists of our days are. Because they betrayed their own doctrine when they cried for the State to help save the banks which would have otherwise collapsed. So let's be more liberal than the liberals and accept that the system is dying - that it had its days but that these days are now over. And even this is in accordance with probably
In contrary to most of the last century, we lack a real2 alternative to the current economic system and I guess this is why, we stick to the old system - in lack of a feasible alternative. But this is a notion, we should overcome, to really achieve change. Because, who says, that the next economic model will be some perfect model, which some philosopher or economic will come up with in a perfect and ready-to-apply form? This seems to me to be a very outdated Platonist understanding of humanity's structures and concepts. No real working system was ever completely formulated in one single book or by one or several single authors. There was no theorist, who lay down the basic principles of capitalism and then some queen or king came along to apply it. It grew naturally out of human development, which is what made it work for so long (and might be the reason, why Communism never really worked). (Btw: this is or was the agenda of the better branches of the #occupy-movement: having no ideological, predefined goals, but just expressing unhappiness with the current situation and giving way / opening up for new ideas and ways)
The times of liberal capitalism are done and there is no way to prevent its collapsing in its current form. We should learn to accept and embrace that fact - we live in a time of crisis - things have to be done in a new way, because that's the way it is. Let's rid ourselves of the uptight notion of clinging to a system that is no longer working. The more we free ourselves from this blockage, we will find ways of dealing with what comes at us and be able to find solutions and economic models, which fit better to our times and situations. Let the system collapse in a humane way, before the situation gets too bad, the prices were too high and the collapse of our financial system will be accompanied by war and chaos. Humanity is more creative than some of us tend to think - if we affirm collapse, new results, which might be much better for our times and situation, might await. Let's open ourselves for this opportunity. Let's fall in love with our darker times and make the best of it.

1 this notion is probably only applicable for the wealthier states, which have externalized and outsourced their conflicts to financially poorer regions, and is therefore and in general highly debatable. But it is still a narration, which I find interesting and I would like to pursue for this essay's intention.
2 if we consider Communism as a real alternative to capitalism, which we should at least not take for granted.