The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York recently mocked the silly claims of gloom and doom:
“Companies, especially financial institutions, will do almost anything to avoid a tough enforcement action and therefore have a natural and powerful incentive to make prosecutors believe that death or dire consequences await,” he said. “I have heard assertions made with great force and passion that if we take any criminal action, the skies will darken; the oceans will rise; nuclear winter will be upon us; and the world as we know it will end.”
In response to the sky-is-falling spouting banking apologists, professor of law and economics – and chief S&L prosecutor – William Black explains:
First, no banker is “too big to jail.” They are easily replaceable and removing a fraudulent bank CEO from power is the single most productive act that regulators and prosecutors can accomplish. [The Department of Justice’s chief of criminal prosecutions] Breuer and Attorney General Eric Holder were involved in a con when they claimed that their failure to prosecute the senior bank officers leading the frauds was in any way related to “too big to fail.” Hilariously, they even applied the “rationale” for non-prosecution to former bank officers – as if a bank would fail “because” its former officers were prosecuted. It is a testament to the weakness of the reportage that this claim was not treated with ridicule.
Second, valid fraud prosecutions do not “cause” a business to fail. The fraud causes them to fail. They should fail when their “profits” arise from fraud. In particular, they should fail in the case of accounting control fraud because their “profits” are the fictional product of accounting fraud. The markets and the economy are greatly improved when fraudulent enterprises are destroyed. ***
Third, very little is actually “destroyed,” when we place a fraudulent bank in receivership, fire the crooked CEO, and sell the bank to an acquirer of integrity and competence. The new bank will, net, be greatly improved because it has been freed from control by the fraudulent leadership that was “looting” the bank (George Akerlof and Paul Romer, 1993, “Looting: The Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit”).
Fourth, there is rarely a need to prosecute a bank. In virtually every case in which the bank’s frauds cause serious harm senior officers of the bank will have led the fraud and profited from it. Everyone in law enforcement realizes that any effective deterrence will come from prosecuting those officers and not only removing their fraud proceeds but also imposing fines that will leave the officers bankrupt.
Fifth, the bank’s controlling officers are in an immense conflict of interest when their frauds are detected. They control the bank and its resources. Their first priority is to prevent their own prosecution. Their second priority is to prevent any substantial “claw back” of their compensation. Their third and fourth priorities are to do the same for less senior officers. This isn’t altruism (though it certainly has an aspect of class-based affinity). Fraudulent CEOs realize that it is risky to allow the prosecutors to gain any leverage over more junior officers who may “flip” and testify against the CEO. The fraudulent officers controlling the bank, therefore, will gladly trade seemingly huge fines in exchange for obtaining their top four priorities.
[Finally, the government’s policy of not prosecuting Wall Street criminals] produces what Akerlof and Romer warned was the “sure thing” of CEO “looting” through accounting control fraud plus the assurance that the CEO will not be prosecuted, forced to surrender his fraud proceeds, or forced to pay fines that bankrupt him.Unsurprisingly, the result has been unprecedented accounting control fraud by elite banksters.***
None of this explains why they don’t prosecute bankers (much less ex bankers)
Indeed, the whole if-y0u-prosecute-the-economy-dies scam is like the 2008 bailouts. As we wrote at the time:
Congressmen Brad Sherman and Paul Kanjorski and Senator James Inhofe all say that the government warned of martial law if Tarp wasn’t passed.
In the 1974 comedy Blazing Saddles, Cleavon Little plays the new sheriff in an old Western town. The sheriff is African-American, and when he rides into town for the first time, the [racist] townspeople pull out their guns and are about to shoot him.
But he quickly puts a gun to his own head, pretends he’s scared of his own gun, and says “BACK OFF OR THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN GUY GETS IT!!!” The townspeople are dumb and fall for it, suddenly terrified that he’ll kill himself. Here’s the scene.
That’s what Wall Street is doing with the bailout.
The fat cats on Wall Street are saying “give us a lot of money, and buy all of our bad debt for a lot more than its worth, or Wall Street will get it and we’ll go into a depression!”
Are Americans stupid enough to fall for it?
In a recent interview, William K. Black uses the exact same Blazing Saddles sheriff-bank analogy.
Any way you look at it, the too big to fails are not needed and they are dragging our economy into a black hole. Like the sheriff in Blazing Saddles … they are playing us for fools.
[Yves Smith] shared another analogy with me: a man with 15lbs. of Semtex strapped to his waist. She says “any surprise people in the vicinity are very attentive to his desires?”
The response to French economist Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” has been surprising, to say the least. Though the Amazon best-seller is well written and artfully translated from French by Arthur Goldhammer, the 696-page text is filled with enough charts and footnotes to occupy experts for months. Indeed, the work was based on decades of research conducted by an entire team of specialists tracking centuries of income and wealth patterns.
The book presents a simple thesis: Unchecked, capitalism’s natural dynamics lead to an unequal concentration of wealth. This trend is increasing at a rapid rate; absent a wealth-destroying catastrophe such as war or depression or powerful new egalitarian political movements, we can expect that to continue.
Piketty elegantly explains that when the rate of return on existing capital (r) exceeds the economic growth rate (g) — as has been the case through most of capitalism’s history — the wealthy will grow wealthier than society as a whole, with disastrous consequences for future social and economic development. In more technical terms: r > g = 😦
In America, as in Europe, the past century’s dynamic can be visualized by a U-shaped curve. Before the Second World War, the top 10 percent captured almost half the national income, before seeing their share dramatically eroded in the booming postwar years. Since the era of Reagan, however, we’ve stumbled into another Gilded Age.
Which leads to the obvious question: What can be done?
Money and power
Piketty, who’s active in the center-left French Socialist Party but resists being characterized as a Marxist, offers some solutions of his own. The assessment of a global wealth tax is his most notable. Not just stocks and bonds, but land, homes, natural resources, patents and more would be subject to this tax — making it more far-reaching than any progressive levy on income. The policy would have to be coordinated across the developed world to avoid the problem of capital fleeing across borders to escape it, a difficult proposition but not a technically impossible one.
Yet the implications of his analysis go deeper. It isn’t that the rich are getting richer; it’s that they’re also getting more powerful. Across the world, inroads against economic democracy — collective bargaining rights and robust social welfare programs — since the 1970s have undermined political democracy, and that’s going to make mere policy shifts even more difficult to achieve. Workers aren’t pushing for wealth redistribution anymore; in fact, they’re actually losing battles to preserve gains won in past generations. No longer threatened at the grassroots, the ability of the world’s wealthiest citizens to shape politics is nearly absolute.
The actual implementation of democratic reforms happened in spite of, not because of, capitalists.
Developments in the United States, such as the Citizens United and McCutcheonrulings eliminating limits on campaign fundraising restrictions, have made the connection between financial wealth and political influence even more apparent. But despite public outrage — almost 90 percent of Americans think there’s too much money in politics — reform appears to be a faint hope.
In fact, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the U-shaped curve of the past century will start to look like a fishhook, with two major “leveling” forces of the postwar years — namely, high rates of unionization and the growth of mass parties representing the interests of workers — in indefinite decline.
Most people have come to associate capitalism with the advent of modern political democracy, on the theory that the growth of the market freed feudal minds and bodies. But while it’s true that capitalism’s productive power — new wealth from trade and investment, urbanization, advances in communications — made this democracy possible, the actual implementation of democratic reforms happened in spite of, not because of, capitalists themselves. As many modern scholars have argued, the roots of democratization were in the organized working class. Though workers needed the assistance of a host of allies from throughout society to triumph, these popular coalitions fought against yesterday’s oligarchs to secure suffrage and push for the social protections we take for granted today. Democratic reforms were foisted on resistant elites, from the English and French revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries on to the struggles of the last. The results were by no means absolute — formal equality in the form of “one person, one vote” has never resembled anything close to actual equality — but these were major victories for ordinary people. Elites are just as keen today as they were then to exclude others from the political process. The billionaire Koch brothers, who have funded many conservative and libertarian political causes, are little more than more banally dressed mirror images of the great estate holders and factory owners of the Industrial Revolution. They have the same compulsion to accumulate profits at the expense of their employees, and they’d like to do so with as few regulations in their way as possible.
Lucky for them, with the near disappearance of the international socialist movement and the organized working class in the past decades, the path has been opened for an anti-democratic counterrevolution of sorts.
But perhaps there’s hope. That so many people are trying to tackle “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” is at least a testament to a growing public interest in capitalism — the force that shapes their lives. And even if they’re not reading all 700 pages, many are more than comfortable with endorsing its redistributionist conclusions. It’s possible that in the long term more of them will see that resisting capitalism is the only path out of a world where some can live on rents and interest, while many spend their whole lives working themselves to death.
And yet, as Piketty’s book alludes to, the more time passes, the more entrenched and powerful the scions of capital will become. We’ll need to muster the forces capable of challenging them sooner rather than later. And though “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”is more than welcome, it’ll take more than a best-selling tome to do so.
1. Γνωρίζουμε, τόσο από αφηγήσεις επιζώντων όσο και από τα έργα ιστορικών, ότι ο ρυθμός θανάτωσης κρατουμένων στα γερμανικά στρατόπεδα συγκέντρωσης ήταν αντιστρόφως ανάλογος με αυτόν της έντασης των παραγωγικών αναγκών των εργοστασίων, και συνεπώς, των καταναλωτικών αναγκών της γερμανικής οικονομίας: με άλλα λόγια, για όσο διάστημα οι ανάγκες για παραγωγική εργασία ήταν ιδιαίτερα ψηλές, οι κρατούμενοι είχαν καλύτερες πιθανότητες επιβίωσης διότι τρέφονταν κάπως καλύτερα, εκτίθεντο λίγο δυσκολότερα σε θανατηφόρες συνθήκες, και εκτελούνταν λιγότερο συχνά.
2. Στο «Για την υπεράσπιση της κοινωνίας», ο Φουκώ γράφει ότι δεν μπορούμε να σκεφτούμε την μετατροπή της βιοπολιτικής σε θανατοπολιτική χωρίς την έννοια της φυλετικής διαφοράς, που επιτρέπει την κατασκευή της έννοιας της «υγείας» της συλλογικότητας ενός έθνους με όρους που καθιστούν μια άλλη πληθυσμιακή ομάδα επιβλαβή για αυτή την υγεία και άρα θανατώσιμη, εξαλείψιμη. Αυτό είναι δίχως αμφιβολία σωστό, θα πρέπει όμως να προστεθεί και ο «πραγματιστικός» παράγοντας των εργασιακών αναγκών που θίχτηκε πιο πάνω. Μια πληθυσμιακή ομάδα δεν μπορεί να είναι εξαλείψιμη εάν δεν θεωρείται επίσης παραγωγικά άχρηστη και ακόμα και επιζήμια. Και αυτό δεν μπορεί να συμβεί όταν οι παραγωγικές ανάγκες ενός κράτους υπερβαίνουν την δυνατότητά του να βρει επαρκή εργασιακή δύναμη στον πληθυσμό του.
3. Το «Μια μετριοπαθής πρόταση» του Τζόναθαν Σουίφτ (1729) αποκαθιστά τον διπλό χαρακτήρα του θανατοπολιτικού κριτηρίου που λείπει από την ανάλυση του Φουκώ: η εξαλειψιμότητα των Ιρλανδών βασίζεται αναμφίβολα στην κατασκευή τους ως κάτι λιγότερο από ανθρώπων με τους φυλετικούς όρους του αγγλικού αποικιακού βλέμματος της εποχής, αλλά βασίζεται εξίσου στην αντίληψή τους ως υπεράριθμων, πλεοναζόντων, παραγωγικά παρασιτικών, άχρηστων και επιζήμιων για την εθνική οικονομία. Ο Σουίφτ βασίζει την σκέψη του σε μια κυριολεκτικοποίηση και συνάμα αντιστροφή του νοήματος της γνωστής μερκαντιλιστικής φόρμουλας «ο πλούτος ενός έθνους είναι ο λαός του», αναδεικνύοντας ότι ως παραγωγική δύναμη, ο λαός της Ιρλανδίας είναι μάλλον αίτιο της φτώχειας της, και μπορεί να γίνει πηγή πλούτου όχι ως «ζώσα εργασία», όχι ως παραγωγός εμπορεύσιμων προϊόντων, αλλά ως νεκρό εμπόρευμα, ως προϊόν κανιβαλικής κατανάλωσης.
4. Μια θανατοπολιτική οικονομία μπορεί να αναπτυχθεί μόνον όταν συντρέχουν ταυτόχρονα οι συνθήκες της φυλετικής αλλοτριοποίησης και της παραγωγικής στασιμότητας και οικονομικής ύφεσης. Μετά το Ολοκαύτωμα, η θανατοπολιτική οικονομία συνέχισε την καριέρα της έξω από την Ευρώπη, σε ζώνες του «τρίτου κόσμου» όπου η ιστορική ενσωμάτωση της θανατοπολιτικής ως σύμφυτης με την ανάπτυξη από τον καιρό ήδη των αποικιοκρατικών γενοκτονιών (στο Μεξικό, το Κογκό, τη Βραζιλία, την Κολομβία) επέτρεψε την ταχεία προσαρμογή «παρα-οικονομιών» (αλλά στην πραγματικότητα οικονομιών κλίμακας, πολλές φορές πολύ μεγαλύτερης από αυτή των «νόμιμων» οικονομιών) στην βάση του θανάτου και της θανάτωσης. Κεντρικοί άξονες της «τριτοκοσμικής» θανατοπολιτικής οικονομίας: το εμπόριο ναρκωτικών, το εμπόριο ανθρώπινων οργάνων, το εμπόριο ζωντανών σωμάτων (πορνεία, σύγχρονη δουλεία), το εμπόριο όπλων, μορφές ακραία ανθυγιεινής αλλά επικερδούς εργασίας που οδηγούν τους εργάτες βραχυπρόθεσμα στον θάνατο και δημιουργούν ανάγκες για εύκολα και χωρίς νομικές επιπλοκές αναλώσιμα σώματα (ορυχεία, εξόρυξη ραδιενεργών υλικών, διαχείριση τοξικών αποβλήτων, κλπ). Στο γιγαντιαίο της μυθιστόρημα Το Αλμανάκ των νεκρών, η Αμερικανο-Ινδιάνα Λέζλι Μάρμον Σίλκο διερευνά εξονυχιστικά την συγκρότηση ενός δικτύου από θανατοπολιτικούς άξονες που απλώνεται στα σύνορα Μεξικού-ΗΠΑ, με πρωταγωνιστικά εμπορεύματα τα ανθρώπινα σώματα, τα όπλα, και τα ναρκωτικά. Με δεδομένη την συνεπή εξαφάνιση στοιχείων για τις ανθρώπινες ζωές που φονεύονται στα πλαίσια της θανατοπολιτικής οικονομίας, την αδιαφορία κρατών και νόμου, η γραφή που κινείται έξω από τα πλαίσια της παραδοσιακής τεκμηρίωσης εξακολουθεί να είναι μια εξίσου σημαντική πηγή ανάλυσης της θανατοπολιτικής οικονομίας, όπως ήταν και στο ευρωπαϊκό πλαίσιο αναφοράς. Το Άκλαφτοι νεκροί της Nancy Scheper-Hughes (για τη Βραζιλία), όπως και μια νέα γενιά ακαδημαϊκής έρευνας πάνω στην οικονομία που προϋποθέτει την αναλωσιμότητα της ζωής ανθρώπινων σωμάτων (Achille Mbembe, Neferti Tadiar, Rosi Braidotti, Melissa W. Wright, κ.α), από την άλλη, είναι απαραίτητες υπενθυμίσεις του γεγονότος ότι η θανατοπολιτική οικονομία δεν είναι απλά το προϊόν της νοσηρής φαντασίας συγγραφέων όπως ο Σουίφτ του «Μια μετριοπαθής πρόταση» (για την Ιρλανδία), ο Τζόζεφ Κόνραντ της Καρδιάς του Σκότους (για το Βελγικό Κογκό), ο Κόρμακ Μακάρθυ του Αιματηρός μεσηβρινός(για τις Νοτιοδυτικές ΗΠΑ και το Μεξικό) ή η Λέζλι Μάρμον Σίλκο του Αλμανάκ των Νεκρών (για τις Νοτιοδυτικές ΗΠΑ και το Μεξικό).
5. Η «θανατοπολιτική οικονομία» δεν εδραιώνεται στη βάση της σύλληψης και ανάλυσης της χρήσης της εργασιακής δύναμης και της παραγωγικότητας όπως κυρίαρχησε να γίνεται στον δέκατο ένατο αιώνα. Οι έννοιες αυτές ήταν καθοριστικής σημασίας σε μια εποχή ραγδαίας βιομηχανικής ανάπτυξης, και φυσικά βρέθηκαν στο κέντρο της βιοπολιτικής, της πολιτικής οικονομίας, αλλά και των φυσικών επιστημών όπως η θερμοδυναμική (βλ. Anson Rabinbach, Η ανθρώπινη μηχανή). Η αποκλειστική ενασχόληση του Μαρξ με τις έννοιες της εργασιακής δύναμης και της παραγωγικότητας αποτελεί ένα από τα πραγματικά όρια της εργασίας του από τη σκοπιά του παρόντος. Η κριτική της πολιτικής οικονομίας που περιέχει το Κεφάλαιο δεν είναι ακόμα κριτική της θανατοπολιτικής οικονομίας, και δεν θα μπορούσε να είναι, εφόσον ο θάνατος δεν συλλαμβάνεται εκεί παρά ως «ατύχημα», προϊόν της αδιαφορίας του κεφαλαίου για την ανθρώπινη ζωή μπροστά στην παραγωγικότητα και στις παραγωγικές ανάγκες. Η θανατοπολιτική οικονομία όμως δεν είναι μια οικονομία για την οποία ο θάνατος είναι ένα «ατυχές» παράγωγο μιας διαδικασίας με άλλους πρωτογενείς στόχους. Ο θάνατος, ως βιολογικό γεγονός, ως απειλή, ως μορφή «επίλυσης» οικονομικών προβλημάτων, ως δυνατότητα που καθιστά ένα σώμα εμπορικά χρήσιμο, είναι αντίθετα θεμελιώδης προϋπόθεση της θανατοπολιτικής οικονομίας.
6. Θα ονομάσουμε «θανατοπολιτική οικονομία» την συνάντηση της δυνατότητας ενός σώματος όχι να εργαστεί απαραίτητα αλλά να πεθάνει με την επινόηση νέων δυνατοτήτων συσσώρευσης κεφαλαίου. Στην περίπτωση της εμπορίας οργάνων (προϊόντος της εκρηκτικής αντίφασης ανάμεσα στην ανάπτυξη των βιοτεχνολογιών απ’ τη μία και την μαζική φτώχεια απ’ την άλλη), είναι η δυνατότητα ενός άρρωστου αλλά εύπορου σώματος να πεθάνει, και η απειλή του θανάτου από οικονομικά αίτια ενός άλλου σώματος που επιτρέπουν την απόσπαση ζωτικών οργάνων από το δεύτερο σώμα (με όσες συνέπειες υγείας μπορεί να έχει αυτή) προς όφελος του πρώτου σώματος. Στην περίπτωση της μαζικής θανάτωσης εργατριών σε maquiladoras του Μεξικού, είναι η αναλωσιμότητα του «παράνομα» εργαζόμενου και ανώνυμου σώματος, η εύκολη αντικαταστασιμότητά του, που το καθιστά πρακτικότερα φονεύσιμο παρά οικονομικά αποζημιώσιμο, προς όφελος της μεγιστοποίησης της συσσώρευσης. Στην περίπτωση του εμπορίου ναρκωτικών και της χρήσης ανθρώπινων σωμάτων ως μεταφορέων ναρκωτικών ουσιών, το σώμα του μεταφορέα είναι ένα ασήμαντο δοχείο για την μεταφορά ενός άκρως επικίνδυνου για το ίδιο εμπορεύματος, χρήσιμο μόνο για αυτή τη λειτουργία, εύκολα αντικαταστάσιμο ως μέσο διακίνησης ουσιών που είναι οι ίδιες συχνά θανατηφόρες για άλλα σώματα, στοιβαγμένα σε παραγκουπόλεις ή στα αστικά κέντρα του μητροπολιτικού καπιταλισμού.
7. Η «θανατοπολιτική οικονομία» αναπτύσσεται παράλληλα με την βιοπολιτική, είναι η άλλη της οικονομικά σημαίνουσα όψη, δεν είναι όμως καθαρά αναγώγιμη στην κυρίαρχη εξουσία, όπως ισχυρίζεται στο έργο του ο Τζιόρτζιο Αγκάμπεν. Η εργασία του Αγκάμπεν, ακολουθώντας τις αρχικές διερευνήσεις του Καρλ Σμιτ, υποπίπτει σε ένα σφάλμα για το οποίο είχε προειδοποιήσει ήδη ο Φουκώ στο «Για την υπεράσπιση της κοινωνίας«: υποστασιοποιεί την νομική σφαίρα και συνεπώς την κυρίαρχη εξουσία πάνω στην οποία βασίζεται κάθε έννοια δικαίου και δικαιωμάτων, ενώ τόσο η βιοπολιτική όσο και η πειθαρχική εξουσία κινούνται εξ ορισμού έξω από την σφαίρα αυτή, και συνεπώς δεν αφορούν ούτε την κυρίαρχη εξουσία ούτε το περιοριστικό της παραπλήρωμα που κληροδότησαν κυρίως οι αστικές επαναστάσεις: τα «δικαιώματα του ανθρώπου και του πολίτη.» Δεν είναι ότι υπάρχει, για να το θέσουμε διαφορετικά, απλώς μια «κατάσταση εξαίρεσης» από την «ορθή» νομική τάξη που επιτρέπει την ανάδυση της θανατοπολιτικής οικονομίας· είναι ότι η θανατοπολιτική οικονομία αναδύεται ακριβώς στο σταυροδρόμι μορφών βίας που κινούνται κάτω ή πάνω από την νομική σφαίρα, μορφών βίας που δεν παραπέμπουν στην κυρίαρχη εξουσία και δεν την εγκαλούν στην ύπαρξη.
8. Ό,τι είναι ο κυρίαρχος για την βιοπολιτική-ως-θανατοπολιτική του Αγκάμπεν είναι η αγορά για την θανατοπολιτική οικονομία. Ό,τι είναι το στρατόπεδο συγκέντρωσης ως βιομηχανία θανάτωσης για τον Αγκάμπεν είναι μια σειρά διαφορετικών –σημερινών και παλαιοτέρων– ζωνών για την θανατοπολιτική οικονομία. Από μια οπτική, το Γκουλάγκ είναι συμβατότερο με τις σημερινές θανατοπολιτικές ζώνες στον ύστερο, παγκοσμιοποιημένο καπιταλισμό από ότι το στρατόπεδο συγκέντρωσης. Στις Αφηγήσεις για την Κολύμα –το διαβόητο Γκουλάγκ– o Βαρλάμ Σαλάμοφ αναδεικνύει ήδη μια σημαίνουσα διαφορά ανάμεσα στους δύο σημαντικότερους χώρους θανατοπολιτικής των μέσων του εικοστού αιώνα: στο Γκουλάγκ, η θανάτωση δεν είναι αυτοσκοπός· μάλλον, η αναλωσιμότητα του σώματος είναι απαραίτητη προϋπόθεση για την αύξηση της παραγωγικότητας, την μείωση των καταναλωτικών αναγκών των εργαζομένων, και την αύξηση της συσσώρευσης κάτω από απαγορευτικές για την υγεία καιρικές συνθήκες· τα στρατόπεδα συγκέντρωσης, αντίστροφα, εξυπηρετούν παραγωγικές ανάγκες μόνο κατ’ εξαίρεσιν, όταν υπάρχει έλλειψη επαρκούς ντόπιου εργατικού δυναμικού, και είναι υπό «φυσιολογικές» συνθήκες αφιερωμένα στη μαζική θανάτωση. Το Γκουλάγκ είναι εκ θεμελίων χώρος θανατοπολιτικής οικονομίας, για αυτό και η μαζική θανάτωση με εκτέλεση είναι σπανιότατο φαινόμενο· το στρατόπεδο συγκέντρωσης είναι χώρος απλής θανατοπολιτικής, με την μαζική θανάτωση να έχει πρωταγωνιστικό ρόλο, και με τις οικονομικές διαστάσεις και χρήσεις να είναι δευτερεύουσες, συγκυριακές, συχνά «εκ των υστέρων» σκέψεις που απλώς συμπληρώνουν την ούτως ή άλλως επιβαλλόμενη θανάτωση με ένα οικονομικού χαρακτήρα μπόνους, όπως η συλλογή χρυσών δοντιών, τριχών από τα μαλλιά, ανθρώπινου λίπους ή σκελετών γυαλιών για τις ανάγκες της γερμανικής βιομηχανίας σε καιρό πολέμου. Από μια άλλη οπτική, η επιμονή των φυλετικών κριτηρίων στην διαμόρφωση της κάστας των κολασμένων της γης που τροφοδοτούν με φονεύσιμα ή αναλώσιμα σώματα τη νέα θανατοπολιτική οικονομία παραπέμπει περισσότερο στο ναζιστικό μοντέλο παρά σε αυτό που περιγράφει ο Σαλάμοφ.
9. Οι συνέπειες της οικονομικής κρίσης στην Ευρώπη, και κυρίως η κάθετη αύξηση πληθυσμιακών ομάδων που, από την σκοπιά της ορθόδοξης πολιτικής οικονομίας, είναι επίσημα πλέον παραγωγικά άχρηστες (εφόσον έχουν απολυθεί και παραμένουν άνεργες) αλλά ακόμα και επιζήμιες, εφόσον αποτελούν βάρος για τα ήδη ουσιαστικά χρεοκωπημένα συστήματα κοινωνικής πρόνοιας (ιδιαίτερα το ταμείο ανεργίας και τα συνταξιοδοτικά ταμεία) και υγείας, καθώς επίσης και η αύξηση ομάδων ανθρώπων που εκτίθενται στη βία του δρόμου έξω από κάθε κοινωνική μέριμνα και προστασία (όπως οι αυξανόμενοι άστεγοι), μάς αναγκάζουν να ακολουθήσουμε προσεκτικότερα την έρευνα που διεξάγεται στα σύνορα πρώτου και τρίτου κόσμου, καθώς ο τρίτος κόσμος «εσωτερικεύεται» στον πρώτο, τόσο ως στόχος νέων θυματοποιήσεων όσο και ως δυνητικό μοντέλο για τη μοίρα «γηγενών» τμημάτων του ευρωπαϊκού πληθυσμού που θα παίξουν τον ρόλο των νέων «αλλότριων» της Ευρώπης. Θα πρέπει συνεπώς να στραφούμε με αρκετά επείγοντα τρόπο στην κατανόηση και χαρτογράφηση των λειτουργιών μιας θανατοπολιτικής οικονομίας, για την οποία ο νεκρός, θνησιγενής ή φονεύσιμος άνθρωπος είναι πια χρησιμότερος από τον άνθρωπο ως φορέα ζωντανής εργασίας.
The fierce debate about the future of higher education in America has clarified some issues even as it has polarized national thinking on the question. While most people agree that current models need rethinking, few have answered where we would be without a vibrant, multifaceted higher-education sector. Two points are critical to this discussion: stimulating informed and open conversations between the higher-education community and future employers in business and the nonprofit community, and acknowledging that higher education fails in its mission if it trains graduates only for their first postcollege job.
Our mission also includes training graduates for their future as mature and reasoning citizens, able to understand their lives, work, and interests, as well as the needs of their communities, their nation, and the larger world. Συνέχεια ανάγνωσης →
This article was adapted from the new book «Brain Wars», from Harper One.
In 1991, Atlanta-based singer and songwriter Pam Reynolds felt extremely dizzy, lost her ability to speak, and had difficulty moving her body. A CAT scan showed that she had a giant artery aneurysm—a grossly swollen blood vessel in the wall of her basilar artery, close to the brain stem. If it burst, which could happen at any moment, it would kill her. But the standard surgery to drain and repair it might kill her too.
With no other options, Pam turned to a last, desperate measure offered by neurosurgeon Robert Spetzler at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Spetzler was a specialist and pioneer in hypothermic cardiac arrest—a daring surgical procedure nicknamed “Operation Standstill.” Spetzler would bring Pam’s body down to a temperature so low that she was essentially dead. Her brain would not function, but it would be able to survive longer without oxygen at this temperature. The low temperature would also soften the swollen blood vessels, allowing them to be operated on with less risk of bursting. When the procedure was complete, the surgical team would bring her back to a normal temperature before irreversible damage set in.
Essentially, Pam agreed to die in order to save her life—and in the process had what is perhaps the most famous case of independent corroboration of out of body experience (OBE) perceptions on record. This case is especially important because cardiologist Michael Sabom was able to obtain verification from medical personnel regarding crucial details of the surgical intervention that Pam reported. Here’s what happened.
Pam was brought into the operating room at 7:15 a.m., she was given general anesthesia, and she quickly lost conscious awareness. At this point, Spetzler and his team of more than 20 physicians, nurses, and technicians went to work. They lubricated Pam’s eyes to prevent drying, and taped them shut. They attached EEG electrodes to monitor the electrical activity of her cerebral cortex. They inserted small, molded speakers into her ears and secured them with gauze and tape. The speakers would emit repeated 100-decibel clicks—approximately the noise produced by a speeding express train—eliminating outside sounds and measuring the activity of her brainstem.
At 8:40 a.m., the tray of surgical instruments was uncovered, and Robert Spetzler began cutting through Pam’s skull with a special surgical saw that produced a noise similar to a dental drill. At this moment, Pam later said, she felt herself “pop” out of her body and hover above it, watching as doctors worked on her body.
Although she no longer had use of her eyes and ears, she described her observations in terms of her senses and perceptions. “I thought the way they had my head shaved was very peculiar,” she said. “I expected them to take all of the hair, but they did not.” She also described the Midas Rex bone saw (“The saw thing that I hated the sound of looked like an electric toothbrush and it had a dent in it … ”) and the dental-drill sound it made with considerable accuracy.
Meanwhile, Spetzler was removing the outermost membrane of Pamela’s brain, cutting it open with scissors. At about the same time, a female cardiac surgeon was attempting to locate the femoral artery in Pam’s right groin. Remarkably, Pam later claimed to remember a female voice saying, “We have a problem. Her arteries are too small.” And then a male voice: “Try the other side.”Medical records confirm this conversation, yet Pam could not have heard them.
The cardiac surgeon was right—Pam’s blood vessels were indeed too small to accept the abundant blood flow requested by the cardiopulmonary bypass machine, so at 10:50 a.m., a tube was inserted into Pam’s left femoral artery and connected to the cardiopulmonary bypass machine. The warm blood circulated from the artery into the cylinders of the bypass machine, where it was cooled down before being returned to her body. Her body temperature began to fall, and at 11:05 a.m. Pam’s heart stopped. Her EEG brain waves flattened into total silence. A few minutes later, her brain stem became totally unresponsive, and her body temperature fell to a sepulchral 60 degrees Fahrenheit. At 11:25 a.m., the team tilted up the head of the operating table, turned off the bypass machine, and drained the blood from her body. Pamela Reynolds was clinically dead.
At this point, Pam’s out-of-body adventure transformed into a near-death experience (NDE): She recalls floating out of the operating room and traveling down a tunnel with a light. She saw deceased relatives and friends, including her long-dead grandmother, waiting at the end of this tunnel. She entered the presence of a brilliant, wonderfully warm and loving light, and sensed that her soul was part of God and that everything in existence was created from the light (the breathing of God). But this extraordinary experience ended abruptly, as Reynolds’s deceased uncle led her back to her body—a feeling she described as “plunging into a pool of ice.”
Meanwhile, in the operating room, the surgery had come to an end. When all the blood had drained from Pam’s brain, the aneurysm simply collapsed and Spetzler clipped it off. Soon, the bypass machine was turned on and warm blood was pumped back into her body. As her body temperature started to increase, her brainsteam began to respond to the clicking speakers in her ears and the EEG recorded electrical activity in the cortex. The bypass machine was turned off at 12:32 p.m. Pam’s life had been restored, and she was taken to the recovery room in stable condition at 2:10 p.m.
Tales of otherworldly experiences have been part of human cultures seemingly forever, but NDEs as such first came to broad public attention in 1975 by way of American psychiatrist and philosopher Raymond Moody’s popular book Life After Life. He presented more than 100 case studies of people who experienced vivid mental experiences close to death or during “clinical death” and were subsequently revived to tell the tale. Their experiences were remarkably similar, and Moody coined the term NDE to refer to this phenomenon. The book was popular and controversial, and scientific investigation of NDEs began soon after its publication with the founding, in 1978, of the International Association for Near Death Studies (IANDS)—the first organization in the world devoted to the scientific study of NDEs and their relationship to mind and consciousness.
NDEs are the vivid, realistic, and often deeply life-changing experiences of men, women, and children who have been physiologically or psychologically close to death. They can be evoked by cardiac arrest and coma caused by brain damage, intoxication, or asphyxia. They can also happen following such events as electrocution, complications from surgery, or severe blood loss during or after a delivery. They can even occur as the result of accidents or illnesses in which individuals genuinely fear they might die. Surveys conducted in the United States and Germany suggest that approximately 4.2 percent of the population has reported an NDE. It has also been estimated that more than 25 million individuals worldwide have had an NDE in the past 50 years.
People from all walks of life and belief systems have this experience. Studies indicate that the experience of an NDE is not influenced by gender, race, socioeconomic status, or level of education. Although NDEs are sometimes presented as religious experiences, this seems to be a matter of individual perception. Furthermore, researchers have found no relationship between religion and the experience of an NDE. That is, it did not matter whether the people recruited in those studies were Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, or agnostic.
Although the details differ, NDEs are characterized by a number of core features. Perhaps the most vivid is the OBE: the sense of having left one’s body and of watching events going on around one’s body or, occasionally, at some distant physical location. During OBEs, near-death experiencers (NDErs) are often astonished to discover that they have retained consciousness, perception, lucid thinking, memory, emotions, and their sense of personal identity. If anything, these processes are heightened: Thinking is vivid; hearing is sharp; and vision can extend to 360 degrees. NDErs claim that without physical bodies, they are able to penetrate through walls and doors and project themselves wherever they want. They frequently report the ability to read people’s thoughts.
The effects of NDEs on the experience are intense, overwhelming, and real. A number of studies conducted in United States, Western European countries, and Australia have shown that most NDErs are profoundly and positively transformed by the experience. One woman says, “I was completely altered after the accident. I was another person, according to those who lived near me. I was happy, laughing, appreciated little things, joked, smiled a lot, became friends with everyone … so completely different than I was before!”
However different their personalities before the NDE, experiencers tend to share a similar psychological profile after the NDE. Indeed, their beliefs, values, behaviors, and worldviews seem quite comparable afterward. Importantly, these psychological and behavioral changes are not the kind of changes one would expect if this experience were a hallucination. And, as noted NDE researcher Pim van Lommel and his colleagues have demonstrated, these changes become more apparent with the passage of time.
Some skeptics legitimately argue that the main problem with reports of OBE perceptions is that they often rest uniquely on the NDEr’s testimony—there is no independent corroboration. From a scientific perspective, such self-reports remain inconclusive. But during the last few decades, some self-reports of NDErs have been independently corroborated by witnesses, such as that of Pam Reynolds. One of the best known of these corroborated veridical NDE perceptions—perceptions that can be proven to coincide with reality—is the experience of a woman named Maria, whose case was first documented by her critical care social worker, Kimberly Clark.
Maria was a migrant worker who had a severe heart attack while visiting friends in Seattle. She was rushed to Harborview Hospital and placed in the coronary care unit. A few days later, she had a cardiac arrest but was rapidly resuscitated. The following day, Clark visited her. Maria told Clark that during her cardiac arrest she was able to look down from the ceiling and watch the medical team at work on her body. At one point in this experience, said Maria, she found herself outside the hospital and spotted a tennis shoe on the ledge of the north side of the third floor of the building. She was able to provide several details regarding its appearance, including the observations that one of its laces was stuck underneath the heel and that the little toe area was worn. Maria wanted to know for sure whether she had “really” seen that shoe, and she begged Clark to try to locate it.
Quite skeptical, Clark went to the location described by Maria—and found the tennis shoe. From the window of her hospital room, the details that Maria had recounted could not be discerned. But upon retrieval of the shoe, Clark confirmed Maria’s observations. “The only way she could have had such a perspective,” said Clark, “was if she had been floating right outside and at very close range to the tennis shoe. I retrieved the shoe and brought it back to Maria; it was very concrete evidence for me.”
This case is particularly impressive given that during cardiac arrest, the flow of blood to the brain is interrupted. When this happens, the brain’s electrical activity (as measured with EEG) disappears after 10 to 20 seconds. In this state, a patient is deeply comatose. Because the brain structures mediating higher mental functions are severely impaired, such patients are expected to have no clear and lucid mental experiences that will be remembered. Nonetheless, studies conducted in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and United States have revealed that approximately 15 percent of cardiac arrest survivors do report some recollection from the time when they were clinically dead. These studies indicate that consciousness, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings can be experienced during a period when the brain shows no measurable activity.
NDEs experienced by people who do not have sight in everyday life are quite intriguing. In 1994, researchers Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper decided to undertake a search for cases of NDE-based perception in the blind. They reasoned that such cases would represent the ultimate demonstration of veridical perceptions during NDEs. If a blind person was able to report on verifiable events that took place when they were clinically dead, that would mean something real was occurring. They interviewed 31 individuals, of whom 14 were blind from birth. Twenty-one of the participants had had an NDE; the others had had OBEs only. Strikingly, the experiences they reported conform to the classic NDE pattern, whether they were born blind or had lost their sight in later life. The results of the study were published in 1997. Based on all the cases they investigated, Ring and Cooper concluded that what happens during an NDE affords another perspective to perceive reality that does not depend on the senses of the physical body. They proposed to call this other mode of perception mindsight.
Despite corroborated reports, many materialist scientists cling to the notion that OBEs and NDEs are located in the brain. In 2002, neurologist Olaf Blanke and colleagues at the University Hospitals of Geneva and Lausanne in Switzerland described in the prestigious scientific journal Nature the strange occurrence that happened to a 43-year-old female patient with epilepsy. Because her seizures could not be controlled by medication alone, neurosurgery was being considered as the next step. The researchers implanted electrodes in her right temporal lobe to provide information about the localization and extent of the epileptogenic zone—the area of the brain that was causing the seizures—which had to be surgically removed. Other electrodes were implanted to identify and localize, by means of electrical stimulation, the areas of the brain that—if removed—would result in loss of sensory capacities, linguistic ability, or even paralysis. Such a procedure is particularly critical to spare important brain areas that are adjacent to the epileptogenic zone.
When they stimulated the angular gyrus—a region of the brain in the parietal lobe that is thought to integrate sensory information related to vision, touch, and balance to give us a perception of our own bodies—the patient reported seeing herself “lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and lower trunk.” She described herself as “floating” near the ceiling. She also reported seeing her legs “becoming shorter.”
The article received global press coverage and created quite a commotion. The editors of Nature went so far as to declare triumphantly that as a result of this one study—which involved only one patient—the part of the brain that can induce OBEs had been located.
“It’s another blow against those who believe that the mind and spirit are somehow separate from the brain,” said psychologist Michael Shermer, director of the Skeptics Society, which seeks to debunk all kinds of paranormal claims. “In reality, all experience is derived from the brain.”
In another article published in 2004, Blanke and co-workers described six patients, of whom three had experienced an atypical and incomplete OBE. Four patients reported an autoscopy—that is, they saw their own double from the vantage point of their own body. In this paper, the researchers describe an OBE as a temporary dysfunction of the junction of the temporal and parietal cortex. But, as Pim van Lommel noted, the abnormal bodily experiences described by Blanke and colleagues entail a false sense of reality. Typical OBEs, in contrast, implicate a verifiable perception (from a position above or outside of the body) of events, such as their own resuscitation or a traffic accident, and the surroundings in which the events took place. Along the same lines, psychiatrist Bruce Greyson of the University of Virginia commented that “We cannot assume from the fact that electrical stimulation of the brain can induce OBE-like illusions that all OBEs are therefore illusions.”
Materialistic scientistshave proposed a number of physiological explanations to account for the various features of NDEs. British psychologist Susan Blackmore has propounded the “dying brain” hypothesis: that a lack of oxygen (or anoxia) during the dying process might induce abnormal firing of neurons in brain areas responsible for vision, and that such an abnormal firing would lead to the illusion of seeing a bright light at the end of a dark tunnel.
Would it? Van Lommel and colleaguesobjected that if anoxia plays a central role in the production of NDEs, most cardiac arrest patients would report an NDE. Studies show that this is clearly not the case. Another problem with this view is that reports of a tunnel are absent from several accounts of NDErs. As pointed out by renowned NDE researcher Sam Parnia, some individuals have reported an NDE when they had not been terminally ill and so would have had normal levels of oxygen in their brains.
Parnia raises another problem: When oxygen levels decrease markedly, patients whose lungs or hearts do not work properly experience an “acute confusional state,” during which they are highly confused and agitated and have little or no memory recall. In stark contrast, during NDEs people experience lucid consciousness, well-structured thought processes, and clear reasoning. They also have an excellent memory of the NDE, which usually stays with them for several decades. In other respects, Parnia argues that if this hypothesis is correct, then the illusion of seeing a light and tunnel would progressively develop as the patient’s blood oxygen level drops. Medical observations, however, indicate that patients with low oxygen levels do not report seeing a light, a tunnel, or any of the common features of an NDE we discussed earlier.
During the 1990s, more research indicated that the anoxia theory of NDEs was on the wrong track. James Whinnery, a chemistry professor with West Texas A&M, was involved with studies simulating the extreme conditions that can occur during aerial combat maneuvers. In these studies, fighter pilots were subjected to extreme gravitational forces in a giant centrifuge. Such rapid acceleration decreases blood flow and, consequently, delivery of oxygen to the brain. In so doing, it induces brief periods of unconsciousness that Whinnery calls “dreamlets.”Whinnery hypothesized that although some of the core features of NDEs are found during dreamlets, the main characteristics of dreamlets are impaired memory for events just prior to the onset of unconsciousness, confusion, and disorientation upon awakening. These symptoms are not typically associated with NDEs. In addition, life transformations are never reported following dreamlets.
So, if the “dying brain” is not responsible for NDEs, could they simply be hallucinations? In my opinion, the answer is no. Let’s look at the example of hallucinations that can result from ingesting ketamine, a veterinary drug that is sometimes used recreationally, and often at great cost to the user.
At small doses, the anesthetic agent ketamine can induce hallucinations and feelings of being out of the body. Ketamine is thought to act primarily by inhibiting N-Methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptors, which normally open in response to binding of glutamate, the most abundant excitatory chemical messenger in the human brain. Psychiatrist Karl Jensen has speculated that the blockade of NMDA receptors may induce an NDE. But ketamine experiences are often frightening, producing weird images; and most ketamine users realize that the experiences produced by this drug are illusory. In contrast, NDErs are strongly convinced of the reality of what they experienced. Furthermore, many of the central features of NDEs are not reported with ketamine. That being said, we cannot rule out that the blockade of NMDA receptors may be involved in some NDEs.
Neuroscientist Michael Persinger has claimed that he and his colleagues have produced all the major features of the NDE by using weak transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of the temporal lobes. Persinger’s work is based on the premise that abnormal activity in the temporal lobe may trigger an NDE. A review of the literature on epilepsy, however, indicates that the classical features of NDEs are not associated with epileptic seizures located in the temporal lobes. Moreover, as Bruce Greyson and his collaborators have correctly emphasized, the experiences reported by participants in Persinger’s TMS studies bear little resemblance with the typical features of NDEs.
The scientific NDE studies performed over the past decades indicate that heightened mental functions can be experienced independently of the body at a time when brain activity is greatly impaired or seemingly absent (such as during cardiac arrest). Some of these studies demonstrate that blind people can have veridical perceptions during OBEs associated with an NDE. Other investigations show that NDEs often result in deep psychological and spiritual changes.
These findings strongly challenge the mainstream neuroscientific view that mind and consciousness result solely from brain activity. As we have seen, such a view fails to account for how NDErs can experience—while their hearts are stopped—vivid and complex thoughts and acquire veridical information about objects or events remote from their bodies.
NDE studies also suggest that after physical death, mind and consciousness may continue in a transcendent level of reality that normally is not accessible to our senses and awareness. Needless to say, this view is utterly incompatible with the belief of many materialists that the material world is the only reality.
Mario Beauregard is associate research professor at the Departments of Psychology and Radiology and the Neuroscience Research Center at the University of Montreal. He is the coauthor of «The Spiritual Brain» and more than one hundred publications in neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry.
As academics began to debate Nicholas Kristof’s recent attack on their profession, I was interviewing a few of the literally thousands of American radicals who left the university for the factory in the 1970s. Inspired by the new wave of autonomous workers’ struggles exploding across the US since the late 1960s – between 1974 and 1975, for example, there were were 9,000 coal miner strikes, 99% of them wildcats – thousands of young radicals, many issuing from the student milieu, began to seriously rethink how their politics related to the struggles of workers outside the university context. It was imperative, they argued, to forge stronger ties with workers. So they decided, in what was called “industrializing,” or “colonizing,” or sometimes just “going to the people,” to get jobs in factories, docks, mines, and even hospitals to help organize at the point of production. David McCullough, who was a philosophy graduate student at Berkeley, told me that in 1969 he “went to work as a wireman at Western Electric in Oakland, CA, installing telephone cables in a central switching building.” After getting fired the following year for trying to “organize a takeover of the union local from the company men running the union,” he moved to Detroit, where he worked in a steel mill, then at Chrysler.
It’s a stark contrast to what many people have in mind today when they talk about going beyond the ivory tower. Today, critics like Kristof generally start by bemoaning the disappearance of the “public intellectual,” arguing that this noble figure has become tragically separated from society as as whole. Sequestered in a world apart, intellectuals carry on an endless discourse about themselves while the problems of public life only grow worse. For these critics, of which Kristof is only the most recent, the burning questions become: why have intellectuals abandoned the public? How can these intellectuals reach beyond the confines of a specialized field of knowledge to engage with a broader audience? How can professional, qualified, and unbiased intellectual scholarship be redirected towards solving society’s universal problems?
Leaving the ivory tower, for people like Kristof, means bringing knowledge and expertise to the public. For the industrializers, it involved an entirely different strategy. Although many of their efforts may have ended in failure, and while I’m not calling for a new wave of “industrialization,” their courage, candor, and commitment nevertheless forces us to completely reframe the question: in what ways can those of us formed in the universities reach out to workers on the “outside” in a political, organized, and strategic way?
The industrializers framed this problem in terms of labor, and directly confronted the question of organization. Remembering their experience challenges us to think with different categories. Instead of talking about individual intellectuals and the public, we’ll have to think in terms of strategically bridging the gap between different kinds of workers. Instead of trying to solve the objective, impartial problems of the “public,” we have to try to understand how to unite the different segments of a fragmented working class into a coherent political force.
Before we get there, however, we have to change our conceptual language. In fact, even defensive responses by left academics, which point to the material conditions preventing knowledge workers from doing the kind of public engagement Kristof advises, often also accept the category of the public intellectual. To begin to make these questions comprehensible, we need to abandon this category, and start thinking again in terms of work, capitalism, and struggle.
Who Are These Intellectuals?
The social category of the intellectual is torn apart by internal tensions, apparent in the academic division of labor that produces it. At one end, there are adjuncts. Paid by the course, which average no more than two or three thousand dollars, adjuncts have practically no hope of advancing their “careers.” As of 2007, 70% of instructors at American universities were adjuncts or “contingent” employees. Some make less than custodial workers, others are on food stamps. There are even stories of PhD’s sleeping in homeless shelters.
At the other end of this spectrum, there are the tenured full professors who make several hundred thousand dollars a year, travel internationally, and command armies of research assistants and graduate students. These days, many are expanding their repertoire by filming online courses. Whether they know it or not, these tenured professors, most of whom can afford to be the public intellectuals Kristof calls for, rely on the labor of all these other knowledge workers: teaching assistants who grade, answer student emails, and make photocopies; graduate students in the sciences toiling away in labs who will lay the groundwork for discoveries, but will never see themselves attain the positions of their mentors; or junior faculty who are pressured into taking on endless administrative obligations.
The tendency to describe intellectuals as a single coherent group papers over these experiences of exploitation, and conceals the very real struggles that condition intellectual production. The antagonisms of the institutions of knowledge are resolved into a myth of unity, in which all knowledge workers – whatever their labor conditions, requirements of social reproduction, and so forth – are part of a common community, one whose pursuits are so pure they transcend all differences.
The illusion of this common community hides another reality: intellectual production does not only happen in universities. In fact, increasingly, most knowledge work is done outside of them, with a great deal of research being conducted by private corporations. Moreover, various forms of serious research and scholarly inquiry – beyond publishing, web design, or media work – are actually just done by people working independently on their computers after their day jobs. Recent years, for instance, have seen the growth of community biology hacklabs, where the goal, in the words of Cory Tobin, LA Biohackers co-founder, is to provide lab space “for people who want to learn biology for any reason.” The blurring of the boundaries between the capitalist university and the broader community have resulted in the increased policing of knowledge; attempts to build mass public intellectuality are often violently attacked, sometimes with very real casualties like Aaron Swartz.
Even with all its constructed borders, the university is still not a world unto itself. Entangled in finance, aeronautics research, and so forth, the university is structurally very much a part of the broader social world of production. The University of Pennsylvania, where I work, is the largest private employer in Philadelphia, where the role of the university as a pole of accumulation is perhaps only rivaled by that of the medical industry, which is in many cases closely linked to the university.
But perhaps the most important thing the university produces is a specific composition of the public: according to the 2012 census, about one third of all American adults hold a bachelor’s degree, and well over half have taken some college courses. Most of what many knowledge workers in the university do revolves around teaching, not writing clever articles. They teach future office workers how to write clearly, they teach future lawyers how to read statutes, they teach future call center workers how to communicate ideas in a convincing manner. They don’t need to write New York Times articles in order to share their insights with the broader public. Instead, they engage intimately with members of the public on a daily basis.
If universities are sites of labor and accumulation, academics will have to struggle within them as workers of a particular kind. This means winning formal contracts, setting limits on our work, fighting for better health care, getting a union. There are already some encouraging signs. Graduate students at NYU voted to unionize by a blowout margin of 620 to 10 – a real first at a private university, since these institutions do not legally consider graduate assistants to be employees. As for adjuncts, 18,000 have already been unionized through SEIU’s Adjunct Action. If the benefits aren’t immediately obvious, a recent survey showed that adjuncts protected by a union make 25 percent more per course than those without one.
But struggling where we are has its own tensions. Universities don’t just employ teachers. The university employs an endless staff of librarians, custodial workers, security guards, cafeteria workers, and all the other workers who keep the institution running. Knowledge workers come into contact with these other workers every day. Yet, despite the fact that they all work for the same boss, the internal divisions resulting from these different roles are quite pronounced.
An immediate political task, then, would be for knowledge workers to reach out to others who are involved in the production, dissemination, or archiving of knowledge, as well as those whose labor maintains the institution, like custodial workers. And since universities are not islands, but are in fact tied to towns, neighborhoods, and cities, often in antagonistic ways, uniting with other workers in the university also means connecting with those workers who may not necessarily work there, but whose lives are closely tied to it: bartenders at the local bar, workers at the fast food restaurants surrounding campus, or simply those living on the boundaries of the university community, always afraid an expanding campus will expel them further out.
The fundamental question, then, remains that of “linking up” with other workers outside the university in a coordinated, strategic, and organized way. Of course, this was precisely the problem faced by the industrializers, who concluded that the existing forms of socialist organization had become completely inadequate, and new organizations had to be built on the basis of this new strategy. It’s for this reason that we should return for a moment to their particular solution.
Going to the People
In the 1960s and 1970s, militants found work with the express aim of organizing the working class at the point of production. Many, though by no means all, had been educated in universities. Some were Trotskyists, others Maoists, still others unaffiliated. Some intended to reform unions by building grassroots caucuses, while others planned autonomous committees to bypass them altogether. Whatever their differences – and there were many – nearly all felt that some kind of revolution was on the near horizon, and that the working class, especially those working in factories, would be at the center.
It was through working on assembly lines, in steel mills, or down in the mines that these radicals slowly became a real part of workers’ struggles. Together with their coworkers they put pressure on bureaucratic unions, formed oppositional caucuses, and went on strike. They fought for higher wages and better working conditions; they combated racism and sexism in the workplace. And while some of these projects quickly collapsed, others, like Teamsters for a Democratic Union, exist today.
But despite many real victories, industrialization in the 1960s and 1970s came up against certain limits. It was exhausting, isolating work, with a high risk of burnout. And while their respective organizations provided a vital support network, bitter party rivalries made national coordination impossible. In some cases industrializers worked at cross purposes, even denouncing each other. Miriam Pickens, a member of the Revolutionary Socialist League who worked at General Motors in Detroit for 30 years, recalls how “one Maoist in my plant organized a caucus (a bit larger than ours) and in one of his leaflets claimed he was not ‘a Communist, like Miriam and Lisa.’” To make matters worse, many radicals began to industrialize just as the United States was starting to deindustrialize, placing the whole strategy on shaky grounds.
Most significantly, however, industrialization may not have been the best way to articulate the struggles of different kinds of workers, as it was basically premised on the idea that one sector of the working class took priority over the others. Though this may have had some strategic efficacy at the time, such an assumption risked aggravating divisions within an already fragmented working class, making it much harder to achieve class unity down the road.
Industrialization, therefore, did not exactly mean uniting different workers – namely knowledge workers based in universities on the one hand and manual workers in the factories, mines, and docks on the other. Instead, it tended to dissolve the former into the latter. In some cases industrializers tried so hard to become the workers they wanted to connect with politically that they actively changed their appearances. “It is an irony,” Mike Ely of the Revolutionary Union recalls, “that many communist organizers, including me, had ‘cleaned up’ in order to ‘go to the working class’ — cutting our hair, toning down our styles—to match certain pre-conceptions of working class culture, and then found out, on arrival, that many of the more militant workers were growing their own hair out and smoking lots of weed.” But the problem could be more serious than just a matter of appearances – a number of industrializers began to recognize that they could easily end up simply substituting their own conception of militancy for the workers’ self-organization.
In short, industrialization generally rested on a certain conception of the working-class vanguard. Few who went to the factories, for instance, considered themselves knowledge workers, or workers at all; many believed they could only belong to the working class if they found jobs in factories. The true workers, those whose struggles really mattered, whose unions had real power, were in steel, coal, auto, or transportation. While some industrializers headed to post offices, hospitals, or found other service jobs, it was basic industry that tended to stand for all of the working class. Dan La Botz of the International Socialists recalls:
We intentionally promoted industrial work over jobs such as teaching or social work, in which some of our members, myself included, had been involved. We pressured our members in those white collar professions to quit and get a job in auto, steel, telephone or trucking. In retrospect, we may wonder if this was the right decision. Should we have attempted to build a political organization with a broader conception of the working class?
This kind of mass organization, which might have provided a much-needed space for encounters between different kinds of workers to take hold, was never built. In this context, Perry Anderson has recently remarked, even today’s resurgence in radical thought, exemplified by the proliferation of leftist publications, has taken the form of a kind of “apolitical anti-capitalism.” I think we can more precisely speak of a lack of strategic thinking – theories, protest reports, and cultural critiques abound, and certainly have their place, but the “absent center” is solid, reflective, partisan strategy.
This may just be because many knowledge workers, although themselves very much a part of the working class, are often unaware of or uninvolved with the plurality of struggles other workers are waging all the time. In order for these knowledge workers to contribute their technical skills to the formulation of concrete strategy, they have to first fully root themselves in the different struggles of their class. In the 1960s and 1970s militants in the United States and abroad recognized how essential this connection was: even if they didn’t work at the factory, they would go to the factory gates, learn from workers, and share experiences.
When these militants appeared at the gates, they put their specific skills as knowledge workers to use, redirecting the technical composition of their labor to different ends. “It’s been a sort of team effort,” a FIAT worker commented in 1970:
Usually what we do is find out the facts of the situation, write them out in rough form, and give them to the external militants to print because they’re good at that sort of thing and they have more time than we do to work right through the night. We hope that later on we shall begin to do the leaflets ourselves, and already we are starting to do more of the work like typing and so on, as well as some of the distribution outside the gates.
With the contemporary displacement of such massive, centralized workplaces along a global supply chain – as well as our far more nuanced understanding of just how complex the working class really is – this kind of organized, collaborative struggle has become a lot more complicated than just chatting with workers outside the plant. Engaging with other workers, who are often spread across a highly heterogenous patchwork of production and social reproduction, poses a real problem. But perhaps this means that an organization that is structured and coordinated, while simultaneously flexible and capillary – one that adequately responds to today’s specific class composition – is needed more than ever to make these kinds of encounters happen.
Today there are many journalistic protest reports that do embed themselves into the struggles of other workers, and this kind of journalism is a real example of the particular skills, experiences, and conditions of knowledge workers being applied to politics. But there is nonetheless a certain structural limit to this medium, which can only be pushed past reportage or commentary by concrete, collective, and sustained organizational practices. As Sergio Bologna, who himself worked at Olivetti and struggled within a number of organizations, commented in 1977: “we’ve had enough of ideology-merchants! Let’s set to work again as ‘technicians,’ inside the theoretical framework of class composition.”
In a certain way, we have to return to the experiences of the industrializers. Their guiding idea – that militants, no matter how radical, would be ineffective if they weren’t anchored to the real struggles of other workers – has to be taken seriously. But the question for us today is not how we can support the struggles of the most “advanced workers,” or how we can best recruit them to our vanguard parties, but how we can link up with other struggles outside the university in a way that preserves the distinctness, recognizes the strategic value, and respects the specific needs of all these different struggles, including our own.
People protest in Madrid in 2011 against Spain’s economic crisis and its sky-high jobless rate. ‘The frustration cannot find an outlet in mainstream parties, which strike many young people as far too timid.’ Photograph: Pedro Armestre/AFP/Getty Images
In December 2008, in Athens, a «special security officer» shot dead a young student, igniting demonstrations, strikes and riots. Young people were at the forefront of the protests, in a country with a long tradition of youth participation in social and political movements. Several commentators at the time spoke of a «youth rebellion».
In late 2009 it became clear that Greece had been living through a period of false prosperity and was in effect bankrupt. The country fell into the tender embrace of the troika – the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank. Following severe austerity measures in 2010-11, there were again mass demonstrations and strikes, culminating in the «movement of the squares» – protests against the destruction of private and social life. Young people were again prominent, lending enthusiasm and spirit to the movement.
Then there was nothing. As economic and social disaster unfolded in 2012 and 2013, the youth of Greece became invisible in social and economic life. The young have been largely absent from politics, social movements and even from the spontaneous social networks that have dealt with the worst of the catastrophe. On the fifth anniversary of the events of 2008, barely a few hundred young people demonstrated in Greek urban centres. There was no tension, no passion, no spirit, just tired processions repeating well-known slogans. Where were the 17-year-olds from five years ago?
Similar patterns can be observed in several other European countries, though perhaps not as extreme. What is the youth of Portugal doing as the country’s social structures continue to collapse? Where is the youth of France as the country drifts further into stagnation and irrelevance? And, closer to home, where has the youth of Britain been while the coalition government has persevered with austerity?
The answer seems to be that the European youth has been battered by a «double whammy» of problematic access to education and rising unemployment, forcing young people to rely on family support and curtailing their independence. Uncertain about the future, worried about jobs and housing, the youth of Europe shows no confidence and trust in established political parties. Significant sections have already been attracted to the nihilistic ends of the political spectrum, including varieties of anarchism and fascism. The left, traditionally a home for the radical strivings of young people, has lost its appeal.
Take education. As the Greek crisis deepened, large numbers of students were forced to accelerate, or even interrupt, their studies. There are no relevant official indicators of these trends, but anecdotal evidence abounds, and fits with other aggregate statistics. In 2008, Greek households spent, on average, 17% of their disposable income on education, and low-income families more than 20%. This was already a high proportion, reflecting the importance traditionally placed on schooling in Greek society. As the crisis unfolded over the next five years, the proportion doubled, making education an unbearable burden.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that in 2011, 15% of people aged 15-29 were not in education, employment or training. In Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain this proportion was 20%, and the latest EU data indicates that in 2012 things became worse in the three southern countries.
Conditions are even harsher with regard to work. Youth unemployment in Europe is a little short of 25%, already a huge number, while in Greece and Spain it has reached extraordinary figures, in the vicinity of 60%. Collapsing youth employment is clearly not the result of more young people seeking jobs, since the number of young people in Europe as a proportion of the population is declining fast. Youth unemployment is rising because the economies of Europe are failing to generate significant numbers of jobs. For those under the age of 25, there are no jobs in the southern countries and few decent jobs in the north. Mass youth unemployment is the reality across Europe, and things are far from rosy even in Germany, the supposed winner of the past few years.
The double whammy appears to have sapped the rebellious energy of the young, forcing them to seek greater financial help from parents for housing and daily life. This trend lies at the root of the current paradox of youth in Europe. There is little extreme poverty, and the young are relatively protected and well-trained, but their labour is not valued, their dreams of education are denied and their independence is restricted. As a consequence, frustration has grown. Yet, it cannot find an outlet in mainstream parties, including the left, which strikes many young people as far too timid. Even in Greece, where the official opposition of Syriza – the party of the left – is preparing for government, young people are looking askance at a party that seems unwilling to take radical action.
Matters cannot continue indefinitely along these lines. Frustration is mounting among both young people and their parents. But if those who make policy refuse to acknowledge the problem, major change could be delayed for a long time. The result would be a massive accumulation of sullen anger across Europe, with unpredictable outcomes. Those who care for social development had better take notice.