Žižek’s famous aphorism, often misattributed as an original coinage, that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism has become a shorthand for every insidious affect of capitalist realism — the notion, as Mark Fisher explains in his chapbook of the same title, that there can be no alternative to the cultural and economic lassitudes of post-Fordist production. When theorists like Fisher riff on that line, the implicit question being asked is always why it is so hard to imagine the end of capitalism. We should, perhaps, also be asking ourselves the second question contained within the first: Why is it so very easy to imagine the end of the world?
The answer is: because it has to be. Late capitalism, in its current iteration, relies implicitly on the assumption that there is no such thing as deep time. The end of the world and the impossibility of an alternative to financial capitalism are not just defining features of contemporary global imagination: they sustain one another. After all, if we might all be radioactive smudges on the tarmac come Tuesday, why not be out for as much as we can grab today? Why build a sustainable growth model if it might be underwater in thirty years? Unrestrained free-market capitalism requires that its vassals live in the moment, borrowing against their own futures, and for the past two generations of neoliberal policymaking, there have been logical reasons for us to do so.
“The Future, Probably,” by Laurie Penny | Read More
YES YES YES. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and Laurie Penny nails it in this excellent article (actually a review of William Gibson’s Distrust That Particular Flavor). Something that never really made it into my Lars Iyer review for TNI was that I admire how, in a novel saturated with apocalypticism, he never succumbs to the temptation to actually render any world-ending scenario. Spurious and Dogma are set solidly in the prosaic, everyday now and I think Iyer subtly pokes fun at his characters’ gloomy obsession with doomsaying even as he identifies with it. Despite the fact that catastrophic environmental collapse is entirely plausible, imagining armageddon is a cop-out. It’s a quasi-pornographic fantasy that lets us off the hook — if we’re all fucked, then we’re not responsible for the future. As Penny concludes, the far scarier prospect is that humanity might actually keep existing indefinitely and there’s a future that we need to plan for.
Very good point, Sally. The future, in one form or another, is coming — if we want it or not! But I think “doomsday mongering” can also perform a critical function in a similar way that “utopia spinning” can: it challenges the condition of the present. Also, some stuff that seems like doomsday mongering is actually necessary forecasting, albeit very lame and negative in character. Might as well troubleshoot the end of things, too. But then again, I might be too much of a sourpuss and sometimes prone to rhetorical cop-outs. Still, very interesting.