All of us, wherever we are and whatever we are doing and whoever we are right now, is planning to negate our present. We do not want our present to continue into the future. We plan, we do things, we read, we overwork, we agree for extra-time and underpaying, all in the hope that our present would not continue as it is and something else will come up in the future, something that can save us from the dreadedness and loneliness of the present.
This piece is not about the pandemic conditions in which we are in. As this blog has been arguing, our lives were violently precarious even before the pandemic. During the pandemic, while for some of us work has intensified, for some of us life has become lethargic. Some of us are forced into the dangerous outside where only luck can save us from suffering and where the law is suspended, workers safety is neglected and police brutality is increased; while some us are forced into the confines of the oppressive institutions like households where whatever liberty we managed to secure for ourselves through our struggles are suspended. But in this situation we also realize that our older lives – before the pandemic – had all the conditions necessary for these exploitative workplaces and oppressive institutions to be called upon whenever there was an emergency. We did not do enough, or there wasn’t objective conditions that were conducive, for the abolition of the office and the destruction of the home. Instead we were planning even then; planning that if we somehow organised our lives, if we did one more course, or agreed to the perversity of our boss for a little more time, or the oppression of our fathers for one more year, we could escape into a new world of possibility.
So we were obedient. We pretended that the anger and frustration inside of us shouldn’t be let out, lest it affect the future, even though it could have changed the future.
Is this blog suggesting for a suicidal mission, to offend your father and slap your boss?
Rather, it is being suggested that we are in a situation, with or without the pandemic, where we loathe our present. There are brief encounters in the form of affectionate love or struggles with fellow comrades for alternatives where we feel joy, the pleasures that we could collectively have. But we are not able to sustain them; the old apparent wisdom whispers within us that these joys will not last. Though it is an old wisdom, it acquires a prophetic tone in the age of capital. Things won’t last because in a social totality mediated through exchange and money, our happiness is bound to be in the form of another one’s cause. Even in the moments of joy, we are aiming to overcome the present; a present which restricts us from becoming a collective social individual.
Thus in the moment of joy and in the moments of sheer monstrosity of the present, we are aiming to abolish the present. Abolish the conditions for the present. But half a century of neo-liberalism has made us incapable to envision it in a collective term. We can only imagine it in terms of acquiring material wealth, though paradoxically people with more material wealth are also aiming to abolish their own present.
But where do we aim to reach by abolishing the present? The future is permanently foreclosed in neo-liberalism. Time is in crisis. There is no future or past; there is only present; past and future have become mere extensions of the present and the present is in crisis. The time that measured the present, clock time of capitalist abstraction, is continually dividing within itself. When we talk of the moment, are we talking about seconds, or minutes, or nano-seconds? We cannot allow the experience of time as mere presence, as a rhythm, to be non-measurable. It has to be brought into the ambit of commensurability with the existing pace of production.
Anxiety has become our permanent existence. We are worried for our future; we are worried about our present continuing into the future.
But in neo-liberal capital, it can only get worse. It is not a prophesy or a gut feeling. If if doesn’t get worse for collective humanity, it will get bad for capital. Capital has to purge living labor and materiality out of production; if it does not crisis will loom in.
But this migration is not just in the spatial sense. Space is anyway collapsed into time in capital. We imagine a village only in terms of its intensity or pace of life vis-à-vis the city. We are constantly dreaming of a future which is different from our present. An exodus from the present.
But where do we escape into. We attempt to create other temporalities within the constraints of the present and we do manage through militant actions to sustain them for a while. But they don’t seem to last, and even when we are practicing militant practices capital is ready to subsume it within the system by recomposing and moving into a higher order of barbarism.
So end of alternatives?
Not exactly. It shows us that even when capital seems triumphant, moving from one stage to another with triumph it is being resisted by us in our presents. While the present in which we are living is subsumed in capitalist totality, it is not yet abstracted. The moment’s communal nature is oppressed and we look back at the present, in the form of past, from the vantage point of commensurability. We bring the present’s insurrectionary potential only in terms of the totality which abstracts it.
When we aim to overcome the present into a new future, the future is now being thought of as an ideal utopia, where we remove our own social production as individuated being and project the fetish form of the same individuated form into the future. Hence when we aim to overcome the exploitation of our boss or the oppression in our homes, we aim for a future where we are the boss of our own or we are our own fathers; even worse, we are the boss of others or we are the father of a new house that we would make apparently in our own terms.
We don’t imagine to disband the office or abolish the family. We dream of replacing the individuals and we as individuals strategically moving higher up the hierarchy of socio-technical division of labor.
And it is this precise condition of our existence, where our struggles have been so individualized such that we are unable to imagine a social collectivity which is of a radically different order that the present. Thus the violence of the present colors even our utopia. Corona merely affirmed our own projection, but not in our terms but in terms of our bosses and our fathers. Our bosses are now able to fire and survey us to a degree which was unimaginable before, and we now rely on the benevolence and the humanity of our fathers to not oppress the last residues of liberty that we attained over the course of our lives. We did not affirm our own necessity to abolish these institutions of exploitation and oppression, rather imagined a new order where our strategic interests are secured. We became slaves of our own utopia.
So when we think of migrating out of the present, we failed to affirm the primary character of this exodus. The negation of the given present. We can only reconstruct a future in our own terms if the present is abolished.
Or only if we aim to abolish the conditions of our present which makes our bosses exploit us and our fathers oppress us can we think of radical alternatives. Else we will merely be reproducing them, albeit in a higher order of barbarity.
This means an utopia which is not a fetish; which is not the reproduction of the existing social relations. This is a demanding task, and is in no way easy. Only concrete practices and the affirmation of the negative potential of concrete practices can break open the present which appears as ever present and ever expanding into the future.