PASSIVE SOCIETY: THE PRODUCTION OF CRITICAL DISCOURSE IN EXTREME CONDITIONS
One of the principal questions of the production of critical discourse within art, theory, criticism etc. is how far an extreme discourse can be brought. Or to put it otherwise: What is the invisible line of the acceptable that still allows for a radical-critical intervention. Where does this line end and where does the regime of destruction, abolishment and obliteration (implemented by the ruling system) come into being? It is clear to almost everyone today that neoliberalism and capital condition contemporaneity to such an extent that the latter is required to constantly reinvent neoliberalism which is then traded and sold again and again. What remains unclear, however, is whether we are going to do something about it or just contemplate silently and passively, convincing ourselves that this is a normal, usual, part of our daily routine, a consequence of development, and that we can basically do nothing in this regard. The aim of capital is per definitionem to control all social segments, to abolish all social forms, and to create a privileged class in possession of symbolic and real power for deciding on how the story – known as the process of civilization – is going to unfold. But for what price? By all means, for the price which is not to be paid by the population of the First World, but rather by the population of the already extremely exploited Third World; by those who are excluded from the apparent success story (of capital) and whose lives are under the trademark of sustainable and global development subject to the power of death. What cannot be ignored, though, is the denotation “Third World” which identifies the geographic area beyond the borders of the First Capitalist World and is defined by neoliberalism as the underdeveloped area, or in other words, as developing countries. However, if viewed in another light, the reality turns out to be completely different. These areas are over-exploited and deliberately kept in a position of dependency. Moreover, the denotation “Third World” has a disdainful connotation, since it denotes something of second-class, both insignificant and inferior.
Commercials, slogans and verbal and linguistic expressions are constantly (re)produced by the system in order to implement strategies of subjugation to passivity, strategies for transforming into a condition of passiveness. This is also implemented through mass media smaller but regular daily-administered doses of visual-textual inputs, which prevent resistance and counter-reactions in subjects, transforming them into passive, indifferent and careless ones. When talking about processes of passiveness, we cannot ignore the fact that the system has also developed strategies which, by producing seemingly radical, seemingly critical, seemingly conceptual, seemingly political and seemingly theoretical discourses, make possible the realization of the processes of de-politicization, de-theorization, de-radicalization etc., as a result of which not only borders between real criticism and its “mere illustration” are blurred, but also the discursive power produced by radical and critical analysis is gradually abolished. One such strategy is the strategy of contamination spread through institutional discourses (Gržinić). It is most common within the art system, where the radicalness of some praxes, theories and critiques are suppressed as follows: in a first stage, they are used by institutions for the production of seeming criticism/contemporaneity; in a second stage, through the organization of seemingly progressive critical/contemporary discourses, they are appropriated by those same institutions; and in a third stage these discourses are suppressed with processes of blurring the borders between the seeming and real criticism/contemporaneity. Contamination could therefore be connected to another strategy that involves the process of production of discourses, which appear to be critical, appropriating and stripping the radical critical discourses of their original criticality and radicalness.
Why is it that the system introduces these processes of production of seeming discourses, carefully withdrawing from displaying the reality of neoliberal processes?
The objective is to create a passive viewer/consumer/citizen that will devote entire weekends to shopping, showing no concern for the escalation of disturbing antagonistic social conditions, contemporary formats of colonialism, devastating environmental policy etc. This strategy involves the production of passivity through the production of spectacle, which Debord defines as “a social relation between people that is mediated by images” (Debord, 1967). Mediation is far from being innocent, since it is the very cause of passivity, allowing the system, capital and its substructures undisturbed prosperity. The fact is that the 21st Century is marked by mediation, which affects the social, political and cultural conditions of contemporary society and change them radically at the same time. This is because the subject has become the key target of a whole world machinery, at which core lies consumerism and the creation of artificially produced needs for our daily lives. These needs, dictated by multinational corporations, globalization and the global market are not here to improve the quality of life, but to strengthen the dependence of the subject upon the system.
What are the possible ways out of the aforementioned process of production of passivity, and how are we to actively intervene in the structure of such a process?
One possibility might be self-organization, which allows the challenging of the system and development of autonomous networks and structures capable of producing a real extreme discourse, without having to worry about reaching a compromise with regard to functioning in the already extreme conditions in which are forced to operate all those who wish not to illustrate, please or simply produce commodities. In short, they do not spread neoliberal values and the market economy. Leading a radical-critical discourse today means occupying a critical position that involves a willful decision of functioning under the extreme conditions. The question is: How far are these extreme conditions from contemporary reality, and when does extremity provoked by the system change into a suffocatingly closed structure where only a handful of individuals are privileged, and where any form of criticism is abolished in order for passiveness to be produced? What we are witnessing here is a situation of ever more extreme living conditions, accompanied by ever greater social differences; to this we have to add the drastically worsened standards and conditions of life, violation and restriction of human rights, regimes of severe control, the favoring of social discrimination (with perpetuating inequality) and so forth. In Slovenia, this situation of extreme living conditions is a consequence of the present neoliberal expansionist logic and is manifest at all levels of social life, from education to health care, culture etc., where we are confronted with examples of systematic pauperization. If we take as an example the strategy of pauperization in the area of culture, we realize that what is at work here, on the one hand, are carefully planned clientelism, nepotism and corruption, which create extreme conditions in order to allow the elite/privileged class to operate undisturbed, and on the other hand, the abolishing of all unwanted artistic, political, theoretical and critical praxes/discourses. An example of such exterminatory strategies could be traced in various open calls by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia and different other Slovenian state institutions such as the Film Fund of the Republic of Slovenia, etc.; through these calls, such strategies are de facto being implemented.
Let me briefly unveil some such examples that have occurred in Slovenia within the last year. The first is the Open Call for the Promotion of Slovenian Culture in the International Arena for the Year 2008, where the major part of the available funds were allocated to specific chosen subjects while the majority remained without the necessary financial resources for the presentation of their pre-arranged events. The Open Call for Co-financing the Media Program in 2008 has introduced a new article which determines that publishers of printed media are not eligible to apply for the funds if they publish less than 12 issues per year (monthly issues are compulsory). Thus, almost all publications that are developing radical critical stances within specific artistic and cultural practices such as Reartikulacija, Borec, Maska etc., being quarterly published magazines, are prevented from applying for funds from the very beginning. The third such example is the case of Kino Otok (Isola Cinema), which is an international independent film festival situated in a small city on the Slovenian coast. The festival was granted too little financial resources by the Film Fund of the Republic of Slovenia during the first stage, and at a later stage, following the complaint of the applicant, this same institution, instead of resolving it, established another commission which re-evaluated the program of the Isola Cinema festival and rejected it as being supposedly totally inappropriate. All examples clearly show the institutional strategy of the processes of pauperization, selection and the implementation of extreme conditions.
The process of introducing passiveness as the regulator of society (producing a passive society) involves analogous strategies, which are introduced in an unobservable way and implemented by the system inside/outside the First capitalist World. In such a way, capital smoothly governs our lives. In the First capitalist World, the sovereign power controls and governs life through biopolitics, whereas outside the First capitalist World, the reality is completely different; here life is controlled and governed by necropolitics, through the dispossession and subjugation of life to the power of death (Banerjee). Therefore, the First capitalist World has developed two strategies of governance of life that are used in specific geographical areas: biopolitics within the First capitalist World and necropolitics elsewhere. If we draw a parallel line between these two definitions – the governing of life and the subjugation of life to the power of death – the picture becomes clearer; in order to allow life with style in the First capitalist World, two thirds of population outside of the First capitalist World must die. The situation is becoming so intensified today that the ruling hegemonic power has been introducing necropolitics “at home” as well. The First capitalist World has started to incorporate necroprocesses (necropolitics and necroeconomics) within its borders; with necroprocesses, it upgrades the existent biopolitics, and from time to time in relation to established states of exception, even replaces it.
That this really the case and not just a theoretical speculation is shown in an analysis of the riots which occurred in France in 2005. As stated by Rada Iveković in her text “French Suburbia 2005: The Return of the Politically Unrecognized,” the French sovereign power has introduced a state of exception by reactivating the colonial legislation, which was adopted/implemented during the Algerian War of 1955. Until 2005, France had never implemented this legislation within the proper territory of the First capitalist World, but only outside its borders, in the French colonies (Iveković, 2008: 173). This example not only offers evidence that colonialism has never really ended, but that laws and strategies by way of which the Western colonialists governed the world in the past are a constitutive part of strategies of systems of power that are governing the world in the present, and will continue doing so in the future. We can conclude that processes of passivity are not a natural consequence of the time we live in, but rather a strategy of the system of producing social and political apathy. In short, we find ourselves in extreme conditions that call for extreme action!References:
Rada Iveković, “French Suburbia 2005: The Return of the Politically Unrecognized,” in New feminism: worlds of feminism, queer and networking conditions, edited by M. Gržinić and R. Reitsamer, Löcker, Vienna 2008.