The State of Things, as I see it: Notes on Capitalism as Virus

These were notes from a talk I gave on capitalism. For some reason, I am publishing them now.....

By capitalism, I am not referring to an economic system, as if financial models are something we can pick and choose. This, in fact, is one of capitalism’s techniques of hiding itself: it propagates the lie that it is an option, something we choose rather than something we are.

When I say capitalism, I am referring to a complex economy of desire, inter-personal politics, and capital. As an economist knows, the ebb and tide of markets have as much to do with the irrational laws of human behavior as they do with the supposed laws of markets. I work in branding and this is what we do, what we are hired to do: to navigate the economies of desire for capital.

If you’re having a problem w/ my word choice, I ask to put that aside for the moment and listen to what I have to say,

What I want to suggest is that capitalism is a virus that infected the human host long ago and has at once mutated and caused mutations in its human host to the point where it is very difficult to distinguish virus from host. And that this virus has mutated quite rapidly over the last 200 years and seems to be accelerating replication at an ever-increasing rate.

Why a virus? Because, like a virus, it seeks solely its own replication: it is not just a call for “more” but a call for more of the same, more of me. As such, it is a virus of quantity that, in order to replicate more effectively, seeks the eradication of qualitative states of being, affective experiences.

And, as a virus, capitalism will exterminate its host — viruses are not smart that way. As William Burroughs says, any quantitative system will eventually annihilate itself as it exhausts its environment.

Speed and replication: these are the dominant behaviors of capitalism.

The present economy moves at incredible speeds and is accelerating. The human body, the host, slows things down. In particular, the human propensity for pleasure slows things down. Humans are desiring machines: we enjoy the world. We seek pleasure. And pleasure is slow.

And so we are witnessing the extermination of the human body and, specifically, if its will to pleasure. Let’s look at our lives:

-First, the virus seeks to own time. Be at work, everyday, by 9:00. Leave, if you’re lucky, by 5, 6, 7. The work week is getting longer thanks in large part to technologic mutations and always-on micro computing. The majority of your waking time is accounted for — and accounted for being productive, for producing more capital.

-Of course, there will be no fucking at work. In fact, it’s against the law: there are elaborate rules and regulations and training sessions to ensure that not only don’t we fuck, but that we don’t even discuss fucking — or even look at each other with the desire to fuck. Why? Because fucking is pleasure and pleasure is slow and unproductive.

-While at work, we are not allowed any privacy. Work spaces are now, for the most part, open. No chance to sneak a wank — or even pick your nose, exercise, stretch, no chance to enjoy private indulgences. Even bathrooms are rarely private: we piss and shit in front of each other. There will be not space, no time, for private pleasures.

-We sit all day at work in front of a screen. We no longer need bodies that can lift and haul and operate; the information economy wants a brain to do the computing that computers cannot. The body gets in the way.

-We eat at our desks. And what do we eat? Wraps from Wendy’s: fat and processed corn and soy to ensure we are never feeling healthy. Why? Because a healthy body wants to fuck.

-When we get home, things are no better. Both husband and wife must work now: more more more more. So both are exhausted and dehydrated from their day. The kids are wiped out from being abused at school — made to sit in chairs and memorize nonsense. It is not a pleasant scene.

-So we pop Valium and Xanax and Ambien to sleep. Which makes us groggy and stupid and dehydrated.

-So we wake up — gotta wake up good and early and get the kid to school and yourself to work — completely exhausted. Enter: Coffee and the Starfucks conspiracy. Why is there a Starbucks on every corner in downtown America? Because capitalism demands we work and we are so fucking tired so we neeeeeed caffeine.

-Only we don’t really drink caffeine; we drink Lattes Grandes: high powered coffee dumped in a vat of antibiotic soaked milk fat. Which makes us sicker.

-The rise of coffee shop culture in America is not the rise of leisure and pleasure: it’s the spread of capitalism. Coffee shops in this country are places to work, laptops out and ready.

-And so we have become an increasingly impotent society. Which is the goal. But we still gotta breed — cloning is not up and running yet — so we have to take a pill. Doesn’t it bother anyone that there are ads for impotence all the fucking time? The signs are not subtle.

-Schools have been taken over as well: adolescence and youthful desire must be turned towards quantitative production. So high school students don’t fuck: they join after school programs so they can get into college.

-Once in college, they are recruited, No more taking acid, reading Nietzsche, and having orgies. Now it’s Adderall and internships. The majority of college students major in business.

-Acid has been eliminated. What else do I need to say?

-Of course, we can’t just eliminate pleasure. And so capitalism substitutes consumption: we consume, relentlessly. This drives the will to more: produce more, consume more, on and on and on. There is no delectation, just consumption.

-This virus is aggressively mining its host. The first thing it needs is not fossil fuel but human vitality — as in the matrix, it needs our energy production. The environmental movement is, for the most part, part of the capitalist engine that keeps our eyes on fuel rather than humanity itself. We create green cars. Green cars! That’s insane! There’s no such thing. You know what a green car is? It’s called your feet.

-Is there a cure? Is there resistance? Capitalism is very good at infecting resistant bodies incredibly quickly. It folds whatever emerges back into what Guy Debord calls the society of the spectacle. John Lennon’s Instant Karma sells a bank; Vincent Gallo sells Vodka. No sooner does resistance emerge than it is turned towards quantitative production and consumption.

All is lost. Head to the hills. Find the scraps of land still left, set up camp, and fuck and fuck and suck and read and draw and fuck some more because the end is neigh, dearies. There is no cure.


pierre daud said...

When politics deals with intimacy. It's one reason of the interest of "SAns Soleil" (ie with out sun), an increadible documentary of Chris Marker on Japan. Or with "Level 5", from the same autor. Intimacy is may be an unexplored frontier of knowledge. In sans soleil, the narrator uses the 'I', he doesn't only say Japan tries to recover after war, but 'I saw" japan trying to recover after war.

It's no more the pre romantic 'I' of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, fragile and unable to communicate, it's the "I" of the contemporary networked society, it's the "I" of the man of knowledge who is also a witness.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology proffers intimacy as knowledge, as the very possibility of knowledge: it is by touching, and being touched, that we come to know the world.

I suppose intimacy is a component of what I'm talking about — that's a good point. My focus is enjoyment, a thorough delectation of this life, of food and bodies and affect and ideas. Intimacy, I think, is a subset and perhaps a condition of enjoyment.

J.S. Butcher said...

And detective-janitors will use their noses to maintain our "no stroke zones." Lesson learned: flush everything.

pierre daud said...

intimacy as a concept can not be considered without its meaning in french (or latin) culture.

It's a french word. Have you seen "la cerisaie", from Tchekov? It's the (russina) story of an old annuitant who is about to lose evrey thing.

I'm thinking about it after having watched the movie "Milou en Mai" from Louis Malle, wich seems to be a very nice pastiche from La cerisaie.(in this movie pleasure as opposite to speed is so evident)

In the Louis's Malle pastiche, being an owner, being the (capitalist) man who just want to enjoy his so little goods, means that that's you're about to lose evrything.

You were the one who knew how to enjoy. You were the man who, in a pre-utracapitalist society, enjoyed very few. The guy happy to "fuck" the charge women you knew since very young. You are the man who just know from the life that it's enjoyable with nature, with time spared in the border of the river, with time spared with the "maitresse" of your brother.

The real diabolism of capitalism is that so vital things become ephemer.

Middle age, described as a time of low sustaininty is also the time with out working.

So, in french culture, "intimacy" is fucking a women as well as being the child who listens this woman as your mother. There is no SM point on that image. It is just that pleasure with your girl friend is physical as well as spiritual. I would dare to say that you love a women because, some day, she will be a mother. Adoration and protection suddenly becomes synonim.

Intimacy in french, is a word to say that your fucking girl will teach you how to love her.

what ever, I hope my speech is a little meditative.

And that captalism will not kill me before I died.

pierre daud said...

the days go I surrender

filigree said...

Subservience is laziness. Although we do work ourselves up in an unstoppable capitalistic frenzy of, seemingly, wasted energy. -- on another note, I'm listening to your rhetoric course... again. long time fan, first time poster.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Pierre: I love this. I love your reading on intimacy — as an education that pervades all of life, all of one's becoming. Beautiful.

Filigree: Thanks for listening and reading. One thing I've learned about capitalism is that it demands subservience and speed over efficiency — one does not equal the other.