The superindustry of the imaginary

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By EUGENIO BUCCI*

"Epilogue" of the newly released book.

Epilogue: For a subjectivity without a dollar sign

The apex and the vortex

Where does the social gaze? Where are you going to unload? At the end of its indecipherable visual ray, where will it be deposited? The answer seems to be beyond what is seen or, as they say, beyond where the eye can reach. From where we are, the only thing we can take for granted is that the gaze, hooked by the images, which it contemplates with reverence and desire, crosses each one of them towards a threshold that it can no longer see. Go to a point where everything escapes you.

It was in the Renaissance that a constructo geometric shape with an intriguing name, “vanishing point”, has entered history. It was a geometric framework used by designers to give their works a spatiality that seemed three-dimensional. The Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the Renaissance exponents of the XNUMXth century, systematized the technique. His drawings simulated a depth of field with such a striking perspective that the method was named artificial perspective.

To build that convincing impression of a true, natural perspective (the artificial perspective imitated the natural perspective), the artist, before starting to elaborate his drawing itself, assembled a grid, a geometric structure on your sheet of paper (or on your canvas). Although mathematical solutions could have complex and far-fetched developments and applications, the general principle was quite simple – today, students learn this at school; but at the time it was a revolution.

To visualize what this geometric structure was like, let's imagine one of the most basic versions it could have. With just four straight lines – each one coming from each of the corners of the rectangular sheet, which met at a point located somewhere inside the sheet –, the Renaissance managed to assemble the structure of perspective. The point to which the four lines in our example headed was called the vanishing point.

Seen on that piece of paper, the straight lines divided the plane into four triangles, with their bases resting on each of the four edges of the sheet. If the vanishing point were more towards the center, the triangles would have similar sizes to each other; if the vanishing point were away from the center, the triangles would be different sizes. That was all it took to change the way I draw. Faced with his geometric framework of just four small lines joined by a single point, the artist imagined that he was looking not at a flat sheet divided into four triangles, but at a very long corridor, which stretched forward until he lost sight of it. The triangle with the base facing down was the floor, the triangle with the base facing up was the ceiling, and the two triangles on the left and right were the side walls, facing each other. Ready. That was enough for the paltry two-dimensional paper to acquire three-dimensional depth. There was the prospect. After mounting the grid with his perspective, it was just a matter of starting to draw, thinking not in terms of the plane, but in three dimensions.

The basis of everything was an incredible alliance between Euclidean geometry (created by Euclid of Alexandria, in the third century BC) and imagination. The feeling that a sheet with few lines represented with mathematical precision an infinite corridor, which would only end far away, on the unreachable horizon of the vanishing point, was just the logical consequence of the alliance between the geometry of the ancient Greeks and the free imagination of creators. of the Renaissance. In possession of artificial perspective (or the four lines in our simplified example), Brunelleschi changed the culture, and then that culture changed the world.

The vanishing point made school. After Brunelleschi, another Italian Renaissance, the Genoese architect and artist Leon Battista Alberti, also in the XNUMXth century, developed the recipe even further. Perspective should be set up on the page by the artist before to start drawing. The lines bundled in the vanishing point served as orientation and as landmarks for what would be drawn next. These guidelines would not have to appear in the finished work; they were indispensable as guidelines, as references to guide the illustration, but they did not necessarily appear in the final work. They fulfilled a function analogous to that of the plumb line for the mason: essential for a wall to be built well aligned vertically, but, once the wall is ready, it goes back to the toolbox. The straight lines centered on the vanishing point for the draftsman, as well as the plumb line for the mason, were the guides to create the work, but they were not part of the final result.

Then, only after assembling his imaginary corridor of converging straight lines well assembled, would the artist begin to work. If, for example, he wanted to represent Greek columns, one after the other, he took care to line them up on the side walls of his geometric structure, obeying the lines. The column that was at the beginning of the geometric corridor would become larger, while the following columns, more distant, would become smaller, and smaller, and smaller, until they disappeared further ahead, at the vanishing point. In sequence, each column would be a little smaller than the previous one, following a strict mathematical proportion, giving the viewer of the work a sensation of sweeping depth.

Perspective, well applied, gave the drawing an exquisite proportionality, flawless and full of aesthetic sense. In the Renaissance, a time of radical humanism, the geometric solution of the vanishing point valued the human point of view, placing in perspective the world seen no longer by gods or saints, but people of flesh and blood. The rest was mere consequence. Thanks to artificial perspective, other inventions would come in the following centuries, such as photographic cameras, movie projectors and cell phones that capture images in high resolution.

Photography is a favorite child of the Renaissance, and was invented little by little, over the course of a few centuries. It began to be born when it became common among painters to use the so-called darkroom. The tool, precursor of the camera, consisted of a box of varying dimensions, usually in the approximate shape of a cube, sealed against light. On one of its faces, there was a small hole through which the light rays coming from the external environment passed. On the opposite face, inside the box, these rays projected the image of what was seen outside, but inverted. The equipment, which captured all angles of the perspective so valued by Renaissance art, provided valuable assistance for those who painted urban scenes, countryside landscapes, portraits of fruits, furniture or even people.

Over time, the darkroom received improvements, such as quality lenses, which made the work of portrait artists even easier. In one of its variations, it could have larger proportions (more or less the size of a small room), so that the painter would accommodate himself inside and, scratching over the projected image, sketched the painting to which he would later give the finish, in your studio. The precision of light and shapes on some canvases from those times amazes us even today, such as those of the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, from the XNUMXth century, one of those who specialized in the use of the darkroom.

A artificial perspective and the camera obscura represented a geometric, mathematical, architectural, artistic and, above all, scientific achievement. In the field of art, the technique left previous paintings in limbo, with their figures out of proportion, with children who looked like adults in miniature and landscapes absurdly out of scale, square and out of alignment. In the field of science, advances were even more prodigious. The improvement in the manufacture of lenses did not only benefit darkrooms, but mainly instruments such as spotting scopes, telescopes and microscopes, to which we owe, at least in part, the current notion of objectivity scientific. Armed with powerful lenses, scientist Galileo Galilei pointed telescopes at the sky and saw details in the planets that were not perceptible to the naked eye. It was what allowed him to make descriptions that we can call objective of your objects of study – objective because they elapsed of the object, not the guy looking at him. Anyone, scientist or not, looking through the same lens would see the exact same planet, with the same characteristics, so the scientist's description could be accepted as valid. The criterion of objective truth resulted from a Renaissance way of looking at the world, which, in addition to being geometric, aesthetic and scientific, was also political. This political form was driven by imagination, curiosity, questioning and an insatiable appetite for vision.

The rest was easy. When the time came for them to finally invent photography, in the XNUMXth century, the camera was already ready and the way of looking at it was more than tested and approved. All that was left was to put a machine inside the camera obscura to perform the function that previously fell to human hands. In this sense, photography was the result of a rather modest innovation, which boiled down to replacing the painter (who entered the darkroom with his eyes or even his entire body) with a chemical support (which, after of several other experiments, eventually found its most enduring form in celluloid film). In the XNUMXth century came another innovation and, with it, the chemical support was replaced by digital sensors.[I]

Today, the ultra-powerful zooms that circulate around, built into cell phones that anyone carries in their pocket, are heirs of the camera obscura, the renaissance, the artificial perspective, Brunelleschi, Alberti and Vermeer. Lenses and chips do nothing more than automate the Renaissance perspective. Technology did away with the painter and draftsman, but, in strictly optical and geometric terms, it kept intact, or almost intact, the project of the artists of the XNUMXth century, with its mathematics, its aesthetics, its science and its vanishing point.

Let us now return to the questions that arose in the first paragraph of this epilogue. Where does the social gaze? Where are you going to unload? At the end of its indecipherable visual ray, where will it be deposited?

If we content ourselves with a quick answer, we will say that the gaze travels in a straight line until it dies at the vanishing point. The destination is the vanishing point and the vanishing point is the ending point. The gaze, both now and in the Renaissance, tends towards the vanishing point, and that's it. Meanwhile, if we don't want to be so quick, we have to observe that something has changed. In the days of Brunelleschi, Alberti or Vermeer, the gaze was guest, just invited, to travel the straight lines of geometry. The vanishing point was there at the end, it's true, but it was just a theoretical reference, which didn't actually exist; it was merely a joining point for the main lines on which the artist supported his drawing. There was nothing to be seen there at the end of the line. What there was to see, what was offered to the contemplation of the eye, in the works of the Renaissance artists and their followers, whether they were architects, geometers, mathematicians, draughtsmen, artists, aesthetes or scientists, were the figures arranged in the middle of the path, between the spectator's retinas and the vanishing point. There in the end there was nothing. Not even him, the vanishing point, which was nothing more than a paltry abstract geometric concept. In the Euclidean diagram, the vanishing point was the one that ran away from itself.

Today, the picture is different. The vanishing point still exists as a type of projection, but its function has changed: in fifteenth-century geometry, it was a vertex; in Superindustry technology, it's a vortex. By the attractor of this vortex, the gaze is no longer invited or guided, but brutally sucked into the depths of lenses and screens, into the enchantment of narcissistic mirrors and, especially, into the nerve of that divinity, that monument to frivolous vanity that is the instantaneous self-portrait, that portent of self-centered stupidity called a “selfie”, in which the phallic jouissance is so phallocentric that it even has the infamous “selfie stick”.

The gaze runs to all this and does not stop there. Go on, go to the dark core of the robotic paraphernalia until the end of the line, where what is there is what you can no longer see, but still there is. It is paradoxical: in artificial perspective of Superindustry, the vanishing point is no longer an abstract geometric reference, but the great concrete blind spot, the portal of darkness, a black hole of technology and money. The vanishing point that in the Renaissance suggested a leap forward and encouraged questioning and imagination, now imprisons.

The geometry is also different: it broke with straight lines. The subject who sees a message on a cell phone screen in Tokyo and the subject who watches a video on a screen in Cape Town look in different, diverging directions, but have their gaze drawn towards a single vanishing point, in the same place. The force of attraction is unique. The attractor dominates. If, in the XNUMXth century, geometry, animated by the imagination, propelled humanism, now the machine abducts the gaze and the spirit itself. The mode of production of enjoyment value empties every adventure of question. On excursions, tourists don't move to discover what they don't know, but are loaded like cattle in rolling windows on wheels: the sightseeing of travelers sitting inside a showcase bus crudely illustrates the imprisonment of the gaze and imagination. Due to the technique incorporated into capitalism, humanism resulted in the vampire of humanism itself. In Superindustry, the gaze slides towards the invisible shadow of a sinkhole and, falling inside, becomes food for the cold substance of capital, whose luminescent epidermis undulates sensually, colourfully, incorporeal, fatal and vain.

Cadmium “clouds”

Cold substance. The body of capital is unreachable matter, a shell far away, out there, cushioned by its gravitational fields. In the first decade of the XNUMXst century, the high volume of energy consumption in gigantic datacenters, where digital data was already stored, worried environmentalists and less heedless US authorities. In 2010, it was estimated that these industrial storage centers accounted for 2% of all electricity consumption in the country.[ii] That same year, Greenpeace warned of the environmental risks of excessive use of energy to maintain datacenters.[iii] In 2016, the concern increased: a large part of the kilowatts consumed came from burning coal.[iv] In 2019, it was estimated that only the Bitcoin, the virtual currency based on the technology known as blockchain, burned the same amount of energy in the world as the whole of Switzerland.[v]

However, we are in the habit of calling “cloud” – that's right, “cloud” – the tons of clumps of wires, circuits and flashing lights in tin and plastic crates that store and process digital information. The volume of data grows by quantum leaps, with energy and environmental costs that also leap. Worse: they demand pharaonic shipments of heavy metals. Chemical elements such as cadmium, lead, beryllium and mercury are common in cybernetic machinery.[vi] In 2018, the strenuous work regimes of children employed in cobalt mining, used in mobile phones and computers, began to appear in the news.[vii] In 2019, the BBC reported that, due to child labor in cobalt extraction, Apple, Google and Microsoft were sued in the United States.[viii]

The cold substance of the body of capital contains silicon, but also cadmium, lead, beryllium, as well as cobalt extracted by fragile arms that climb hills and childhoods – and we continue to give all of this the angelic, levitating and fawning name of “cloud” . Let's face it: "cloud" is a designation videologic. And it's not the only one. another too videologic is that: “digital natives”. What will it be? Praise is given to babies in diapers who learn to run their fingers over the touch screen. They are “digital natives”. What is the rational meaning of such a strange phrase? It will be a prior authorization for children to be exploited in their scopic work? It will legitimize the recruitment of children in the manufacture of enjoyment value? Are they the beings of intuition trained by technique from early childhood? Will they be those who have internalized the blurring of fun and work, to the point where they are more happy than previous generations to take part in the super-industrial assembly line of the enjoyment value?

“Digital natives”, what a fantastic linguistic pirouette. Were there any “printed natives”? Or the “motorized natives”? Has anyone heard of "ballpoint natives"? “Digital Natives”. Is it a password to discriminate against those who resist? To harass the “digital illiterates”? To preemptively dismiss the elderly? “Cloud”, “digital natives”. there is videology. And there are so many more of the same kind. We say “network society” to name a society in which tangled walls separate human beings into ghettos, into bubbles of fanaticism. Society videologic.

What still exists?

The production of enjoyment value it draws all its significant energy from the eyes of the crowds and from each other. And the social gaze that fixes the meanings of the images, through the scopic work. But, before the work of looking begins, a phase is needed to prepare the sign proposal to be exposed to the social gaze. This pre-work takes place in closed environments, non-transparent and not accessible to the public: in advertising agencies, in the financial administration of churches, in political leadership, in the command of companies and organizations. From there come bundles of images and signs that, underneath apparent novelties, recombine the same old pattern of repetitions: the narrative structure of melodrama, libidinal identification, sadism in humorous costumes, the consecration of violence, camouflaged hatred in patriotism, disgust is redrawn as willful piety.

The pre-work in backstage – behind the reception desks of advertising, entertainment, public relations, tele-religions, corporate communication and major sports celebrations – will then weave the webs of signifiers, which will only be associated with the signifieds after the scopic work of the masses. The plot does not command the look, but does services to it. The look, however, does not rule the plot either. It could hurt her if one day she closed her eyes, in a gaze strike, but that's not on the horizon.

Wherever there is language creation and recreation (visual or otherwise), the Superindustry of the Imaginary is present or is imminent, even when the language in question has no express links with capital, including in government marketing of countries whose rulers declare themselves “ socialists”. You outdoors of “anti-capitalist” regimes dedicated to promoting the personality cult of official heroes produce enjoyment value. Mao Zedong, after becoming Andy Warhol's canvas, spreads out on posters in students' rooms. Che Guevara prints on boutique T-shirts.

“The commodity has completely occupied social life,” said Guy Debord in 1967.[ix] The commodity, elevated to spectacle, managed to take over all spaces. It is not just religions that are transmuted into advertising agencies for themselves and their owners. It is not just the leftist parties that believe in “competing for space” in the visual market. Electoral campaigns flow through advertising channels, according to marketing booklets. Even ministers of supreme courts, previously influenced by the imperatives of discretion, protocol seriousness and impersonality, smile like celebrities alongside soccer players and television actresses. All according to the color palette and labels of the merchandise.

Where is it possible to discern a human trait that has not been swallowed by the image market? Hard to know. So hard. In a romantic ballad by Roberto Carlos and Erasmo Carlos, “The Songs You Made for Me”, which wanders around like cosmic dust from extinct times, we can find the astral dimension of this extreme difficulty. The lyrics tell us about a world that lost its meaning after the loved one left, with melodic and sweet whimpers, like “the songs stayed, and you didn't”. Then, suddenly, the expression of a historical blockage of our era appears:

It's so hard
look at the world and see
what still exists.

In the original interpretation by Roberto Carlos, on the album the inimitable, from 1968, there is a break in the pronunciation of the verb “existir”. He doesn't sing “exista”, but “exi-iste”, as if lamenting the prolonged existence of what no longer has a reason to be. The singer misses, suffers, finds it difficult. Beyond sentimentality, however, the real difficulty lies elsewhere. The simple fact, but difficult to look at, is just one: apart from the goods and their images, nothing else is visible. Only what the eyes see are enjoyment values scintillating, that last less than the flame of a matchstick, on the rubble of worthless signs, on shrouds of broken images, on a floor of rubble of novelties already eaten away, of signs without referents, like the speech of subjects who are not, like verses that, unaware of the ontological impossibility, register by accident the impossibility of vision, in a moment when poetry embraces the flawed act. It is not possible to see what still exists because, in fact, the image of the merchandise only appears as a mirage, not as existence. The commodity only exists as an ephemeral imposture falling into darkness.

uncultivated culture

There was once a time when Philosophy, when it speculated about civilization, liked to explain that the Homo sapiens out of nature to enter culture. It was a good story. Intelligence, self-awareness and the ethical virtue of social interaction would have flourished, the three of them together, from the open abyss between humanity and animals. Nature began to be looked at from afar (admired). The attitude of admiring nature was also the attitude of dominating it. The words and images produced by culture – in religion, in the arts, in science, in politics – were covering every relief of the natural world, labeling and cataloging everything. By God's delegation, man gave names to the beings and things of nature (Genesis, 2-20), wrapping each one of them with language. It was like that, or almost like that. In the words of Jorge Mautner, what happened was that man, “who used to talk to snakes, tortoises and lions”, one day “made his face and began his civilization”.[X]

Then came an event that was not part of the script: the capital. This new “being”, as soon as it appeared, began to wrap whole chunks of religion, arts, science, morals, politics and, not to waste time, also language. Commodities soon became signs and, among the available signs, there are few that do not have a part with the merchandise. The entire field of the visible was occupied by merchandise. The human being, the one who at first would have separated himself from nature, only resists to the extent that he does not allow himself to be devoured by capital – which, on its part, has made nature its most valuable hostage.

From the Industrial Revolution to the Digital Revolution

The work of Karl Marx gives us an objective description of the character of the 18th century and the Industrial Revolution. In this sense, not in others, he realizes, in his own way, one of the ideals of the Renaissance perspective. Child labor was rife in London factories; the capitalists, without a moment's hesitation, recruited children for journeys that lasted up to XNUMX hours a day; preadolescents, the cheapest labor force, gave the most return: and Marx saw it, he described it all.

When we remember the working conditions of those times, when we smell the exhausted bodies, the malnourished sweat, or when, strolling through the collective memory that inhabits us, we see the dull eyes of mechanized boys and girls, we feel the taste of indignation and shame . We have memories engraved in the fibers of the body, somewhere in who we are. The pain is the same when we remember – and we really remember – the enslaved Hebrews carrying stones in the Giza desert, the women burned alive in the bonfires of the Inquisition, the beardless young men dying of typhus in the trenches of the First World War, the corpses in the ships slave traders, those tortured at the National Stadium in Santiago, undocumented citizens subjected to forced labor in illegal mining that invades indigenous lands in the Amazon. Inhumanity to one tears us all apart at any time and never ceases to bleed.

The most incredible thing is not the vivid memories of yesterday's oppression, but our blindness to today's oppression. So difficult to look at the world and see what exists. Capitalist exploitation has changed its code, but there it is, even though it doesn't show itself. And we, for our part, remain inert, as if we only had antennas to capture the signs of obsolete inhumanities. Not only do we not mind, but we even applaud the exploration of our days, which is the exploration of gaze and desire. Consumers queue outside stores to buy a cell phone, without understanding that the device, despite its apparent uses, is a means of production designed in detail to exploit their potential. scopic work and steal their very personal data. Social networks enlist billions of unpaid workers, whom they name videological of “users”, and these, happy, just say thank you – and work.

Nas big tech, the degree of exploitation of the Superindustry of the Imaginary reached a level of deceit and concealment so exquisite that not even the most stingy, sagacious and ruthless barons of the Industrial Revolution would dare to assume. In a social network or a large search engine, the “user”, who imagines enjoying a service that is offered in generous courtesy, is labor (free), raw material (also free) and, finally, , the merchandise (which will be sold, in whole or in part, in virtual cuttings, and you don't even suspect the seriousness of that). Capitalism has never designed such a perverse, accumulating and inhumane business model.

Let's detail a little more the far-fetched design of exploration. The “user” is the free workforce because he is the one who types, photographs, posts, films and does everything. Digital conglomerates don't have to spend a penny on typists, editors, proofreaders, photographers, videographers, announcers, models, actresses, screenwriters, nothing. Absolutely nothing. The “user” works non-stop in thrills of enjoyment, without charging a penny. As if that were not enough, the same “user”, in addition to free labor, is also the raw material, as the stories narrated are his own, the cats and the plates of food photographed are his, the delusions posted, to which the Superindustry gives the pernostic name of “contents”, they are his.

Finally, the “user” is also the commodity. And how not? Superindustry harvests it for free, as if it were weeds scattered on the ground, and will then sell it, in whole or in parts, retail and wholesale, in sacks or in bulk, at trillionaire prices. The eyes will be sold to advertisers. Personal data will be traded with organizations that manipulate electorates in favor of neo-fascists. The “user” only gets a few strokes in exchange for his childish narcissism – he gets little mirrors at the base of the barter, always the barter. The so-called “user” has fun, thinks that the “entertainment” they offer him is a gift, and works until he can't anymore. Some get hooked, like casino gamblers. Others are depressed. Young people kill themselves.

On the other side, the companies that get rich with the enslavement of the gaze accumulate more and more capital, at an expansion rate never registered before. The center of capitalism has been taken over by the webs of the most advanced organisms in extracting intimacies and that do not hesitate in recruiting child labor. Exorbitant fortunes are precipitated from the prey of children's eyes and data, held captive by a cheap little diversion.

From an ethical point of view, what is happening today is worse than what happened in the Industrial Revolution. No, it's not an exaggeration. Let's think for a minute. What is the capital that appropriates 16 or 18 hours of work per day from a child compared to the capital that, two centuries later, appropriates the most intimate processes of the formation of the subjectivity of another child, during the 24 hours of the day? What is capital that does not respect the depletion of the physical forces of the human body compared to capital that violates all boundaries of a person's privacy and psychic integrity? What is the capital that takes over the surplus value of the worker compared to the capital that, in addition to the surplus value of the look, steals the secrets about the fears, anxieties and passions of those whom it cynically calls “users”? What is the capital that exhausts its workers to the soul compared to the capital that, in addition to exploiting work, transforms leisure time into undeclared forms of exploitation and even more work? What is the capital that robs a child of muscular strength compared to the capital that robs him, beyond childhood, of the imagination he could have? What is the capital that sends the shock troops to repress strikes compared to the capital that is instilled in the desire of boys and girls, even in their early childhood, to kill, inside, any spark of future rebellion?

Toxic Ads and the Most Toxic Production Mode Yet

Although there is little clarity and little combativeness, democratic politics reacts. Shyly, but reacts. A few decades ago, a willingness to mitigate the harm that commercial advertising causes in the formation of children's personality emerged. It's little, but essential. A consensus has been forming on the psychic vulnerabilities of children's audiences in the face of ever more powerful and pervasive commercial advertising machines. There are already restrictions and even prohibitions – absolutely healthy and fair – in this field.

Contrary to what some lobbies argue, such measures have nothing to do with censorship. Freedom of expression does not suffer a scratch when the right to advertise is regulated. Advertisements do not promote freedom of expression, they only perform an ancillary activity to commerce, under the terms of the law that governs the same commerce. If the sale of a product is not authorized, its advertising, as a natural result, will also not be authorized, without any embarrassment to freedom.

When imposing restrictions on children's advertising, democratic laws not only do not harm the freedom of advertisers, but, in most cases, protect the freedom and integrity of children and adolescents. By preschool age, and even in the early years of elementary school, humans have fewer intellectual and cognitive defenses against the rhetorical devices of advertising, which maliciously mix fact and fantasy (or truth and fiction) to foster more consumerism. messed up. as speech interested (interested in selling), advertising distorts children's relationship with merchandise and, as a result, with society. Therefore, there is lucidity, and not authoritarianism, in the prohibition of children's characters as protagonists of advertising pieces and, mainly, in the orientation of avoiding the placement of commercial advertisements for those who have barely learned to read. Intrusive advertising, to say the least, is poisonous for children. Until recently, advertising had no qualms about dressing up a child idol, Formula 1 champion, as a cigarette pack in order to manufacture smokers in the future. Advertising is cancerous, but some resistance is beginning to emerge.

However, the same democratic laws that face children's advertising have not yet realized what it means to explore the look and the extraction of children's data by the gears of the Superindustry of the Imaginary for the manufacture of the enjoyment value. In their common sense, democracies still consider the means of communication mere distributors of “content”, and not means of production that employ the gaze to manufacture the image of the commodity. We suffer from a theoretical paradigm deficit. Regulatory authorities have not yet assimilated the evident truth that the media, more than a device for delivering information and entertainment, are means of producing enjoyment value, who explore the work of looking without paying anyone for it.

There are other things the authorities don't even suspect. They still don't fully understand that when technologies track and extract data from users - as all security services do - streaming and every website available on the internet – corrosive hidden gears come into play. The data collected free of charge by the conglomerates contain keys to the unconscious desire, in such a way that, as it has become common to say, the algorithms have more knowledge about the predilections of the subjects than the subjects themselves. The data provide a kind of mapping of drives, impulses, instincts, reflexes, rhythms and neuronal circuits of each individual. The capital's algorithms know in depth the most intimate codes of each individual's unconscious desire, but that same individual knows nothing about the secret codes of the algorithms.

The challenge, extremely serious, is greater than national legislation alone. It can only be faced at an international level and, in a localized way, by the central democracies. The monopolies established themselves and made their headquarters in the central economies, especially in the United States and, secondly, in Europe. Therefore, democracies in these countries have more institutional conditions to fight monopolies. They can no longer delay. Every day lost is a day of tragedy.

Democracy was right when it imposed historical limits on capital, as when it criminalized the hiring of child labor. He got it right when he abolished slavery. It succeeds now when it protects children against the voracity of advertising messages. However, when it comes to preventing the same capital from exploring the gaze and appropriating the data and neural and instinctual codes mapping the desire of children – and adults –, democracy is still omitted. Not out of bad faith, but for lack of the conceptual apparatus that would allow him to systematically understand the unparalleled violence of the ongoing mode of production.

This monopoly onslaught on the look, the desire and the Imaginary distorts the way subjects engage in public debate and, therefore, is incompatible with the democratic rule of law. The business model of big tech – one of the most aggressive of the Superindustry of the Imaginary – produces gigantic asymmetries of information, exercises a non-transparent control over the flow of the gaze and, automatically, over the flow of ideas and images, and corrupts (in the technological sense of the term) the processes decisions that involve popular participation.

We are not talking about the transit of the unconscious subject through social communication – this has always been the case, as long as language has existed, and it should never have been seen as a problem. We are talking about another factor that – this one, yes – completely disrupts public debate and the ordering mechanisms of democratic society. This factor is not technology, as many believe, but the property relations that dominate it and that, through it, govern, without a mandate, the information flows in the world. public telespace. The impasse is set: either democracies establish legal limits for this mode of production, or they will continue to be increasingly limited by it.

Central democracies are challenged to declare, in the form of law, that the psyche of the subject is no longer available for the appropriation of capital. The formation of subjectivity, psychic integrity and the very personal circuits of the desire of each and every one can no longer be transformed into exchange values ​​without the knowledge of their holders. This mercantilist appropriation of the essence of the human being, much more than the appropriation of the time of our lives, constitutes the worst of monstrosities.

Every minute, the commodity expands its empire. And make no mistake: it's like that all over the world. Even in China, whose economic strategies offend certain barons of the so-called Western market, the commodity empire advances, along the lines of a state aspect of the capitalist mode of production, or a “state capitalism”, as some prefer, with the promotion of accumulation private sector, the generation of inequality and the export of redoubled exploitation patterns. Behind the ultra-invasive surveillance that the Chinese state implements against the privacy of its citizens is not just the one-party doctrine, but an organic complicity between the self-proclaimed “communist” autocracy and globalized capital. In China, and especially there, capitalist designs deepen, while democratic guarantees are expressed only in the form of utopian mirages.

The contradiction that defines the others

If there is any solution, it will go through politics. There is no way out of politics anymore. There is no point in calling for an uprising of the Soviets, there is no point in summoning young people to the hormonal seduction of firearms. There are those who think it's beautiful, but it doesn't work. Politics is the most elaborate, complex and efficient form of collective action that our civilization has been able to generate. Only it will be able to produce answers – and only within the framework of peace, non-violence and human rights –, because only it guarantees us the material possibility of strengthening the democratic fabric, already so precarious; it alone guarantees access to the State, the only regulatory authority capable of standing up to Superindustry. If we resign ourselves to discarding politics, we will lose the weak democracy that is there, openly threatened, and the chance to produce a better, more inclusive and more vigorous democracy. Finally, we will lose the only way we have to defend human dignity in a universal context.

If vast territories of the Imaginary surrendered to the dominance of merchandise, a small civilized island – made of words, critical thinking and democratic political action – still has symbolic power to reverse the situation. In this context, factual truth, as Hannah Arendt said, is still “the very texture of the political domain”.[xi] It is still possible to believe that it is possible. In some central democracies, theses that propose the breaking of the monopolies of big tech. It's a way. We must look at this with engagement and decision.

The political struggle of our time must have as its flag the defense of the free constitution of human subjectivity, added to the defense of the psychic integrity of each person. Through this key, other flags, today dispersed, will be able to articulate in a more compact way, around the principles of equality, respect, dignity, anti-racism, individual rights and guarantees, environmentalism and freedom. By bombing the free formation of subjectivity in such a vile way, capital sabotages all, absolutely all aspirations for freedom and social justice. A world of machinic beings, turned into automatons, as capital has been designing, will never know any yearning for a full life, solidarity and love.

The defining contradiction of our time no longer fits into the class struggle formula. Undoubtedly, the tension between social classes is structural and never ceases, but today this contradiction inhabits another, more definitive one. The central contradiction that binds us is the same one that can set us free: the contradiction between politics and capital. On the political side, we find connections with the values ​​of civilization. On the side of ungoverned capital, without regulation, we only find dystopia, in which human life will be worth even less than it is now.

The same defining contradiction of our time, between politics and capital, can be perceived in two others of the same root: between democracy and the market, and between thought and merchandise. Politics still has the conditions to be the field for the manufacture of democracy, the building site for the affirmation and effective validation of rights. Capital, the force opposed to rights, represents the revenge of the jungle against the political culture of rights. Totalitarian capital, that which is consumed in lawless technology, is anti-civilization.

During the XNUMXth century, the breath of barbarism was sensed, at different times, by Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky and, shortly after the Second World War, by Claude Lefort and Cornelius Castoriadis, militants of the French group called “Socialism or Barbarism”. In many respects, the XNUMXth century was indeed the century of barbarism. Now, in the XNUMXst century, the scenario is worse. Less visible, perhaps, but worse. If it decimates subjectivities in series, as it has been doing, capital will have decimated everything.

Some of the XNUMXth century revolutionaries saw in politics a means to catapult the revolution, which would then no longer need it. With a revolution that would bring us all the answers (ideological and videologic), politics, producer of questions, would have lost its usefulness. In other ways, there were those who detected in politics an opportune shortcut to accumulate currency in the cause's treasury and, with its narrow strategy, threw acid over the sensitive fabric of trust among citizens gathered in public. What is up to us now is to know that the only revolution that counts is in politics and democracy. Without both, popular sovereignty will lose its object, the State will have been captured by darkness and there will be no shields against Super-industry. Memories of the revolution that never took place will be buried under filthy images and heavy metals.

* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of The raw form of the protests (Literature Company).

Reference


Eugene Bucci. The Superindustry of the Imaginary: How capital transformed the gaze into work and appropriated everything that is visible. Belo Horizonte, Autêntica (Colecção Ensaios), 2021, 448 pages.

Notes


[I] But the optical principle of the camera obscura should not be fully credited to the Renaissance. There are records that the camera obscura, in rudimentary forms, would have already been used in antiquity by a Chinese named Mo Tzu (or Mozi), in the fifth century BC Researchers also claim that Aristotle would have mentioned this same principle, commenting observing solar eclipses. See: FAINGUELERNT, Mauro. The darkroom and photography. See also:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camera_obscura>. On the use of the darkroom as a precursor to photography, see: MACHADO, Arlindo. the specular illusion. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1984.

[ii] Digital DATA STORAGE causes pollution and energy waste. Ecycle.

[iii] FELITTI, William. Cloud computing is the new global warming villain for Greenpeace. Business Season, 31 Mar. 2010.

[iv] THE POLLUTION OF THE DIGITAL CLOUD. Super interesting, 21 Jan. 2013, updated 31 Oct. 2016.

[v] UMLAUF, Fernanda. Bitcoin consumes as much energy as the whole of Switzerland, study finds. Tecmundo, July 6 2019.

[vi] CERRI, Alberto. What are the environmental impacts of heavy metals present in electronics?. Ecycle.

[vii] SCHLINDWEIN, Simone. Cobalt: a rare, precious and disputed metal in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Deutsche Welle (DW), 16 sep. 2018.

[viii] WHAT LEADS Apple, Google, Tesla and other companies to be accused of profiting from child labor in Africa. with the BBC, 17 Dec. 2019.

[ix] DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle, P. 30.

[X] “Animals Samba”, by Jorge Mautner.

[xi] ARENDT, Hannah. Truth and politics. In: ARENDT, Hannah. Between the past and the future. Translation by Manuel Alberto. Lisboa: Relógio D'Água Editores, 1995. Text available on the website of the Brazilian Academy of State Law:https://abdet.com.br/site/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Verdade-e-pol%C3%ADtica.pdf>.

 

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