surveillance capitalism

Image: Hamilton Grimaldi


The horror of dystopia that the new sociability of surveillance capitalism reserves for humanity, in the near future, will be so unbearable that the human animal will realize that it no longer makes sense to nurture the patriarchy that imprisons minds and hearts

“Having eliminated all other enemies, man is now his worst enemy. By putting an end to all his predators, man is his own predator” (Garrett Hardin).

The last expression of patriarchy

The history of humanity is a succession of patriarchal ways of living, characterized by the insane desire for control, domination, superiority, war, struggle, appropriation of truth and destruction of natural resources, that is, by the death drive that permeated the entire trajectory of humankind. homo rapiens – a term aptly used by British philosopher John Gray, for whom “the sudden extinction of ways of life is the human norm” – in the last six to seven thousand years. This conditioning of ours to patriarchy began, according to the Austrian sociologist Riane Eisler, after the great cultural bifurcation in the Neolithic, when the Indo-European warrior peoples made use of weapons to promote the passage of “Partnership Society”, hitherto predominant, for the “Society of Domination” (The Chalice and the Sword: Our History, Our Future, Palas Athena, 2007). It was from then on that the cultural and biological dimensions were dissociated by the human animal, moving away from its natural condition, and, with that, patriarchy began to guide the entire tortuous civilizing process. I recently addressed this issue, dealing with its implications for our present, in an article entitled emerging complexities.

In the understanding of the French historian Jacques Attali, who converges in many points with Eisler's, the civilizing process was guided by three main forms of power or "political orders", as he calls it, which coexisted and alternated to control wealth, territories and knowledge and thus forge the disastrous course of human history, culminating in the current situation of planetary crisis that is dragging us towards a civilizational collapse. Indeed, not a few scientists today are already considering the possibility of self-annihilation. They are: Ritual Order (religious power, emerged 30 years ago), Imperial Order (military power, 6 years ago) and the Commercial Order (market power, 1290 BC to the present day). Both the Imperial Order and the Commercial Order are typical expressions of patriarchy, “Society of Domination”, as conceived by Eisler. The first, due to the force of arms, and the second, due to the domain in the field of subjectivities. The Ritual Order, as described by Attali, expresses more a way of life oriented by transcendence than a manifestation of power that can be framed as a force of patriarchal nature.

The proposal here, then, is to reflect a little on this still prevalent form of patriarchal expression, the Commercial Order, which stood out over the others, especially in the last five centuries, and should still prevail for a long time. Understanding how this political order, linked to the fetish of merchandise, became hegemonic, shaped and continues to shape our way of life and has been reinventing itself over the last twenty years, under the influx of algorithms, helps us to project the serious risks of profound regression for the coming decades and urges us to urgently think about how to free ourselves from this millennial conditioning and imagine a society outside the self-destructive patriarchal arena.

The long history of the Commercial Order

According to Attali, the first sketches of market democracy date back to twelve centuries before Christ. In those distant times, “more than fifty empires coexist, fight each other or exhaust themselves”. At that same time, “some tribes from Asia settled on the Mediterranean coast and islands”. Faced with the environment of profound social degradation generated by the strength of the Imperial Order, they realized that “Trade and money are your best weapons. Sea and ports, their main hunting grounds”. From then on, the Commercial Order gradually established itself as an efficient form of control, domination and maintenance of order among humans.

However, it is in the year 1492, considered by many historians to be a unique year – not only for the discovery of the “new world”, but for its developments in the world context – that the Commercial Order more vigorously overlaps with the others. The many combined events that took place in 1492 forged the intertwined birth of the nation-state and the market economy, initiating the long period in which humanity began to be led by the forces resulting from this symbiosis, the so-called market democracy, which appears approaching its sunset in contemporary times.

It was as a result of this organic interweaving between State and market that market society gradually emerged, leaving medieval absolutisms behind. From then on, the Commercial Order assumed the protagonism of History, previously under the lasting hegemony of the Ritual and Imperial Orders. In the assessment of Attali, 1492 “is considered an important date not only for marking the fortuitous discovery of a new world while looking for something else, but also for conditioning and clarifying the present”. For him, “it is the year in which Europe becomes what we call a Continent-History, capable of imposing on other peoples a name, a language, a way of telling their own History, imposing an ideology and a vision of the future on them”.

Attali thus describes the year whose events changed the course of history: “from 1492, Europe promoted itself as the mistress of a world to be conquered. (...) New nomads, the Europeans impose their vision of History, their creativity, their languages, their dreams and their fantasies on the planet. It is in Europe that the world economy will concentrate its wealth. All this does not happen just by unveiling a continent. In 1492 there are numerous other events, in Europe and elsewhere, whose influence on the new world order far surpasses that of Columbus's voyage. Major or merely symbolic events form a complex totality, an almost unique year, in which Spain plays an astonishingly privileged role. The last Islamic kingdom in western Europe falls; the last Jews are expelled from Spain; Brittany ends up becoming French; Burgundy disappears forever; England emerges from a civil warill. (…) The world economic order is transformed.”

These and other events that took place in 1492 established the ideology of the so-called “new world”, in which, according to Attali, Europe imposed a new political order under three domains: that of transcendence (Purity), that of space (Nation-State) and that of that of time (Progress). The dream of purity helped Europe to detach itself from its Eastern roots, lose what tolerance it still had, radiate its new ideal to the West and, thus, justify the expulsions, massacres and exterminations of the impure (the XNUMXth century was the apex of this insane quest for purity). The dream of progress became viable with the disappearance of medieval empires and the emergence of nationalism driven, on the one hand, by reason of State and the modern political man and, on the other, by the market and the economic world view. Absolute monarchies succumbed to these new forces and the instabilities of civilization began to be resolved, from now on, through state totalitarianism. Thus was established the new engine of History: a reinvigorated patriarchy, this time improved in the form of market democracy, which exercised prevalence over the modus livesndi over the last five centuries.

It is worth mentioning that the expression “market democracy” is illustrative and, therefore, includes several representations. It is commonly associated with the post-World War II period, when a short experience of capitalism combined with the welfare state was achieved, that unrealizable dream of “democratic capitalism” that the Americans so wanted to impose on the world. However, I prefer to use it to characterize the hegemonic way of life of the most recent five hundred years of history, as Attali does, understood between the events in Antwerp of the thriving press of 1500, considered the first financial center in Europe, and what it has been happening since 1980 in the Silicon Valley of the algorithms that guide the current way of life and that took charge of bringing financialization to the rest of the world. These two commercial nuclei, like the others that intertwined them (Genoa, 1560; Amsterdam, 1620; London, 1788; Boston, 1890 and New York, 1929) and also those that preceded them (Bruges, 1200 and Venice, 1350), each which, in their own way, used data transmission and human behavior induction tools to push the Greco-Jewish ideals of progress, reason and individualism, the myths that sustained the market patriarchy of the modern era and still sustain it in the contemporaneity.

Following Attali's parameters, if 1492 can be considered the starting point of the long hegemony of market society, when the freedom of politics intertwined with capital is consolidated as the main vector of History, 2020 has many elements to reveal itself in the future, when emblematic current times are interpreted and recorded, the year in which the long cycle of market democracy. The outbreak of Covid-19 made room for a “new normal” and, thus, seems to have laid the last shovel of lime to seal the disjunction between market and democracy, which had already been gradually undermined since the arrival of neoliberal doctrine, from of the 1970s. The coronavirus pandemic represents one of those rare planetary-scale events that speed up (or slow down) and change the course of history. Therefore, 2020 will certainly be a year that will arouse the interest of many thinkers, especially in the field of social sciences, in order to understand the type of society that will emerge in the coming decades.

At least two aspects stand out when we observe how the pandemic affects the world political order and say a lot about how it will be reconfigured in the coming years. The first is how some Asian countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and others managed, through algorithms, which are already part of the daily life and culture of these nations, to manage the pandemic in their territories with astonishing effectiveness. . China, for example, a country where state capitalism is working at full steam, even though it was the epicenter of the pandemic (the first country to be affected), representing 18,3% of the world's population, had only 0,45% of deaths caused by Covid-19 in the world, while the United States, still considered by some to be the center of innovation in the capitalist system, with 4,3% of the world's population, account for 20% of deaths worldwide caused by Covid-19 ( Source: John Hopkins University –, accessed on 15/10/2020).

The second aspect is the intensification of the so-called "hybrid wars" - the combined use of political, conventional, commercial and, above all, cyber weapons, with the aim of destabilizing governments, which are becoming more sophisticated every day - among developed nations, amplified by the economic and financial crisis triggered by the pandemic and, in particular, by the furtive posture of President Donald Trump. This belligerent scenario is one of the symptoms that US liberal democracy, the so-called democratic capitalism that sustained US imperialism since 1890 and ensured reasonable stability to the world political order in the post-World War II period, seems to be approaching its unstoppable decline within its own territory. The environment of political and institutional degradation that Americans currently face seems to confirm the prognosis pointed out by Gray some time ago: “The danger for the United States is that, faced with comparative and soon, perhaps, absolute economic decline, an epidemic of uncontrollable crime, and weak or paralyzed political institutions, it will be driven further and further into isolation and disorder. At worst, they face a metamorphosis that will make them a kind of proto-Brazil, with the status of an ineffective regional power rather than a global superpower.”

Within this new world political (dis)order, amplified by the pandemic, capitalism has, once again, reinvented itself to respond to the successive economic and financial crises, now backed by algorithms, and in a direction that seems to point to decline of market democracy, confirming the diagnosis of professors of political science at Harvard, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, that “democracies can die not at the hands of generals, but at the hands of elected leaders – presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power”. At the same time, the new political and economic conformations indicate the end of the last global empire, as there seems to be no more space in the current logic of the platform economy, much less geopolitical conditions, for another country to assume this position. From now on, the world will probably become more horizontal, with some regional powers – orbiting around countries like the United States, China, Russia, Japan and a conflicted European Union – uncoordinated and in a growing state of tension and instability.

Once again, contradictory phenomena continue to guide humanity. On the one hand, we are faced with the possibility of returning, after millennia, to a more polycentric and less hierarchical world, which represents the positive side of the ongoing transformations in this unknowable historical epoch change that humanity is experiencing. However, on the other hand, a market totalitarianism emerges laissez-faire, virtual and diffuse, with the potential never before seen to further accelerate geopolitical instabilities, which, combined with environmental catastrophes, could drag us towards a civilizational collapse, as the English historian Eric Hobsbawm already warned: “we will face the problems of the 21st century with a collection of political mechanisms dramatically inadequate to deal with them”. For Hobsbawm, if humanity insists on continuing in the same civilizational model of the XNUMXth century, as has been happening in the first two decades of this century, “the price of failure, that is, the alternative for a change in society, is darkness”. And many elements indicate that the new platform society, which has emerged in recent years, is heading towards the abyss.

From market democracy to surveillance capitalism

People, in general, interpret the reality in which they are inserted as a condition of a permanent and unchanging nature, also because all the great transformations that have already occurred in societies took place over the course of more than one generation and, therefore, are imperceptible to our senses. That is why today, for example, we cannot see alternatives to the economic world view imposed by the capitalist system. British philosopher Mark Fisher claimed that we are shaped by mechanisms that make us believe, in the face of so much apocalyptic evidence, to be “easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”. This same perception is even stronger in relation to the patriarchal way of life that has imprisoned our minds for millennia. However, Fisher recommends a good strategy for breaking out of this mental conditioning. According to him, “capitalist realism can only be threatened if it is somehow exposed as inconsistent or unsustainable, i.e. by showing that the ostensible 'realism' of 'capitalism' is actually not realistic at all”.

This is more or less what I try to do here, because even under strong external influences that impose a single worldview on us at all times - the marketing vision -, deep down, each of us creates the reality in which we live. However, within the conditioning of the predominant patriarchal culture, we give up creating our reality and are always taking refuge in the reality that best satisfies our beliefs, values ​​and desires, because we are, essentially, moved by emotion and subjectivity, contrary to what we believe. if you think of common sense that always gives centrality to reason and objectivity to justify our actions.

Within this patriarchal dynamic to which we have been subjected for so long, the human animal has never been very inclined to make its own choices and has always been more prone to being molded by the reality imposed on it than the opposite. As Gray says, “it is rare for individuals to value their freedom more than the comforts that come with subservience, and rarer still for entire peoples to do so”. Incidentally, this is a thought very close to the conception of "voluntary servitude" developed in 1549 by the French philosopher Étienne de La Boétie, for whom “the first reason for voluntary servitude is habit” and that, therefore, “we have to try to find out how this stubborn desire to serve took root to the point that the love of freedom seems unnatural”. To answer this dilemma of La Boétie, the French philosopher, sociologist and archaeologist Edgar Morin gives us a good explanation. According to him, we are shaped by imprinting cultural, that is, by the beliefs and values ​​that take root in our minds throughout life. And, currently, our way of life is deeply immersed in a market vision of the world. This seems to me the best argument to understand the cognitive process that stops and conditions human behavior to the foolishness of patriarchy.

The fact is that in the last twenty years, reality has been shaped, without any resistance, by algorithms, a kind of cybernetic view of the world. Since the technological revolution that began in the 1980s, market sociability has been undergoing abrupt and accelerated changes, with an unprecedented capacity to alter human behavior. Capitalist inventiveness seems to have no limits to explore new frontiers of subjectivity and, in this way, it creates and recreates desires and imposes new ways of living on humanity.

Today, there seems to be a consensus that the capitalist system managed, through neoliberal doctrine in symbiosis with technology, to transmute itself, simultaneously, in almost all countries, to a platform capitalism, increasingly unaffected by democratic regimes. . In a very enlightening article about this mutation, entitled Data commodification, economic concentration and political control as elements of platform capitalism's autophagy, researcher Roberto Moraes describes, based on many research sources, the social, political and economic phenomenology behind this new platform capitalism, which “denies politics to manipulate democracy and promote chaotic governments” and it has become the newest mode of reproduction of capital and has also been shaping the various dimensions of human experience.

The expression “platform capitalism” was coined in 2017 by Canadian professor of digital economics, Nick Srnicek, and seems to be the most used to describe the new capitalist model. Other authors, such as professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, John Zysmam, prefer the term “platform economy”. However, the term “surveillance capitalism”, as conceived by the American philosopher and social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff, from the point of view of a political reading of reality, seems to express much better the type of sociability that is emerging. According to Zuboff, surveillance capitalism emerged around 2001 as a result of the financial crisis that hit the dot-com giants, when Google faced a loss of investor confidence and its leaders were pressured to exploit the nebulous advertising market. From then on, users' behavioral data became a valuable asset in the world of so-called Big Techs, today led by Facebook, Amazon and Tesla.

As in the past, the same “survival of the fittest” dynamic that drove late fifteenth-century mercantile capitalism, surveillance capitalism, according to Zuboff, “It is a human creation. It lives in history, not technological inevitability. It was created and crafted through trial and error at Google, much like the Ford Motor Company discovered the new economics of mass production or General Motors discovered the logic of managerial capitalism.” In this sense, the expression “surveillance” here does not constitute the centrality of capitalism from an economic point of view, but from a political and social point of view. It represents the way in which capital is starting to operate to maintain control and domination over societies. In this surveillance capitalism, the commodity, par excellence, will be time itself, an article that humans (the minority that can participate in the market economy) will have more and more in abundance in a world whose work will be progressively carried out by algorithms. In this new context, the two segments that will tend to dominate the world economy, as we can see today, will be insurance and entertainment, the two refuges where the human animal will try to protect itself and distract itself from the horrors of the growing dystopia. that this new capitalism is producing.

By proposing that capitalism has been reinventing itself as a surveillance system, Zuboff is highlighting not only the economic, but also the political logic behind the platform market that “claims private human experience as a source of free raw material, subordinated to market dynamics and reborn as behavioral data”. Asian countries such as China took the lead in mastering this new form of state power, not least because it already had a cultural tradition adapted to more authoritarian social relations. However, Zuboff warns that “if we destroy democracy, all that is left is this kind of computational governance, which is a new form of absolutism”. That is why surveillance has gradually become the new engine of the Commercial Order, tending to destroy democratic regimes and take the place of the market democracy that prevailed for five hundred years.

Unlike previous versions of capital reproduction, the greatest impact of surveillance capitalism for the future of humanity lies in the “replacement of politics by computation”. This is why Zuboff identified it as a surveillance metabolism, since electromagnetic pulses are gradually dispensing with the police state, just as market democracy had dispensed with medieval absolutism. And this is where it is located, as Attali had already predicted twenty years ago, “the most profound revolution that awaits us in the next half century”. If we continue down this path, Attali warns that vigilante tools will tend to be “the substitute object of the State” and the market laissez-faire, by nature worshiper of the law of the strongest, will reign supreme and, consequently, “the apology of the individual, of individualism, will make the ego, the self, the absolute values” of this new reality.

As with the Holy Roman Empire, which succumbed only after a thousand years of hegemony (800-1806), capitalism will one day decline, however, as platforms have been promising, the nation-state will perish much sooner. From the 1980s onwards, an inflection began that points in this direction: the decline of democratic regimes, driven by algorithms, in which, almost imperceptibly, the market absorbed the State. We are inertly watching the emergence of a new form of totalitarianism, now, just market. From this perspective, magnetic pulses today represent the newest tool for controlling and shaping reality and, probably, the last form of expression of patriarchal culture, after millennia of prevalence, given that the many phenomena and crises (of planetary reach) combinations that are under way, for better or for worse, point in that direction.

Climate change, overpopulation, scarcity and hypervigilance: the inevitable regression

Self-deception is one of the typical features of patriarchal culture. The cognitive blindness to historical transformations I mentioned earlier becomes even more emblematic when we examine human perception of global-scale problems. For example, the denial of much of the common sense, and even of a portion of academia, in relation to climate change and its impacts on the new generations is one of those cases of self-deception. In a statement recently, American sociologist and environmental activist Jeremy Rifkin stated that “We face the sixth extinction and people don't even know it. Scientists say that in eight decades, half of all habitats and animals on earth will disappear. This is the milestone we are in, face to face with a potential extinction of nature for which we are not prepared”. This finding by Rifkin reflects the dimension of the drama experienced by humanity and there is, today, at the global level, no consistent policy in motion to at least mitigate climate change or other problems on a planetary scale. Our global dilemmas only amplify over time.

The last Copenhagen Consensus, held in 2012, had established the following challenges for humanity: armed conflicts, threats to biodiversity, chronic diseases, climate change, education, hunger and malnutrition, infectious diseases, natural disasters, population growth, water scarcity and lack of sanitation. Such challenges could today be grouped into four main global issues, which feedback and frighteningly strengthen each other. They are: changes in climate, population overload, scarcity of natural resources and digital hypervigilance. The inclusion of the latter (which is perhaps less obvious) is due to the negative impacts of surveillance capitalism on democratic regimes and on sustaining nation-states, as discussed here. All of these issues represent commonalities – problems of a global scope that cannot be resolved within national borders – and, therefore, would need to be addressed from a civilization policy. Its combined effects are already catalysts for conflicts in various parts of the planet and for growing geopolitical tensions and, however, there is no ongoing political effort, in the global context, to understand and propose actions to mitigate the inevitable regressions resulting from this scenario, which only compromises the future of humanity even more.

The likely consequences of events that took place in the XNUMXst century, resulting from growing geopolitical instabilities and climate change, are something imponderable. The most we can envision, given the many environmental disasters that have already occurred, is that we will have an apocalyptic picture ahead of us, as the inertial effect of human disturbances already caused to the environment was triggered a long time ago and is amplified astonishingly while human paralysis to contain climate change continues. The British scientist and environmentalist James Lovelock, who together with the American biologist Lynn Margulis formulated the Gaia theory, in which the planet Earth behaves like a living organism, understands that the Earth suffers from a plague of people. For him, Gaia's possible responses to human overload are: “destruction of invading pathogenic organisms; chronic infection; host destruction; or symbiosis, an enduring relationship of mutual benefit to host and invader”. If we consider that reality follows the non-linear logic of complex adaptive systems – the understanding that reality is a web of interactions and feedbacks incessantly seeking new patterns of behavior –, very likely, we will see, still in this century, a result close to that of Lovelock's first scenario: a phenomenal drop in world population, amplified by scarcity wars sponsored by our patriarchal impulse.

The thinking behind this article comes from ecologist and microbiologist Garrett Hardin, considered one of the forerunners in research on the impacts of the human population on the planet. For Hardin, until the time of Louis Pasteur's discoveries in the field of disease prevention, in the mid-nineteenth century, the natural device for regulating populations was epidemics such as typhoid fever, cholera, smallpox, bubonic plague, etc., which reduced growth population in proportion to its density. After the development of bacteriological medicine, this logic changed. According to Hardin, “now the feedback control is the man himself”. Without epidemiological barriers, the technological revolution that began in the 1970s further exponentialized population growth. In the period 1975 to 2020 alone, the world's population nearly doubled, from 4,06 billion to 7,8 billion. In the predatory perspective of patriarchal culture, the human animal now has only one threat: itself. After having eliminated all of its enemies (including many ecosystems on the planet), it now turns against itself and walks towards self-destruction. That is why there is a lot of talk today about necropolitics or necropower to explain the dynamics of government in many countries. But this perception is far from being obvious to common sense. As Hardin states, "The reality of this truth is temporarily obscured by the increasing size of the feast obtained with technological advances, but this is only a passing phase that should soon come to an end". (excerpts are from Hardin's book, Nature and Man's Fate – Rinehart, New York, 1959, cited by Gray)

This cataclysmic future scenario converges with the prognosis of many thinkers who study the consequences of climate change, intertwined with the current unstable geopolitical situation. For Gray, “the most powerful force working against civilization today is war over resources, ultimately a by-product of human population growth”. The wars of the XNUMXst century will not be the result of ideological conflicts as were those of the XNUMXth century, they will be mainly wars of scarcity, enhanced by the absence of political agents who can mediate actions that change our predatory relationship with the Earth. In a world of increasingly ascendant market supremacy, a good lesson from history that serves as a warning, but which seems to have been forgotten, is that maxim that has always prevailed when the market laissez-faire acted without the counterweights of the State, as Attali reminds us: “after the violence of money, will come, as is already happening, the violence of guns”.

History shows us that the intensity of regressions always follows the evolution of tools created by man, that is, it is increasingly overwhelming, as shown in the records of the tragic twentieth century. That's why Gray claims that, “if there is one thing certain about this century, it is this: the power conferred on 'humanity' by new technologies will be used to commit atrocious crimes against it”. However, the common sense perception is the opposite of this. Humanity seems to be numb today with algorithms and is experiencing a kind of fascination, just as it has experienced in relation to other tools created in the past. The scenario at the beginning of the XNUMXst century is very similar to that of Belle Epoque of the end of the XNUMXth century, a time of enchantment, frivolity and peace experienced in Europe, which, shortly afterwards, was devastated by the horror of the two great world wars. This confirms that the human animal is not very used to drawing lessons from History and is unaware that the more technology the patriarchy incorporates, the greater the risks of massacres against humanity. As Gray says, “those who ignore the powerl destructive of new technologies can only do so because they ignore history”.

From this perspective that the paths of civilization will henceforth be led by surveillance capitalism, in a global village with almost 8 billion individuals, surviving under the standards imposed by the predatory and competitive logic of the market, with States and democracies institutionally weakened and increasingly declining natural resources, there is no way to prevent political instabilities from slipping into regional conflicts, with the potential to spread globally. In this perspective, surveillance capitalism will probably have a very short duration, compared to the previous modalities experienced by the market economy. As Attali foresees, “disasters will again be the best advocates for change”.

A future awaiting metamorphosis

Faced with the catastrophic horizon outlined here, there is no way to imagine that there is still room for another form of patriarchal control and domination in human experience, even within the Commercial Order. Any attempt to prospect the future, with a reading of reality from the new Complexity Sciences, the current context of planetary crisis indicates that we are bumping into the logical and material limits of sustaining patriarchal culture. From this perspective, surveillance capitalism, which appears to be only at the beginning of its hegemony, may prove to be the last expression of patriarchy, which, as discussed here, took two forms: the Imperial Order (control by guns) and the Commercial Order. (control by subjectivity). Faced with the nuclear arsenal that exists today, the possibility of the Military Order resuming the course of History is impracticable and, therefore, certainly improbable. Within the current dynamics of the Commercial Order, it is also difficult to imagine capitalism (or another market narrative) assuming a new modality of control over reality.

From a certain angle, the Commercial Order is still a “civilizing” advance in relation to the Imperial Order. The creation of the market and the nation-state represented two revolutionary mechanisms for the distribution of power and wealth, previously concentrated in the hands of princes and priests who dominated kingdoms and empires, until around the 1980th century. With the new class of merchants that emerged from the XNUMXth century onwards, power became much more shared, as well as the technological revolution that emerged from the XNUMXs onwards, allowing a greater number of individuals to be empowered. However, History has shown that inequalities, conflicts, massacres and destructions grow in the same proportion as the tools created by man. In the logic of the patriarchal culture in which we have been immersed for millennia, there is no arrow that points to human emancipation. On the contrary, it constitutes a progressive regression towards self-destruction.

Still, those most hopelessly conditioned to patriarchal logic, who see no other prospect than the fantasy of universalizing economic liberalism, will surely think it a daydream to imagine that the human animal will ever give up its desire to shape the world in your image. In this case, the question about which path civilization can choose after experiencing yet another profound regression would be: once the logical limits of prevalence of the Military and Commercial Orders have been exhausted, on a global scale, there will still be room for the emergence of a new Maintenance Order of the patriarchal impulse, given the degree of depletion of natural resources, climate change and the absence of democratic instruments and political mediations?

There is a current of thought that understands that algorithms can somehow bypass all of our global problems and forge a lasting new world order. This seems to be the case with names like that of Israeli history professor Yuval Noah Harari, author of a trilogy of best-selling essays: Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind, Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow and 21 Lessons for the Century 21. Harari considers the possibility of a new civilizing leap that he calls “homo deus, promoted by the technological revolution. However, if we consider the results provided by the development of technology so far, there are no indications that platforms, under the command of an “artificial intelligence”, will be able to make us “posthumans”, overcoming the “biological limitations”, as advocated by the transhumanist movement. On the contrary, it seems much more reasonable to me to believe that, if we reach a recognizable world, after the regression that is approaching, it will be by overcoming the constraints of patriarchal culture and not continuing under the dominion of the tools created by the human animal. The bet on technology is yet another human illusion of molding reality according to its image.

Some attempts at patriarchal exploitation and domination are even more fanciful. This deep mental conditioning of ours, associated with the feeling of depletion of Earth's ecosystems, perhaps explains the recurrent human desire to discover and inhabit other planets with conditions similar to ours. Such a project is unrealizable, because if there is a characteristic that defines the Universe, it is its singularities. If life is a “cosmic imperative”, as argued by Christian de Duve, Nobel Prize in Physiology (1974), it certainly exists in abundance in the Universe. However, if man ever finds life on any other planet, it will be under very peculiar physicochemical conditions. Our "structural coupling" with Gaia, recalling the teachings of the Chilean neurobiologist Humberto Maturana, is unique in the Universe. And even if one tries to develop a technological apparatus to make this connection viable, it would be very costly and useless. The borders of patriarchy are umbilically linked to the Earth system. There are not many options available for the continuity of our civilization: either we overcome the millennial patriarchal culture and reconcile with our natural condition, or we destroy the conditions that ensure our permanence on the planet, if we have not already exceeded the limits of human intervention in Earth's ecosystems.

Faced with this dystopian reality that the new surveillance capitalism reserves for us, which path could divert us from collapse? With a lot of optimism, if we seek some learning from past regressions, a new way of living would certainly be something that accepts our limited and contradictory natural condition and tries to overcome patriarchal culture. Civilization has no choice but to abandon the market view of the world and assume a relational view of the world, which considers the interweaving of all dimensions of the human condition. If we had today some instance of global governance for this purpose, which reached the necessary consensus among developed countries, a civilization policy would contemplate at least four approaches: a strategy to reduce the population burden on Earth, to mitigate ongoing climate changes ; the articulation of a global democracy that tolerates the pluralism of ways of life; the rescue of the sense of community, which was destroyed by the individualistic and exclusive relationships of the market; and the formulation of a new economy, which gives centrality to life and not to accumulation and consumption. The construction of a recognizable future necessarily goes through this path, but it is very far from being a reality.

Probably, the future of humanity will be under the designs of chance and, especially, of metamorphosis, with all the undesirable hardships that this type of phenomenon entails. Morin had already alerted us to this civilizing unfolding when he said that “Disintegration is likely. The improbable but possible is metamorphosis.”. Approximately twenty years ago, when he was writing the last book of his main work, La Méthode 6 – Éthique (Editions du seuil, 2004), he envisioned two outcomes for the current civilization impasse imposed by the multiple crises of contemporary times. According to him, we could leave history "over", by the regeneration of the absolute power of States, or “leave underneath”, by the generalized regression and by the “explosion of barbarism a la Mad Max”. However, Morin seems to have already ruled out the first exit, as we can see from his manifestations in recent years, and indicates that he has surrendered to the predictions of his fellow countryman, Jacques Attali, for whom “Barbarism is most likely. The politician is a cork floating adrift in the storm of passions.”.

The Polish sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman said that “freedom is our destiny: a luck that we cannot wish away from and that does not go away no matter how intensely we can divert our eyes from it”. Freedom seems, therefore, to constitute an inherent attribute of life, although patriarchy has distorted this natural logic and pushed us into the arena of dualisms and conditioned us to accommodation in asymmetrical power relations. On the one hand, we are biologically “programmed” to be free and, on the other hand, we have been, for thousands of years, culturally conditioned to be servants and fight for survival in a supposed reality governed by predatory competition, hostile to life. Perhaps we are already immersed in the metamorphosis that could give rise to neo-matristic societies, that way of life that allowed the evolution of the Homo sapiens (and all other forms of life on this planet) for 350 years, a time when our biological and cultural conditions were congruent. Today we arrive at the great crossroads of human evolution. Although the grim reality that lies ahead of us says otherwise, we need to reflect on our beliefs and values ​​that have brought us here and understand that we are not irremediably condemned to the various forms of servitude and cognitive blindness imposed by patriarchy.

Our brilliant and irreverent Ariano Suassuna, who knew so well how to understand the contradictory and unstable human condition and express it through dramaturgy, said that “The optimist is a fool. The pessimist, a bore. It's really good to be a hopeful realist.. In a similar way, I am among those who have hope in the coming metamorphosis. If there was a cultural transformation before, from matristic to patriarchal culture – from “Partnership Society” to “Society of Domination”, as pointed out by Eisler's studies –, it is reasonable to imagine that the homo sapiens demens it is susceptible to another cultural transformation that makes it reconcile with its natural condition.

I believe that the horror of dystopia that this new sociability of surveillance capitalism reserves for humanity, in the near future, will be so unbearable that the human animal will realize that it no longer makes sense to nurture the patriarchy that has imprisoned minds and hearts for so long. Thus, I am inclined to think that the few initiatives, today still very marginal and irrelevant to bring about global changes, of people who act in the opposite direction to patriarchy and who have already realized the failure of all the attempts of man to mold the world to his image, will emerge to the point of making possible a planetary democracy, which embraces the pluralism of ways of living, and an economy that rediscovers its original meaning – the preservation of life and the care of our only Common Home –, in time to avoid the premature interruption of the human experience. It doesn't cost much to imagine and try!

*Antonio Sales Rios Neto and iscivil engineer and organizational consultant.



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