Transitory Confusion: Reflections on Capitalist Realism

images.duckduckgo.pngAs boredom peaked with the other books that were in front of me, I’ve decided to finally read Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism. Expectations for this book included a decent critique of Capital and how it functions into modern-day society. The results were above my expectations and the information within this book will be seen as beneficial for future projects. Fisher displays that many different aspects of Society, Culture and Family are in decline/decay not because of a conspiracy theory, not because people are being manipulated into nihilism, but rather Capital itself is perpetuating this decay around us. Fisher doesn’t define the actuality of Capital as a totality, its rather a process of Value in motion, an interconnected set of complexities that are shown to multiply all around us. The main effects on Capital are that people and the processes of controlling this have resulted in dangerous conditions for mental health and stability, any attempt to get mad through cyberspace or protest on the streets are shown to solidify Capital due to the reactions of people who are conditioned to press forward day-to-day.

“Work and life become inseparable. Capital follows you when you dream. Time ceases to be linear, becomes chaotic, broken down into punctiform divisions. As production and distribution are restructured, so are nervous systems. To function effectively as a component of Just-In-Time production you must develop a capacity to respond to unforeseen events, you must learn to live in conditions of total instability or ‘precarity’, as the ugly neologism has its periods of work alternate with periods of unemployment. Typically, you find yourself employed in a series of short-term jobs, unable to plan for the future. “

I can relate to this on an anecdotal level, a few years back I worked at a minimum wage job at a supermarket during the midnight shifts. Life was just a blur of no enthusiasm and groundhog day as if I was a machine repeating the same duties over and over again. The work experience resulted in me becoming careless about my job, my family and just about everything; I remember waking up from bed with the realization that today was another workday. The apathy and indifference came from the realization that “…if you aren’t killed or crippled while actually working, you very well might be while going to work, coming from work, looking for work, or trying to forget about work.”(1) Mistakes on the job are considered liabilities and markups, get enough of these counts against you and they will terminate your role in the company (sometimes they dont need a reason). Part-time jobs exist today as a way for companies to cut cost on wages, Full-time workers receive benefits such as healthcare and paid sick leave so they see it only necessary when they climb the ranks to managers. Everything is or has been specialized in departments for the company, this separates the performances between workers by analyzing their performance individually as sections. These examples are all part of the Capitalist Realism that Fisher espouses, yet apologists will admit the flaws but dismiss any alternatives as dangerous because “the cure might be worse than the symptoms.”  Whether this is intentional or not, cynics aren’t a fault for shaping this system, its the realization that there might be no way out that is.

“But this, I want to argue, is a matter not of apathy, nor of cynicism, but of reflexive importance. They know things are bad, but more than that, they know they cant do anything about it. But that ‘knowledge’ that reflexivity, is not a passive observation of an already existing state of affairs. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

These claims to modernity in its current stages are true to anyone who isn’t deluding themselves into hoping on organizations and bureaucracy to protect their fixed ideas. Families are being stripped away and Tradition is eroding, yet the final idol of Capitalist Realism supposedly remains on the move.

“Echoing McCaulery’s mockery of Hanna in Heat (How do you expect to keep a marriage?), Sennett emphasizes the intolerable stresses that these conditions of permanent instability put on family life. The values that family life depends upon obligation, trustworthiness, commitment-are precisely those which are held to be obsolete in the new capitalism.

Such profound words cut deep against the postmodern waves of bringing back the corpses of Conservatism and Traditionalism. The ideologists who promote these value systems have the inability to see the supposed privatization of social and cultural life is gone without any notion of private identity. This quest for identity is violent and will be proven disastrous if you cannot navigate in this electric environment that is moving faster than we anticipate it to be. The egalitarian notions that our Democracy is supposed to be built on are a mixture of false empathy and sincerity, creating a hyper-reality where no one really trusts their own senses and someone else intentions, personal power then assumes formlessness, ” The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water; never bet on stability or lasting order. Everything changes” (2). Piety in this modern age is being turned into a void of confusion and despair, any attempts to win some battles against modernity will eventually result into losing the war.

Another interesting point that Fisher talks about is his encounters with colleges and telephone communication. Reminded me a lot of what Marshall McLuhan said in a recording with his students on his deconditioning lecture, that “I regard as utter leisure… I consider it as a holiday”(3)This is true to some certain extent except that it’s not something liberating, the only way to cope with the college experience is to consider it as an elaborate joke designed to “invoke happiness.” when its just romantic dandyism or ‘realism’(4).

Some of my overall criticisms of Fisher is his attempt to bridge Stirner and Hayek as a precursor to Capitalist Realism and the assumption that egoism plays a part in securing this systemic force. There’s an argument to be made that egoism has some tendencies to lean as a defense of Capital solely through self Interest, the issue is Self Interest plays a role in helping others as well, if you feel that it is necessary to give someone food to eat, the result is your wellbeing being satisfied for a short moment of time. Even if it was “done for the wrong reasons” egoism benefits others while Capital essentially is a parasite that trambles on everyone and leaves nothing behind. The fluidity in egoism and Capital have different interests, competing interests that attempt to navigate in the world because of the recognization that you can control the world.

“The transitory egoist must never forget, however, that he cannot subdue the world entirely; that he is not seeking absolute freedom, or, necessarily, even particular freedoms. He should remember that, for his own sake, even bondage — ‘e.g. the gently but irresistibly commanding look of your loved one’ — may be more desirable.” (5)

Capitalist Realism as a book is the beginning of a journey through this system, an introduction to some key aspects that are occurring all across the world. This book helps in deterring for me any more traditionalist thoughts and it brings forth a way in which to uplift the individual. The exit toward a better future is not seen right now, the goal is to look for the farthest and painful way out.