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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How the new got detached from the future

In “Accélération du temps, crise du futur, crise de la politique” (2011), Carmen Leccardi spelled out the paradox that infests the supposed age of acceleration in which we, a certain we, live: while logistics and information in the global market now travel at speeds that approach that dream of Capital as outlined by Marx (where circulation time is reduced to zero), the future as a collectively envisioned social time becomes ever less imaginable, except under the sign of fear. In the 19th and 20th centuries, of course, the future weighed heavily on the popular consciousness, and influenced every social movement and every political utterance. But the collapse of  any serious alternative to the world market, which has been coeterminous with the ‘accelerated’ rate at which we (the middling we, the symbol pushers, the agents of circulation, the educated, the numbed child) receive and process information, has undermined the credibility of the notion that the future could offer some vast change for the better. What has happened is that one of the great termporal forms of modernity – the new – has detached itself both from the past and the future.  The new is the same old same old, held in the thrall of the simultaneous – the realtime we all serve. The alternative is simply catastrophe; the future looms over the new as the catastrophe that we lack the confidence to understand or confront. 

“More precisely, the acceleration of temporal rhythms brings about a constellation of secondary effects, all prejudicial to the development of political thought and action. It is enough to thing, for example, of the contraction of temporal horizons and the predominance of the short term; of the veritable hegemony of the dealine, elaborated as a principle of action; of the discredit of perspectives based on the idea of one time for all (the idea of irreversibility); of the diffusion of a culture with a provisional character; of the growing difficulty of the construction of projects. In their collectivity, these factors have a negative incidence on the relation with politics.”
Within this timescape (one in which speed dominates to the degree that it is able to be  detached from any greater destination) , Leccardi draws a number of conclusions about politics. One of the most important, I think, is the inversion of the time politics of the left and the right.
The last paradox that the transformation of the temporality of politics produces in the context of the high-speed society is probably the most important. For the first time,in our epoch, the privileged tie cultivated by both the conservative and progressive coalitions with social mutation and its speed has reversed itself. Thus, if it is true that the former coalition has traditionally always been associated with the tendency to ‘slow down’ the mutation and the second with speeding it up, today the positions seem to be reversed. The progressive front supports deceleration – in putting its emphasis on local production, on the political control of the economy, and on the protection of the environment – while the conservative front defends an acceleration of mutations (for example, in defending the rapidity of the markets, in exalting new technologies, and in minimizing the environmental pollution of a certain model of development). The privileged relation between deceleration and the new forms of progressivism could constitute, I think, a good terrain for reflecting about the horizons of politics in the epoch of social acceleration.”
Leccardi’s analysis here is a bit askew, since it is detached from the dynamic of class interests that govern these ‘coalitions.’ That the left has always wanted politics to control economics is evident from even a glance at modern political history; it has long been the conservative claim that the state should not interfere with the private enterprise. Of course, underneath that claim was a practice that enrolled the state systematically on the side of Capital and against labor. But it is true that Marx’s heady encomium of the bourgeois revolution, dissolving the stationary and retarded pockets of rural idiocy and local backwardness everywhere and, on its way to  forming the world market, becoming a vehicle for the world wide revolution of the proletariat, evokes a less optimistic response by the left today, which sees no unity at all, of any kind, arising out of the formal likeness of the circumstances in which the proletariat labor in all global locales. That form of simultaneity – the temporal correlate of solidarity – lies smashed under the media form of simultaneity, the deadline time of our current social mutation. Given that smashup, the progressive coalition does well to question whether deceleration could form an alternative to the mad rush of the Davos swine from one crisis to another, in each of them finding overwhelming reason to sacrifice every advance in social welfare formed by the coalition of the state and the wage class over the past sixty years.

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