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Postcapitalist life

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Friday, Jul 16, 2010

For all the complaining I do about the effects of consumer capitalism on everyday life and subjectivity and so on, I find it nearly impossible to imagine what a post-capitalist life would be like. Of course that is part of capitalist hegemony’s achievement—the so-called end of history. But it would help to be able to imagine what the goal is in order to pursue it in the fullness of good faith, instead of feeling like the future will hold just endless rounds of theorizing and complaining about the nature of what is and ever will be.


I continue to think what is going on in Berlin is pertinent to imagining alternatives, so this article by Sebastian Lütgert, a series of short passages about living in the city and about urban subcultural identity, was fascinating to me. He argues that “the impending collapse of a number of global systems and networks is going to thoroughly and lastingly stratify the ... post-capitalist subjectivities as we knew them, since hardly any of them have ever ceased to be middle class, however precarious their material existence may have become.” That is to say, postcapitalism will not be a picnic for the vanguard agitators for it who have a middle-class habitus. That would pretty much include me (though I am not much of an agitator). He suggests that Western subjectivity is itself the bedrock of capitalism and would need to be discarded (how to do that?) to move beyond.


This section more or less expresses the dilemma:


After sixteen years in Berlin, I have no job, tax number, welfare benefits, pension plan, health insurance, credit card, savings, or functioning mailbox. Some of it happened by choice, some more by accident, and while it wouldn’t be too hard to lay out a postcapitalist politics in which most of these missing achievements would appear as the fortunate and desirable results of a set of precisely defined strategies, I’m still aware of the fact that whenever an item on the list becomes critical, it typically presents itself as the individual disaster that is capitalism, rather than the collective crisis that would get anyone beyond it. This may be due to the fact that most of the relations I maintain, and the networks I participate in, would have to be described as either “private” or “professional,” and not as “political,” however politicized this semi-public privacy or half-amateurish professionalism may appear to its respective protagonists. I’m relatively sure that this is a common problem, and that the root cause of most people’s existential panic when they reflect on their own biographies is that they have zero friends with whom they would have entered binding agreements to abolish the capitalist mode of production. Yet in a very practical sense, being relatively unattached to the state and its organs, while still being thrown cultural funding in varying quantities and irregular intervals, makes one surprisingly mobile. This can be dismissed as another essential requirement of our post-Fordist age, but comes, at least for holders of European passports, with the privilege of being offered some occasions to temporarily decenter one’s most general perception of things. The most hopeless aspect of European politics is the point of view (not the political orientation, but the perspective on the world) of its protagonists.


If I were on Twitter more, would I find the friends who want to “abolish the capitalist mode of production”? I wonder.

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