At the same time that virtuality proliferates and the flesh becomes a resource base for the mediascape the material conditions of virtuality implode. How long can this condition last before there is a crash? The imagination aggrandizes as the environment and infra-structure degrade: the revenge of matter. The economy degrades, politics degrades, the societal community degrades ... the mediascape (culture) aggrandizes.
This is the material condition: Over-indebtedness ("debt-liquidation cycle" common in depressions), resultant trade wars, and something new: pan-capitalism without any alternative but its homicidal double — fascism. Capitalism must fend off fascism without the help of socialism, which is dead economically, politically, socially (the proletariat?), and as a signifier. That is the political-economic conflict of our time, intersected at every point by the processes of virtualization. Virtual fascism? Pan-capitalism, the mechanism of virtualization (capitalism parasites the will (to be replaced)), encounters its homicidal double.
Pan-capitalism hits in the midst of a classical depression: a debt liquidation cycle. Why there is "over"-indebtedness is not a question for political economy but for the kind of existential psycho-ontology that identifies a general state of recline and an attendant will to virtuality. For an existential psycho-ontology with its inspiration in Nietzsche-Heidegger-Baudrillard the contraction of destabilizing debt signals a profound loss of confidence in the flesh. Despoil the future generations. Hate the future. Hate your progeny. No future for them. A virtual future for them.
The will to virtuality gets an economic boost from a depressed economy. Virtual satisfactions are cheaper. Movies do well in depressions. There's a TV in every hospital room. Can we doubt that it won't be long before every hospital room comes equipped with a virtual reality helmet? A cyber-punk "fantasy": You check into the hospital. As soon as you hit the bed the helmet goes on and it doesn't come off until you're released except for when it's time for you to go under anaesthesia.
Virtual satisfactions are cheaper. This is how the hatred of existence works: A nihilistic will projected against future generations motivates indebtedness. Under the sign of possessive individualism possessed individuals work the economic destruction of the future in the name of just deserts, security, and self-fulfillment. "Who cares? I'll be dead before the shit hits the fan." "Are we having fun yet?" Smile buttons. Smile signs on canisters of pesticide in the chemical fields of the great midwest.
Don't blame the situation on narcissism. That's what liberal communitarians like Alasdair MacIntyre and Christopher Lasch do. Narcissism is a reaction formation against the nihilistic will to destroy the future (for the flesh). Communitarians expect a synergistic effect from a managed gregariousness of reclining bodies. But what is the synergy effect of reclining bodies in one of those hospitals with virtual-reality helmets?
Hyper-indebtedness indicates a massive case of viciously acquired naivete (Josiah Royce). Liberal apologists will dispose of the above by saying that I've made an effect into a cause; that is, just because the effect of hyper-indebtedness is the spoliation of the future doesn't mean that a will to spoliate the future causes hyper-indebtedness. While this argument is logically impeccable it implies that we're supposed to accept ideology as the explanation of conduct. The "culture of narcissism" begs to be explained by something other than its own appearance, the current garb of that old devil, selfishness, the master-name of capitalist psychology. Why, it's simple. Who wouldn't want a BMW and a box of Godiva Chocolates? The neo-cons think it's just human nature to want these things. The neo-libs think it's just corrupted human nature to want these things, and that they can rectify us through (the joys of) "service." We say that only a nihilistic will can be so viciously naive.
A nihilistic will spoliates the economic future. As that future becomes present, virtuality becomes the preferred means to manage and canalize demand, which in turn incites the flip side of nihilism — the will to virtuality. In the bi-modern condition nihilistic hatred and nihilistic recline alternate in a dialectic of spasm and crash, each betokening hatred of existence.
The above discussion of indebtedness does not cancel the thesis that the debt is virtual, a mirage manipulated by the state apparatus to discipline and deny populations. The debt functions simultaneously on the levels of realist and virtual political economy, depending upon the chains of signification in which it is figured.
Here's how virtual capitalism works: NKK, a Japanese steel company with a failing shipyard, converts the shipyard into a facility to produce simulated domed beaches complete with wave- making machines and surfing contests. The selling point is that nothing unpleasant, uncomfortable, or inconvenient happens at these beaches: the last man's paradise. Virtualization in the name of exchange value is the formula for the transition from industrial capitalism to virtual capitalism.
What is capitalism? Here it is simply the valuation of labor according to its exchange value and the valuation of consumption according to purchasing power; that is, a Marx-inspired view of capitalism. The peculiarity of capitalism, for Marx early and late, is the fetishism of the commodity-- a genuine step into virtualization. Embodied labor becomes a calculable factor of production and the embodied consumer becomes a sales figure. Kick away the nostalgic notion of alienation and you're left with labor as productivity and consumer as purchaser. All in the name of getting more out of a sale than you put into it. Virtuality arrives through the efforts of profit-making enterprises to find new markets when they are under stress. Virtuality sells.
The essence of capitalism is to be whatever effective demand makes it. In a money economy (a capitalist economy oriented by exchange value) purchasing power determines production. Producers attempt to induce and seduce demand through the virtualizations of advertising and promotions, but it is too much to claim that they create it. Rather than the Frankfurt School viewpoint that the masses have been addled by repressive desublimation, we suggest that virtuality sells to a nihilistic will-- a last man who goes to the virtual beach.
When you take it all into account the higher cost of admission to the virtual beach is more than made up for by reduced transportation costs and time saved in transit. But is that why people go to a virtual beach?
Virtual capitalism: a world-wide profit-making system struggles mightily to serve a nihilistic will, of which it is an expression-- exchange value is already dead and infinitely mobile. Purchasing power rules in capitalism. Capitalism is the way by which purchasing power comes to prominence in the constitution of the human's productive and consumptive relation to the world. Purchasing power demands virtuality and capitalism is always already virtual.
Pan-capitalism is the great dare that the last man can be satisfied, that bodies can be placated sufficiently to make the transition from the flesh to its replacement: that the hospice can be made comfortable and secure. Meanwhile surplus flesh accumulates.
Purchasing power contracts in a depression. There isn't enough to go around and there's no fat cat to bail you out. Technotopia starts crashing. Virtualization is applied by the structures in dominance but the flesh also must confront itself in the vulnerability of recline. Depression means the possibility of being economically lost. The flesh rebels, but the flesh is in recline. The result is the austerity state.
The state, under current conditions of pan-capitalism, functions to administer austerity to a population that has been conditioned in hi-tech consumer economies to desire a virtual paradise. The frustrated will to (happy) virtuality turns into the terror of economic abandonment: the nightmare of "homelessness." As Deena Weinstein notes, the homeless aren't wired. And then think of the legion who are kicked into the production machine and then kicked back into their holes where they are wired and re-charged for another day's production of virtuality. Austerity is the public policy of managed depression. The people don't like it. Maybe they won't take it from a (post-) liberal state. Fascism-- getting ours expressly at the expense of others-- is a live option. Austerity in itself is a form of injurious neglect.
Austerity is sacrificial capitalism. The state, in the name of protecting the flesh in the herd-form of an ersatz "nation," carries out planned sacrifices in order to wring out the debt. "Who benefits" is replaced by "who suffers." Only the wringing out takes forever. A managed depression might turn out to be interminable, a permanent depression. "Don't move too fast; you'll pull the economy into recession." Why not reflate the economy? Who's afraid of fascism? Getting used to less is the economic fate of reclining life.
Reclining life still has enough will to power to rebel against economic insecurity, but not enough to affirm itself as flesh. Choose your nihilism: virtualization or the (self-) infliction of harm. They also go together well. In Freud's sense, the death wish takes a circuitous route to its destination in this case-- half-and-halfer last men punish (themselves) in the name of security, but not so much that they ever get out of needing to keep punishing. The austerity state is a compromise formation made for those who simultaneously will to live and will to die, but whose will to die, to virtualize, has at last become clearly dominant over its opposite. But isn't the austerity state a recognition of the importance of future generations who shouldn't have to be paying off debt forever? That too, as it kills and virtualizes. The austerity state is a loaded compromise formation.
And why not? Virtualized economy is an economy of disappearances: the disappearance of the main factors of capitalist production (labor and products most of all), and the disappearance of the key relations of production (the class system of classical capitalism). Not even an economy any longer, but the vanishing of the economic into a global virtual space of telematic transactions: a wired economy that quickly dissolves products into relational processes, labor into networks of cybernetic knowledge, and consumer "purchasing power" into political opportunities for policing interventions by the austerity state through consumption taxes. In the age of virtuality only speed of circulation matters. A nomadic economy that is already post-economic: where capitalism is preserved as a mise-en- sc ne distracting the eye from the liquidation of the real material relations of production, and the triumph of the virtualized commodity- form.
No longer the age of commodity-fetishism (capitalism in the modern age) or even of promotional culture (capitalism under the sign of postmodern pastiche), but now the recombinant commodity- form. In virtual capitalism, the recombinant commodity functions like a hard-wired digital sequencer: cutting and splicing the surplus matter of the wired economy into electronic bytes: imaging bytes, sound bytes, body bytes, smell bytes, money bytes. Here, the (organic) body spasms as it vomits into the desert-like void of the electronic body; TV mutates into a complex cybernetic system patching the body electronic into the neural networks of liquid capital; the old world of manufacturing is forced to move at strobe light shutter-speed as it is resequenced across the time zones of hardware, software and wetware; and flesh itself becomes a welcoming orifice for penetration by all the molecular ganglia of digital economy. Like a circuit diagram for the hyper-charged Pentium microchip, the recombinant commodity is always positionless, endlessly circulating and fully relational: an invisible (post-economic) architecture that is imposed on the grid of the electronic body. Never capable of being comprehended in its discrete elements (there are none), the recombinant commodity-form is a violent force-field: a screenal economy whose dynamic logic is digital reality, and whose destiny is the disappearance of really existent material conditions into the vanishing-point of the will to virtuality.
The recombinant commodity has no (earthly) home, only an electronic sim/porium. A rootless nomad, it wanders restlessly through the liquid circuitry of wired culture. Renouncing its interest in property- relations, it yields fealty only to the empire of speed: the new polity of pure process (economy). Abandoning the tired dialectic of use- value and exchange-value, the recombinant commodity finally discloses itself as a fatal doubling of abuse value: process-abuse for the organic body, and a fatal register of the coming abuse of the standing-reserve of surplus-flesh, surplus labor, surplus populations, and surplus states. The recombinant commodity must abandon use-value because the rest position of the referential signifier is death; and it must renounce the (alienated) pleasures of exchange-value because recombinant culture occupies the mirrored world of recursive space. Refusing both the alienation of the laboring body in capitalist market exchange and the reificaation of the fungible body inthe promotional phase of the high-intensity market setting, the recombinant commodity works the (fibre optic) vein of the ecstasy of disappearance.
Politically fascistic, culturally a cynic, relationally a sociopath, and psychologically an exponent of object-relations theory, the recombinant commodity is the operating system at the (algorithmic) centre of virtual economy. All the rest is a (computer) application: TV channels as abstract vectors of data entry-points into the electronic body; designer fashion as digitally coded applications of technology outreach by promotional culture; body model types (the "waif look" so fashionably cachet in the 1990s) as bionic constructs straight off the shelf of wired culture; and sudden audience mood shifts as psychological registers of the channeled flows of the media sensorium.
As the operating system of virtual economy, the recombinant commodity functions as a circulating medium of virtual exchange. Think of Marx's (virtual) theory of the fetishism of the commodity- form in (re)combination with Talcott Parsons' perceptive, but as yet theoretically unappreciated, analysis of a full-fledged cybernetic system (Virtual America as the world hologram) consisting of dynamic homeostatic exchanges among "symbolic media of exchange." Here, the organic body vanishes into its electronic other as the recombinant commodity works to impose a virtual system of moral economy as the new world cybernetic grid. Driven by the dynamic language of the will to virtuality, the cybernetic grid has as its underlying logic the enhancement of (its own) adaptive capacity by the continual definition and resequencing of virtual (value) patterns: virtual debt, virtual populations, virtual labor, virtual money, virtual resources, virtual wars. The conquest anew of the disappearing zone of the organic as the human remainder is processed through the violent circulatory system of virtual exchange. Certainly not static, the medium of virtual exchange undergoes accelerated phases of radical expansion and contraction. Its expansionary phase is the will to virtuality; and its deflationary phase is marked by direct action forms of neo-fascism. Neither purely virtual nor essentially fascistic, the circulating medium of virtual exchange is both, and simultaneously so. The will to virtuality is typified by the over-authorization of cybernetic logic (the moral value-principle of virtual economy), and by the delegitimation of economic "resourcing." At its extreme, this results in a virtual credibility crisis: a crisis of confidence on the part of virtualized populations in the ability of the technological class "to deliver the goods" (the debt liquidity crisis as purchasing power contracts and consumption taxes interpellate the consumer body). The fascistic turn of virtual exchange is marked by recurrent patterns of direct-action interventions in the world situation (from the officially authorized murders of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, to the bombing of the Iraqui "spy headquarters" and suburbs while Clinton attended Sunday church services) as certain sign of the disappearance of power from the empire of virtual reality. Taken to its extreme, the contraction of virtual exchange towards fascist direct action threatens to dissolve the recursive logic of cybernetic primitivism towards its most fundamentalist code-elements. Technotopia crashes: burnout is signalled by the brilliant luminosity of final flareouts of a reclining empire.
The speed of immediacy is the prevailing logic of virtual economy. Always moving on fast forward, the recombinant commodity smashes national barriers, drains off the surplus energies of local economies, and resequences regional trading zones (ECC, NAFTA) until they synch with the strategic objectives of transnational capitalism. Following a space vector that approaches the speed of light, the ideological rhetoric of the recombinant commodity is always the same: virtual boosterism (technological euphoria) mixed with a dash of technological determinism (virtual necessitarianism).
In the wake of the violent passage of the recombinant commodity, social detritus remains: post-(human)-bodies for quick electronic assimilation into the neural network of virtualized exchange; post-(jobs)-economy for a virtual technology that works to disappear the working class; post-(immigrant)-culture for technological societies that garrison the fading benefits of social security in the bunker state; and post (leisure) culture for a virtual time where nothing is more active than the electronic body that, like brownian motion, is maintained in a constant state of turbulence. The high-speed backbone of the recombinant commodity, therefore, as anticipating the age of post-capitalism: a perspectival trompe l'oeil, capitalism can exist now only as a vanishing-point whose dynamic energy masks the disappearance of the product-economy, and the triumphant emergence of process- economy.
Indeed, what if "Windows" were not a computer application, but a form of elevated (telematic) consciousness? In this case, we could speak of the sequencing of the body electronic as a switching- station: a multi-platform site for downloading and uplinking data. Hard-wired to the speed-backbone of the universal BBS and addicted to a diet of fibre-optics, the "windowed" body would become that which it always thought it was only using: a file-transfer function. Bodies with plugged-in, high-performanceediting studios for cutting, pasting, and copying the mutating scenes of the imaging system. "Windowing" memories for filing the event-scenes of post-history in the matrix of quick-access folder flesh. Utility-functions for re-energizing the recline of the body with organs with new android menus: Adobe Illustrator speech, Pagemaker writing, Micro-Mind Director for re- editing visual reality, and Real-Time Digital Darkroom for a substitute sleep-function. Double click...delete...It's now safe to switch off your machine: the slip-stream rhetoric of the android processor.
Forget philosophy: all the super-charged debates among nominalism, sensationalism, analytical positivism, and critical theory have been abruptly displaced by the emergence of MS-DOS as the ruling epistemology of virtual reality. Virtual positivism for the era of windowed culture: a recursive space of ambivalent signs that slips away into an infinity of mirrored, fractalized elements. And not only a gateway culture, but a windowed process economy as well as the terminus ad quem of virtualized capital: occupying no fixed geographical space, but colonizing the imaginary landscape of digital dreams. A screenal economy put into the command-function by an elite of sysop's manipulating the language of internal disk drives, but containing nonetheless an indeterminate array of file menus: a perfect act of homeostatic exchange between code-functions and emergent value- principles. And certainly not a closed cybernetic universe of input- output functions as envisioned in positivist sociology, but an imploding universe at the violent edge of an impossible refraction between opposing tendencies towards crash and systematicity.
Crash is the open secret of virtualized economy, and on behalf of which capitalism mutates into the will to technology and the latter into the will to virtuality. Capitalism in its windowed phase demands the crash experience: scenes of primitive energy where the fibre optic backbone of the system as a whole is strengthened by the sudden reversals at the vanishing-centre of crash. Crash capitalism is the desired-object haunting the imagination of virtualized flesh: in that impossible reversal between primitive direct-action and windowed data exchanges, between abuse value and virtualized exchange, is to be found the driving momentum of virtual economy as disappearance. When we can speak of money as suddenly put on hyper-drive and flipped into virtual, twenty-four hour data exchanges, of the slip-streaming of consciousness, of feeling as software to the hardware of the electronic brain, and of spooled politics, then we can also finally know virtual economy as a fatal, delirious crash-event. The organic body shatters into mirrored fractals, vision explodes into a delirium of virtual optics, speech dissolves into the ecstasy of the rhetoric machine, and the sex organs happily vote for the alt. bondage file of future sex.
In the windowed world, we pass time by slipping into our electronic bodies, deleting for a while the body with (terminal) organs and becoming alt. subjectivity in the ether-net of organs without a body. The drag of planetary time eases, and we flip into the hyper-role of "lurkers" wandering through the virtual rooms of the city on the digital hill. Voyeurs to our own disappearance into a recombinant subject-position: perfectly relational and positionless, and fascinated for this reason all the more. All twitching fingers as we become a computer keyboard, all burning sex as we stand around the dark edges of virtual bondage dungeons, all drifting feelings as we slip from node to node on the electronic net, all virtual intelligence as we actually dissolve into a mouse cursoring across hyperspace. Our technological future has never been more transparent: alt.bondage, alt.sex, alt.fetishes, alt.conspiracy, alt.TV Simpsons, alt.nano-technology, alt.politics, alt.Star Trek, alt.Bosnia, alt. jokes, alt. vacant beach...
Having no social origins, the technological class is a bionic product of that vast, and demonstrably successful, experiment in economic eugenics unleashed by the merger of technology and biology in the post-historical form of the will to virtuality. A mutant class born at that instant when technology acquired organicity and became a living species being, the technological class is itself a product of combinatorial logic. It stands as the first, self-conscious class expression of the universal net of post-human bodies. Alternatively therapeutic in its cultural outlook, because it believes fervently in technology as coeval with the life principle itself, and vicious in its defense of the political interests of the will to virtuality, this class uniformly, globally, and at the same historical moment flees the closed boundaries of the nation-state, going over to the side of a new eschatology: the interfacing of cybernetics and flesh as the (post)- human good. In its bitter struggle to break free of the fetters of local politics and to differentiate its univeral (virtual) interests from the particular interests of the disappearing working class and inertial public sector bureaucracies, the technological class must mobilize on behalf of the ontological claims of the will to virtuality. Consequently, its political aim: the virtualization of economic space with the abandonment of products, and the sovereignty of process economy. Its territorial ambitions: to colonize hyperspace as voyagers exploring the stellar regions of the electronic frontier. Its really existent community: co-relational and co-extensive networks of cyberneticized knowledge. And its prevailing ideology: an ambivalent, but no less enthusiastic, doubled rhetoric of technological fetishism and technological determinism.
Not a passive class, but aggressive and predatory, the technological class has an immanently global strategy for its swift coronation as the leading class of post-capitalism. The Virtual Manifesto, with its associated war strategy, proceeds as follows:
1. Tactical Envelopment:
On a global basis, work to install supra-national trading blocs (EEC, NAFTA, the newly emergent South-East Asia Economic Co- Prosperity Zone) as a political strategy for undermining state sovereignty, and of freeing up the speed of virtual economy from the gravitational pressure of local regulatory "circuit-breakers" (local state subsidies for particular class interests in the production economy, environmental standards, tariff barriers to the unfettered movement of the process economy, nationalist coalitions around social agendas on the part of labor and its representative political parties). Here, suborned technocratic state elites work hand in hand with the virtual class to ensure, by law and trade agreements, the unhampered movement and statuatory protection of "intellectual property" (relational networks of cybernetic knowledge) through the permeable walls of local political space.1
2. The Disappearing State:
Under cover of the GATT negotiations with their ideological recuperation of the obsolete dogma of "free trade" (itself a mise-en- sc ne for the disappearance of merchandise capitalism), a struggle is waged to destroy the internal integrity of the interventionist state and to free up labor as a fully mobile, fungible and, hence, virtualizable commodity.2
Here, the liberal-democratic compromise of the "welfare state" is swiftly and decisively pushedaside in the interests of the virtualization of economic space. The state that cannot plan in the interests of its own social economy and that cannot act on behalf of its own political economy is also the disappearing state: a perfect subordination, therefore, of the manufacturing phase of capitalism before the transnational interests of process economy, of (local) property before relational knowledge, and of bounded political sovereignty before the primogeniture of the recombinant commodity.
3. Definition of the Virtual Situation:
Resequence the ruling rhetoric of particular political communities by the global ideology of technological liberalism: that political consensus which holds that the dynamic, and unimpeded, expansion of the will to virtuality is the superordinate aim and justificatory condition for the state policy-making apparatus. Witness the evangelical appeals for a "high-speed digital superhighway" across the United States as both the aim of a technologically renewed America and its ethical raison d'etre (for a technocratic USA "capable of competing on an even playing-field with the rest of the world"); the building of a new high-tech transportation infrastructure (the famous "Chunnel," the modelling of the "new Europe" on the super-quick train network of the French TVA); the construction of the Canadian National Railway across the Canadian frontier as a vaunted act of "nation-building" (long before Western Europe was "Canadianized" by technological liberalism); and the downloading of Tokyo, floating airport and all, into a virtual cyberspace, complete with neon libidos and pulsing video screens on every (telematic) street corner.
4. Ideological Delegitimation:
Finally, through concerted public policies that speak the language of technological necessitarianism struggle to delegitimate unions and their political defense of the working class. Under the onslaught of technocratic elites occupying the heights of right-wing governments across the OECD, union leadership and their working class membership are continuously ridiculed as nostalgic defenders of an already superseded economic order. And not just unions, but the unemployed as well. In Canada, federal and provincial governments enact socially sadistic policies towards the jobless and the homeless because from the moral viewpoint of the technological class, these are fully surplus bodies, accidental spillover from a virtual system that must result in growing social inequalities and the creation of a permanent underclass. With its inherently religious commitment to virtualization, the technological class would find it irrational, and thus immoral, to speak to social issues that are endemic to production. As in Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, the bodies of the technological class may look normal on the outside, but on the inside something has gone terribly wrong. They are mutants: half-flesh/half-wired, fascists in virtual guise who work to liquidate, by absentee mindlessness, the working class, the homeless, and the powerless. And, of course, if "benign indifference" doesn't work, then there is always recourse to the deterrence violence of the security state. In the United States, employment in the security security is a growth industry.
As David Cook states in a brilliant reflection on Thurow, Galbraith and Reich as emblematic signs of the recline of the American mind:
"With the satisfaction of desire (contentment) comes the growth of the military and the private security industry. The controlling mood is one of violence and force... In America there are no longer, if there ever was, 'Good Americans', or 'Toquevillean citizens', or the 'fortunate' who are going to look into the future. America is in the process of disappearing, dispersed across the world in a continuing sacrificial spiral. America now as reengineering itself via technological processes that create the culture, work, competition and self that is no longer 'made in America' or made anywhere other than in technological space and whose future may well be played out in the only realm that America still holds the edge-- violence both inside and outside the nation."3
Deeply antagonistic and immanently warring interests, the working and technological classes are the emblematic historical signs of the beginning, and ending of the twentieth century. The modern century might have begun with the great historical struggles of the working class, sometimes revolutionary (Marxist-Leninism) and sometimes reformist (the welfare state with its trade and business unionism), but it certainly ends with the political victory of the technological class, and with the global retreat of the working class, like a tide running out to the postmodern sea. Lenin in ruins and Capitalism in ruins as the mirrored signs of the disappearing working class, and the triumphant ascendancy of the technological class as the post-historical embodiment of the will to virtuality. Consequently, the collective gloating of the technological class and the diffusion everywhere of virtual reality as the implacable horizon that welcomes us to the twenty-first century.
And what of the relationship of the technological and capitalist classes? They are not the same, since the capitalist class has an interest in an old value-form of production (surplus-value), and the technological class has its interest in a new relation of process economy (virtualized exchange). The capitalist class seeks to ride the whirlwind of virtual economy by quick translations of process into products (consumer electronics); the technological class parasites surplus-value as a way of actualizing the virtualized body. The capitalist class desperately seeks out new digital technologies as investment strategies for conquering the mediascape, and with it, all the welcoming orifices of the electronic body; the technological class puts its research at the behest of capital accumulation, while it awaits the inevitable vanishing of capitalism into the will to virtuality. Refusing in the end to accede to its own historical liquidation at the hands of (an already obsolescent) fealty to the production machine, the capitalist class goes over to the side of the processed world of virtual economy. It puts capitalism in the service of the will to technology. In return for providing the material conditions necessary for allowing the machines to speak and to have (cybernetic) sex, the virtual world responds by rewarding this new class of virtual capitalists beyond its most feverish dreams: the robber barons of primitive capitalism are replaced at the end of the century by the pinhead egos of software barons. Capital is virtualized. Property remains in place and workers are sequestered, but resources are virtualized and redistributed from the virtual population to the elite. But, of course, capital has always been virtualized, always a matter of transforming material reality into a floating world of surplus-exchange. This process of alchemical transmogification of nature and social nature finds its most abstract, and essential, expression in virtual reality. Virtual economy is a way of finally coming home for the liquid, circulating rhythms of the recombinant commodity.
Consequently, our actual situation is this: the state remains behind to sequester those who cannot, or will not, achieve escape velocity into hyperspace-- wage-earning workers, salaried employees, broad sectors of the old middle class. The political model here is simply, "If in doubt, tax," because the Carceral State energizes its fading energies by randomly selecting among the virtualized population for objects of abuse value. And the territorially imprisoned virtual population responds in kind: it initiates a form of popular counter-terrorism by transferring all political leaders into liquid targets for the pleasures of abuse. Abuse and counter-abuse, then, as the doubled codes of territorially bounded space and its sequestered virtual population.
As for the technocrats? They have long ago blasted off into hyperspace, filled with sad, but no less ecstatic, dreams of a telematic history that will never be theirs to code. An evangelical class, schooled in the combinatorial logic of virtual reality and motivated by missionary consciousness, the technological class is already descending into the spiralling depths of the sub-human. It wills itself to be the will to virtuality. In return for this act of monumental hubris, it will be ejected as surplus matter by the gods of virtuality, once its servofunction has been digitally reproduced. In Dante's new version of the circling rings of virtual reality, this class operates under the sign of an ancient curse: it is wrong, just because it is so right. For not understanding virtual hubris, it is condemned to eternal repetition of the same data byte.
Consider, for example, the countries of Africa, Haiti, or Bangladesh: slaved-economies that are maintained as standing reserve for the "master-functions" of the ruling sim/porium of Japan, Western Europe and North America. Not really part of a global welfare system administered by the UN/US, but surplus nations that are sites of novel experiments in body vivisectioning and vampirism in its late capitalist phase. A whole underground global trade, then, in body parts (livers, hearts, blood) surgically cut out of the surplus flesh of the virtualized population of slaved-nations. And how could it be otherwise? The organic body knows that it will die before it can be morphed into a virtualized state, and so it desperately scans slaved-bodies, particularly of the young, for the elexir of life: kidneys, pancreas, eyes, and hearts. And why not scenes of mass innoculation as first-cut film scripts for the future of the body electronic? That's the mass injection of the AIDS virus into the blood streams of Africans, before an officially approved and hyper-charged AIDS virus could be downloaded into the bodies of gay men in New York and San Francisco under the cover of a "hepatitis vaccine." And slaved-nations, too, as marketing sites for the chronic diseases expelled from the aestheticized culture of North America: the aggressive promotion of cigarettes to the citizens of the slaved-nations under the always seductive sign of the "Marlboro economy" as providing symbolic, if not actual, membership in the master android cultures. Or, for that matter, why not copy the discarded cultural kitsch of America (Disney World) to the modernist cultures of Western and Eastern Europe as symbols of their clonal status in the lead societies of virtualized capitalism? No longer, then, the division of political economy into first and third worlds, but a more grisly dissolution of the virtualized globe into a sadistic table of sacrificial value: master-functions, clones, and slave-functions. When capitalism disappears into a power grid, then economy remains only as an illusional space, disguising the more sadistic ruse of technology as abuse value.
Virtual colonialism is the end game of post-capitalism. Just when we thought that the age of European colonialism had finally come to an end, suddenly we are copied into the second age of virtual colonialism: a reinvigorated recolonization of planetary reality that reduces human and non-human matter to a spreading wake of a cosmic dust-trail in the deepest space of the blazing comet of virtual capitalism. A recolonization of everything: the virtualization of labor as jobs in the productive sector are downloaded around the globe, attracted only by the virtual scent of a slaved-work force; the virtualization of culture as the planetary noosphere, from Canada to Romania and China, are caught up in the deep-space drift-net of CNN and MTV, beaming out the pulsar code of America to the clonal cultures of the world; the virtualization of fashion as, for example, Benetton resequences the (recombinant) color and style of clothing into a designer Internet, producing surplus-virtualized exchange (for itself) by transforming the "The United Colors of Benetton" into a digital sequencer, linking child labor in the slaved- nations with the high-intensity market setting in the master triad (Japan, Europe, and America). And virtualized transportation, too, as transnational automobile producers flip into process economy: robotizing production by copying and pasting parts manufacturing to pools of cheap labor, while maintaining virtualized populations as holding pens for (ad) stimulated desire. If there could be such a fantastic display of publicity about 1992 as five hundred years after the conquest of (aboriginal) America by Europeans, it is probably because 1993 is Year One of the reconquest of the world by virtual capitalism.
The flesh has (been) failed. The signs of this fact are the operations of the will to virtuality (from the simple taste for simulation indicative of declining life to the sacrificial adventures in virtuality of the death wish) and the re-appearance of fascism (the greatest of all nostalgia movements)-- life driven by hatred (of itself) to destroy the other (and then itself): Life that has too much will to live to suicide directly, but not enough to stop the suicide from taking place by a circuitous route. Fascism: the losers revolt. The flesh is losing. There's a crash. The flesh turns on itself. Take your choice: the VR helmet or the the disciplinary state. There are two options for failed flesh, both of them nihilistic. At the present historical moment both are appearing in extreme form, shaping the structure of the bi-modern. Fascism is the (fatal?) spasm in the transition from the flesh to virtuality (that is, from the flesh to crash-- when the whole media-net falls apart). The choice is butchery now or crash later (perpetually). The media-net falls apart: all the hardware, software, and wetware crash, but, no worry, the bodies have already disappeared. Or, alternatively, the will to be replaced is successful and the androids take over the media-net and make it work for them some way or other. Cyber-torture anyone?
Recombinant fascism is the politics of the Age of Lenin and Reagan in Ruins. Pan-capitalism has no politics of its own: virtual capitalism obliterates politics in a liquid flow of lightening quick transactions and substitutions. Ever mutating numbers in data bases-- pure screenality-- are its elements. There is no politics without bodies. In recombinant fascism bodies turn upon each other and themselves in sacrificial orgies of surplus flesh. All in the name of belongingness with other bodies that are supposed to be distinguished in some special way as an all-embracing social entity, what Parsons called "the societal community," a "nation." The individual (Reagan) and the class (Lenin) are dead as political formulae. The nation is very much "alive" as a pure resurrection-effect running on empty. We are privy to the Nietzschian herd in a state of panic paranoia. Recombinant fascism is the limitation of capitalism by a flesh at war with itself. It can also be (virtual) capitalism's agent of body disposal. The nation is adventitious. Weak life is always herdlike. Recombinant fascism: an epiphany of resimulated sign-values-- nationalism/racism/sexism/humanism/super-humanism. Those are some components of the contemporary adventitious conjunction that makes for the (always) virtual "societal community." Recombinant fascism is the fetishism of the societal community as an aggressive reaction formation against a death wish. Hence its appeal to purity-- a form of death in life. And all this in the name of "community" because each needs the others to confirm the self-deception of heroism, superiority, and goodness. All in the name of some bodies at the expense of others. Fascism-- making flesh expendable: hyper-capitalism. Sacrifice.
Pan-capitalism is ceaseless displacement of anything that is not instantaneously mobile. The futures-index trade relayed from Tokyo to Chicago to Dakar within seconds is its Platonic paradigm. Labor is the antithesis of the capitalist ideal of liquidity. Labor can't be moved that quickly. The flesh remains inconveniently rooted to the earth, though "man" aspires to soar through the galaxies. Pan-capitalism is endlessly recombinant. Left to itself it works to realize itself as a mutating relational data base. The flesh as labor and purchaser suffers injurious neglect in the transformation of product into process, the recombinant commodity.
The recombinant commodity is not even sign value. It is a packet or "body" of information transmitted to determine the operations of computer systems linked to other computer systems in networks of instantaneous exchange and substitution: telematic capitalism.
Labor is dying and with it the flesh. Telematic capitalism speeds the automation of production, shifts the sites of production with amazing rapidity, and panders to the will to virtuality, all of which creates a pile-up of surplus flesh. In addition it retains the characteristic of classical capitalism of recurrent financial crises (over-indebtedness — debt-liquidation cycle), leading to recurrent depressions: injurious neglect of labor. At the same time cpaitalism is not yet fully telematic and still has need for some labor and some fleshly purchasers. Enter fascism, which mediates between dying labor, itself constituted by the opposition of the will to live and the will to virtuality, and the abstract accumulative will of capitalism, itself an intermediate form of the will to virtuality.
Not all of those animals that belong to the human biological species fit into the liberal idea of "Man," always an ideal in the vicious sense. Some of those animals are excluded altogether and most of those animals are excluded most of the time. It can get so extreme that the liberal (Kant) speaks for a "rational being" that he admits doesn't exist in an enfleshed form. Then to make matters worse he gloats about his opinion that you can never know whether or not you've performed a moral action unless you experience the suffering of a surrender of desire in order to perform the act. Liberalism reveals itself as sadistic and sacrificial. Liberalism is constituted by injurious neglect of the thing.
Is it fair to make Kant stand for liberalism? The greatest good for the greatest number. The legitimacy of regulating other-regarding action. The generalized other. The supremacy of the legal state. Liberalism is always sacrificial and communitarian. But liberalism is dead. It has been absorbed into the rhetoric machine as a second-order simulacrum. Liberalism has its true contemporary home in the hospice of "medical ethics" where liberals debate the sacred issues of who should be given livers and hearts for transplantation and in what order. Liberalism under the sign of ether.
Liberalism's cultural place was long ago taken by the operative ideology of what was called "liberal democracy:" technological humanism. Technological humanism is the notion that "humanity" can remake the world through technology into a garden of inconceivable delights for the species being. Marx and Dewey, the twin stars of technological humanism, said it all: the unity of theory and practice. Heidegger saw it and proclaimed it: technological humanism crashed in the death camps.
Post-crash the will to virtuality has taken over. Technology becomes an environment to which organisms adapt or (and) die. It does not belong to them. It serves most the will to virtuality. Fascism becomes the operative political formula, mediating the tendencies of the classes constituting virtualizing society. The dominant political system of post-liberalism is virtualizing fascism, that is, liberal fascism-- the growth of fascism as a tumor under an exhausted skin of liberal rhetoric. It faces another system, retro-fascism, the anti-matter of virtuality: kill it all before it virtualizes.
Take a look at technotopia for a moment. Each organism will have its own VR generator, which will be on all the time. Each organism will be able to choose whatever event-scene it (gender, even sex, might be selected at whim) wanted to be in, whatever scenario it wanted to participate in. Not to worry about solipsism. Organisms might share event-scenes (virtually, of course): they would interact with each other through cyber-space, each responding to the other who would be virtually present in each one's scene. Each would dwell in private fantasy at whim. This is as total a freedom as the Eurocentric mind can imagine for finite flesh. In technotopia the possible finally gains complete supremacy over the actual, through virtuality.
Definitional note: Virtual reality, virtuality-- The generation of a space for events within the organism's perceptual space that substitutes for that perceptual space, dominating the organism's perception with the event-scenes that occur within it. The preceding is virtuality as fully realized, actualized. Virtuality can also be used in another way to include partial or imperfect perceptual substitutions, such as that rendered to visual space by such visual media as painting, photography, cinema, and TV, all of which generate spaces that supplant perceptual space. The will to virtuality is the will to supplant the organism's perceptual space with a virtual space and thereby to supplant social time with heterogeneous virtual temporalities. Technotopia is the perfection of liberalism. Each one is its own God... Or perhaps this is the advent of the Leibnizian monad activated in its virtual armor by fulgurations from the media-net. Technotopia is the death of liberalism. It is virtual solipsism. It has always already crashed before it would ever come to be. It is the dream of a species in a hospice waiting interminably to be replaced. But it is a dream that keeps materializing in the most grotesque ways.
Try Oceania. It's a habitat being promoted by a group in Las Vegas that is to be built on the ocean (outside the hurricane zone) where inhabitants will be out of reach of the state and bureaucracy and will be able to live according to the vision of Friedrich Hayek and other great individualist-capitalist- libertarians. A step on the way to technotopia.
Technotopia crashes. An HIV Prison Camp is a lurid example. What about an intensive-care unit? The flesh can't sustain virtuality. It still has to interact with its own kind to get the basic necessities like food. It still cares about "the world" and its place in it. Yet it also wants more than anything to be virtualized. Out of this contradiction between a debilitated Eros and virtualized Thanatos grows liberal fascism.
Make the world safe for virtuality. That is the principle of virtual liberalism. Of course, not safe for the complete riot of possibility that the technotopians have in mind, but for what the media conglomerates program. The virtual liberal state exists to keep those with purchasing power wired to the mediascape and those without it under control (human-rights discipline in Somalia). It protects the media environments of suburban homes from threats from the world underclasses. It accommodates retro-fascist movements (the Christian right in the USA) and safety fetishists (eliminate violence on TV, test everyone for drugs, etc.), but its mediation is whenever possible in favor of the right to virtuality, that is, virtualization on the terms of the mediascape.
The virtual liberal state retains the individual-rights rhetoric of liberalism, but it is not a rights-based system (as though there ever was one). It functions to defend a fictitious societal community in order to virtualize its members. If only there was perfect prosperity. Then the virtual liberal state wouldn't even seem to be regressive to those who lived within it. But when economic contraction hits more and more organisms are excluded from the ability to enjoy recline. The state shows its basis in sacrificial violence as it disciplines and punishes.
Liberalism must mediate the virtual class, which uses states as mere conveniences, just as it uses corporations, to prepare the way for the replacement of homo sapiens, all in the name of technotopia; the capitalist class, which uses the virtual class for accumulation; and the vanishing working class, which degenerates into purchasers of virtuality and surplus flesh. In times of general prosperity the tensions within the class structure are resolved in favor of ever-more virtualization of the population. The contradictions appear when capitalism and virtuality fail, and the state must impose austerity.
The virtual class will never risk its own skin. That's why so many of its members support Ross Perot. The typical virtualizer can't exist outside an organization-- a virtual environment. The virtualizer is fetishizing its own flesh. It wants to end up in a hospice, forever. Who thinks up viciously naive and bubble-headed fantasies like Oceania and an existence in which each one gets to choose their own reality? The real VR types are power trippers out to do mind-reaming, all in the name of absolute individualism. Who sets up the cyber-space, anyway? This is the technical component of the virtual class. The other component is the organizers-- entrepreneurs who bring the media-net to be and work its transactions: the virtual commodifiers. They exist between and take over the organizations in which the technical virtualizers nest. Take Perot. He parasites the government, sells it software, creates an army of technical-organizational virtualizers. Suckling from the organization to preserve the dear flesh while you make the flesh disappear. Virtualizers are the agents of recline, the greatest recliners of all. They produce, sell, and impose recline.
But there's more to Perot. After parasiting the government he turns against it in the name of the people. He claims not to be expressing his own preferences, but to incarnate the American people's will. He taunts the legislature. He takes direct action through the mediascape. He's a retro-fascist and a virtualizer-- a figure embodying all of the contradictions in virtual political economy.
Perot produces one of the great recombinant commodities of all: data-processing services. He has translated his flesh to the mediascape: his body-image can populate it almost at will. He doesn't care where he makes his money. He's a virtual fascist. He also leads a national renovation movement in the name of a mythical societal community based on collective (shared) sacrifice. A flesh-saving movement at the expense of others (American economic supremacy). He's a retro-fascist.
The contradiction in Perot is the contradiction in virtual political economy. One hand renders the flesh superfluous and the other leads the flesh in a revolt against its superfluity, but always cynically, transacted through the mediascape... until and unless it turns to carnage. Virtualization or carnage. That is the present horizon of political possibilities.
Where does capitalism fit? Capitalist and technocratic elites play both sides of the street. Sure they'd prefer the interminable speed of virtualization to death camps. But they'll take death camps. They are instruments of the fluctuations of the flesh as it virtualizes and rebels, moves back and forth between "liberal" and retro fascism: the politics of the bi-modern. The bi-modern reveals its structure in times of economic austerity when recline becomes uncomfortable. Liberal-retro fascism is irritable recline.
Michael A. Weinstein is a professor of political science at Purdue University, and is the author of 19 books including, most recently, with Deena Weinstein, Postmodernized Simmel (Routledge, 93).
1. In addition to studying the political strategy of the Trilateral Commission and deciphering the (side)texts of the Canada/US "Free Trade" Agreement and NAFTA, there is also an excellent anonymously posted analysis of the International Business Roundtable circulating on the Canada-L BBS on the Internet. While this text does not draw out the implications for the technological class of politicized "trade" agreements or situate the analysis in light of the recombinant commodity-form, it focusses critically on the fungibility of the international labor-market and the undermining of local state sovereignty by a resurgent American empire. Here, the politics of "free trade" are forced to the surface of the seemingly-transparent background of international economics.
2. Ibid. International Business Roundtable: anonymously posted analysis circulating on the Canada-L BBS on the Internet.
3. David Cook, "Farewells to American Culture, Work and Competition," Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, Vol.16,no.1. p.5. In this review article, Cook argues eloquently, and convincingly, that Lester Thurow (Head to Head), Robert B. Reich (The Work of Nations) and John Kenneth Galbraith (The Culture of Contentment) are the leading representatives of the recline of the American mind. While Reich focusses on the spatial recovery of the disappeared working class (at the behest of the "technological class') and Thurow talks about engineering the new "European beast," Galbraith closes his eyes to the brilliant sun of Crash America.