Achille Mbembe: “It might well be that the future of our planet will play out in Africa”
Achille Mbembe is a renown Cameroonian philosopher, political theorist, and public intellectual. He has written extensively on African history and politics.
Mbembe has often argued that academic and also popular discourse on Africa is full of cliches, Western fantasies and fears. However, Africa as we know it today did not even exist before the 19th century, as Mbembe explained to dr. Irena Šumi in the following interview that was conducted in early 2019 in Klagenfurt, Austria.
Professor Mbembe reflected on many different issues during their conversation: colonialism and post-colonialism; post-socialism; and the future of humanity in the age of new technologies. Furthermore, they discussed the concept of “Necropolitics” from his seminal 2003 essay. Mbembe argued that Michel Foucault’s notion of biopolitics falls short in explaining the contemporary forms of subjugation of life; he proposed the notion of politics based on death which, in turn, structures both the notions of sovereignty and the political.
In the Slovenian context, many theoreticians in diverse disciplines have perused his work extensively, among them Marina Gržinić in her 2008 text entitled “Rearticulation of the state of things or Euro-Slovenian necrocapitalism” (platform Reartikulacija) that re-defined the social, political, and cultural situation in Slovenia through the notions of necrocapitalism and necropolitics. In 2019, the long-awaited Slovenian translation of Mbembe’s Critique of Black Reason (originally published in 2013 in French by La Découvert) was published by Založba ZRC.
I believe that there is a lot to be said about the parallels between post-colony and post-socialism: there is this kind of trauma in both types of situations that compare well. But we are also oriented towards the future. How do we imagine a future that needs to come? Because right now, it would seem that we are living trapped in the premises of the long 19th century that has been with us for two hundred and twenty years. How do we get out of it? What do we need to do to finally put the 19th century to rest?
If I were to say anything about the 19th century from an African perspective, the first thing I would say is that for us, in our experience, the 19th century is a crucial moment when the world was partitioned along the lines we are still inhabiting. And in fact, from a purely historical point of view, the Africa we know today is an invention of the 1884 conference in Berlin. Its borders are the result of that conference.
Africa as we know it today did not exist before the 19th century. A different kind of continent existed, with different concepts of relationship between, for instance, territory and mobility. Movement is that which creates space; it is not the reverse. So I would therefore argue that to exit what you call the long 19th century requires an entirely different not only imagination of the world, but an entirely different mapping of the world, a shift from the logic of partition to the logic of sharing. Sharing being in this instance the very precondition for the world’s sustainability and durability. So a short answer would be, to find new ways of sharing the world, of caring, taking care of the world, of repairing the world in view of the profound damage we humans have inflicted upon it, one example being the ways in which it has been partitioned.
No memory should be cherished, as a matter of principle. Every single act of memory should be the object of, to put it briefly, critique.
How is the Africa from before the 19th century remembered in Africa? How much memory retention is there?
In terms of stigma? A lot more than we might imagine. Some of it is unconscious. I think that … there are different forms of memory retention. Some of them are active; they translate into a type of memorialization, public or otherwise. But I would say that a lot of it is unconscious. And it re-emerges: the past re-emerges in expected forms and expected places. It might not even be past as such; it might be the past as imagined from the point of view of the present, meaning a past that is the object of pure invention, if only because of the profound desire. Human societies need mythologization, they need myths, and therefore memory and myth come together in ways in which Africa before 1884 is represented.
Do you think this memory should be cherished? Revived, renewed, re-actualized?
No memory should be cherished, as a matter of principle. Every single act of memory should be the object of, to put it briefly, critique. What should be cherished, what should be rehabilitated are critical faculties, whether they are put in relation to power, to memory, to other forms of human agency.
Now, having said that, it is clear that in the project of re-membering Africa, remembering in the sense of calling it back to memory, remembering also in the sense of putting it back together, its different parts, in the act of remembering the continent Africa, it is important to revisit those legacies, for instance, insofar as they relate to what a political community is; what are the forms of membership that allow for a liveable life, forms of economic organization that are not limited to the market principle, or forms of wealth creation which do not lead to ecological devastation, the ways of living in common between humans, the animal world, vegetal world, organic world. There is a huge archive there that could be mined that is rich in possible re-imaginings for not only the African continent, but for the world at large.
It seems so unattainable, because the powers that be are so keen on making everything into merchandise. We are talking about having no more than eleven years to do something before things go overboard with the environment. And then you have people like Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State who said, hey, the Arctic has melted, that means new opportunities for business. How do these two worlds coexist? This is … kind of psychotic?
You are absolutely right to highlight this différence. I think this is the différence of our times. The big confrontation, which is to a large extent in fact existential, if we want to use such loaded terms, is between those who are convinced that we have reached the limits, that we cannot go on the way we have been going on for some time now, and that the future of life on Earth is at stake, and the future of the Earth, combined. So those who believe that we have reached the limits and those who believe that either there are no limits at all, or that limits are but a new possibility to do exactly as we have been doing all along, maximizing profit. Why? Because they are convinced that life is self-regenerative.
That it will just take care of itself.
That it takes care of itself, and that it will take care of itself. Paradoxically, this is partly what a number of scientists, people working in the fields like theoretical biology and so forth and so on, are saying, that in fact there are no limits to life.
Even if that is without humans, or without many humans.
What this implies, precisely, is life without humans.
Are we, or should we be, satisfied with that?
No, we should not. What I was trying to do was to put this in the darkest terms possible, to clarify where the lines of confrontation are between those who are preoccupied with whatever remains of humans in a process of co-constitution between humans and the rest of the living entities on the one hand, and on the other hand, those who are willing to discard certain categories of that which is human in the name of the life that will, in any case, proceed without us if necessary. That is what is being played out right now in the processes of migration as well: the impending ecological catastrophe.
How do we win this one? Do we stand a chance? Realistically?
To win this one, it will require unprecedented forms of mobilization and uprisings. Now, are we able to mount such unprecedented uprisings, using what forms of agency, forms of collectives? I do not know. I am not sure.
The politics of accelerationism has its limits, if only from the point of view of ethics.
There are those, Slavoj Žižek among them, I think, who believe that a huge catastrophe will have to happen before Reason has a chance. Nuclear, or else environmental. My question is: what remains?
But who will pay for it? Who will pay the priceof accelerationism? Because historically, whenever there is a huge catastrophe, a catastrophe of extreme magnitude, those who pay for it are usually the weakest among us. So the question is… one of the nature of the sacrifice. Because that is basically what it is. The nature of the sacrifice, and a set of decisions about who should be sacrificed and why. It does not seem to me that Žižek and others have taken seriously this side of the question, which for me is critically important. It is the question of who will keep sacrificing or being sacrificed. So the politics of accelerationism has its limits, if only from the point of view of ethics.
The world is caught in a huge desire for apartheid, for separation. The elites want to secede from the rest, while of course amassing for themselves the fruits of everybody’s labour, material or immaterial.
There is mounting evidence that people on the very top, the little feudal elite that we have produced, is devoid of a sense of reality. That they really have psychopathic and sociopathic traits, and that this will happen to humans who are essentially isolated in golden castles. They do not live on Earth anymore; they live in corridors above the Earth. They do not inhabit human spaces anymore.
Well look, the thing is that clearly, right now I would say, in almost every stratum of society, not only the elites but down to the bottom, the world is caught in a huge desire for apartheid, for separation. The elites want to secede from the rest, while of course amassing for themselves the fruits of everybody’s labour, material or immaterial.
This project of secession we see in our cities, in the enclosures of wealth, in the fencing off of wealth in the fiscal enclaves, in the fact that a huge part of the wealth of the world has arisen in fiscal paradises: it is not even circulating within the networks of formal economy, and so forth and so on. So the desire for secession among the rich takes this form. That the desire for apartheid is also present in other classes, middle classes, popular subaltern classes, one sees in things like renewed infatuation with borders, the ways in which contemporary technologies are harnessed to turn unwanted bodies into moving, portable boundaries, and so forth, and so on.
So it seems to me that we will need new vocabularies to capture these processes of segmentation and re-segmentation, and that which is driving them.
We cannot really imagine stuff before we have words for them. Is that what you are saying? We are not very good at imagining a future, are we?
No we are not. Not at all.
That is funny, because we seem to be the only animal that has the sense of future.
Yes, and yet… that is the least of it; we even have the capacity of imagination that helps us re-equip ourselves in order to be able to give a place to the very idea of the future. But as we speak, everything encourages us not to do so: everything encourages us to basically eat time, to cannibalize time. I think the world is caught in a vast chronophagic machine.
Is there not more to it than this? Is there not every reason for a radically pessimistic view of humanity? That our species’ purpose in this unique biosphere is really to radically accelerate entropy? That we are the destructive machine?
We have become that; we were not always like that, or not to this level of intensity, for a number of reasons. One, because the technologies we have invented have not yet reached the level of velocity and uniqueness they should. That is why, the technological escalation has led to, and is about to lead to, destruction, because we are not yet at the end of this technological escalation: the most powerful phase of it is yet to come.
Biotechnologies, bionics, cybernetics?
All of them, all of them. All of them fuelled by, paradoxically, a certain kind of desire for immortality, for example with cryonics. The moment we get there maybe we will stop; when we get to that point where we can finally triumph over death, score the final victory against death, and we can live eternally. So that dream of endless life and eradication of death is still behind everything we do, lurking behind most of our theories of happiness. With the fiction that technology will provide that happiness, even if it releases us from the responsibility of the agency, even if we delegate agency and Reason to a whole series of devices which act for us, which think for us.
Yes. So it strikes me that thirst for happiness and the way in which it is combined with the desire to be delivered from all that we consider to be the key features of being human. Responsibility, emotions, Reason, so forth and so on. So the machines will do that for us.
Sci-fi is really an important archive, and also an important site for whoever wants to reflect on the kind of human that is emerging in front of our eyes.
Many decades ago, Isaac Asimov in his robot series novels imagined a world of humans who colonized an extrasolar planet and managed to extend their lives to several hundred years. As a consequence, their society was stripped of practically all key features of humanity.
That is what we are dreaming about. Cryonics. Or the idea that we can download the brain into a computer.
This too has been elaborated on time and again in science fiction.
Yes, but that’s why sci-fi is really an important archive, and also an important site for whoever wants to reflect on the kind of human that is emerging in front of our eyes, and it is not the human of the 18th century.
Whose dream is it?
It is the dream of powerful forces, the forces of the market in particular, the market that has now become many different forms of market, with the capital having become our infrastructure. The market has achieved an undisputed power it never had before, goes unchecked to a large extent, and is borderless.
That is the new human. Bored. This is the age of boredom.
In Asimov’s novels this is the ultimate dystopia, because there are people who are 200 plus years old, and they are sick and tired of everything, of most delicious foods because they had them so many times; they have no desire, they have no passion.
Yes, that is the new human. Bored. This is the age of boredom. But what really strikes me is that a lot of our theorization still depends to a huge degree on our ideas of liberation, of freedom, all that. It still relies to a huge extent on a kind of 18th century anthropology. But 18th or 19th century anthropology does not matter anymore. We are no longer there.
That is what I referred to by the long 19th century, because all our premises are from there.
All, they are all from there. Our premises of emancipation, all of them.
… all this fighting for our rights all the time.
And every time anew, in a spiral, over and over again.
And all the –isms: capitalism, socialism, –ism this, –ism that.
Or humanism, or socialism, and the rest.
So where do we seek the exit, what do we do first? I think perhaps it is a question of a sequence of steps. What needs be done first?
We have to recover, we have to re-equip – and I agree with Stiegler in that sense – we have to re-equip, maybe not the brain as such, but something in the minds of actually existing human beings. We have to re-equip it and rehabilitate somewhat the critical faculties in understanding that Reason is but one of those critical faculties: that is not the only critical faculty. That other faculties might be just as critical as Reason, which will have to be erected into a sovereign faculty.
Affect, emotions, and all that. In the full consciousness that both Reason and affect and the rest can be deployed at the service of things human. It is not enough to call upon affect or emotions, if at the same time we do not pay attention to the perverse dimensions of those agencies.
It occurred to me the other day that for the longest time, I have not heard people talking about honour. The last time I heard it on a daily basis was when I was a child in socialism, but it was always an ideological concept, regime stuff. But people referring to something that somebody does as honourable or dishonourable, that sort of died.
Oh, a lot of those things are dying.
What happened to honour? How did it die?
It died because people do not believe in it any longer, people believe that you are right if you win: those who win are right.
No matter how.
It does not matter how they achieve it. They are “respected”, they get what they want, and that is all that matters.
How do we turn that around?
We turn that around by recovering, re-equipping humans, ourselves, with this enriched, expanded sense of critical faculties, and by reimagining new forms of mobilization that allow for a chance of rule by the people. People rather than the market or technology should rule. We have to rethink who is the sovereign, and how in each instance we put limits on the sovereign.
In a way, so that it does not replicate the power as we know it.
The power. Yes, yes. But the drama is that in fact, many are not interested in becoming sovereign any longer, it is just too demanding. They are not interested in the kind of autonomous self-regulation… not interested in the politics of being one’s own foundation. They are tired of that.
People love it when those who are weaker than themselves are dealt with violently. When it is migrants, foreigners, women. They love it.
They want to be pampered and served.
And to only experience second-hand emotions. It is amazing, isn’t it?
It requires too much work to be one’s own foundation. Passivity is easy, you delegate it all to some other instance or device, and you are happy to just be in a group.
But we still call it individualism.
It is probably something else for which we do not have a name yet. But I am serious, I am not joking. What people want is a big monarch, for instance, a good dictator, he tells you what to do, and especially, he inflicts violence on those weaker than yourself. People love it when those who are weaker than themselves are dealt with violently. When it is migrants, foreigners, women. They love it.
How did we get here?
There may be many, many reasons. It just strikes me that the more you brutalize the weaker the more you are celebrated; in the name of security, in the name of our mode of existence, and things like that.
I think that there may be two processes that shed some light on all this recently. There was the big global crisis, the financial meltdown in 2008, when suddenly so many people got the feeling that the economy is not something you can ever understand. And there was the #MeToo movement that shed light on patriarchy in ways nothing could before. Perhaps for the very first time, just about everybody got to understand that it is about men too.
What was there to extract? Did we extract anything valuable from these huge events?
Not enough, for all kinds of reasons. First, we cannot extract much if our conceptual apparatus remains the same; it will not allow us to even consider these events as worthy of deciphering. And should they be considered worthy of deciphering, we need to have the proper conceptual apparatus to make sense of these events. So there is an epistemological limitation in place. The problem is how do we get out of an epistemological closure: by drawing on the archives of what Édouard Glissant called Le Tout-Monde, of the Whole-World. Dipesh Chakrabarty would put it differently, he would say, by de-provincialisation of Europe.
But I think that the project of de-provincialisation is valid not only for Europe, it is valid for all of us. Africa has to be de-provincialized, and China, the same thing; it is not a European question. So we do it by drawing on, and by taking seriously, the archives of the whole world. We do it too by taking seriously the idea of co-constitution; humans, non-humans, and all the entities that are with us. I think that this idea of co-constitution, or put differently, of entanglement, is absolutely central to any effort of making sense of our global present.
The same is true for the idea that there is no longer, or that we no longer live in a world in which the inside and the outside are opposites. Outside is inside, inside is outside, the same principle of entanglement. So there are a number of small manoeuvres like that, epistemological manoeuvres, which we will have to actively engage in order to shift the perspective and begin to consolidate some new grounds to make sense of where we are going, and what the politics of the future could look like.
In anthropology, there is this notion of Neolithic revolution. It says that some ten thousand years ago, in many different parts of the world, obviously independently from each other, people were no longer hunters and gatherers, as they had been for millennia. Which is not to say that hunters and gatherers did not, or do not actively affect the ecology: humans were always maintaining and reordering the natural environment. But at one point, the idea to settle down and bring the food resources close to the dwellings prevailed. And that is when and where the entire concept of property over land began, and with it, patriarchy as the oppressive hierarchy of people and things that regiments the men and subdues the women.
And matters of sexual reproduction, and the rest of it.
Yes, the woman became an asset.
The project should be to destroy patriarchy. To do so, we need to push towards a universal moment of un-settlement.
But were we to undo this notion of ownership over the land, which is an absurd legal fiction, as you cannot own something that will survive you by millions of years, would that be a good first step?
Yes, it would be a very good first step. What would be the overall project? The overall project would be to bring to closure the very idea of settlement insofar as settlement, as you yourself are saying, can only operate in conjunction with all forms of fixation, immobilization and domination, and crystallization in a variety of forms, a key one of which is patriarchy. So to destroy patriarchy— because that should be the project: it should be to destroy it, not to reform it. The project should be to destroy patriarchy. To do so, we need to push towards a universal moment of un-settlement. And unshackling. Let people move. Let things move. Let them move.
De-borderization, and more. Let us make sure that limits are no longer the principle all-around, that the limits and settlement are no longer there. It means a lot of things, it means re-thinking, for instance, citizenship, membership, belonging. And here, Africa is full of inspiration.
If we look into the archive of Africa before 1884, the political community was not a territorial community; the territory was just one element of it. It was the capacity to move, to be in motion, to be in circulation. Which meant, for instance, that there were many different forms of membership, and people who belonged had different opportunities to belong, different forms of belonging.
You could belong as a stranger, you could belong as a refugee, you could belong as a member of a specific kinship; the kinship principle was absolutely flexible. The principle of power and supremacy relied on your capacity to agglomerate around you as many people as possible, which is totally different from the logic of, as we call it in France, the enclos which is Western logic, I am sorry to say, that was later extended, “universalized”. So there are different alternatives and epistemological foundations for all of these things, and that is how we begin to destroy the existing systems of dispossession which produce so many discounted bodies which can then be sacrificed. How do we re-institute some sense of that which, because it is priceless, cannot enter into the regime of calculation that Stiegler is talking about: the incalculable? And because it is priceless, is entitled constitutively to some form of protection and immunity. So what I am suggesting is that we need to reverse things entirely, beginning with conceptions.
Maybe an old idea from the liberation wars during the Second World War could come in handy: maybe we need some liberated territories first?
To experiment with such new social forms …
Let us be crazy and posit that the future of our planet depends to a large extent on Africa as the sign of the oldest amongst us.
Could that be Africa?
I don’t know. Since you mentioned Africa, I can only say about Africa as such that it is, first of all, for those of us who try to work from there while having an eye on the world at large, one thing that is objective and concrete: the planetarization of the African predicament. The second, which is more speculative in the realm of hope is that, in fact, it might well be that the future of our planet will be played out in Africa. When one suggests as much, you see that people smile and are polite, but there is this notion that you are crazy. That same form of craziness one can see in the current impasse we find ourselves in might be pretty creative. So let us be crazy and posit that the future of our planet depends to a large extent on Africa as the sign of the oldest amongst us.
We are all Africans.
Somewhat. We are all Africans somewhere. I mean, we all came from there. We all have something of that. Of course, to be old does not necessarily mean to be wise, but that is a different conversation. But it is also the youngest among the human. And by the end of this century, I am sorry to say, places like Europe and others will be …
They will be, you see, beautiful museums, let’s just put it like that.
Let us make Europe a museum continent!
Yes. Beautiful museums. But I wonder whetherit will still have anything meaningful to share. And it did bring a lot to humanity. Nobody in his or her right mind can come and say that Europe did not contribute a lot to humanity.
Yes, but at what price?
With the price, of course, we come back to the question of the price and the question of the future. So in terms of the biological future of humanity, it is in Africa.
Which brings me to the sore point that we discussed over Facebook some time ago: where there was this crazy idea to move the wildlife of Africa to China, while so much of it is on its path to extinction.
The problem with China is that China is not interested in crafting a different politics for the future world. They are not. Their project is to beat the West at its stuff. They say, we will do it far better than you did. That is what they are doing. They promise to do it in a more efficient way. To exploit nature one hundred times more than we did. Which they are doing.
We have not found another proper world; had we found one, all the rich would secede once and for all and leave. They would all go.
In Africa as well.
In their own land, all these dams, and this extraordinary recalibration of the geological, spatial, architectural habitat powered by billions of people, the sheer demographic power. Which they are also now trying to do in Africa because the rise of China as a superpower depends to a large extent on Africa’s yet untapped raw materials. And when I say raw materials, I mean it in the broadest sense possible.
So the Chinese project in Africa has to be contested. But from within that broader paradigm, what I call the politics of the future world, the future planet if you will, is not helping to repair and share as equitably as possible this planet, which is the only one we have, the only one on which, so far, life is possible. We are still looking to see whether, and if so, in what form, life might exist out there. But we have not found another proper world; had we found one, all the rich would secede once and for all and leave. They would all go. They would just all go, and turn the Earth into a vast depotoire, a garbage site, a waste bin, or whatever you call it. They would leave.
The fantasy of planet B is very prominent.
Oh, yes. Of course, it is.
But there is no planet B.
Thank God. But they could wake up one day and say, let’s forget about it, let’s deal with what we have because this is the only planet we have. And when this planet implodes, it might not leave anybody untouched.
Although it is a tempting idea to put them on a ship and just …
Send them off. That would be an interesting mode of expansion, to expel the rich. Because so far, we expel only the poor, and those who are discounted. That is why I keep using that term, discounted bodies, because that is what we are really doing right now. Just look at the EU immigration policy, it’s all about that: who should be left to rot.
It is disgusting.
All of this after we have made the places where they come from inhabitable. We have destroyed everything. And we want them to live in the midst of the ruins we have created. And in the midst of the waste of our bloated over-consumption.
A question about that. Is money still money, an exchange tool? Or has it become the exclusive property of the rich?
A very interesting question. First of all it is lesser, it is material. And second, the velocity of money is becoming unimaginable. Mentioning the financial crisis in 2008, it happened due to malpractice and bad derivatives and so on and so on. Now, in the era of algorithmic trading, machines calculate or effectuate time faster than any human brain can. So this coming together of money and chronophagy, the devouring, the consumption of time at the speed unseen before, changes entirely the nature of what we call money.
Life and mobility have become entangled to the point where, should you want to kill some people, make them immobile.
Again, because it is a 19th century institution? And then there is the stock market. It is essentially a casino; it has nothing to do with the value of things. Do we need it for the future?
No. Of course, it’s more and more disconnected from both the production of things that we need, that most humans need; not all needs but the basic ones. To have a shelter, to have food so as not to die of hunger, to be clothed, all of those things. To be able to move, because today, to be alive requires that the body be able to move: because if you cannot move, you cannot survive.
Life and mobility have become entangled to the point where, should you want to kill some people, make them immobile. Mass incarceration of Blacks in the United States; the multiplication of enclaves; parameters where you put people in and they cannot get out; you trap them, like in Palestine, in Gaza …
It is again a 19th century concept. And a colonial concept.
Yes. It is the Bantustan, it is the so-called Indian reservation, and all that. But at this time the technology is making it even more brutal.
About this Chinese idea, about moving wildlife from Africa to China: there is also the question of other living hominids, as we now call the other species of great apes, our cousins. We cannot hope to ever know ourselves without having them around. And they are all facing extinction.
This is something that has to be taken absolutely seriously. There has not been a serious engagement, intellectual or political, with China’s presence in Africa. There’s a new scramble for Africa, which is proceeding apace, is not very visible but never spoken about as it should. All of that in a context of a new partition of the world, a new nomos of the earth, not à la Carl Schmitt but in entirely different historical circumstances.
And that is why I am very interested right now in the question of borders, borderization, movement, mobility, circulation and so on and so on. Because of what is at stake as the planet we live on becomes smaller and smaller: that is the other thing, yet another mega-process that is ongoing. It is presenting us with a process of compression of the planet, just as the question of the future of life on Earth becomes increasingly dramatic.
New forms of expansion are set in place and set in motion, but at the same time, new forms of settlement and occupation and appropriation are unfolding. Appropriation of what? Not only of territories but of species and their existence. And in this sense, the Chinese way is, you come, you bribe the local corrupt potentates, and then you take things to take them home: you loot basically, you do so swiftly, and you take home the spoils of corruption, the resources underneath the African soil as there are plenty. There are savage forms of capturing, apparatuses of capture: capturing of parts of the sea, as the Koreans do: blow up the sea, take all the fish, kill the rest who have no possibility of reproduction because you have killed them all.
All that is going on in terms of fishing along the coast is absolutely catastrophic. So these new forms of partition of the Earth and the redistribution of populations, it seems to me, require not only political attention but also intellectual work. And it must be figured out what is going on, what might go on in the rest of the world. It will not stop there. Just as we see what is going on in Gaza—the techniques of subjection in Palestine. Now they are reproduced all over the place, including in Europe and the USA, there is militarisation of the police, all of those things. Maybe not exactly in the same terms but these techniques of subjugation circulate.
Everybody has a dream of a dictator, they want a dictator, they want a strong man.
What will happen to the nation-state?
It will be hollowed out by transnational elites. The next already on-going struggle is between nation-states and the transnational elites, as epitomized by the financial flows and all the rest. So the nation-state will remain a kind of empty envelope in which most of the ruling elites will whip up the dark passions, antisemitism and xenophobia, all of that, in the hope of distracting the people and encouraging them to find boucs émissaires, the scapegoats, while preventing them from focusing on the real enemy which is capital. And now, everybody has a dream of a dictator, they want a dictator, they want a strong man.
Perhaps because a dictator says, follow me, I know the future?
But dictatorship will not deliver anything. So unless people wake up and understand that the undisputed force in this is finance and calculation, how do we fight finance and calculation? With what weapons? If we do not fight it, we are doomed; dictatorship won’t deliver anything.
We need science fiction writers to help us: not only in describing what is going on or what might happen, but how we deconstruct it.
Traditionally, from the 18th to the 20th century, all revolutions that happened won at the moment when the military and police switched sides, when they were no longer willing to protect the elites. That is probably not possible anymore?
No, because there are many different weapons nowadays and most of them are not just the civil property of the military, they have been privatised. The concept of the army also changed tremendously, because the rich are armed, not simply armed, they are under the armed protection of the state.
There is a symbiotic relationship between the finance and the military. Because war is business. It is part of the mechanics of the asymmetrical redistribution of violence on the markets of violence where the rich have themselves become a military class. So how do you oppose it peacefully, how do you cause change? I have no idea. We need science fiction writers to help us: not only in describing what is going on or what might happen, but how we deconstruct it.
We need to build models.
We need a science fiction for deconstruction.
I take it that your next project is about borders?
Yes, but borders as a pretext to address these broader issues of what I call the “politics of the future world:” questions around the future of life on earth. And that is what I am writing about now. Borders, technology, movement, speed, and behind all of that, the new nomos of the earth that is in the making.
One could argue that borders and boundaries provide meaning and purpose to people.
Oh yes. That is why people are attached to them. Viscerally. But we have to keep contesting. Making all of these things an object of contestation, so that nobody can stand up and say, this is it. Which is the case right now, where you have these ongoing debates about the relationship between insecurity and freedom, and now we pay lip service to freedom, so that security is trumping freedom. It should not be like that. So we make of all of these things the terror of a permanent struggle.
We are still looking for an exit from this chamber of horrors.
Definitely. The moment we stop looking for an exit, we just close the door and throw away the key.
Transcribed by Jovita Pristovšek.
The interview was first published in ČKZ magazine in Slovenian translation. Disenz published the English original.