Or communism or extinction. This is how forceful the philosopher, activist and writer Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi (Bologna, 1949) is shown in The second coming (Black Box), the small essay in which it is measured, nothing less, than with the idea of the Apocalypse. The founder of the historic and revulsive Radio Alice, the first radio outside the system in Italy and also of the first Italian community television, today a professor of Social History of the Media at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brera (Milan), thinks that the screen is separating us from the world. He also believes that the world is ending because “we were not able to consolidate the socialism that was born in the sixties of the workers’ struggle and feminism, and barbarism dominates everywhere today.” And it is a barbarism that is destroying the planet. Shoot, Berardi, from his humble vantage point against the chaotic reality in which fascism “has been reborn”, with, he says, “desperate hope”, because all is lost, but at the same time, it might not be. Answer from a terrace in Barcelona.
QUESTION. What do you mean by saying that all is lost but might not be?
ANSWER. Let’s say that, like Nietzsche, I have two brains. In a way, my thinking about the future is bipolar. On the one hand, I am aware of the fact that demographic, environmental, health, geopolitical, and economic data point to a rapid extinction of human civilization. Not of the species, but of civilization as we have known it. The international community is crumbling, everything is crumbling. But on the other, I tell myself that what is happening in Chile is very important. That there is a brand new generation, the one represented by the mayor of Santiago, Irací Hassler, who speaks of a communism that has nothing to do with that of the twentieth century. It is something that arises from people cultivated thanks to the power of knowledge technology. We are at a crossroads, at a fork.
P. It places the rise of fascism on the side that leads to extinction, obviously.
R. Of course. Although it is not exactly fascism. Today’s is a fascism of impotence. Of ignorance, of suffering. In the last century, fascism was a fascism of the masculine, youthful power. Today it is of senile impotence, of a senile white humanity.
P. So we are facing two possible futures, and immersed, as indicated, in a global civil war since the fall of the Twin Towers.
R. We always understood the civil war as a war between the left and the right. But that of the left and the right no longer exists. Today’s is the civil war of identities, and identities are many and chaotic, and not precisely defined. It is the identity war that makes the world ungovernable today. And I go back to Chile, but also to Joe Biden when I think of an alternative to that. Although I tell myself, I don’t know why, that Biden is today less powerful than the mayor of Chile.
P. In what sense?
R. The figure of Biden interests me. His way of speaking politically has changed. Today he is a man of the left and acts like one. I tell myself that being the most powerful man in the world, maybe I can end racism in the police force and increase opposition to guns. But then I tell myself that Biden is not powerful today. He wants to make Google pay taxes, and I say to myself, is Google in the United States or is the United States in Google today? Who ultimately decides Biden’s political power or the guy who can shut down global communication?
P. Is the politician today, then, a passive actor?
R. It is not the politician but the politics. Politics today has nothing to say. In a theoretical sense, politics is the ability to decide and act more or less effectively in relation to a certain place, or space. If politics cannot decide because everything happens so fast that it cannot even think, and cannot act effectively because reality is too complex and financial automatisms are stronger than it, then it is dead. It is useless. That is why in its place today there is violence or corruption, things that have nothing to do with what politics has been.
P. And yet he believes that there is hope.
R. There is, because we are in the middle of a mutation of the collective dimension. We are moving from the domain of the will to the domain of sensitivity, understood as the ability to tune in, to detect how we can survive. That’s when I say that Hassler may have more power today than Biden because what is happening has much more to do with evolutionary adaptation than with authoritarian imposition.
P. That is, with the new policy more than with the old?
R. I don’t know if I would call it politics. I like to define modern politics with that phrase of Machiavelli that says that politics is a prince subjecting fortune, reducing the unpredictable complexity of reality to a unitary will. It has worked for five centuries in which masculine potency has subdued fortune. In the end, the catastrophe is evident. The destruction of the planet is the main consequence. To get out of that we need to plunge into a chaos that is permeating so that there is a progressive sensitization to new forms, which go through establishing another relationship with consumption, pleasure, and time. The essential.
P. Do you think the pandemic has helped in that regard?
R. At first I thought that the pandemic could produce a profound break in the economic and psychic cycle of consumerism, and to some extent, it has. But it has brought something else. We must prepare for a long-term depressive crisis.
P. And how does that depression fit into the idea of the automaton you talk about in your book? Doesn’t it come at a time when the amount of stimuli is such that it can prevent you from being aware of that depression?
R. The intensification of stimuli makes it impossible to emotionally and rationally decode the world today. We live in chaos. And what do we do to cope? We create automatisms. The automation proposes a valid solution to a situation that is too complex. The complicated thing is that automatism increases the condition of psychic suffering, because as automatons we feel trapped. And that increases the chaos. It is a fish that bites the tail. Faced with more chaos, more automatisms. Let’s think about him big data. It is an attempt to fix automatisms that make everyday life possible. At the same time, reason and will go mad. The fake news. But the fake news they are not new. They exist since Nero. Only that we come from a time, that of modernity, in which what was relevant could be distinguished from what was not. Today we talk about everything, but everything is too much.
P. Do you really think that communism is the only way out?
R. The communism I’m talking about isn’t exactly communism either. I am surprised that Hassler uses the same word because he is not talking about nationalizing the metal industry or collectivizing the field. He is talking about the only way to save humanity from ecological catastrophe. You are talking about frugality. It does not speak of poverty, nor of the reduction of our life, but of attending to what is essential. The truly useful. The pandemic, I insist, has marked a profound break in this regard. It has been inevitable to realize that money is worth less and less.
P. What do you mean exactly?
R. I don’t expect anything from the big financial intervention from Biden or the European Union. Why? Because when you are dying, money is useless, when there is no vaccine, money is useless, and when you are sad, neither. We can only cope with the depression that we are going to suffer as a society with a policy of the useful. What is really useful? We must rediscover how having impoverishes being. Today the power of knowledge has created the conditions for an equality of the useful that can only be hopeful. And despite everything, fascism advances. At that fork we find ourselves.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.