The Ancient Origins Of Biopower, Part II: The Affect of the Polis

ImageThat hiding is essentially socializing seems contradictory, but only later in the adult mind do retreat and hiding suggest the hermit. The landscape to the child is animated. Loneliness is to be without a place to hide. The rhythm of being with and being apart from, coming and going, joining and separation in games is a dynamic recognition of the livingness of nature.

Paul Shepard, Man in the Landscape

The idea that our alienation isn’t so much the physical atomization of our bodies and activities, but instead the flood of our bodies and activities, to the point where there is no silence, nowhere to be or to escape, hits close to home for many. Vacations and spa retreats deceive the body into a feeling of temporary relief from such a social and physical tension, but fail to bring about an actual release through which our collective stress can be dumped and learned from. To this extent we are caught in a prison society where life is work and leisure is recovery from work. There is no fulfilling activity, just physical and mental stress matched with instant gratification, at a cost, of course; these exist as forms of recouping in order to endure an ever-amounting strain.

Additionally, the phrase without a place to hide is an interesting one if looked at as an extension of without a place. To make a slight nod back to the removal of humans from the natural world, the common estrangement from any place, any anchor connecting one to the land that supports them, enlivened by generations past, generates an indescribable loneliness common to citizens of industrial society. The placeholder of the city acts then as a non-place, a void within which bodies float.

But the general movement of isolation, which is the reality of urbanism, must also include a controlled reintegration of workers depending on the needs of production and consumption that can be planned. Integration into the system requires that isolated individuals be recaptured and isolated together; factories and halls of culture, tourist resorts and housing developments are expressly organized to serve this pseudo-community that follows the isolated individual right into the family cell. The widespread use of receivers of the spectacular message enables the individual to fill his isolation with the dominant images–images which derive their power precisely from this isolation.

-Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

The notion of being alone together, as Debord describes it, remains at the center of life in the city, the lack of substance thus filled by “dominant images”, furthering the ever-inverse isolation of the self. What is this massive Empire that has entangled our bodies and desires? What characterizes this civilization, and how does it mimic our physical needs without ever providing the quality life as a living animal on a rich planet?

Domestication and Simulation

Conventionally, domestication is understood almost entirely via physical biology. By this I mean that the manipulation of plants and animals, controlling all the variables in the their production and re-production, will over time, alter the physical traits and DNA of the respective plant and animal. This process of domestication lies at the foot of civilization. The dominant philosophy regarding the rise of civilization interprets the transition from hunting and gathering one’s food to domesticating and growing it as a sort of cultural evolution – a natural transition. Opposingly, the common hunting-gathering tribe would have no need to leave behind the nomadic life for one of sedentarism and farmwork. To dump their traditions, settle in villages, and start tending to the crops and other forms of food production would be to complexify and exponentially diminish their quality of life. The fact that domestication and the rise of villages (and thus, cities) occurred in the Fertile Crescent would more accurately relate to surviving the brutal endpoint of the ice age at the time, forced by extreme environmental circumstance to produce food rather than simply collect it from the diverse sources of the wild land.

From here, sedentary life and food surplus (an inherent effect of agriculture) leads to the growth of the local population beyond the physical limitation of the village’s landbase; this new overgrowth literally forces the people of that culture to expand or spillover onto the surrounding wild areas (Keep in mind that each crop field requires the elimination of the diverse web of life that existed there before. In this sense, from the beginning civilization equates to ecological devastation and the genocide of nonhumans). When the time comes when the people of this culture expands to the point of interfering with the space of another tribe, the outcome is warfare, enslavement, and assimilation. The picture painted here is not one of evolution, but of pathology driven by extreme circumstances. Domestication as the advent of agriculture and thus sedentary lifestyle necessitates, for the first time, the rise of hierarchies – a class system where some have more than others, and some are taken care of more than others. Social status blends with survival, the food becomes locked up in order to enforce the local population to work (also a new happening for post-agricultural society). As the wild land deteriorates and the Empire expands, the accessibility of wild foods begins to decrease to the degree that even the possibility of escape dwindles. At this time the activities of peoples’ lives began to regiment themselves. Feasting, play, foraging, and childcare become separate activities – along with the rise of the sciences, mathematics, “higher” thinking, weapon innovation, and labor. Keep in mind that each crop field requires the elimination of the diverse web of life that existed there before. In this sense, from the beginning civilization equates to ecological devastation and the genocide of nonhumans.

The specialization of these activities make some people experts in only certain aspects of their lives, slowly losing agency in one’s own life, losing the ability of self-subsistence and the shared collection of all skills needed and enjoyed by primitive societies. This leads me to the phenomenon of social domestication. While the plants and animals civilization domesticated changed on a physical level over time, the DNA of humans have remained the same. What has changed, though, is our behavior, or social relations, and how we react. The “recomposition of community and of human beings by capital,” according to Camatte. The great psychological strain placed upon humans through the transition to city-life ends with intuitive repression, regimented thought, and pathological behavior, reflecting this newfound urban environment.

Camatte describes the process of the domestication of humanity as starting with, “the fragmentation and destruction of human beings, and the final outcome is that capital is anthromorphized”. This, he says, is “bound up with another phenomenon that has intensified even further the passivity of human beings: capital has in effect ‘escaped.’ Economic processes are out of control and those who are in the position of power to influence them now realize that in the face of this they are powerless: they have been completely outmaneuvered.

The effects: overpopulation, pollution and the exhaustion of natural resources are monetary crises that prove “capital’s escape”. According to Camatte, this leaves us unable to even escape, finding that those who would like to are “completely unequipped to create new interhuman relationships”.

We are therefore left with a “silent majority, […] permeated by the belief that it is pointless to do anything, simply because they have no perspective” The “process of domestication,” he continues, “is sometimes brought about violently, as happens with primitive accumulation; more often it proceeds insidiously because revolutionaries continue to think according to assumptions that are implicit in capital and the development of productive forces, and all of them share in exalting the one divinity, science. Hence, domestication and repressive consciousness have left our minds fossilized more or less to the point of senility; our actions have become rigidified and our thoughts stereotyped.”

To Jacques Camatte, “We have been soulless, frozen masses fixated on the past, believing all the time that we were gazing ahead into the future.” In the pamphlet Jacques Camatte and the New Politics of Liberation by Dave Antagonism, he defines domestication, in this sense, as, “the reduction/ destruction of humanity’s wild and autonomous subjectivity.” He elaborates that “the human being undergoes ‘analyzing-dissecting-fragmenting’ and then ‘capital reconstructs the human being as a function of its process.'” The effect of this is that “capital captures and transforms the fundamental critical facilities of humanity, the ability to think, conceive, communicate and wires them as part of the broader social circuitry. Camatte writes that ‘precisely because of their mental capacities, human beings are not only enslaved, but turned into willing slaves of capital’. The (re)production and circulation of life-as-capital require a huge amount of deep personal investment in all of capital’s processes.”

The domestication of humans ultimately recuperates the desire for community and individuality. The communal urge is met with the form of the collective worker, and for individuality, the form of consumer capital. The computerization of the human mind allowing itself to be, essentially, programmed by the needs of capital. Domestication for humans actualizes itself in the form of pacification, a recomposition of self-interest, and a hijacking of natural impulse, as opposed to the altered physical traits and functions of other domesticated beings.

Shepard also provides insight into the more innate happenings of domestication. He coins the term “reminiscent objects” to describe the stimulatory visual images recreated by civilization. In this way, things like jewelry, sold flowers, stained glass, ceramics, costumes, polished stones, fireworks, etc. “evoke the paradoxical effect of remembering and discovering.” The artificial simulation (or even repackaging, as it the case with polished stones and the presentation of a dozen roses) of the sensational sights that stimulate our bodies and mind gives itself as yet another example of the recuperation of our animal selves into the domesticated role of a citizen of civilization. The all- encompassing, even synaesthetic bombardment of spectacular stimulation removes our bodies from consciousness and into a mode of pure reception, reduced to an infantile state of dependence.


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