Achille Mbembe (1957, French Cameroon) is a historian, post-colonial thinker and political scientist; studied in France in the 1980s and later taught in Africa (South Africa, Senegal) and the United States. He currently teaches at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (University of Witwatersrand, South Africa).
The article was originally published in English on 12/22/2016 on the South African Mail & Guardian website, under the title “The age of humanism is ending” and translated into Spanish and published by Contemporeafilosofia .blogspot.com, 12/31/2016. The translation is by André Langer.
“There are no signs that 2017 is very different 2016.
Under Israeli occupation for decades, Gaza will remain the largest open-air prison in the world.
In the United States, the killing of blacks by the police will continue uninterrupted and hundreds of thousands more will join those already housed in the industrial-prison complex that was installed after the slavery of the plantations and the Jim Crow laws.
Europe will continue its slow descent into liberal authoritarianism or what cultural theorist Stuart Hall called authoritarian populism. Despite the complex agreements reached in international forums, the ecological destruction of the Earth will continue and the war on terror will increasingly become a war of extermination between the various forms of nihilism.
Inequalities will continue to increase worldwide. But, far feeding a renewed cycle of class struggles, social conflicts will increasingly take the form of racism, ultranationalism, sexism, ethnic and religious rivalries, xenophobia, homophobia and other deadly passions.
The defamation of virtues such as care, compassion and generosity goes hand in hand with the belief, especially among the poor, that winning is the only thing that matters and that winning - by any means necessary - is ultimately , the right thing.
With the triumph of this neo-Darwinian approach to making history, apartheid, under various modulations, will be restored as the new old norm. Its restoration will pave the way for new separatist impulses, for the construction of more walls, for the militarization of more borders, for deadly forms of policing, for more asymmetric wars, for broken alliances and for innumerable internal divisions, including in established democracies.
None of the above is accidental. In any case, it is a symptom of structural changes, changes that will become more and more evident as the new century unfolds. The world as we know it since the end of World War II, with the long years of decolonization, the Cold War and the defeat of communism, that world is over.
Another long and deadly game has begun. The main shock of the first half of the 21st century will not be between religions or civilizations. It will be between liberal democracy and neoliberal capitalism, between the government of finance and the government of the people, between humanism and nihilism.
Capitalism and liberal democracy triumphed over fascism in 1945 and over communism in the early 1990s with the fall of the Soviet Union. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the advent of globalization, its destinies were disentangled. The growing bifurcation between democracy and capital is the new threat to civilization.
Supported by technological and military power, financial capital achieved its hegemony over the world through the annexation of the nucleus of human desires and, in the process, becoming itself the first global secular theology. Combining the attributes of technology and religion, it was based on unquestionable dogmas that modern forms of capitalism reluctantly shared with democracy since the postwar period - individual freedom, competition in the market and the rule of commodity and property, the cult of science, technology and reason.
Each of these articles of faith is under threat. At its core, liberal democracy is not compatible with the internal logic of financial capitalism. The clash between these two ideas and principles is likely to be the most significant event in the political landscape of the first half of the 21st century, a landscape formed less by the rule of reason than by the general release of passions, emotions and affections.
In this new landscape, knowledge will be defined as knowledge for the market. The market itself will be re-imagined as the main mechanism for validating the truth. As markets are increasingly becoming algorithmic structures and technologies, the only useful knowledge will be algorithmic. Instead of people with body, history and flesh, statistical inferences will be all that counts. Statistics and other important data will be derived mainly computing. As a result of the confusion of knowledge, technology and markets, the contempt will extend to anyone who has nothing to sell.
THE humanistic and enlightened notion of the rational subject capable of deliberation and choice will be replaced by that of the consciously deliberating consumer and voter. Already under construction, a new type of human will will triumph. This will not be the liberal individual who, not so long ago, we believe could be the subject of democracy. The new human being will be constituted through and within digital technologies and computational means.
The computational age - the era of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter - is dominated by the idea that there are clean blackboards in the unconscious. The forms of the new media not only lifted the lid that previous cultural eras placed on the unconscious, but became the new infrastructure of the unconscious. Yesterday, human sociability consisted of maintaining limits on the unconscious. For producing the social meant exercising surveillance over ourselves, or delegating the right to enforce such surveillance to specific authorities. This was called repression.
The main function of repression was to establish the conditions for sublimation. Not all wishes can be fulfilled. Not everything can be said or done. The ability to limit oneself to oneself was the essence of one's own freedom and the freedom of all. Partly thanks to the forms of the new media and the post-repressive era that they have unleashed, the unconscious can now roam freely. Sublimation is no longer needed. The language shifted. The content is in the form and the form is beyond, or exceeds, the content. Now we are led to believe that mediation is no longer needed.
This explains the growing anti-humanist position that now goes hand in hand with a general disdain for democracy. To call this phase of our history a fascist could be misleading, unless by fascism we are referring to the normalization of a social state of war. Such a state would in itself be a paradox, since, in any case, war leads to the dissolution of the social. However, under the conditions of neoliberal capitalism, politics will turn into a poorly sublimated war. This will be a class war that denies its very nature: a war against the poor, a racial war against minorities, a gender war against women, a religious war against Muslims, a war against the disabled.
Neoliberal capitalism has left in its wake a multitude of destroyed subjects, many of whom are deeply convinced that their immediate future will be a continuous exposure to violence and the existential threat. They genuinely crave a return to a certain feeling of certainty - the sacred, the hierarchy, religion and tradition. They believe that nations have become something like swamps that need to be drained and that the world as it is must be brought to an end. For this to happen, everything must be clean. They are convinced that they can only save themselves in a violent struggle to restore their masculinity, the loss of which they attribute to the weakest among them, to the weak that they do not want to become.
In this context, the most successful political entrepreneurs will be those who speak convincingly to the losers, to the men and women destroyed by globalization and their ruined identities.
Politics will become street fighting and reason will not matter. Nor the facts. Politics will once again be a matter of brutal survival in an ultra-competitive environment.
Under such conditions, the future of progressive, forward-looking left-wing mass politics is very uncertain. In a world centered on objectifying everyone and every living being in the name of profit, the elimination of politics by capital is the real threat. The transformation of politics into business poses the risk of eliminating the very possibility of politics. If civilization can give way to some form of political life, this is the problem of the 21st century. ”