Mark Fisher was in conversation with the ever engaging David Cross. They share passion in the state of the world, and I loosely categorise them as Cross working to address some of the predicaments directly, and Fisher commentating and proposing possibilities for how things might develop. This alternative to the current status quo feels to me active, rather than the resigned struggle typified by the ubiquitous ‘keep calm and carry on’ mantra.
Fisher was able to present his research and ideas contained in his book ‘Capitalist realism: Is there no alternative?’ in a really interesting and accessible way. When the floor was opened up for questions I was really impressed with how engaged his responses were, it felt like a conversation.
These are the notes I took during Mark Fishers’ presentation:
The debate can be framed as Fordism vs Post-Fordism, the switch from The Godfather model of control to the blown-open Heat magazine generation.
Capitalist Realism is about keeping at bay what we know about sustainable growth/development. It makes it politically impossible talk about climate change.
When Thatcher announced ‘there is no alternative’ to capitalism, she meant there was none more desirable. Today we are facing an ontological shift which allows us to see another way. We no longer accept ‘that’s just the way it is and the way it has to be’
The disappearance of the political in our contemporary popular culture actually means the victory of one form over all the others. Capitalist Realism is the pathology of the left. New Labour’s world is dominated by markets and big business, ‘that’s just how it is and it has to be engaged with’.
‘Continuous professional development’ epitomises New Labour. It means that you are never finished. Just like The Trial by Kafka, we are now living with lifelong uncertainty and perpetual anxiety. Validation will never come. You could call this a form of market Stalinism.
Neo-liberalism did not in fact free is from beurocracy as we have ended up just doing it all for ourselves. ( Raw market operating needs quantifying- when this gets applied to public services then you have to create beurocracy to measure it)
Is there such a thing as synergy of political and material changes?
How did neo-liberalism win? Successful violence destroyed established structures of workers rots. This was helped by the shift in workers desires. The 1060s neo-liberalism promoted link to modernisation, but to reject is not to modernise.
-Fordism: workers exchanged boredom in return for security in the local factory. In the 1970s the fractures began, with antagonism between management and workers. Resulted the precarious position of ‘flexibility’
-Computerisation and digitalisation, which is short term.
In the 60s success was equal to Stalinist or lenin view of just getting things done, with the alternative being the ethical approach, in which nothing appears to get done. Resulted in a great IMPASSE.
Frederick Jameson offered view on the state of homogenisation. Culture becomes chronically nostalgic, a pastiche. There develops the rhetoric of high turnover and the disappearance of anything new. But capitalism can’t deliver new culture, just new technology.
Communicative Capitalism. Participation is compulsory.
capitalist Realism is the naturalisation of Post Modernism. Results in retrospection and pastiche. This are the facts of mandatory continuous precarity.
Sherrie Turkle in Alone Together wrote about modern communication and how email means we have no more set working hours. Smartphones mean we have no more restricted workplace, but the converse of that is that the workplace is everywhere.
A phrase for this is nonstop inertia. Communicative Capitalism states that phones are no longer leisure items. The libidonisation of anxiety- smartphones are tethers to the capitalist matrix. In social media time we are always late.
David Cross then talked with Fisher about ‘worker prisoners and debater addicts’. And whether post-Fordist placing may be way of recontextualising solidarity?
Fisher responded by summarisation that flexibility is a capitalist construct, plasticity has a memory but can be explosive, and elasticity is a pastiche the two.
The so-called ‘prisoner’ Fordist workers didn’t want to move into liquidity or flexibility, they wanted more structure and coordination. This comes back to centralisation vs de-centralisation.
Being stressed at work results from no longer having union stewards to go to or anyone to ask for support. We are now soley responsible for it ourselves, and therapy or medication takes the role.
Personally I find these theories of lack of support, continuous workplace and constant expectations of improvement and developing being related to mental ill-health extremely interesting.
There is a common dismissive notion that depression is a modern phenomenon, literally in our minds. Accepting it as such, but integrating current knowledge of predisposition towards mental ill health and trigger situations such as a side-effect of capitalism seems brilliant to me.
It means that just as increased incidence lung cancer is as a result of smoking, or road accidents are a result of the car, or indeed burns are a result of the harnessing of fire, we accept that living with capitalism can be bad for our health too.
Fisher finished by suggestion that our capital is in a state of ‘non-stop innertia’ driven by the property prices. UK property prices are a major source of capitalist control, in that if you are happy to work hard to keep a roof over your head, you have no every left to make something or think about things. Logical.