Excerpts on exhaustion

Copyriot quite recently proposed a general theory of exhaustion. Well, would it be possible, or make anything clearer, to make a connection between peak oil and brain drain in relation to present day crisis capitalism? Here goes some excerpts on exhaustion, in order to make to put our cognitive capacities to work…

exhaustion |igˈzôs ch ən|


  1. a state of extreme physical or mental fatigue : he was pale with exhaustion.
  2. the action or state of using something up or of being used up completely : the rapid exhaustion of fossil fuel reserves.• the action of exploring a subject or options so fully that there is nothing further to be said or discovered : the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives.

    • Logic the process of establishing a conclusion by eliminating all the alternatives.

ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from late Latin exhaustio(n-), from Latin exhaurire ‘drain out’ (see exhaust ).

– Oxford American dictionaries

The restrictions on flow that affect fossil fuels are the product of geology and economics, not bank regulations, but the principle is the same. It’s simply not possible to extract more than a certain amount of oil from a given oil field per year – the amount varies from field to field due to fine details of geology – and trying to do so is a good way to exhaust the field prematurely, losing the chance to get some of the oil you might have had by doing things the right way. Despite all the ballyhoo about high-tech methods of extracting oil from the ground, in practice, those turn out to get about the same amount of oil as the old-fashioned method, just a lot faster; in practice, that means that the field keeps production at a higher plateau for a while longer, but runs dry sooner. The limits to coal and natural gas production are a bit more straightforward: neither one is cheap to produce, and the faster you want to produce it, the more it’s going to cost you and the sooner you run out of good places to dig or drill.

– John Michael Greer, “Energy Funds, Energy Flows

Today psychopathy reveals itself ever more clearly as a social epidemic and, more precisely, a socio-communicational one. If you want to survive you have to be competitive and if you want to be competitive you must be connected, receive and process continuously an immense and growing mass of data. This provokes a constant attentive stress, a reduction of the time available for affectivity. These two tendencies, inseparably linked, provoke an effect of devastation on the individual psyche: depression, panic, anxiety, the sense of solitude and existential misery. But these individual symptoms cannot be indefinitely isolated, as psychopathology has done up until now and as economic power wishes to do. It is not possible to say: “You are exhausted, go and take a vacation at Club Med, take a pill, make a cure, get the hell away from it all, recover in the psychiatric hospital, kill yourself.” It is no longer possible, for the simple reason that it is no longer a matter of a small minority of crazies or a marginal amount of depressives. It concerns a growing mass of existential misery that is tending always more to explode in the center of the social system. Besides, it is necessary to consider a decisive fact: at the time when capital needed to suck in physical energy from its exploited and from its slaves, psychopathology could be relatively marginalized. Your psychic suffering didn’t matter much to capital when you only had to insert screws and handle a lathe. You could be as sad as a solitary fly in a bottle, but your productivity was hardly affected because your muscles could still function. Today capital needs mental energies, psychic energies. And these are exactly the capacities that are fucking up. It’s because of this that psychopathology is exploding in the center of the social scene.

– Bifo, Precarious Rhapsody, p. 42

Traveling the circuits of social communication, the erotic object is multiplied to the point of becoming omnipresent. But excitation is no longer the prelude to any conclusion and multiplies desire to the point of shattering it. The unlimited nature of cyberspace endows experience with a kind of inconclusiveness. Aggressiveness and exhaustion follow from this unlimited opening of the circuits of excitation. Isn’t this perhaps an explanation of the erotic anxiety that leads to de-eroticization and that mix of hypersexuality and asexuality that characterizes post-urban life? The city was the place where the human body encountered the human body, the site of the gaze, contact, slow emotion and pleasure. In the post-urban dimension of the cyberspatial sprawl, contact seems to become impossible, replaced by precipitous forms of experience that overlap with commercialization and violence.

– Precarious Rhapsody, p. 90-91

The good side of teaching is that I’m doing Capital for the first time in years (not the whole thing but more of it than I’ve done in the past). The challenging side of teaching is my digital networks class. It is completely labor intensive–extra layers of interaction on top of the regular class format, layers that are supposed to help students connect to and comprehend the readings but which don’t seem to be having that affect. Together the two classes make me think about how much of a neoliberal subject I am, how I’ve incorporated the ideology that tells me that the more I am working the better I am, even when this is obviously false. I’m not better–I’m exhausted, disconnected, distracted, and confused.  Also, the amount of work I do doesn’t influence my pay and I have tenure. So I work out a sense of commitment, professionalism, all those things that bourgeois ideology convinces us are important.

– Jodi Dean, Dispersed and distracted

Notes from a seminar with Francesco ‘Bifo’Berardi

Some notes from a seminar at Doch Stockholm
March 29 – April 1, 2010

Origin from the italian autonomia movement the media activist and political theorist Bifo has a formulated a question that activates philosophical as well as psychological concerns: Is it possible, under present conditions, to form a collective process of subjectivation?

So what are the present conditions? Bifo describes the rat wheel that european workers are running within. The european laborer is dependant in cognitive and communicative capacities that we use to the uttermost. But capital does not buy persons anymore, but rather small snippets of time. Work is everywhere, it has no certain relationship to a specific physical time or place. The same goes for capital. The bourgeoise of 20th century was attached to a territorial dominance of the urban landscape. But we no longer talk about a bourgeoise because we can no longer see a clear connection between the capitalists and the territories of exploitation.

The acceleration of labor is intense, and we work under constant competition, which sometimes creates panic. Here, Bifo turns to Guattari influenced schizo-analysys to better understand what happens. When panic occur there is a break in the narcissistic investment that we put into our labor. This means an abruption of the desire to work, produce and reproduce. We get depressed (a word that Guattari would never use, though). We feel guilt and debt due to our incababilities. To get out of this depressed state of mind we use amphetamine, (not necessarily literally). On the adrenaline high we go back to work. The wheel keeps turning and we are back to work.

Cognitive labor reduce manual labor time, but the working hours is going up anyway. And even when we are not at work we are immersed into cognitive processes that cannot be separated from the part of our productive force that we sell. The problem with cognitive labor is that it effectivly mobilize our “soul” meaning language, affects, identifications, but also our ability to engage emotionally in social and intimate relationships. It has all been subsumed by the presumably ever-flowing non-stoping forces of capital.

But even capital can get exhausted. After the dot.com crisis at the turn of the millennium the terrorist acts of 9-11 layed ground for a psychic mobilization of the west that lasted untill the next crisis starting emerging from the failing car industry, the raising crude oil prices and overvalued subprime mortgage market. So no matter all the prozac we have fed on and all the money that the state has put into the failing financial markets the workers and markets of the west are approaching an extensive fatigue.

In  the dark visions that Bifo lay out modernity and capitalism are about to go separate ways. We cannot presume that civilization as we know it is here to stay. Europe is falling apart along the lines of the catholic south and the protestant north. The economic union doesn’t serve anyone anyone and what else is it that could keep the EU together? A decivilization process has surfaced in Italy, where about 130000 public teachers are fired in a 2 year transition plan to make the schools private or run by the catholic church. We have to keep thinking about Europe and not be suprised when it goes dirty.

And how about the process of collective self-subjectivation? Well, it’s extremly hard to imagine autonomy today. It is even hard to find affinity with a group of people and keep some distance to the productive/disruptive forces of capital at the same time. Bifo suggest some kind of schizo-analytical group therapy session as a starting point for organization of autonomy. Time as well as space is of course important factors and in order to get time to meet each other we must spend less, to work less. But refusal of work is harder than ever before, Bifo is not a happy spinozian. The game might very well be over.

The Character, the Player and Their Shared Body

The article is written by Gabriel Widing & Tova Gerge, published in Role, Play, Art, edited by Thorbiörn Fritzon and Tobias Wrigstad,  in conjunction with the 10th Knutpunkt Convention in Sweden, 2006.

What happens to our bodies when we give them to characters and place them in new environments and situations? Where do these memories go? The aim of this essay is to write a genealogy of muscles and organs; to try out visions and conflicting thoughts concerning the body in play.


Live role-players put their bodies at the disposal of the destinies of the characters. Thereby, their bodies are also at the disposal of the aims of the organisers. New experiences are imprinted onto the organism of the participant, and new desires and aversions are born out of these experiences: the brain is pulling in one direction, the stomach just wants to quit, the heart is rushing. As the motivation for playing lies in the body, so do reactions in the game.

Our starting point is that each player has interests in his or her character—sexual desires, social awards, psychological challenges, need for confirmation, etc. Yet the choice of character is often disguised by false neutrality. A characters choice directed by personal interest, seems somehow dirty and suspicious. “I can play anything” is a common expression when it comes to picking a character. It is shameful to want, shameful to choose.

Within each player culture, there is a norm for what thoughts and variations are acceptable. This norm might be good in terms of controlling and moderating our behaviour. The tradition of some interests, for example “psychological challenges”, being more legitimate than others means that, in practise, a controversial choice of character will only be welcome if the player has a billion brilliant intellectual reasons to explain it with. The success rate in passing this social test is entirely individual,which is why we wish to describe these interests on a structural level rather than an individual.

If we can identify which desires one might be gratifying by entering a live role-play, we can also produce scenarios that are fulfilling specific needs or interests. In other words: scenarios and characters that make the greatest possible impact on their participants, and vice versa.

Continue reading

Post Panopticon

This was my first text published in english and it has some weak parts but I’ve left it unchanged. It was published in the anthology Beyond role and play, edited by Montola & Stenroos in 2004.

Analysing live action role-playing has always been problematic. The subjectivity of every experience makes the personal reflection a lame weapon for an analysis. We need to find new of writing about the phenomena. Any attempt to go farther than a diary from character/player perspective or ”the food was very bad” is welcome.

This article is an attempt to use and introduce post-structuralism as a tool for looking at role-playing. It is about how signs and symbols are used and created. It is about positions and perspectives. It is about power.

The post-structural theory has been developed in many scientific fields. Some examples are Foucault’s historian writings on social thoughts, Barthes’ medial analysis, Lacan’s neopsychoanalysis and Derrida’s philosophy of signs. It has also been a crucial element in contemporary feminist theory underlined by writers like Weedon.

I will use the poststructuralist approach to deconstruct the Norwegian contemporary scenario Panopticorp, by Irene Tanke. I will read the “text” Panopticorp, and view it as a frame for the interaction. Panopticorp was a story about an international advertising agency. Real life agencies like Panopticorp work with the production of meaning in the media environment and everyday life. The scenario made great use of language to construct identities, divisions and the illusion of something different than everyday life. The consious way of creating the frames for this scenario made it one of the most interesting and dangerous events 2003.

Taking the job

The participants of Panopticorp enrolled as the employees of a multinational corporation with the same name as the event itself. The registration for the event was an on-line employment form for people going to the newly started Panopticorp Oslo Unit. This way of entitling brought the fiction close to ”the real world” and challenges the traditional agreement of live role-playing to never let fiction and reality meet. The participants were put in the position of a character, but without the context of the enactment.

Only one thing was given to the participants in printed media: The corporate dictionary, CorpDic. The contents of this folder framed the whole event, putting focus on certain perspectives while marginalizing others. It presented dozens of concepts, transforming language and the usage of it:

”CorpSpeak – The ’slang’ of Corpers. Since CorpSpeak embodies PanoptiCorps CorpFil and organisational structure, mastering CorpSpeak is not just a question of ’fitting in’ but a measure of ones understanding of how PanoptiCorp works.”
–    Panopticorp CorpDic, 2002

Language is a way of positioning. The dictionary most certainly structuralized the character interpretation and expression in certain patterns. In most role-playing events, the organisers define and state an agreement with terms and rules that everybody must obey. As a participant one can chose to accept those terms, or just avoid signing up for the event. This is very important in order to make the medium function. But participants must be conscious about that they are surrendering a lot of power to the organisers. Sometimes the organisers define the participants’ life conditions for days.

Living the job

”CorpFil – The Corporate Philosophy of PanoptiCorp. reflected in our way of life and work. The core of our CorpFil is that optimum (NexSec) CreaProd is achieved through the creation of functional MemeFields within horizontal, competetive, organisational structures. Because of our emphasis on MemeFields over formal structure, CorpSpeak is not just ’office slang’ but an embodiment of our corporate identity.”
–    CorpDic

Abandoning one’s own language transforms one’s way of thinking, which is a method for immersing into the character and the surrounding setting. All the characters at Panopticorp had clearly defined roles, different classes and functions at the agency. Those roles had new concepts attached to them; carders, dozers, spotters, divers, suits and more. The participants did not have any pre-understanding of these words, which made it possible for the organisers to maintain total control of the definitions.

The Panopticorp unit was the life of the characters. They ate at the agency, they slept at the agency and they even shagged at the agency. During the days of the event the Panopticorp agency was the one and only reality for both participants and their characters.

The agency had new concepts for the relation to time. “Now” was never good enough. The characters strived for being “NexSec”, trying to guess their way towards the next upcoming hot ideas, brands or persons. Saying something that became interpreted as “LasSec” ruined one’s social status for hours or even days.

Since Panopticorp was a contemporary, realistic scenario, there was an unexplored possibility to let ”real people” without characters enter the event, without even knowing that it was a fiction. Would this be an offensive act, degenerating their reality, or would it be an invitation to take part in our reality? I still wait for scenarios with the courage to explore these fields.

Decentralized hierarchy

“Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers.”
– Michael Foucault, Panopticism

The panopticon theory, which inspired the name of the event, was written by Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. Imagine panopticon as a cylinder with prison cells all around. The cells have one open wall, only covered with bars, as transparent as the fourth wall of a theatre stage. In the middle of the cylinder there is a tower with windows black as sunglasses. From the tower, all prisoners can be watched. The people in the tower cannot look at all prisoners at the same time, but the prisoners do not now when they are under surveillance, only the fact that they are. Panopticorp was somewhat different.

Take away the tower, so the prisoners can see each other, and give the prisoners reason (shorter penalty for example) to report on each other – then you have Panopticorp. The corporation had a flat structure, with no bosses or certain demands from owners (except profit, of course). There was no board of directors. Still, the characters were strictly put in a dynamic but hierarchic order. This was visualised through the hotnot-system:

”Hotnot – The standard PanoptiCorp system of rating perfomance, HotNot votes occur at least daily at any Unit. Unlike the rating systems of more LasSec agencies, where the Human Resources director performs the rating, PanoptiCorps HotNot is democratic, giving all co-workers an equal vote in HotNot ratings.”

–    CorpDic

Depending on your status in the hotnot, you were assigned different roles on projects of different importance. It visualized the current hierarchies within the agency. It is evident that the repression that used to originate from the top of the hierarchy can actually be distributed and shared by all.

An illusion of power?

Live role-playing is generally far more democratic than most other media. It decentralizes the power of stimuli creation, breaking down the traditional mass communicational idea of a few producers sending stimuli to many consumers. But since live role-playing claims to be an anti-authoritarian medium it is very important to be aware what kinds of power structures are created. One should not be content with the conclusion that the medial structures are far more democratic than tv. Exactly what are the functions and positions of organisers, writers, participants and others in relation to the project?

One authoritarian position is stated in The Manifesto of the Turku School by Mike Pohjola:

”The roleplaying-game is the game masters creation, to which he lets the player enter. The game world is the game master’s, the scenario is the game master’s, the characters (being a part of the game world) are the game master’s. The players’ part is to get inside their character’s head in the situation where the game begins and by eläyminen try to simulate it’s actions.”

The turkuists consider the organiser to be an artist in a very modernist sense of the word. The organiser is a genius and God. The participants should be grateful that they are allowed into the brilliant artistic work that the organiser has set up. The participants are the puppets of a content puppet master. This approach is honest, but hardly desirable. I want to consider live role-playing as a fellow-creating process. The organiser must be ready to lose control of the event.

Another view is represented by the Norwegian manifesto Dogma 99, written Eirik Fatland and Lars Wingård. They claim that the organisers should not in any way manipulate or direct the story:

”5. After the event has begun, the playwrights are not allowed to influence it. /…/ As organisers take control during a LARP, the players become passive. This leads to players learning to expect organiser control, even demanding it. Only a LARP entirely without organiser influence will place the real initiative in the hands of players, where it belongs. As we learn how to make LARPs work independent of organiser control and influence, it will become possible to develop more constructive and activating methods of organiser interaction.”
– Dogma 99

Participants will never be free from the control of the organisers, but they should be aware of when and how they are manipulated. Dogma 99 wants to give the power over the event to the participants. But the organiser still defines the themes and agendas. The participants have freedom, but only within the framework defined by the organisers.

There is a difference between control before or after the event has begun. If the organisers are communicative and give input during the enactment, they become part of the process. If they only set the frames, they do not partake in the development of the actual event. I prefer organisers that dare to be fellow-creators of their own event. And I prefer to be participating in setting the frames of an event, even if my only function during the enactment is to play my character.

The participants of live role-playing events are often denied the possibility to partake in the designing of the milieu, rule system and dramaturgy of an event. Panopticorp took this even further. The participants became deeply manipulated by the clever organisers as they gave away their language and thus their thoughts. After just a day many participants were thinking like binary machines: hot/not, lassec/nexsec, upcard/downcard, always judging co-workers as effective or worthless. It took weeks for me to erase the thinking of dividing people into useful or non-useful out of my mind.

This is not a matter of morals. The organisers of Panopticorp made their point very clear. It was a brilliant mind-fuck and an indispensable learning experience. Unfortunately the structures of Panopticorp are not just fiction, they are real. Dr Belbin is one of the profilers in the team-work company that bears his name:

“Over the years many people have been interested in the team role theory expounded in my book Management Teams ‘Why They Succeed or Fail’ first printed in 1981. More and more jobs involve people working together and here the roles individuals play are very important. With our new online version of team role feedback, we aim to give individuals a fuller insight into their own behaviour in the workplace by taking account of how they are seen by others. The reports include advice on developing a personal management style suited to your team role profile.”
–    Dr Meredith Belbin

This is scary. Role-playing could be a great defence against the assigning of roles from the surroundings, but only if we are not blind to our own processes. Participants should be part of the pre-process. Organisers should partake in the story. Both participants and organisers should refuse their assigned roles as participants or organisers.


Belbin, Meredith: http://www.belbin.com/belbin-team-roles.htm
Bentham, Jeremy: Panopticon, 1791
Fatland, Eirik & Lars Wingård: Dogma 99
Foucault, Michael: Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (NY: Vintage Books 1995) translation by Alan Sheridan
Pojhola, Mike: The Manifesto of the Turku School, 2000
Fatland, E: CorpDic, 2003
Tanke, Irene, et al. Panopticorp