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.