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The End of Labour and the End of the World

June 17, 2016


Not today, nor tomorrow. The Apocalypse or the end of the world is not on the cards for the simple fact that it has already happened and is now behind us.

Such a statement may seem excessive because by carefully observing the unfolding of events we can concede that a "certain world", the one of our habits, is most likely dead, but the other world, the "real" one, continues to orbit more or less as it always has. This possible objection dictated by apparent "good common sense" masks the risk of a real misunderstanding of those formidable events that led to this end. Above all this reduction prevents us from tangibly adapting our collective projects to the awareness of what has already occurred. The End that has already occurred cannot prevent us from understanding that our world is simply the world that each one of us perceives, beyond which nothing is like it was before and nothing resembles us any more.

This end is far beyond observable material and political data and is signalled along the entire individual and collective nervous system. A single example: beyond the historical succession and surpassing of technologies devoured by progress, the decline of perceptual habits produces an increasingly evident "nervous breakdown" and it is precisely this irreversible aspect of an end of the world that, all in all, has produced nothing but tangible meltdowns. In fact, the finite world drags on like an illness in the creation of something that is not yet there. We cannot describe the medical records of all the symptoms, so let us limit ourselves to the most serious pathology in so far as more structural and decisive: the end of labour. A tangible end, albeit exorcised and hidden by the repeated and hypnotic use of the word unemployment. Labour as the foundation of all human virtues has changed nature and now rides under the volatile flag of luck. What was once a consubstantial element of the very nature of humans has become the prize the Goddess awards to those fortunate enough to find, have or hold on to a job.

On this issue the French philosopher Jaques Attali stated with the courage of he who discovers an umbrella on sunny days and in sunny places that: "Machines are the new proletariat. The working class is being given its walking papers."" More than being let go, it would be fair to say being fired. In greater numbers and for ever. This liberation is however called unemployment and it is now a poisonous conundrum. For thousands of years, in fact, humans have never desired Labour but rather income: to put it bluntly, money. We have ended up in a sad and dangerous mental "no man's land" that extends between the now silent trenches of the old world and the motionless lines of a present that, incapable of planning liberation, remains stationary, incredulous and stunned to breathe the stench of the dead and unburied ideologies that taint the air. We are in that painful time that the German poet Friedrich Holderlin anticipated as "the time of the gods that have fled and of the god that is coming.” A time when the link between work and income is temporarily assembled in a simulacrum of the working class recognizable by the single, desperate defence of survival, where all possibilities of thinking about the Future are totally absent.




Hic Rhodus, hic salta \ The epiphany of sweat and the punishment of work

There is no possibility of thinking about the future because this time it involves making a painful wrench, a formidable leap beyond the end of history announced by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama. History that cannot be trivially understood as a sequence of events destined only for the senselessness of a terrifying cosmic transformation, but as the possibility of giving meaning to the future thereby tearing it away from the emptiness of becoming.

History is the world and the world is history. The sense of history, and therefore of the world, is summarized in the relentless challenge to overcome the perpetual crisis established by the biblical curse: "[...] Cursed is the ground [...] in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life [...] By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground [...]" ( Genesis 3 - 17).

This "economic programme" has already demonstrated its millenary and universal effectiveness and its still being in force makes it difficult, even for the most hardened materialist, to deny the evidence: it certainly is the divine word.

In fact, the Bible announces the perpetual crisis that brings the epiphany of sweat and proclaims the effectiveness of pain. Thus the very hard sense of Labour takes shape: all the moral dynamics, the political and cultural problems and the complexities introduced by Labour represent the eschatology of history, the ultimate and rational end of history and its derivatives.

To our cost we have finally managed to decode the meaning of history and to follow - at whatever cost - the glorious direction of travel. We must however, whether atheists or halfhearted believers, recognize that God, by almost unanimous definition is good and necessarily fair with human creatures, and did not lie about Labour presenting it to us for what it is: a punishment. A punishment from which the human creature has tried to escape by using, as best they can, and at times even heroically, sin itself: Knowledge. This challenge for redemption has shaped history and forged the world. Nowadays, after having demonstrated full cognitive capacity in the liberating use of apples (even if it was only one) and redeemed the biblical debt, the curse falls away and with it dies the idea of human Labour made up of sweat on the face and pain as the only possibility of obtaining food.

The fantastic leap to make consists of separating income from labour. A leap into the unknown, in any case indispensable for the survival of the entire system, otherwise threatened by disastrous social convulsions, a leap above and beyond the chasm to bridge the fatal separation between income and Labour. The scandalous inception of technoscience made impossible not by “facts” but by the presence of ghosts of the defunct world. This end to the relationship between direct manufacturing technologies and human Labour, which has gradually become more unsustainable, is summarized in the scandalous line of conduct: "Neither moral nor honourable, but a refusal of Labour!”. Perhaps a premature buzzword with respect to actual production conditions, but it reveals a clear desire to act in advance on the "end of the world", giving it a positive, liberating meaning, taking it on as a redemption project. Nowadays the voices from that social enclosure repeat what the sentinels of unemployment have always written - a tragic joke - at the entrance: “Arbeit macht frei” namely “Work sets you free”. Inside this mental prison freedom continues to be offered in exchange for Labour. In exchange for Labour that no longer exists.

The radical question we ask concerns the understanding and acceptance of the scandalous leap of civilization: stop working to survive. This means permanently leaving behind all cultural concessions and any moral and political factors that had permitted the social gathering of the world that has already ended and is now to be reinvented.

Now we must recover the Epopteìa of the Poetic Soul, that is the capacity to look beyond time and find our place in the world; thinking of it as the capacity to make or remake the world after it has ended. As regards what we nevertheless have to face, it is easy to intuit the shattering impact on a psychological level or the neural circuits that hold together societies established on the biblical definition of Labour itself, beyond the mere production need. Labour that is now reduced to a prize for the few lucky owners of the right ticket in the lottery of the wretched. Labour that is still the main star in the media scene, after being reduced to an underpaid extra in the necessary manufacturing scene.




The march of the robots

The Greek Classics tells us that the poetic soul is the only one capable of snatching lives from the senselessness of Becoming. This spirit returned to the present day with an unexpected appearance on Saturday 30 April 2016 in Zurich where a robot protest march took place. The issues, which revolved around artificial intelligence and intelligences that are still natural, can be summarized as follows: “We perform the hardest and most repetitive jobs," claimed the robots, "and we don't receive one euro for it, but our Labour allows many people to be freed from theirs. These people, referred to as the unemployed, have no income. The equivalent part of the wealth produced by us and that we would be entitled to, pay it to them in the form of an income because we don't know what to do with paper money."

Someone will point out that these arguments have little credibility if coming from the shrill and guttural little voices of the artificial figures. Or the news from Zurich will be blotted out and reduced to a metaphor. However, the timing of the event, which, referring to the Greeks, we could call “poetic”, cannot escape anyone: a robot protest march in Zurich, an event difficult to imagine before the End of the World insofar as unthinkable outside of the thought patterns of the Civilization of Labour, so it can only be understood if reduced to a Happening or an artsy performance castrated by the authentic political attributes. The very day that robots marched on Zurich claiming an income for humans, Saudi Arabia decreed the expulsion of twenty-five thousand Philippine workers who had become unnecessary despite having been paid under semi-slavery conditions. It was not revealed whether the political generosity of the mechanical operators was truly authentic and capable of offsetting the arid late-capitalist cynicism of rich Saudi emirs. We may in fact suspect that the Zurich Robots, by claiming money for the unemployed Homo Faber, would want to protect themselves against retaliation from Living Labour to avoid finding themselves in pieces and recycled as storage boxes, memories of their weaver ancestors who in Lyon destroyed the looms as soon as they were introduced into the production cycle.

Behind this metaphor of a, for now unlikely, war between man and "machines" there lie two even worse dangers of conflict. The first concerns our relationship with the Earth, who until yesterday was Mother to us but has now become Daughter and Lover in a jumble of mutations that are tremendously complex for Homo Faber to manage. The old Mother Earth in fact represented a finite space still containing room to manoeuver, maternally made available to us. That finite space can no longer contain all the infinite desires for expansion that lurk in the ideology of Labour. After the conflict between us and the Earth, which can be summarized in so-called ecological problems, there is a second, fatal conflict looming between the growing mass of former Living Labour without an income, which can no longer buy the goods produced by the machines/dead labour, which thereby brings on the final conflict with the very reason for producing. The resulting generalized impoverishment establishes a persistent, endemic and destructive social conflict with outcomes that are as foreseeable as they are harmful.

In talking about an end of the world that has already happened and focusing the argument on the end of Labour, we can understand how and to what extent Labour, well beyond the mere production evidence, represents the ideological origin, and the cultural and political Grund of a Civilization. An understanding that opens up the traumatic prospects of the necessary cognitive surpassing of everything that was familiar and reassuring to us but that now lies dead behind us. A historical world we must learn about and process the loss. Collective mourning which, besides the Freudian aspects, is rationalized like this: all dead Labour has started to “live” and as a consequence Living Labour dies. Rest - finally - in peace. Amen.

Cover image:

Gian Marco Montesano, BERLIN, Anhalter Bahnhof, 2015, Oil on canvas, 90 x 120 cm.