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To desert the desert

a text by Franco “Bifo” Berardi, published to accompany the exhibition Let’s Destroy The Earth But Keep Humans! by Keith Farquhar at LAVAPIU, Teramo (Italy), July 2023.

In the last issue of A/traverso, in June 1981, we published “The Crossing of the Desert.” It was the beginning of the ebb of the social movements that emerged in 1968, and the long crisis of politics was starting to manifest itself, eventually proving to be definitive: the anthropological mega-mutations produced by technology appeared too vast for the conscious action of governments. And the psycho-chemical micromutations produced by drugs and mass communication proliferated outside the scope of political action. The desert was beginning: a Chilean Nazi general had crushed Allende’s socialist experiment to establish neoliberalism, which then an English lady transformed into an unquestionable creed destined to convert the entire planet, by hook or by crook. The aggression of profit-driven economy against human life had started. Forty years after that aggression, it continues and self-perpetuates: every fragment of life has been sucked dry by the economicistic drain. Everything tends to be transformed into a desert: everyday life, language, the environment. Now, the desert finally reveals that it has created the conditions for the extinction of human civilization. Unfortunately, extinction takes time, and what awaits us in the meantime is an explosion of unspeakable horrors, of which the Hitler and Stalin era was just a foretaste. At the beginning of June, the second congress dedicated to the problem of plastic pollution took place in Paris. As usual, it ended with nothing achieved, except the promise to discuss it again by the end of 2024. In the meantime, plastic production is exploding worldwide, and every regulation is rejected by governments. However, every cloud has a silver lining. Microplastics, the product of the degradation of industrial plastics, have entered the food chain, resulting in a 58% decline in fertility over forty years (data from “Count Down” by Shanna Swan), and it continues to decrease. Even though we can expect increasingly advanced artificial reproductive technologies, as Margaret Atwood predicts in her dystopian novels, we can hope that humanity will soon disappear from the face of the Earth, thanks to microplastics. A matter of a few decades, if it depended solely on microplastics. But other factors create the ideal conditions for the next collapse of civilization.

 

Nazism has become common sense

After World War II, after the defeat of Hitler’s ethno-nationalism, the project of European unity began, aiming to overcome the model of the state based on race and nation. My generation grew up with the belief that Nazism was a story definitively concluded, but at some point, we had to realize that we had deluded ourselves. Far from being a bad memory of the past, Hitler, the defeated of the twentieth century, now appears as the triumphant figure of the twenty-first. Let’s be clear: like every experimenter, Hitler had taken a leap too far, but his experiment expressed a deep need that now emerges uncontrollably: an aggressive defence of the white race, whose enemy was then identified as Jews and Roma. In the years following Brexit and Trump’s victory, ethnonationalism has progressively become the common sense of the dominant Judeo-Christian population. The enemy is no longer Jews but the rising wave of migration threatening the sense of identity of an increasingly frightened, infertile, senile white population, undermined by a growing wave of youth psychological suffering and senile dementia. The European Union project was about transcending the national form of the state, but now the Ukrainian war accelerates the process of forming a European nation. With hindsight, those theorizations that only a decade ago saw Europe as the center of democratic and social resurgence on a planet heading towards self-destruction appear naive and almost ridiculous. As right-wing parties triumph in Italy, Greece, and Spain, the proclamations of those who would like to restore democracy in Europe by 2025 seem laughable. The pathetic theorems with which Toni Negri imagined that Europe could save social democracy are laughable too. Europe is not the homeland of civilization and law but the heart of colonialism and racism, conditions that made the formation of the global capitalist economy possible.

 

The evolution of guilt

Far from being an exception, as we were made to believe for a long time, Hitler’s Nazism now shows itself to be the deep truth of European history, and today it returns. To understand the genesis of the current re-Nazification of Europe, we must take into account a deformation of memory stemming from different declinations of white guilt. The guilt of the German people for the genocide of the Jews paradoxically transformed into the refusal to recognize that another people is threatened with extermination by the heirs of the Holocaust victims. In Germany, demonstrations of solidarity with the Palestinian people are banned, and anyone daring to denounce the ethnonationalist nature of the state that defines itself as “the state of the Jews” is accused of anti-Semitism. Complicity with the colonialism of Israel, whose declared mission is the extermination of non-Jews living in that territory, is both an effect of guilt and a repetition of guilt. France and Germany are burdened with guilt towards the countries of Eastern Europe, which, after 1945, were left hostage to Stalin. This prevents the European Union from coming to terms with the foul-smelling wave of anti-migrant racism and political authoritarianism rising in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, not to mention Hungary.The guilt has driven Europe into the abyss of the nationalist war in Ukraine, which turned Kaczynski’s Poland into the advance unit of a militarized and Nazi-fied Europe.

 

The Holocaust at the Southern Border

Different, however, is the elaboration of guilt towards the peoples subjugated and plundered by five centuries of colonialism. The guilt for those massacres, the deportations of millions of slaves, the exploitation and devastation of entire regions of the world, undergoes a repression that allows us to ignore the racist genocide unfolding at our borders. A new Holocaust of proportions no less than that of the 1940s is taking place at the border between the North and South of the world, from the Belarusian-Polish border to the forests between Bosnia and Croatia, from the Spain-Morocco border to the Mexican border, and above all in the Mediterranean, where sea salt has replaced Zyklon B, and along the southern and northern coasts of the Mediterranean, from Libya to Turkey, from Lesbos to Puglia, Auschwitz is revived in a dreadful archipelago of detention and torture centres. Italian government ministers are culturally predisposed to extermination due to their ignorance and unmatched cynicism, but they are no worse than their French, English, and even German colleagues, despite Angela Merkel’s generous but unsuccessful attempt in 2015.

 

Nazism in Colour

It is difficult to see Auschwitz behind the tourist resorts on the Greek, Turkish, and Italian coasts. But the return of white ethnonationalism has a different aesthetic from that of the Third Reich. Nazism in colour does not resemble what our memory recorded in black and white. The aesthetic mutation that gave rise to Nazism in colour was conceived and realized by Silvio Berlusconi’s smiling and monstrous sneer, the laughing mummy. The asses who govern Italy today proudly spout words they may have learned from the Bignami manual. They talk about cultural hegemony but do not understand what they are saying. The truth is that the expression “cultural hegemony” was already outdated when, in the ’60s, the late-Gramscians of the Communist Party did not understand that a media machine capable of replacing pervasiveness with persuasion, homogenization with hegemony, was emerging. It would be strange if Marcello Veneziani could understand that his power is not based on ideology and the related (decrepit) hegemony but on the acceleration of meaningless noise, mass decerebration, the diffusion of a Camorristic baroque deeply rooted in the aesthetics of Italian subalternity, from which Italy has no chance of surviving. The depth of the defeat suffered by humankind in the last four decades is measured not in political but anthropological, cognitive, and psychic terms. Hence, the abyss is insurmountable.

 

Despair/Conspiracy

It is then a matter of preparing for what will happen because it is already happening: Europe has become a nation, making ethnonationalism its official policy. Military spending is increasing worldwide, leading to a disinvestment in education, healthcare, and eradicating the possibility of investing in the environment. In the name of economy and nationalism, the world becomes a hell. The environmental emergency becomes normality, and climate change is a decisive factor in the movement of migratory masses and, therefore, the senescent northern population’s fascism. The social body’s immune defences are depleted: precarious, practically slave labor makes class solidarity impracticable. Subalternity is psychic, even before being political. The ’68 generation is disappearing. The generation that grew up in the years of neoliberalism is corroded by depression and cynicism. The last-defined generation is being filled with a wave of despair. But despair is not always a bad advisor. It can become conscious hopelessness, a radical refusal to believe in the goals of the nation and the economy. It can pave the way for active conspiracy of passivity, defeatism, cultural and economic sabotage. Despair can transform into a movement of autonomy from the destiny of humankind.