postfuturism

MANIFESTO OF POST-FUTURISM

1. We want to sing of the danger of love, the daily creation of a sweet energy that is never dispersed.

2. The essential elements of our poetry will be irony, tenderness and rebellion.

3. Ideology and advertising have exalted the permanent mobilisation of the productive and nervous energies of humankind towards profit and war. We want to exalt tenderness, sleep and ecstasy, the frugality of needs and the pleasure of the senses.

4. We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of autonomy. Each to her own rhythm; nobody must be constrained to march on a uniform pace. Cars have lost their allure of rarity and above all they can no longer perform the task they were conceived for: speed has slowed down. Cars are immobile like stupid slumbering tortoises in the city traffic. Only slowness is fast.

5. We want to sing of the men and the women who caress one another to know one another and the world better.

6. The poet must expend herself with warmth and prodigality to increase the power of collective intelligence and reduce the time of wage labour.

7. Beauty exists only in autonomy. No work that fails to express the intelligence of the possible can be a masterpiece. Poetry is a bridge cast over the abyss of nothingness to allow the sharing of different imaginations and to free singularities.

8. We are on the extreme promontory of the centuries… We must look behind to remember the abyss of violence and horror that military aggressiveness and nationalist ignorance is capable of conjuring up at any moment in time. We have lived in the stagnant time of religion for too long. Omnipresent and eternal speed is already behind us, in the Internet, so we can forget its syncopated rhymes and find our singular rhythm.

9. We want to ridicule the idiots who spread the discourse of war: the fanatics of competition, the fanatics of the bearded gods who incite massacres, the fanatics terrorised by the disarming femininity blossoming in all of us.

10. We demand that art turns into a life-changing force. We seek to abolish the separation between poetry and mass communication, to reclaim the power of media from the merchants and return it to the poets and the sages.

11. We will sing of the great crowds who can finally free themselves from the slavery of wage labour and through solidarity revolt against exploitation. We will sing of the infinite web of knowledge and invention, the immaterial technology that frees us from physical hardship. We will sing of the rebellious cognitariat who is in touch with her own body. We will sing to the infinity of the present and abandon the illusion of a future.

—  Franco Berardi aka Bifo, MANIFESTO DEL DOPOFUTURISMO [manifesto of post-futurism] via  eipcp.net
Welcome to the Postnormal Paradox

We live in an in-between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have yet to be born, and very few things seem to make sense. — Ziauddin Sardar

The more we have wired everything into everything else, the less we can know about tomorrow.  —  Stowe Boyd


American businesses currently are sitting on a collective dragon’s hoard of cash: $1.9 trillion in cash. Which begs the question: why aren’t they investing it in something? 

Adam Davidson takes an journalist pass at this in Why Are Corporations Hoarding Trillions?, and the result:

There are countless economic journal articles laying out theories about why corporations have shifted from borrowing to saving. Some of the reasons are prosaic. Just like people, companies might want to have money for emergencies or for lousy economic times, and the past decade has been a period of increasing risk. Also, corporations have become far more focused on something they call ‘‘tax efficiency,’’ which the rest of us call ‘‘tax avoidance’’: For various reasons, holding on to cash and carefully shifting it among subsidiaries, especially foreign ones, is a great tool to shrink your tax bill.

[…]

The answer, perhaps, is that both the executives and the investors in these industries believe that something big is coming, but — this is crucial — they’re not sure what it will be. Through the 20th century, as we shifted from a horse-and-sun-powered agrarian economy to an electricity-and-motor-powered industrial economy to a silicon-based information economy, it was clear that every company had to invest in the new thing that was coming. These were big, expensive investments in buildings and machinery and computer technology. Today, though, value is created far more through new ideas and new ways of interaction. Ideas appear and spread much more quickly, and their worth is much harder to estimate. (Indeed, the impossibility of valuing the Internet is essentially what created the 2000 stock bubble.)

Surely the most important economic question of our time is a fairly simple one: Are the good times over? Will wages continue to fall for many, while rising high for a few? In the cash conundrum, we might find a modest reason for optimism. If corporate leaders and their investors truly believed that the future were bleak, that innovation and economic growth were irreparably slowing, there would be little reason to hold on to all that cash. Their hoarding of it hints that they think the next transformative innovation could be just around the corner. If in fact they do — and if they’re right — it’s good news for all of us.

Many – unmentioned here – believe that it is increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to assess risk (and therefore rewards) because we are in an age, according to Ziauddin Sardar,

characterised by uncertainty, rapid change, realignment of power, upheaval and chaotic behaviour. We live in an in-between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have yet to be born, and very few things seem to make sense. A transitional age, a time without the confidence that we can return to any past we have known and with no confidence in any path to a desirable, attainable or sustainable future.

Sardar calls this the postnormal. As I wrote in 2013,

The tempo of modern life has sped up to the point that the future feels closer, and since it’s only a heartbeat away it seems reasonable to imagine being able to glance around that corner and know what is about to transpire. But that’s just a feeling.

The future is actually farther away than ever, because we have constructed a world that is the most multi-faceted astrolabe, the most incestuous interconnection of global economic interdependencies, the deepest ingraining of contingent political scenarios, and the widest pending cascade of possible ecological side-effects. The more we have wired everything into everything else, the less we can know about what will happen tomorrow.

And so these giant technology corporations – many of which are my clients – make small acquisitions, invest (relative to their means) modestly even on their moonshots. They wait for a time when the fog clears – or we develop better means to push aside the clouds of complexity and uncertainty – and perhaps then, and only then, make a big bet. Until then, we are living in the postnormal paradox, where those with the greatest means to invest wind up sitting on the sidelines, uncommitted.

Post-Futurist Manifesto (by Franco Berardi)


1. We want to sing of the danger of love, the daily creation of a sweet energy that is never dispersed.

2. The essential elements of our poetry will be irony, tenderness and rebellion.

3. Ideology and advertising have exalted the permanent mobilisation of the productive and nervous energies of humankind towards profit and war. We want to exalt tenderness, sleep and ecstasy, the frugality of needs and the pleasure of the senses.

4. We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of autonomy. Each to her own rhythm; nobody must be constrained to march on a uniform pace. Cars have lost their allure of rarity and above all they can no longer perform the task they were conceived for: speed has slowed down. Cars are immobile like stupid slumbering tortoises in the city traffic. Only slowness is fast.

5. We want to sing of the men and the women who caress one another to know one another and the world better.

6. The poet must expend herself with warmth and prodigality to increase the power of collective intelligence and reduce the time of wage labour.

7. Beauty exists only in autonomy. No work that fails to express the intelligence of the possible can be a masterpiece. Poetry is a bridge cast over the abyss of nothingness to allow the sharing of different imaginations and to free singularities.

8. We are on the extreme promontory of the centuries… We must look behind to remember the abyss of violence and horror that military aggressiveness and nationalist ignorance is capable of conjuring up at any moment in time. We have lived in the stagnant time of religion for too long. Omnipresent and eternal speed is already behind us, in the Internet, so we can forget its syncopated rhymes and find our singular rhythm.

9. We want to ridicule the idiots who spread the discourse of war: the fanatics of competition, the fanatics of the bearded gods who incite massacres, the fanatics terrorised by the disarming femininity blossoming in all of us.

10. We demand that art turns into a life-changing force. We seek to abolish the separation between poetry and mass communication, to reclaim the power of media from the merchants and return it to the poets and the sages.

11. We will sing of the great crowds who can finally free themselves from the slavery of wage labour and through solidarity revolt against exploitation. We will sing of the infinite web of knowledge and invention, the immaterial technology that frees us from physical hardship. We will sing of the rebellious cognitariat who is in touch with her own body. We will sing to the infinity of the present and abandon the illusion of a future.

The advanced industrial nations will not be re-jiggered onto any “growth” runway. Rather, we’re entering the rutted wagon-road of de-industrializing and un-advancing. What awaits us in a “time-out” from hyperbolic technological progress. Forget about Ray Kurzweil’s nanobot nirvana. That is not in the cards. Instead, wrap your mind around life in an economy organized around farming, with a much sparser distribution of big urban centers, and far fewer people overall. Don’t imagine for a moment that your grandchildren will be zinging across the landscape in electric cars sampling one theme park after another while “networking” with “friends” on cyborg social networks implanted in their brain jellies. Think of them grooming their mules in the summer twilight. Anyway, you get the picture: everything that the finance ministries and treasuries and central banks are affecting to do is mere shadow theater performed in support of wishful thinking.

The question, then, is what kind of hardship and disorder will attend our journey out of the industrial era into post-technological age we are entering. Will we just turn the world into a Michael Bay movie and blow everything up? Or will we make some graceful descent and retain what is really best about the human spirit?

— 

- James Howard Kunsler, 2012 Forecast: Bang and Whimper via Clusterfuck Nation

Kusler goes on to make prescient comments about likely conflagration in West Asia (aka the Middle East) with growing tension between Iran and Turkey, the two toughest kids in the school yard; North Africa; and between India and Pakistan. The water wars are coming, although Kunsler doesn’t use the term.

It Is The Business Of The Future To Be Dangerous

It is the business of the future to be dangerous.

- Alfred North Whitehead


The pursuit of trying to divine the future – or as today’s futurists generally claim, to think about the future systematically – always seems to trivialize the future’s threats, or to make it seem like tarot card reading. It seems to largely have fallen out of favor, except the end of year predictions that every blogger in the Western world seems compelled to make.

But Whitehead had it right: the future is dangerous, inherently, and never less than today. But the retrofuturistic visions of flying cars, food pills, and intergalactic space travel have led to a distrust of the notion of futurism: that it is a/ possible, and b/ useful.

Robert Cotrell makes the case for thinking small and short-term:

Popcorn and prediction markets

There are still some hold-outs prophesying at the planetary level: James Canton, for example, author of “Extreme Future”. But the best advice for aspirant futurists these days is: think small. The best what-lies-ahead book of 1982 was “Megatrends”, by John Naisbitt, which prophesied the future of humanity. A quarter-century later, its counterpart for 2007 was “Microtrends”, by Mark Penn, a public-relations man who doubles as chief strategy adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. “Microtrends” looks at the prospects for niche social groups such as left-handers and vegan children. The logical next step would be a book called “Nanotrends”, save that the title already belongs to a journal of nano-engineering.

The next rule is: think short-term. An American practitioner, Faith Popcorn, showed the way with “The Popcorn Report” in 1991, applying her foresight to consumer trends instead of rocket science. The Popcornised end of the industry thrives as an adjunct of the marketing business, a research arm for its continuous innovation in consumer goods. One firm, Trendwatching of Amsterdam, predicts in its Trend Report for 2008 a list of social fads and niche markets including “eco-embedded brands” (so green they don’t even need to emphasise it) and “the next small thing” (“What happens when consumers want to be anything but the Joneses?”).

A lot of my research is about the future, but I’ve seldom called myself a futurist or futurologist, perhaps because the term futurism is deeply embedded in the machine age, and its rejection of the the immediate past. ‘Futurism’ was also an artistic movement that jumped from modernism, and ultimately become a prop of the fascists.

I guess I have tried to stay small and near-term in my futuristic noodlings. At a sanitized, pseudo-objective level, I am a freelance researcher in social anthropology, with special focus on communication technologies, media, and the web. I generally don’t describe myself in cocktail parties as researcher in future studies in any academic sense: in fact, I would be more like to discuss my clairvoyance – I have a touch of it – than 'futurism’, per se.

What then am I to call my work, then?

from A World Of Signs by Clara Forest

Postfuturism is a (relatively) new term being used in heterogeneous ways by unaligned groups of artists and cultural critics. Some are using the term postfuturism as a way to distinguish their art work as distinct from postmodernism, characterized as the dominant cultural logic of late capitalism by Fredric Jameson. Today’s postmodernist futurists are caught up in a practice that is more like conspiracy theory than anything else:

Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism

As I have said, however, I want to avoid the implication that technology is in any way the ‘ultimately determining instance’ either of our present-day social life or of our cultural production: such a thesis is of course ultimately at one with the post-Marxist notion of a ‘post-industrialist’ society. Rather, I want to suggest that our faulty representations of some immense communicational and computer network are themselves but a distorted figuration of something even deeper, namely the whole world system of present-day multinational capitalism. The technology of contemporary society is therefore mesmerizing and fascinating, not so much in its own right, but because it seems to offer some privileged representational shorthand for grasping a network of power and control even more difficult for our minds and imaginations to grasp — namely the whole new decentred global network of the third stage of capital itself. This is a figural process presently best observed in a whole mode of contemporary entertainment literature, which one is tempted to characterize as ‘high tech paranoia’, in which the circuits and networks of some putative global computer hook-up are narratively mobilized by labyrinthine conspiracies of autonomous but deadly interlocking and competing information agencies in a complexity often beyond the capacity of the normal reading mind. Yet conspiracy theory (and its garish narrative manifestations) must be seen as a degraded attempt — through the figuration of advanced technology — to think the impossible totality of the contemporary world system. It is therefore in terms of that enormous and threatening, yet only dimly perceivable, other reality of economic and social institutions that in my opinion the postmodern sublime can alone be adequately theorized.

I have to resist my latent tendency to slip into a postmodern approach to thinking about the future, based on the cultural biases inherent in late stage capitalism, where I have lived all of my life to date. This sort of prognostication seems mostly focussed handicapping various alternative scenarios for companies to make money, for politicians to herd the electorate, or for political blocs to advance their agendas.

So, I am a postfuturist, and my challenge is to craft a postfuturist approach to thinking about the future. I know that we cannot continue with an obsession with endless growth, the faith that technologies are largely benign, or the premise that people herded into markets make rational decisions. I reject objectivity in my work, and believe that all claims for understanding must rest on strong beliefs rooted in not-completely-rational cultural learning, for better or worse.

This is the start of another manifesto for postfuturism, and not just for artists. Or perhaps in postfuturism all life is art, including peering over the horizon and trying to guess what is casting that distant shadow.

(h/t to Jamais Cascio)