All crisis phenomena have a common denominator: they reveal a general deficit of imagination. The present is being endured to the same degree as the future seems inconceivable. What will happen tomorrow with social security, education, affluence or culture? Some people bury their head in the sand of the present moment, others compensate for the missing vision with fear and aggression. Angela Merkel's “we'll make it” doesn't help much. It mostly means: if you can't prevent something from happening, then just pretend you're steering it. There are good reasons to be wary of big plans. In the past, the ones which didn't fail made things even worse. On the other hand uncontrolled developments usually strengthen the rule of the stronger.
So how can we re-imagine the future? The Canadian thinker and activist Max Haiven has written several books on this question, among others Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power: Capitalism, Creativity and the Commons (Zed books, 2014). Now, he opens his rich tool box to focus on the movement of people, data and goods – a traffic that will not continue without control. Borders and infrastructure are the central sites for this control of movement, and therefore also crucial sites for the production of futures. How is it possible to achieve democratic oversight of borders and infrastructure? Which imperatives are required to reimagine and rebuild these sites accordingly? He explores this in cooperation with TACIT FUTURES, the 2016 programme of the Berliner Gazette.
Toddler's first steps. Shutterstock/ Valeriya Anufriyeva. All rights reserved.We do not imagine in stasis. Consider the infant’s first steps: they are not merely some physiological twitch or automatic reaction, they depend on the ability of the infant to recall the past, consider potential futures, and coordinate that imagining with the body in movement. This is a neurological and physical feat of embodied cognition. The imagination, from the very beginning is in motion, is embodied, is a collective exercise of care.
The infant’s imagination exists as she moves, learns, and feels. But also, the infant learns to walk when her caregivers are surrounding, protect and comforting her when she falls, offering support so that she can learn to move differently, again and again. What caregiver/worker has not taught their child to imagine walking by holding it up so that it can practice. So the imagination, from the very beginning is in motion, is embodied, is a collective exercise of care. Movement is the realization of the imagination, and imagination is the process of movement.
In Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power I sought to argue, along with many others, that neoliberal capitalism is not only a political and economic system, it is also a cultural force, or a constellation of cultural forces. On the one hand, it has a dramatic and powerful influence on our imagination regarding who and what is valuable. On the other, it depends on this transformation of the imagination, and depends on transforming each of us into an agent or a vector of neoliberal competition, individualism and fear. Thus challenging this system will take more than just economic and political policies or movements, we also need to transform culture and the imagination. And I argued that the imagination is a collective, embodied and practiced force, not simply something we possess in our individual brains. Challenging this system will take more than just economic and political policies or movements, we also need to transform culture and the imagination.
Since publishing it, I have learned from many people and struggles, and would, appropos of the question of movement, update or refine my thesis somewhat. In line with my comments above about infants, I would say that if the imagination is not only always already embodied and collective but also in movement, then control over movement is key to the shaping of the imagination.
That is, how the movement of bodies is defined, shaped or controlled both shapes the imagination and depends on that shaping. Consider Toni Morrison’s phenomenal small book Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, where she develops a fascinating account of the American (and in many ways global) cultural imagination by linking its development to the transatlantic slave trade and the cultures of Black enslavement in the Americas.
Here a theory of the imagination is intimately tied to a history and a system based on both (A) moving and displacing bodies (across the Atlantic Ocean) and (B) controlling their movements to exploit their productive and reproductive capacities. So it is no accident that we are living in an age of mass black incarceration in the United States (and elsewhere, of other racialized populations).
Indeed, as sociologists like Ruthie Gilmore and Angela Davis note, the industries of racialized incarceration are central to the reproduction of global capitalism, something also very much at work in Europe where Frontex and other companies generate massive speculative capital from controlling the movement of populations. Angela Mitropoulos has shown how technologically enmeshed the logics of surveillance, financial accumulation and the racialized policing of bodies are, taking as an example Australia’s privatized prison islands for refugees. But these patterns, as Ian Baucom argues in his fascinating history, stretch back to the transatlantic slave trade, in which human bodies were transformed not only into commodities, but into speculative assets, figments of the financial imagination to be moved about not only physically but also in the abstract.
And here it is vital to grasp that the imaginative force-field forced movement is not simply the plight of the colonized - as Aime Cesaire noted, this affects the colonizer’s imagination the most. The way the colonizer defines, delimits and dominates the movement of the Other shapes the colonizer’s imaginative worlds.
Dreadnoughts of the imagination
Would this insight allow us to narrate the much-lauded history of western modernity differently? What would it change about the way we imagine its dangerous fables like the sovereign nation-state, or the free circulation of capital, or the rule of law? These are fables that still, to this day, justify the horrific movement of global systems and the brutal systems of global movement.
Or let us take the writing of people including Harsha Walia, or Chandra Talpade Mohanty, or Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson. All of them have detailed how borders, which are entirely imaginary constructs with such horrifically deadly power, operate to both control movement and to shape the imagination of those inside and outside (or, as so many more of us are today, in-between). I think borders and money and the primary technologies of the state and capital, are also, at least in their current hegemonic formations, highly sophisticated dreadnoughts of the imagination.
I think about the dialectics of movement on the land I inhabit now, which was for millennia called Mi’Kma’Ki, and later renamed Acadia by French settlers, and later still Nova Scotia by the British. I think about what little I know about the Indigenous Mi’Kmaq political imagination around movement here, which I have learned from historians like Daniel Paul or elders whom I have heard speak. I do not wish to romanticize this civilization, but a careful engagement can teach us many lessons, and can also highlight, by contrast, how odd and in many ways horrifically violent our own civilization has become.
The Mi’Kmaq civilization was one that highly valued both community solidarity and personal autonomy. It was built around watersheds, not political borders, so there was a great fluidity of jurisdiction. The people moved often to take advantage of seasonal hunting, fishing and cultivation opportunities. The people moved often to take advantage of seasonal hunting, fishing and cultivation opportunities. There were protocols in place for travellers who, for political or personal reasons, voyaged from their community - and the archeological evidence and oral histories concur that Indigenous people in the Americas moved far and wide. Further, the Mi’Kmaq like many other Indigenous groups had (and still have) sophisticated political processes for the adoption and protection of foreigners, not based on controlling their movement in the territory or their sovereign ownership, but based on how to share responsibility for caring for “the land,” which here, as Glen Coulthard illustrates, means something much deeper and more relational than simply possession or citizenship in the brutally simplistic terms we accept today.
Indeed, it is based on this worldview that Mi’Kmaq and other Indigenous groups today, both here in Canada and around the world, seek to arrest the movement of capital and of what we term “resources” in order to protest the destruction of “the land” in the name of profit as well as the continued seizure and colonization of Indigenous lands. In fact, these two goals are one and the same. Highway blockades, pipeline shutdowns, interruptions of railways, as well as protests in city centres and in shopping malls have all characterized these forms of resistance by Indigenous people and we settlers who would imagine ourselves their allies. We might reframe this as an attempt to intervene in the movement of capital and to also confront the matrix of the colonial politics of movement, of the artificiality of borders.
'A sample of Mi'kmaq "hieroglyphic" writing.' Wikicommons/ Christian Kauder,1866. All rights reserved.
So then this perhaps brings us to another meaning of movement, which is to say social movements. Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power also tried to make some arguments about the politics and culture of contemporary activism and strategies for transforming the world, largely based on the argument that such movements need to take the imagination seriously as a terrain of struggle and also something vital to themselves. Building shared imaginary landscapes, shared utopian horizons, shared transversal understandings is a key to solidarity. Building shared imaginary landscapes, shared utopian horizons, shared transversal understandings is a key to solidarity. To the extent that neoliberal capitalism and what Walia calls border imperialism monopolize our understanding of who and what is valuable, who and what belongs, we are doomed to allow millions, billions even to be made absolutely worthless. But here I would also update my thesis. As I argued in that book, and also in my work with my colleague Alex Khasnabish, the radical imagination, which is to say our capacity to envision and struggle for better futures, depends not on static individual rumination; it is a collective process of thinking and dreaming together in movement. This has been an important lesson of the Zapatistas, and also of many Indigenous struggles in the Americas. It has also been key to many of the European movements of the last twenty years that have focused on direct democratic process rather than grand narratives of social change.
Material imagination and the derivative
But, in spite of all my efforts to the contrary, I fear that this book and this approach contributed to a romanticism around the imagination. In my work I have consistently tried to argue for the imagination as a material phenomenon and force, as something that emerges out of and that helps shape the ordering of social cooperation and productive and reproductive relationships, which is to say the political and economic system. Yet what I think we are lacking is some sense that the imagination, and its crises, emerge not only from particular times and places, but from different forms of movement. Many of the European movements of the last twenty years… have focused on direct democratic process rather than grand narratives of social change.
Here I want to turn to the work of a mentor of mine, Randy Martin, who died a little over a year ago, quite tragically. Martin was one of the keenest and most expansive theorists of finance capital and financialization, which is also my area of primary academic expertise, so I was able to work with him for a few years. He was also a dancer and a theorist of movement and dance as politics. For Martin, and here I will not do justice to the beauty of his thinking (I am not sure anyone quite can, which makes his death all the more tragic), the derivative is the key technology of twenty-first century capitalism, and one that evolved to contain, harness and put borders around movement.
Briefly, the derivative is a financial technique for, as he put it, commodifying the future. That is, it is a method for agreeing to buy and sell or exchange this or that thing at a future point for a certain price. For instance, a basic futures contract might compel a party to sell one ton of wheat in one year’s time for a given price. For the seller, this is a bet that the price of wheat will go down, so in a year they can make a profit because they will be selling the agreed-upon ton for a higher price. For the buyer, this is a bet that the price will go up, so they have insured themselves against a price increase. This, however, is an almost laughably simple example - other derivatives are much more complex and involve any underlying commodity or set of future conditions, including oil or government bonds or currencies or even data on the weather or consumer behaviour. Further, while signed between two original parties, most derivatives contracts circulating today can be freely bought, sold and traded, and so have their own prices and markets. They can also be bundled together and “securitized,” that is to say sold in fragments. The imagination, and its crises, emerge not only from particular times and places, but from different forms of movement.
Highly conservative estimates suggest that the volume of annually circulating derivatives represent somewhere between 70-700 times the earth’s productive activity (measured by gross domestic product, at least). And it should be noted that most of this circulation is orchestrated by algorithmic computing, occurring at speeds that defy the human imagination.
So let me highlight two obvious things here. The first is that derivatives are completely imaginary. They do not actually exist in the physical world, but they are real. They are real in the same ways that money and borders and the divine right of kings are real: they are extremely dangerous collective fictions that permit real people to do extremely violent things to change the world and relationships around them. We humans live by our collective fictions, whether it is the fiction of God’s power or the right of the police to exercise violence: these are imaginary relationships that shape real human activity and institutions and are held in place by violence. They might be said to be imaginative technologies for controlling movement. Likewise, the derivative is imaginary but very, very real. They shape our reality, our relationships, our world system. Indeed, for Martin and for his colleagues Dick Bryant and Michael Rafferty, derivatives are more “real” than the cash we have in our pockets and bank accounts, which, after all, only really represents about 3-7% of all the money in the world. The rest is financialized wealth; And let’s be clear: that financial wealth is controlled by a tiny handful of us. The derivative is the key technology of twenty-first century capitalism, and one that evolved to contain, harness and put borders around movement.
The second observation is that this system is in constant motion, and relies on constant motion. As Martin observed, the value of a derivatives is in its circulation, not in its stasis - it gains value by being moved, by being bundled, securitized, traded and manipulated. And it is a contract for movement: the movement of commodities or securities or assets or information. It is, in other words, a creature of pure movement, of movement to its own exponential power. And one that has massive impacts on the movement of people and of goods and services. Because in reality, the great motor of movement today on this planet is money, and if Martin and his colleagues are right, and I think they are, the derivative is the form money takes in a world of relentless movement.
But the derivative is also a force that requires infrastructure. And here we need to resist the idea that the movement of transnational capital has become lawless, borderless and unaccountable. Rather, we need to see the dialectic between the derivative (as the medium and the representative of financialized capitalism) and all those national, international and transnational controls that we imagine formerly regulated the global movement of money. The derivative is, in fact, a highly advanced technology for transforming borders, regulations and control, not abolishing them. The international financial architecture is not a flat space of fluid movement: it is a series of tunnels and warrens and caverns and secret lairs that can only be successfully navigated by legions of highly-paid legal and financial experts who work for the world’s most powerful financial firms. So it is a system that depends on borders and the sublime complexities of the international system to exclude the vast majority of humanity. Hence the situation that even large nation-states need to go cap-in-hand to major banks simply to float bonds or borrow necessary funds. And hence the reality that most of the world’s finance ministers and chancellors are former employees of these banks: they are the only one’s who sort of understand the complexity, and who have access to those people who do. And let’s be clear: that financial wealth is controlled by a tiny handful of us.
So the derivative is a creature of pure movement. It exists to move, its value derives from movement. And I have written extensively (drawing on people like Maurizzio Lazzarato) about the way financialized capitalism has transformed our subjectivities towards everyone envisioning themselves as an investor, where every aspect of our lives, from education to our personal relationships, becomes an asset to be speculated upon or leveraged. And yet I think Martin was onto something else, something more profound: that if the derivative is the most influential and structurally significant aspect of our global capitalist system, then it recreates the world in its own image of constant movement. It might be argued that we are no longer divided primarily by wealth in terms of money in the bank, we are divided by if and how we move. The derivative is, in fact, a highly advanced technology for transforming borders, regulations and control, not abolishing them.
Indeed, in one of Martin’s final essays, he speaks of the derivative as emerging as a method for controlling decolonization. He means this in two ways. On the one hand, he is speaking literally about the ways in which anti-colonial movements and independence struggles in the Global South in the post-war period were coopted and sabotaged by the politics of debt, largely brokered by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank but in actuality orchestrated by and for the benefit of former colonist and imperialist countries and their hegemonic financial institutions.
Kwame Nkrumah and others rightly called this (combined with the threat of coups d’etat and military intervention) “neocolonialism” and it has had the effect, over the past six decades or so of seeing a massive transfer of wealth from formerly-colonized nations to (neo)colonial ones that rivals and even outdoes the worst forms of formal colonialism and imperialism, except without the need (or the cost) of direct political or military domination by colonial powers (this is safely franchised out to local governments, paramilitaries, gangsters).
Derivatives traders at the Chicago Board of Trade, 1993. Wikicommons// Jeremy Kemp. Some rights reserved.Today’s financial system is the parent and the child of this neocolonialism and, as Brian Li Puma and Benjamin Lee argue, the derivative in particular is a technology for accelerating and also hiding this vast, globe-spanning financial violence. It is a technology for transferring risk onto certain populations – the risk of financial ruin, of collapsed crop prices, of global warming, of resource wars, of disorganized violence, of hyper-exploitation, of incarceration – and indeed for that reason it is perhaps the hidden mover of the world’s populations who are fleeing their exposure to risk. But more on this in a moment. It might be argued that we are no longer divided primarily by wealth in terms of money in the bank, we are divided by if and how we move.
Because when Martin talks about decolonization he is also speaking about another thing as well: the decolonization of the body and of community that emerged from the movements of the 1960s and 70s. These are movements for the liberation of queer sexualities, of women’s bodies and lives from patriarchy, of people of colour from systematic exclusion and oppression. These are also the movements that are tied to music and art and lifestyle, as well as the New Left and its struggles for radical democracy. For Martin, these are all struggles against post-war capitalism and the way it was based on the control of “bodies in movement.” That is to say, we can understand these movements as struggles to liberate and reinvent how we move together.
Now here Martin joins Autonomist Marxists, as well as sociologists like Eve Chiapello and Luc Boltanski, as seeing this as a turning point in capitalism, that in response to these movements, capitalism transforms towards the neoliberal, flexibilized, global and diffused forms we recognize today. It internalizes and digests the artistic and the economic critiques and reorganizes from an archipelago of alienating hierarchal institutions to a network of micro-exploitations spread throughout the field of social life. For Martin, the derivative is a symptom and a cause of this transformation. While derivatives have existed in one form or another for millennia, in the 1960s and 70s new mathematical and technological advances are made that render them central to increasingly globalized markets, and when the Soviet rival to capitalism collapses in 1989, the derivative ascends. The derivative in particular is a technology for accelerating and also hiding this vast, globe-spanning financial violence.
For Martin, what is special about the derivative is that it is not a single domineering institution orchestrated by some conspiracy or bureaucracy, though both conspiracies and bureaucracies are integral parts of its operations. It is, to paraphrase Deleuze’s thinking on what differentiates a society of discipline from a society of control, a vapor or a gas, an ambient, saturating presence. The financial order or the derivative is one that exerts continual, remorseless yet largely invisible pressure on all social actors and offers itself as a measurement of value. Consider the actions of nation-states today: beyond particular geopolitical interests most policy, including notably policies around borders and migrants, are shaped by the flows of credit and debt, the fate of the nation’s bond ratings, and the health of the nation’s financial institutions, all of which are measured by or pass through derivatives contracts and markets in one way or another. The same is true of major corporations, even those whose size and power rival that of nations of millions of people: they are subtly disciplined and coordinated by “shareholders” who are, in fact, financial actors in the derivative economy.
Meanwhile, the rest of us too feel the impact, but cannot name it. The value of our houses, the price we pay for bread, our ability to access loans, our capacity to save for retirement, the value of the currencies we use, even the cost of a fake passport or the degree of surveillance in the migrant detention centre, all these are entangled in the movements of the derivative economy over which we have no power and yet which has, indirectly but profoundly, an unparalleled impact on how we move together. This is the form of power and control germane to what has become a highly diversified, diffused and individualistic society, where capitalism depends not on forcing all of us into factories but on harnessing our movements while retaining play or formal freedom within the system. When the Soviet rival to capitalism collapses in 1989, the derivative ascends.
Thus the corollary of the derivative is the border: also a technology which is used to control and profit from movement. For those of us privileged subjects of global capitalism with desirable passports, the border is an annoying formality. Indeed crossing the border is a means to add value to ourselves: travelling abroad for work, education and opportunities to increase our human capital. My Canadian passport enables me to benefit immensely from the sorts of movement that have become obligatory for a cognitive worker today, just as it allows Canada and its financial institutions to benefit from being the hub of the movement of human and financial capital.
For instance, Canada is world renowned for being the source for global exploratory mining capital and expertise, and Canadian corporations make billions of dollars each year exploiting mineral resources around the world (so too do people like me, whose pension funds and savings are unwittingly invested in these industries). Meanwhile, of course, for those who are the victims of Canadian mining corporations’ human rights and environmental abuses in countries like Papua New Guinea, Honduras or Ghana, the border is weaponized against them: their claims for justice do not pass beyond their borders (and usually fall on deafened ears within those borders) and Canadian companies cannot be held to account. Further, while they might cross a border in the hopes of finding their fortune in a wealthier country, their movement does not improve their human capital, it makes them more worthless, vulnerable, susceptible and exploitable.
Barrow Gold Corporation, the Super Pit gold mine. Wikicommons/ Brian Boon Yee Yap. Some rights reserved.And here again we need to once again question the slogan, as important as it is, that we live in a world that permits the free movement of capital but controls the movement of people. It is true, but as we have already seen, capital’s movement is not free, but the complex international and transnational regulatory and institutional architecture is one that is highly useful to certain aspects of capital, notably transnational finance.
Similarly, while it is clear that more and more money and resources are invested in the control of borders and populations, the global economy fundamentally depends on the free movement of bodies over and between borders for the simple reason that it creates vast exploitable pools of life. Securitized borders do not exist to keep people “out.” They exist to cheapen the lives of those who make it “in.” Securitized borders do not exist to keep people “out.” They exist to cheapen the lives of those who make it “in.”
The border and the derivative
So the border and the derivative, in their current forms, represent a binary set of mutually reinforcing technologies of a global movement-capitalism, and both are based on a logic of pathological, paranoid and technologically augmented prediction and containment of risk.
It’s interesting that, for many of us, and certainly for the media, our nightmares about metadata and algorithmic computing tend to orbit questions of the anonymity and privacy of user data. But it is noteworthy that three of the industries most dedicated to the development and exploitation of metadata and algorithmic computing are (a) border security and neo-imperial warfare, (b) the financial realm of hedge funds and investment engaging high frequency trading banks, and (c) the extraction industries, which is to say petroleum and mining exploration, and the financial firms which back them.
All of these depend on surveilling unfathomable numbers of data points and having the computing power to analyze and process this information to make predictions in the name of managing risks and making surgically specific investments aimed at low input and high impact. Managing risk is a matter of creating borders, whether actual or metaphoric. Borders contain and shape movement. The derivative and the border work together, we might say, on the one hand to make movement compulsory and, on the other, to unevenly distribute risk, to create and police what Ananya Roy calls “riskscapes.”
And here the imagination might once again make an appearance. First of all, let us remember that for all their horrific power, both derivatives and borders are imaginary. To hold them in place requires not only raw violence, which is clearly not in short supply. It also requires a massive, textured, differentiated (and in fact contradictory) orchestration of the imagination.
We are all conscripted to offer our imaginations, individually and collectively, to reproducing these forms of power. We are all conscripted to offer our imaginations, individually and collectively, to reproducing these forms of power. We do this when we take out a loan to buy a house as an object of speculation or accept that borders are legitimate. We do it when we imagine ourselves as investors (in our health, in our education, in our children's’ future) or whenever we use a passport. We do it when we imagine that the migrant is somehow fundamentally different from some abstract “us,” that “our” futures can somehow be separated from “theirs.” It is an imagination that binds together the political, the economic and the subjective.
The danger and the sadness
And here is the danger, because to the extent that the border and the derivative come to preoccupy our imaginations, we are increasingly unable to imagine different futures together. Indeed, the future can only be imagined in terms of creating new borders and making better investments. Is this not the unquestionable rhetoric of practically all governments today, whether they declare themselves right or left? How shall we invest? Where shall we place the border? How much should be spent now for future returns? How many of them should we accept to secure our future? Shall we build a wall? Polities are left using borders to escape the violence of the derivative, or using the derivative to escape the violence of borders. In the first case, we are encouraged to imagine that the only way to escape the vicissitudes of precarious life in financialized times, in times of unknowable, mounting risks (of climate change, of disease, of terrorism) is to close the borders, to create zones of protection where risks can be known and managed. In the second case, we imagine that investing in wealth, education and human capital will allow us to avoid the violence of the border, will allow us to enjoy global cosmopolitanism without fear. And perhaps for some of us, for some time, it will. But not for many, and not for ever.
The saddest part is this: the border and the derivative each in their own logic encourage us to imagine we move alone. Yet they depend on us moving together.
But let us disabuse ourselves of the notion this is new. The passcard, the camp, the obsessive control over populations, the hypochondriac concern with racialized contagion, these are all the dark legacies of colonialism and are always, without fail, organized around race. Let’s face the fact that this horrific world system is the culmination of 500 years of colonial barbarism that began with the free movement of Europeans around the world, notably Columbus and his sons, the conquistadors, but also including the merchants and missionaries who followed.
Let’s remember that the border as such is an invention of Europe and of capitalism, one calibrated to create zones of competitive imperialist accumulation, and to externalize the violence of European capitalism to its extremities and frontiers. This is how Europe and its chosen children, like Canada, became rich. Polities are left using borders to escape the violence of the derivative, or using the derivative to escape the violence of borders.
Other methods of defining jurisdiction have existed. As I mentioned earlier, on the lands I inhabit as a settler, the indigenous Mi’Kmaq people used to practice (and still do, to the extent they can) a set of territorial understandings within their nation and with other Indigenous nations that are based less on a theory of private ownership and sovereign control and more around questions of responsibility and reciprocity to and with “the land.” This was based in a notion of political community grounded in a web of human and non-human relationships. I say this because we tend to imagine borders to be the highest articulation of a history of the territory that stretches back to time immemorial, in the same way mainstream economists imagine money and even the derivative as really just a more sophisticated form of barter.
But today’s borders, like today's money, are in fact the product of colonial, racialized violence. Because let’s be honest: if we look globally, whiteness remains key to the movement of both bodies and money today. Consider the complexion of those who control the hedge-funds and investment banks and transnational institutions. Consider the complexion of those whose bodies pass, as mine does, in the streets or in the airports without comment or suspicion or dirty looks. Consider now the complexion of those who amass on the border. Consider the complexion of those who clean the airport or the hedge-fund offices, or pleasure the bodies or care for the children of the border guards, bureaucrats or investment bankers.
This is why it is essential to always speak of racial capitalism and border imperialism. This is why it is essential to always speak of racial capitalism and border imperialism. If we speak of movement and do not speak of race, we are making something invisible. Indeed, if we speak of finance or the derivative and do not speak of race we are making something invisible. Because as Denise Ferrara da Silva and Paula Chakravvarty note, the history of speculative accumulation has always been predicated on the creation of a normative white financial subject, and the sabotaging of racialized financial subjects. For these authors, race is a structuring element of the global flows of money, and one that has the effect of trapping the racialized subject within their subjecthood, as when Black and Latinos in the US were sold sabotaged mortgages that trapped them in their own homes, which became the source of an unpayable debt. So too might we see neocolonialism as a similar maneuver on a global scale. Finance as it intersects with race turns walls that protect into walls that encase or entrap, into borders within which risk is let loose.
So here we come to the question of the democratization of movement. For me, the question of democratization has very little to do with this or that policy or even with the farce of elections, where the most anti-democratic of forces are being voted into power and which in any case are rendered largely moot given the power of global financialized capitalism on government policy (as we saw so tragically in Greece). Rather, I am with Rancière: democracy is created in the seizing of it. Those who are democratizing movement are those who, in their actions, are implicitly or explicitly demanding the abolition of borders.
No-one is illegal logo. Wikicommons/Unknown. Some rights reserved.
So migrants are democratizing movement when they, in their very actions, refuse to accept the border as imagined. Hackers are democratizing movement insofar as they are actively undermining the borders established to confine and financialize knowledge, data and information. Those who struggle to build commons within, against and beyond capitalism are democratizing movement because they are insisting and experimenting with new ways we can move together, as Martin would put it.
The democratization of movement, to my mind, is in developing new forms of collective power that disrupt or destroy older imaginaries, that insist that the future is more than a series of risks to be managed and borders to be erected as the world descends into chaos. It is the real movement of the imagination overcoming its own calcified forms. This is what Cornelius Castoriadis referred to as the radical imagination. And for Castoriadis, this radical imagination was intimately linked to the question of democracy not as a system or a horizon for politics, but a set of acts, a terrain of struggle.
And a final word on this, as Chandra Talpade Mohanty has argued, a struggle for the abolition of borders is not one that rallies under the banner of a false universalism, as if simply declaring ourselves citizens of the world would be enough. We have to acknowledge ourselves as situated beings.
My Canadian passport makes a huge difference to my material life, even if I seek to become a traitor to the nation that claims me and a patriot to life and peace and knowledge and love and justice, and indeed we all should commit ourselves to these values. Yet there is no outside of financialized border capitalism, and how we are permitted or compelled to move within it will affect our imaginations. As a straight white middle class cis-man with Canadian citizenship, my imagination of what is possible, even of what is important, is fundamentally constrained, even while my movement in this world is extremely blessed. So when we imagine the democratization of movement, which is perhaps, as Angela Davis says, the great struggle of our century, we need to begin and also end with those to whom the border and whom finance is most cruel, and who, in their actions and in their very being, are refusing to be made worthless by taking their movement into their own hands.
First baby steps. Shutterstock/ Tymonko Galyna. All rights reserved.
The philosopher Guillaume Paoli will discuss with Max Haiven on May 3 at 8 p.m. in Berlin at Volksbühne at Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz some of the concerns raised in this text. This evening is a preliminary to the TACIT FUTURES conference which will be organized by Berliner Gazette in October 27 to 29 at Volksbühne.
This Berliner Gazette text is published under a Creative Commons License. Established in the late 1990s, the Berliner Gazette is an online magazine and a platform for hosting discussions and debates on topics including digital technology, new forms of engagement and transnational collaboration.
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