Resisting the movement of control

We must fight for more transparency, and against technologies of decision-making. We cannot not do it. But this is not enough. We must learn the language of becoming other. A Tacit Futures interview.

Marcia Cavalcante Krystian Woznicki
26 November 2016

Mayan Priest Sees Conquistadors in Future - Mural in Municipal Council Building, Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico. Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.Krystian Woznicki (KW): Movement, embodied or disembodied, unfolds in space and time towards something more or less uncertain and therefore is directed towards the future. What types of movement relate to a general sense of crisis of the imagination and future production? 

Marcia Cavalcante (MC): This question presupposes a definition of movement that should be questioned. Movement is not only or mainly related to the future or to the production of the future.  Movement can be also be related to the past and to the production of the past, to the present and to the production of the present. Indeed, the idea of movement that seems to have prompted this question is one that understands movement only from a demand for production, from a certain demand for development that directs production in a certain direction and moves movement toward a certain goal. But movement moves both forward or backward, such as in whirling, turmoil, or a spasm.

And there is also the point of intensification of the goal-oriented movement in which the movement moves everything except the movement itself. This movement that moves everything but does not move movement is the movement proper to the status quo, to a state of no way out, to a stasis, a word that in ancient Greek means both status quo and civil war. Aristotle coined the term “unmoved mover” to describe the principle that governs the universe. Karl Marx recognized the “unmoved mover” as the principle of capitalism. The type of movement that is related to what you are calling “crisis of imagination” or “crisis of future production” – seeming to imply lack of vision of an “open” future – this is the movement that keeps everything in movement only in order to keep this movement unmoved, that is, unchanged.

To move the movement would mean instead to challenge this signification of movement as related to production, to challenge the movement of production, and thereby to move towards another sense of movement, to the movement of sensibility. 

KW: Whether it concerns the movement of people, goods or data – what sorts of threats arise in the context of movement control? 

MC: The threats are many and quite visible. Indeed they are no longer threats, I would say, but already facts: the fact of exclusion, of segregation, of inhuman inequality, of reduction of all reality and ideality to the logic of money.

But the most visible invisible fact is the one of rendering ambiguous. Ambiguity is the most “productive” move in capitalistic production. Ambiguity is the big result of the production of big-data technologies and its mediatic treatment. Ambiguity works in terms of ‘maybe this or that’, it works in terms that mix together the “maybe” and “be what may”, i.e, that mixes all meanings, values or positions, negations appearing as affirmation, opposites as endorsements. It mixes possibility with probability and mere calculus of alternatives.

The logic of ambiguity is the logic of destruction of meaningful contents by means of preserving empty forms of meaning. It is the logic of destruction of relations by means of substituting for them new kinds of relations without relation, (networking!). It is the logic of a destruction of values, by means of exchanging and transferring values from one realm to the other, so that values become empty forms to be filled in with whatever kind of ‘value’ content. At stake is the preservation of forms voided of content so that they can be filled whenever and wherever with whatever content. There is a huge need today for learning how to read the grammar, the syntax, and above all the tones of ambiguity. 

KW: What forms of control of movement are most effective?

MC: The movement of control itself. There are many strategies being developed in order to control movements. But they must be understood from the viewpoint of how control is itself a movement and how the movement of the unmoved mover is what engenders both the internalization and projection of control over and within all instances of life and death. Control’s own movement can be attested everywhere. This everywhere attestation appears clearly in every kind of language, from mediatic to academic-scientific, from artistic to private language, when people begin to speak the language of management, the language of the management of language.

It appears when the language of passion speaks the language of the market. This can only happen because today money has nothing to do with numbers; money is language, circulation of discourses, of words. It is not something to admire, as it was when Plato used the word logos, i.e. language, also in the meaning of money, for instance in his book The Laws.  

KW: What concerns you most when it comes to the democratic deficit with regard to the control of movement by humans, data and waste alike?

MC: Democratic control of movement, democratic participation in decisions regarding the “need” to control movement, such a claim is deeply ambiguous. It sounds to me very like claims for a more just capitalism; capitalism is a system based on injustice and inequality and even if we must fight for more justice and equality within capitalism, we have to keep in mind that capitalism is based on unjust inequality and unequal justice.

Of course, it is important to fight for more transparency, and against technologies of decision-making. We cannot not do it. But this fight is not enough. We cannot afford to forget that democratic control is unfortunately always entangled with the control of democracy. How to control election processes in order to avoid the election of a Hitler without controlling and thereby undermining democracy? Democratic control of movement – if I understood correctly the question – cannot be a reaction to the demagogy of fear, because it relies upon the same logic of fear. 

The political logic of fear is quite old. One of the oldest known Maya testimonies of colonization tells that the “dzoules”, the conquistadores, have taught them (the Mayas) fear and have castrated the sun. The logic of fear – its educational politics is the logic of control that shows its most devastating energy when it has to control control itself – is aimed at enhancing control. It seems that this is the main question that is being asked here. But asking how to control worldwide, ubiquitous control, we necessarily ask for a control that is even more controlling than the control itself. However, not asking how to control the control, we must remain hostage to the apocalyptic logic of uncontrolled control destroying itself. In this situation of no way out of the logic of control, the very simple fact of the possibility of remaining alive, alive to resist, indicates another line of questioning altogether. 

How is it possible that a singular life resists? For isn’t singular life in itself, as such, already a resistance? Such a question may sound rather unproductive, but moving the question from the one about the need to control control towards the question about how life resists control, resisting both in the sense of ‘counter-acting’ and ‘not following’ the logic of control, it becomes possible to reengage with the need for developing today what John Keats, the romantic poet, once called “negative capability”. 

To your question about what “concerns me most” I would say that it is how everyone is concerned only with him/herself. What concerns “me” most is how everyone is only concerned with self-centred concerns or interests, never reflecting upon what ‘concern’ means when this same word is used, in German at any rate, in the sense of “a single economic unit under unified management”. “What concerns me most” is the need to change our questions, rather than to find new answers.

KW: Is there a particular need to re-think and re-imagine movement at the intersection of net politics and migration politics? If so, why?

MC: The intersection between net politics, migration politics and the claim for democratic control of movement belong together, insofar as they share the logic of ambiguity that controls politics and that becomes the main source of political control. The democratic need is to admit that democracy as we now know it is not democratic enough. In this sense we could recall Derrida’s appeal for a democracy to come, not in the sense of a program to be accomplished in the near future, but in the sense of a site of problematicity and questioning, which we recognise as a difficult and not comfortable place to live in.

Freedom of speech is of course a condition qua non for democracy. But it is not enough, for it is furthermore necessary to feel the obligation to listen. The democratic need is for the movement of openness and not for the movement of control controlling movement.   

KW: What should we be fighting for? 

MC: The first thing to fight for is the cultivation of “negative capabilities”, those that resist the movement of control, the ones saying no, the ones giving up privileges. But while negative capability, the capacity to resist, to say no, to give up privileges are absolutely necessary, they are not enough. There is on top of this a need for a change in thought, in language.

KW: Which practitioners and theoreticians in that fight do you find most inspiring and relevant? 

MC: There are many, many practitioners, theoreticians, artists all over the world screaming, writing, thinking; there are the popular, the mediatic, the opinion-builders, and many working in class-rooms, doing the invisible work of critical education despite all the pressures that are due to the movement of control, both where people suffer dictatorships, autocracies, and also in more or less democracies.

But there are millions of practitioners suffering the politics of ambiguity, the politics that make it impossible to have the right to have rights, to use Hannah Arendt’s expression. It is important to see that ways of resistance are being practiced despite theoreticians of practices and practitioners of theory. They are being practiced by excluded, segregated, expulsed existences. It is important to learn to see how singular and shared life resists the strategies for killing and exterminating life. There are still small flowers growing in crannied walls. In order to face the politics of ambiguity, we need a politics of attention.

KW: What is best practise for an emancipatory politics of movement?

MC: I have to insist that the fight must be against the movement of all-control. Brazil is facing now this fight, when the big media concerns in alliance with the system of corruption work to destroy the beginnings of a modern democracy, that had to wait so long to get started due to centuries of colonization and decades of dictatorship.

The fight in Brazil is the one against the movement of control that aims to sustain the system of corruption by sacrificing the government that made possible a juridical fightback against the sediment of corruption down the centuries.

This fight is difficult because decisions, indecisions and repression are all made in “the name of… the people”, or of whatsoever serves their class, economic, social and political interests. The fight is difficult because of the light of ambiguity that the politics of control throws over the facts. When it come to control, this blending light of ambiguity is far more effective than the simple concealing of facts.

The fight must be against the flash of ambiguity, a fight that must be carried on at every level of existence, in both the intimate and the common sphere. Indeed, the fight must be for a common sphere that can press the public sphere towards a politics of sharing, a common sphere that could make clear the difference between a politics of division (segregation, exclusion) and a politics of sharing (inclusion, openness).

KW: Which projects or initiatives are most creative in this field?

MC: Adorno was very clear in his analyses of the cultural industry when he showed how institutions are able to neutralize critique either through “self-critique” or by eliminating all critical voices for their own benefit. But what still needs to be better grasped, thought through, and discussed is how ambiguity is the most destructive weapon of control and the most effective weapon of destruction. What we need is culture, in the sense of critical culture, remembering that any critique worthy of the name must be “destructive”, “deconstructive”, because what is at stake is to show how the movement of control moves, and to work against ambiguity, to work for resolutions rather than “solutions” (partial or “final”), to work for a “sense” rather than for a meaning of the world.

Jean-Luc Nancy’s distinction between sense and meaning, sense and signification is very relevant in this context. When scientists publish the “results” of their “scientific researches” showing that the brain “genetically” tends to xenophobia, this implies that xenophobia is something quite “natural”. But human beings, being so technically developed, can control nature and hence even xenophobia, and thereby develop a sense of morality. When this kind of “thought”, we should say, this racist ideology, that pretends to be neutral since it is “scientific” and  “data-based”, becomes general knowledge, we are conceding to the generalization of xenophobia. Then we see the death of culture and of knowledge. We are inside a process of internalization of the grammar, of the language, of the syntax of segregation, exclusion and injustice, a process by which technologies of injustice are being naturalized. This process describes the movement of control we live in.

Only “culture”, “art”, “thinking practices”, that is, practices of the languages of sense and sensibility, of the languages capable of saying “no” – this “wildest word” as the American poet Emily Dickinson wrote once – are capable both of showing the movement of control operating in our bodies and souls, and of speaking another language, the language of becoming other. Thus to speak about “other” and “the other” is still to speak the language of segregation (“you are the other”). We need to learn the language of becoming other. 

KW: What is the role of the state in this context? And what the challenge for civil society? 

MC: The need for ‘culture’ I referred to, in thinking practices, has to be differentiated from the politics of knowledge carried on at the basis of the neo-liberal idea of “global-knowledge society”. It has to be differentiated from the politics of research, with its demands for efficiency, profit, applicability, that today is produced more and more to legitimate economic decision-making “in the name of” knowledge, based on evidence, on data, on statistics.

State and civil society are experienced today in “quotation marks”. We need to unquote them or even better, to translate them into the experience of a commons that accepts as its condition the need to share what cannot be shared, and thereby to move towards openness.

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