The techno-nihilistic capitalism, interview with Mauro Magatti
Ivo Quartiroli: Prof. Magatti, how would you define techno-nihilistic capitalism, the subject of your book, Libertà immaginaria: Le illusioni del capitalismo tecno-nichilista (Imaginary freedom: The illusions of techno-nihilistic capitalism), and what are the differences with the previous stages of capitalism?
Prof. Mauro Magatti: The idea is to give a complete picture of the last 30 years which began with the coming of so-called neo-liberalism in the Anglo-Saxon countries. My book traces and develops the hypothesis of authoritative colleagues, especially the works of Boltanski in France, Bauman in England and Beck in Germany.
The idea is that those 30 years represent something as unitarian, which is detached from the previous stages (which I call “societal capitalism”), and is based not only on the nation state, but on the social and economic effects which the nation state is not able to load and which are usually referred to as “the welfare society.” The fundamental peculiarity of techno-nihilistic capitalism is a kind of new vision of the world, a new weltenshaung, which makes nihilism, traditionally a philosophy which expresses itself in stages of decadence when the established values had to be destroyed, a useful vision for accelerating both economic and technological growth on a planetary scale.
There’s a capitalism which tries to free itself from the cultural background which the national state established. This capitalism defines itself in an alliance between a technique which is supposed to be intangible, in a very thin cultural setting, or even when it is absent and, on the other side, a full availability, a full manipulability of every cultural meaning, which has to be continuously redefined, transformed, and overcome.
Quartiroli: You affirm that technology gives an imaginary freedom, yet many people, based on this very interview, could well say the opposite. I came to know about your book on the Net, sent you an email and you graciously agreed to be interviewed by me. We use Skype for the interview and then I will publish it in my blogs. This gives us a broad freedom. We don’t have any editorial limitation regarding space or length and we don’t have a director to approve our conversation. Online, we don’t even need to publish it before a certain date. And even better, we can reach hundreds or maybe thousands of readers in every corner of the world directly.
Kevin Kelly, one of the most passionate supporters of technology, in his recent article “Expansion of Free Will” says that, “Technology wants choices. The internet, to a greater degree than any technology before it, offers choices and options.” And more, “the technium continues to expand free will as it unrolls into the future. What technology wants is more freedom, expanded free will.” The idea of freedom and expansion of our possibilities is chased by every technological gadget and by every software which interacts with us. All seems very pleasurable, free and fulfilling, so what’s wrong in this expansion of our options?
Magatti: Kelly’s quote is excellent and gets to the point. Techno-nihilistic capitalism, passing the previous stage of societal capitalism, legitimates itself through this increasing of possibilities, which then is connected to the expansion of choices.
Nobody can deny that, in general terms, to go from a condition where we have less opportunities and choices to one where, instead we have the possibility of expanding our doings, in a way expands our freedom. For instance, when we can move easily and quickly from one part of the planet to the other, we get more chances to “do.”
The point is, what happens in a world where the freedom of choices, where this increase of opportunities is being produced with the speed we experience in our personal and collective lives? We should ask ourselves whether this increase has any effect on the very freedom we want to achieve.
A tangible example to make the point: freedom is somehow like the eye. The eye opens to what is in front, is a sense organ somehow indeterminate since it is connected to what is being seen. The fast-increasing choices in the individual experience give us an excess of things we can see, as fundamental changes in our way of seeing, and we are even subject to the powerful systems which are there to put things in front of our eyes.
This brings the risk of becoming people who are driven from the outside: something is being presented as a choice, which is pleasurable and which increases our power and our fulfillment, but with the risk that freedom implodes on itself and that will deliver us completely to something which is external of ourselves.
To this first problem there’s a second one: all of those opportunities presented to us aren’t as real for most people as they are supposed to be. Therefore, the opportunities in front of us are kept only in an illusory and fantasized state and we withdraw them in. To give a banal example, miraculous or even magical solutions, as would be winning 130 million euro on the Lotto which would allow us to do anything we wanted to, at least in our fantasy.
Because of those two reasons, that world with expanded possibilities which is theoretically associated with an increased freedom, then carries the risk of encaging freedom again. In the book I don’t envision a world where we go back in limiting our opportunities, but to ask ourselves about our freedom and understanding if we are as free as we think we are.