the city and its unconscious


Under capitalism, discourse is structured so that violence is invisible. If it reaches us at all, it comes through dry statistics, atomized experience, or anecdotal accounts.

For this reason, violence occurs as an inexplicable irruption: a senseless fight, a riot that comes from nowhere, a burned car, a dead body you discover in the back yard.

After some time, we mostly manage to pull these irruptions back into line. Or, we stop counting them, like the Sarkozy government did to the thousands of cars that burn every year in the banlieues.

Thousands of techniques for banalizing, clouding, excusing, or occluding irruptions form the wellspring of European culture.

A funeral is a ceremony where a group of horrified, guilty and terrified people congregate, to be told that the person they lost is in a better place. Where their real memories, uncomfortable and oddly shaped, can be replaced with a set of thoughtful speeches, and well-chosen poetry.

Meat-eaters are proud to own a ‘rescue dog’, and typically weave a rich fantasy about the evil of the previous, lumpen owners, and the superiority of their own moral and material character, displayed in how much happier the dog seems, as it gets used to its new home.

The best, most-prevalent technique is distance. Violence that happens elsewhere has to travel the gamut of official observers who, if they consider it relevant, will certainly prefix it with some conventional wisdom, to mute it before it makes a sound.

In the aftermath of the green revolution, food is so cheap that we run cars off it, and feed cows with it, or let it rot in great piles.An average of 16,000 children died every day of 2015, and 51% of those from diseases that had hunger as their root cause.

Systematic attempts to end hunger are almost absent from political programming.

Catastrophic global warming is so close we can smell its breath, and the largest polluter in the world has decided the problem doesn’t exist.

At this point, the problem is an intensified version of the problem of ideology in general. While, in previous eras, it was possible to say that ideology reproduces the relations of production, today, ideology is so strong that it puts even these relations under threat.

Irruptions fade so quickly that even the rolling stormclouds of the apocalypse get sucked into the void, leaving only grey outlines, that we are aware of, but in themselves carry no weight.

Cities are a challenge for this system. Everybody lives side-by-side. They depend, fundamentally, on global exchange. Self-sufficiency is so alien to the city that it barely exists as ideology.

While social life is striated, this striation is harder to normalize. The ugly razor-wire fence that surrounds the gated community is a visible reminder of the presence of the outside, while the suburb that is only traversable by car gives no direct hint that there is anything excluded.

If the countryside idea of leaving the door unlocked is a pretense that theft is not a rural practice, no such pretense is possible in the city.

In the city, armies of police are necessary, to ensure that nobody disturbs the bourgeois. Strange legal constructs, like ‘loitering’, are marshaled to corral anybody found out of place. Harassment is routine.

The fantasy, of capitalism without victims, requires effort that grows exponentially as the dispersion of a population decreases.

However, as the means of production have become more technically advanced, so too have the means of reproduction. Today’s micro-targeted political campaigns, modeled on the algorithms that underpin targeted advertising, are to a hack what the CNC lathe is to a machinist.

Ideology is now so strong that we find it easier to think the end of the world, than the end of capitalism. There is no situation so extreme, so physically threatening, so catastrophic - that can in itself lead to a rejection, or even a limitation, of capitalism.

It is possible, today, to imagine a capitalism that exists without us - where the capitalists are automated trading systems, and the workers are CNC arms, and the only consumer is the state.

So, the city thinks through two chambers. The first chamber, where capitalism walks naked, is almost entirely sealed. The second chamber witnesses the first as an interruption, a stutter, a misplaced word. A dawning feeling of anger, a labile fear.

Inevitably, capitalism outswells its glossy veneer, and the social and mechanical structures that underpin city life begin to buckle. The metro runs late. The clinics are full, and nobody can find a psychologist. Nobody has time for friends or partners. Everybody is sick, the streets are swamped with trash, and the sewers are overflowing.