Notes on our Global Civil War

Bifo has a new essay up on Verso today in which he diagnoses civil war as “a global trend, spreading at various degrees of intensity in many countries of the world.”

However, the American case is particularly interesting as two phenomena are meeting there at particularly acute angles: the privatisation of war and weaponry, and psychotic epidemics.

He takes up Trump’s response to this year’s latest string of mass shootings in the US:

Trump’s argument here is mind-boggling: as lot of people are mentally disturbed in this country, says Trump, we need more weapons in order to kill them in case they try to kill us. Nevertheless there is some truth in these hypocritical words: by themselves, easy weapons do not explain the manslaughter. The malady here is deeper. It concerns social subjectivity itself.

Bifo’s argument is, by any other name, another diagnosis of the coming anarchy; of our patchworks to come. The essay’s alignment with the conversation currently unfolding on Twitter and the blogosphere is obvious.

What we are now seeing, he says, is “a clash of incompatible cultures that do not, and cannot, belong in the same political universe”, echoing recent takes from Land on the timeline.

Civil war is the name we give to this incompatibility. Civil war is not only the name of what is going on right now in the United States of America, but also, in changed forms, what is happening in the EU and the United Kingdom. Brexiteers and remainers are not two political parties that may eventually find a common ground of democratic government, they are two cultural armies that for the next generation will diverge more and more. Across the world, as political government is replaced by automatic governance, the very sphere of social intercourse is collapsing.

Patchwork has an explicitly anti-colonial vector (yet to be properly excavated) and these failing processes are inherent to coming instances of state decay.

The background of the present internal decaying political order in the Northern hemisphere, and the return of racism on a massive scale, is the inability to deal with the end of modernity, and to confront the great migration, and the legacy of centuries of colonialism, exploitation and devastation. Civil war in the white countries is the other side of the same coin.

Bifo raises an interesting point about the role that the gun debate will play in any coming American patchwork, as has been tentatively explored a few times on the timeline. Deleuze, of course, saw America as the country where patchwork was most likely to be instantiated and it is arguably the unifying and paradoxically stellified United States Constitution that has undone most of this potential.

As laws come to resemble immovable statutes in the face of global change, it is instead the social subject that is changing — something’s got to give — and these laws begin to affect the social subject to its detriment.

Mental distress, mental suffering and mental breakdown are a massive phenomenon in the United States: as artificial intelligence promises to extend our memory into infinity, we see an epidemic in cases of dementia.

Nervous breakdown, outbursts of panic, and widespread depression are the different shapes that the wave of dementia takes. That takes form in the American psyche as the aging, white mind becomes increasingly obsessed with the myth of potency and the humiliating experience of impotence.

Is Bifo making the argument that resistance to geopolitical splitting is only exacerbating mental disintegration? (Today is yet another day when I wish Mark was still around to offer his own surgical insights.)

Bifo concludes:

The American liberals, like the centre-left politicians of the European continent seem to think that global trumpism is a provisional disturbance, and democracy will sooner or later be restored and historical reason will regain its course.

They are deluding themselves. Global trumpism is not going to give way to a restoration of the modern reason. The global spread of dementia that has emerged in the years 2016 and 2017 is the new psychosphere of the planet.

Politics can do nothing to deal with the psychotic shift in the social sphere: the political tools for rational government are out of order, and for good.

As reason has been captured by financial algorithms, this evolution has taken a path that seems incompatible with rationality.

We must think of the future from the point of view of systemic psychosis, and this mean the abandonment of political action and of political theory.

We shall see how the response to this essay, if there is one, unfolds over the coming days. Bifo’s call for an abandonment of political action and theory is sure to ruffle some feathers. I’d argue the sentiment here is closer to that already expressed on this blog recently: What we need to do is abandon political action and theory as we know them. The world is changing. Our distress is surely a symptom of our inability to keep up.

I’m reminded, as ever, of that masterful paragraph from Ballard’s The Drowned World:

This growing isolation and self-containment, exhibited by the other members of the unit and from which only the bouyant Kerans seemed immune, reminded Kerans of the slackening metabolism and biological withdrawal of all animals forms about to undergo a major metamorphosis. Sometimes he wondered what zone of transit he himself was entering, sure that his own withdrawal was symptomatic not of a dormant schizophrenia, but of a careful preparation for a radically new environment, with its own internal landscape and logic, where old categories of thought would merely be an encumbrance.

Elsewhere in the mainstream column-o-sphere, Amia Srinivasan has written an essay that asks: “Does anyone have the right to sex?

She also explores the mass shooting as a symptom of not just the demented white mind but the demented male mind in particular. The increase in young male mass shooters becoming gender terrorists through their expressions of MRM sensibilities is surely a red flag suggesting that men, unable to cope with the accelerating disintegration of patriarchy and traditional male subjectivity, misdirect their fury towards women who, it seems, are socially far better prepared for the processes of becoming necessary for malleable subjectivity.

As Srinivasan points out,

feminism, far from being [the] enemy, may well be the primary force resisting the very system that made [Elliot Rodger] feel – as a short, clumsy, effeminate, interracial boy – inadequate. His manifesto reveals that it was overwhelmingly boys, not girls, who bullied him: who pushed him into lockers, called him a loser, made fun of him for his virginity. But it was the girls who deprived him of sex, and the girls, therefore, who had to be destroyed.

The article, at one point, briefly considers the role of political lesbianism in addressing this imbalance, making me wonder if we can consider this as an instantiation of proto-patchwork sensibilities formed explicitly along lines of socio-sexual desire, and there is also a suggestion that such anethical sortings of ideological difference may be required again in the near future. It seems that short tempers and easy-access weapons are short-circuiting the paths towards long-term change, to the detriment of all, even those committing such atrocities.

Srinivasan concludes:

The question, then, is how to dwell in the ambivalent place where we acknowledge that no one is obligated to desire anyone else, that no one has a right to be desired, but also that who is desired and who isn’t is a political question, a question usually answered by more general patterns of domination and exclusion. It is striking, though unsurprising, that while men tend to respond to sexual marginalisation with a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, women who experience sexual marginalisation typically respond with talk not of entitlement but empowerment. Or, insofar as they do speak of entitlement, it is entitlement to respect, not to other people’s bodies.


To take this question seriously requires that we recognise that the very idea of fixed sexual preference is political, not metaphysical. As a matter of good politics, we treat the preferences of others as sacred: we are rightly wary of speaking of what people really want, or what some idealised version of them would want. That way, we know, authoritarianism lies. This is true, most of all, in sex, where invocations of real or ideal desires have long been used as a cover for the rape of women and gay men. But the fact is that our sexual preferences can and do alter, sometimes under the operation of our own wills – not automatically, but not impossibly either. What’s more, sexual desire doesn’t always neatly conform to our own sense of it, as generations of gay men and women can attest. Desire can take us by surprise, leading us somewhere we hadn’t imagined we would ever go, or towards someone we never thought we would lust after, or love. In the very best cases, the cases that perhaps ground our best hope, desire can cut against what politics has chosen for us, and choose for itself.

Within our broader considerations of political desires more generally, these same questions are worth keeping in mind. How these considerations might further modulate theories of patchwork deserves a far more in depth consideration and there is one such essay forthcoming by someone else that I think will lay the groundwork for this explicitly. I’m very excited for it to surface.

At all levels, private and public, desire carves up space in unpredictable ways. Love and dynamics of sexuality and gender politics, in particular, may have more of a bearing on Actually Existing Patchwork than has so far been publicly discussed, but there’ll be more on that later in the next Patchwork Yorkshire post and by others elsewhere…

Until then.


  1. I had been in favour of Bifo’s understanding of mental illness. At the very least psychiatric language should replace all spooky talk about alienation. The trouble is that Bifo has bought into the idea that there is a huge rise in mental illness. Actual research doesn’t bear this out. Diagnoses are certainly up but are extensive discussions on reasons that may be the case that don’t assume any massive increase in psychological distress. Increasingly I find Bifo to be of such limited use that he can safely be ignored. Without wanting to reduce everything to a psychologism, I wonder how far his analyses are autobiographical. His work and work like it has driven the left into its current overly therapeutic modality. I hold out zero hope for political solutions, especially when the left is so intent on becoming a self-help orgy of ritualised helplessness. The left degenerates into an AA meeting: My name is Franco, and I’m an alcoholic. This is not to say that consciousness raising or work around mental illness is not or cannot be a good thing, but what people like Mark and David Smail intended as a beginning increasingly looks like an end in itself. I’m a little while away from organised anarchism and the left in general though. If I don’t talk about the right it’s only because I have zero experience there.

    That said, I entirely endorse your conclusions on abandoning politics and theory as we have known them. The therapeutic left is almost certainly a form of group therapy generalised to collective coping mechanism. Abstracted from Voice-operations, I have no problem with this. If all pretension to politics were shed the endeavour for collective coping might stand a chance.

    “Our distress is surely a symptom of our inability to keep up.” This is 100% correct. Ironically, the way politics has been done up to this point is precisely the problem. Perpetuation of that model of politics begins to constitute a kind of self-harm.

    I’ve just written a fairly long piece – that may be awful – that tries to go into some of this.

    1. I agree with you on Berardi. He’s generally not someone I pay much attention too. I do think it is interesting that the Left is finally taking these sorts of discussions seriously though, if nothing else — the Right seems to have been advocating culture war for a while now, whether along racial or gender lines. Seeing the Left finally begin to mount some sort of counter-point, even if, as you’ve said, it’s ineffectual as an add-on to present tactics.

      I look forward to reading your piece! And thanks, as ever, for the fantastically thorough conment.

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