Buddhist Futures: The Black Hole of Post-Capitalism 

Many Happy Returns

In addition to the content itself, I think this piece by Shaun Bartone is a valuable example of how to approach the genre of buddhofiction. Approach, not arrive at. Let me back up a bit.

I believe that a responsible and rigorous approach to the study of a system of thought like x-buddhism involves movement along a continuum of recognition and negation. A wholly realized engagement, I believe, requires a third move: redescription.

Recognition involves, literally, re-cognizing, thinking along with or re-thinking, the system’s postulates. This practice results in a deep and informed hermeneutic appreciation. If you stop there, you will be an apologetic scholar or a good-subject practitioner, or something along those lines.

Negation is necessary in order to draw out the covert ideological machinations at work in the system. It allows you to consider what Adorno calls the “social truth content” at work in the ostensibly culturally-transcendent unitary system. In teasing out complicity in the formation of the capitalist subject, for instance, much of the current criticism of x-buddhism, particularly of Mindfulness, operates in this manner. That is, the negation performs an unmasking of the neutral, innocent, timeless truth dogma to reveal a socially embedded and necessarily political formation.

What then? Once the unitary system is exposed for possessing an identity other than the one it means to project, how do you respond? Some people abandon it, others dig in deeper and defend it. Human beings are complex creatures, and so are their responses to the inevitable deflation of the dharmic big Other. The aim of this blog is to catalyze a third response, namely redescription.

Redescription is a creative response to this deflation. Redescription, in fact, requires deflation. For, it is only through deflation that the specular dogmatics of x-buddhism come to lie prostrate on the ground, and rendered mere raw material for the sustenance of us homo sapiens apes. It is an eminently destructive-creative task to redescribe x-buddhist postulates. As the root of the term implies, this requires it to be formed, fashioned, cut anew (from proto-Indo-European √skribh).

Another term for redescription is buddhofiction. Like science-fiction, buddhofiction simply spins its material into the tale. It has neither need nor inclination to justify itself. It precedes from the premise that it is too late for arguments. Buddhofiction is a genre of peace. It has done with the violence of sectarian sniping. Why? Partly out of futility. Partly out of boredom. But mainly because there is still work to be done. I remain confident that x-buddhism has some really good shit going on.

So, how do you create a buddhofiction? No one can say exactly. Saying exactly would be yet another deployment of the troops to storm Fortress Dharma. This piece by Shaun Bartone is highly suggestive of an approach; it makes a gesture toward the way. He lays out a problematic—the void that appears in the inevitable death of capitalism—and poses a question: “How can we use Buddhist Dialectics (as opposed to Buddhist religion) to deconstruct—counter-construct—what life is like after Capitalism?” A buddhofiction collides these problematics into one another, producing a text that is constructed from its elements—techno-dystopia, zombie economics, brute futuristic sociology, x-buddhist emptiness, nothingness, and lack—yet is none of these elements. So, toward the creation of a new cut of x-buddhist flesh and blood…

(Glenn Wallis)

Buddhist Futures: The Black Hole of Post-Capitalism

By Shaun Bartone

What happens after Capitalism? What is life like? Now that Capitalism has captured and colonized, appropriated (stolen), marketed and sold back to us every facet of our own lives, our relationships, needs, desires, cultures, even our “spiritualities,” what is left to us when Capitalism dies? As Joe Brewer wrote, “the pain you feel is Capitalism dying.”

Are we left with nothing but a black hole of Emptiness? Is there nothing to replace it? What alternatives are there to fill the void left by the death of Capitalism? It is like the death of God, an existential crisis.

I question and challenge those who beg for the end of Capitalism. Yes, Capitalism will come to an end, but what it will be replaced with might be even worse. Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

I see the end of Capitalism as a naturally occurring process of Science overtaking Capitalism, and this is from a functionalist perspective. As science and technology (STEM) grows, it begins to take over all those social functions that used to be managed by Capitalism. STEM will become the new Overlord, controlling every waking (and sleeping) moment of our lives, what we produce and consume, what we do with our bodies and our leisure time, how we identify ourselves, how we relate, how we think. 

Then Capitalism will be seen for what it is in terms of Resource Allocation: a crap shoot, a wild guess, and not even—a blind shot in the dark compared to STEM. STEM will out-perform Capitalism at every level. STEM will have the capacity to allocate resources far more efficiently with greater exactitude and productivity than Capitalism ever could. Capitalism, with its “Economics,” which is nothing more than a self-reinforcing religion consisting of unnamed and untested premises (doctrines), will seem quaint and archaic, like the remnants of an old religion that one discovers between the dusty leather bindings of an ancient book in a library. We will look back and laugh at the hocus-pocus of “Economics” and how it pretended to manage the allocation of extreme complexity, how it was used to obfuscate and mystify its abject failures.

Capitalism has only been able to remain productive and profitable because STEM came to its rescue in the mid-twentieth century and began to take over many of its resource allocation functions, via computer technology and artificial intelligence. STEM will out-manage and out-perform Capitalism in every sector, but unlike Capitalism, its goal will not be profit—it will be CONTROL. The STEM-controlled world will be run not by Capitalists, but by Netocrats*, the technological elite. (See The Futurica Trilogy.) Entities (corporations?) that control resources will have access to everything they need and want, without having to buy or own anything. Stockpiling stuff (and “money another quaint Capitalist invention that will become useless and extinct) is inefficient and counter-productive, a waste, and STEM will not tolerate waste of any kind. Its sworn enemy is Entropy.

Eric Weinstein, a mathematician and investor began a recent video for  BigThink.com: “We think of capitalism as being locked in an ideological battle with socialism, but we never really saw that capitalism might be defeated by its own child — technology.”

Is there any shred of evidence to support this foregoing conjecture?* We already have a perfect foreshadowing of a STEM-controlled world: China’s new “social credit system.”  Communist China has figured out that people will submit to any authority, conform to any rule, if there are steep social consequences to pay for violating them. China is using social networking to note every action a person takes, every email, social media post, chat, purchase, bank transaction, phone call, every security checkpoint you pass through, how you behave in a queue, the expression on your face when you approach a clerk at a train station, every move you make is recorded and calculated to create a “social credit” ranking. If what you do is counted as cheating, stealing, lying, failing to pay debts, disobeying the rules, hostile or simply “untrustworthy,” you will receive a low social credit rating. Because of your low social credit rating, you will be denied access to jobs, apartments, credit, public transportation, and public services. China’s social credit system is the first to operationalize a totalizing system of social control using STEM.

And that’s only the beginning, because STEM technologies can be used to “produce the subject” that is engineered to meet the demands of STEM-controlled system, turning humans into a kind of raw meat robot. Robots are not taking over the world; rather, we are becoming the robotic subjects of a STEM-controlled world.

New computers could delete thoughts without your knowledge, experts warn. New human rights laws are required to protect sensitive information in a person’s mind from “unauthorised collection, storage, use or even deletion.” Now two biomedical ethicists are calling for the creation of new human rig…
The Enlightenment is over; Neoliberalism is doomed. Techno-Fascism is the new fungus growing over the dried bones of Capitalism. Japan has decided that all its public universities will no longer teach arts, humanities, languages, or social sciences. Not even law or economics. Only science, engineering and technology. Why not? Because STEM doesn’t need law or languages, economics or psychology. It doesn’t need art or stories; it doesn’t need human culture. Because essentially, it doesn’t need humans. STEM is a post-humanist worldview.
Capitalism, with its Enlightenment ideals of individuality, freedom, equality (cough), rights, law, and justice will seem downright romantic compared to the technological nightmare that replaces it. Surrounded by the digital flicker of a techno-dystopia, we may be nostalgic for the gilded glory that was Capitalism.
So that brings me back to the initial question: What happens after Capitalism? What is life like? Are we left with nothing but the black hole of Emptiness? 
Ah, Emptiness! How can we use Buddhist Dialectics (as opposed to Buddhist religion) to deconstruct—counter-construct—what life is like after Capitalism? Is it possible that what we need to do is embrace is the emptiness of chaotic change, the void of having nothing to replace Capitalism, so that we can actually let go of it and begin to create something utterly new, alternative, and totally unlike what is surely going to replace it, an uber-technological dystopia?
The end of Capitalism is the end of paid labour for profit. It is the end of paid work, as John Holloway says in Crack Capitalism. Sometimes we will work for wages, sometimes for barter, but “jobs” will be scarce. Now we must fend for ourselves. What will we do with our lives without jobs? How will we survive?
Can we enter the darkness of nothingness, the hunger of lack, of risking everything that is known and familiar, to search in the wilderness for some other way to live, post-capitalism?
Can we collectively work out our values, our desires, our existential imperatives, the basic ground of being, relating, communicating, cohabiting and subsisting? What kind of societies can we create while scarcely surviving on the margins of an over-developed world teetering on the brink of eco-cidal extinction post-capitalism? 
Resistance involves renunciation. Will we live like feral monks, not [just] deprived of food and shelter, but renouncing and resisting cooperation with a totalizing technological system that would turn us into raw meat robots?
It is not just the refusal to participate in a corrupt system, but the deployment of a critically conscious resistance to the ideology that operates the codes and programs of a system which metes out reward and punishment for [non]compliance.
Will we refuse to be vector vermin co-opted into Mindlessly reproducing the social credit system? Or will we develop a Critical Mindfulness that makes a cognitive break with a totalizing system?
Will we be able to create relations of mutual pleasure and support? Of creativity and play? cultures of wild imagination? Or will it be an existence of brute survival?


*Note: I’m certainly not the first to propose that Science will overtake Capitalism as the basic operating system of society. Read Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist’s The Futurica Trilogy for a fascinating glimpse into the STEM-controlled future dystopia.

Author: Shaun Bartone holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of New Brunswick. His areas of expertise are systems theory, networks, and ecological sociology. Shaun has been practicing Buddhist meditation and yoga for ten years. He is also a multi-instrumental musician and composer. Shaun is the coordinator of Queer Dharma Circle at Bird Hill Farm in Ware, MA, a multi-lineage dharma program for queer and trans people. Shaun blogs at Engage! Critical Dharma for Thinking People.

2 responses to “Buddhist Futures: The Black Hole of Post-Capitalism ”

  1. Buddhist Futures: The Black Hole of Post-Capitalism  | synthetic zero Avatar

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