The history of Western civilization is a history of creeping abstraction. It has now reached its endgame in finance.
In The Uprising, Franco “Bifo”” Berardi notes that money itself has taken on the language of mental health: the economy is depressed; the market is up or down. And now it can be added that our economic system has taken upon the etymology of apocalypse in the word of finance. A word whose Latin root is finis, meaning “the end.”
Now our lives have become a derivative. The original function of the equation has been lost. Value has been completely severed, decoupled and removed from work, from bricks and mortar, from hands in the earth.
Everyday, fifty times the amount of total GDP is traded on financial markets in Tokyo, Sao Paulo, London, New York and Johannesburg. If there is one thing we can learn from the current global economic mania, it is that capitalism cannot help itself. It operates by its own logic. It has to think short term. And so we now live in a short-term civilization. The idea of a true cost market place, where every product tells the ecological and social truth, is heresy. The streets are full of zombie-like internalized real-estate agents dying to get out. Few can even conceive of asking the question – let alone be able to compute the answer – why an apple from across the ocean is cheaper to purchase than an apple grown next door.
It is a world where entire societies are built and then forgotten within a generation. A decade ago, the BRICS countries, (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), were on top of the world. If you were an investor you couldn’t lose. But now they’re blasé. The MIST countries, (Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey), are the new category of hot-growth economies. Incidentally, these acronyms were both coined by Goldman Sachs Asset Management Chairman, Jim O’Neill.
A decade ago, Athens was the center of a global celebration of global Olympic triumph. Look at it today. Heroin, the drug of depression, has taken over the streets. Cocaine, the drug of success, is moving south and east.
The synapses within the brain of progress are firing ever quicker. Nations and cities rise and fall in decades, not centuries. The line between exuberant success and irrational failure is razor thin. The margins of prosperity and default can change in an instant. Lehman Brothers was given an AAA rating the day before bankruptcy. Ireland was the first economic miracle of the 21st century before its spectacular implosion. The Black-Scholes proof won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1997 – the father of the derivative – only to be revealed a decade later as the most destructive mathematics equation since Enrico Fermi’s schematics for the nuclear bomb.
Within this catastrophic balance rests not only the future of human civilizations, but also the very fate of Earths’ biological systems. The order of the global economic household has been flipped upon its head. The original meaning of the study of economics, oikos (household) and nomos (law), has been lost.
What can be said of a civilization where oil spills can yield a profit and freestanding forests become a detriment to economic growth? What can be said of a world where the response to dwindling fish stocks is bigger nets and bigger boats? In a time of unprecedented human wealth, we now face the unprecedented threat of global ecological collapse.
We need to ask ourselves how our understanding of household management got so abstracted from reality.