Speed kills

History progresses at the speed of its weapons systems.

-Paul Virilio

In Mammon’s Ecology, I wrote about general-purpose money as a accelerant. Nothing deep here — money accelerates the rates of exchange. I need a cow, you need a carpet, she needs a three-wheeled bike with a basket. If we are all looking for others who have cow or a carpet or the bike to exchange for what we already have to trade, it’ll take a while. With money as a universal store of “value” expressed in price, the exchanges can be accelerated. Speed kills, I wrote, because increasing the speed of exchange increases the speed at which extractive practices can rip up the biosphere.

I also wrote,

There is a direct relation between the speed of exchange and the increasing speed of travel. “No, wait a minute,” you may be saying. “You are confusing apples and oranges! The speed of buying and selling are different than the speed of an automobile or an airplane.” I think I can convince you otherwise.

This one? Still not super-deep, but it takes a tad more mental effort to overcome the acculturated thought-habit of dividing things into little categorical boxes apart from their contexts (which is part of the same problem produced by speed of exchange).

Without the speed of exchange provided by general-purpose money, the production of automobiles and airplanes could not happen — there’s the easy part. But increasing velocity — movement over a set period of time — is built into most forms of competition, like the kind which gave rise to mass production. One capitalist is trying to produce newer stuff faster than his or her competition, so the need to move production feedstocks faster corresponds. Okay, fair enough, faster vehicles respond to the demand for increased velocity of production with increased velocity of transport. That, too. But there’s another form of speed required, relating back to money, and that’s the time-table for paying back the loans that were required to set up and maintain production. So the producer is looking at the clock and calendar, and at the work-rates of his or her workers, to maximize the velocity of productive output in relation to the pay-back schedule on the loans. So, expanding matrices of acceleration feedback loops. “Growth,” speed.

We could keep unpacking this, but I figure you already get the point: increasing velocity becomes an ever more generalized feature of the whole society. The beleaguered single mom rushes to daycare in her car on the way to her job, which employs computers running at light speed, and orders fast food for the kids along the way, because she’s short on time, and she runs a stoplight as she speeds through an open intersection so she’s not late because of the traffic jam she just encountered. Faster, faster.

I’m sure none of you readers has ever experienced road rage when you’re late. That’s an experience that corresponds to the physical reality of acceleration. You’ve internalized it.

(File a note on that traffic jam.)

Capitalism is certainly characterized by this addiction to speed, as was its modernizing state-socialist antagonist. Prior to capitalism, however, there was another, more transhistorical social phenomenon, which I’d argue eventually gave rise to capitalism, and which also incorporates more and more speed into its evolution: the ultimate competition — war.

I just posted a brief article about Jacques Ellul as a prophetic twentieth century voice about our contemporary technological necropolis.

This time, I want to wade around for a bit in the world of another twentieth/twenty-first century French prophet, Paul Virilio (1932–2018), who wrote what Benjamin Bratton called “the pre-history of the Software Society,” in a book named (English translation) Speed and Politics. Virilio wrote several books, including another important book called Pure War (with Sylvère Lotringer) where among other things he showed how cinema, which he called “war beyond its physicality.” Virilio was a friend of Jean Baudrillard, who wrote about late modern society’s immersion in simulated (electronic) spectacles. We’ll peek at that, too.

To give Virilio some context:

Alasdair MacIntyre, the Catholic moral philosopher concerned with practice, described late modernity as increasingly managerial.

Virilio, the Catholic phenomenologist concerned with the mediation of experience, described late modernity as logistical.

MacIntyre identified the three archetypical characters of modernity as the manager, the therapist, and the aesthete.

Virilio identified the priest, the warrior, and the commoner in his theses on the nation-state using Georges Dumézil’s categories of three essential state structures— the sacred, the military, and the economic — which correspond to these archetypical roles.

So, we’ve now scratched the topsoil of velocity in our introduction. With Virilio as our Virgil, then, let’s go spelunking.

Logistics is is governance by speed.

Logistics: (1) the branch of military science and operations dealing with the procurement, supply, and maintenance of equipment, with the movement, evacuation, and hospitalization of personnel, with the provision of facilities and services, and with related matters. (2) the planning, implementation, and coordination of the details of a business or other operation.

Bringing Clausewitz, the war theorist, into the discussion, the purpose of military plans is to “reduce fog and friction.” Honestly, Virilio is easier to understand if one’s been in the military. Our experience has been more directly mediated by logistical thinking. Nonetheless, as Virilio showed in Pure War and Speed and Politics, war — even in the absence of active combat — materializes “an infinite preparation” for war. If you ever visit Virginia Beach, your days will be constantly interrupted by ear-shattering (and insanely expensive) flyovers of combat jets, required to keep the aerial weapons and their human operators in good form. The residents say, “Oh, you get used to it.”

This constant preparation wicks into a society as a whole, and into the very structures of our consciousness. The business class studies warmaking theory. Policing becomes ever more militaristic. Surveillance is continually amplified. Information processing becomes faster and more detailed. Transportation is optimized. “Entertainment” and “news” become both overt and covert propaganda for the conjoined twins of violence and efficiency. These progressions are, in Clausewitzian terms, reductions of “fog” and “friction,” designed to increase the clarity and accuracy of intelligence and the speed of operations, military and otherwise.

Virilio, like Ellul, was a child of World War II France. Virilio termed his study of speed dromology. Dromos is Greek for “race course.” As someone who wrote from a phenomenological perspective, he was interested in how consciousness is structured. (His writing, then, is more Cézanne than Daumier — tentative, fragmentary, and evocative, suspicious of the snapshot, the frozen instant sliced out of dynamic time.)

In my sentence above, where I said, “‘Entertainment’ and ‘news’ become both overt and covert propaganda for the conjoined twins of violence and efficiency,” I built a bridge, but Virilio is still on the far bank of the river.

In Virilio’s study of cinema, propaganda (in Ellul’s sociological sense) is not what most interests him. He said that cinema (as a medium) itself structured the consciousness of the viewer, by producing objects (obectifying and distancing — we experience the film vicariously, at a safe distance), which prepares the viewer to herself be objectified. This isn’t the main topic of my post, so I’ll do Virilio the gross disservice of just hinting at his complex thesis in War and Cinema, but let’s just take a part of it to make the point.

Once upon a time, I was a sniper, though we weren’t called “snipers” (a popular film caricature btw), but “sniper-observers.” In fact, we spent most of our time doing the observation part as reconnaissance assets. We stayed well back from out “targets,” which were more often than not active installations of some sort, and observed them through high-powered scopes. SO’s work as two-man teams — a shooter and an observer. The gun has one scope, generally a 10x magnification, but the team also employs a spotting scope, generally with a 20–60x magnification. When you observe through the scope at the “target,” you are creating a little cinema, a view that is enclosed, bordered, objectified (“target”).

As with a film director, the enclosed view is isolated and selected for a shot (cinematic and military term).

Jump now to the armed drone pilot in Colorado, who never even visits the battlespace in Southwest Asia. She flies her weapon by interacting with a screen projection, then takes her shot, the impact observed only as a silent moving image. The technology, the medium, structures consciousness.

[In] fact it was the precision of the camera-shot which first created audience panic at the Lumières’ ‘motion demonstrations’ of the train’s arrival at la Ciotat, when everyone felt that they risked being crushed or injured by the train. This kind of fear, akin to the sense of speed that people seek on roller coasters, did not disappear but simply became more pernicious as the audience learnt to control its nervous reactions and began to find death amusing. (Virilio & Lotringer, Pure War, 1989: 39–40).

Returning now to speed, Dean Detloff describes Speed and Politics as the interrogation of “the relation between the terms of its title by presenting a theory of social movements, urbanism, and military history as bound up with technical and strategic innovations that augment mobility. War remains an important influence, as Virilio considers the close affinity between military invention and the increasingly hegemonic momentum of the speed thereby produced.” (italics added)

Virilio wrote that, “dromocratic intelligence is not exercised against a more or less determined military adversary, but as a permanent assault on the world, and through it, on human nature.”

As to technology (or in Ellul’s term, technique), Virilio said that dromocracy — society oriented by the quest for ever greater speed (and driven by the logic of war, “logistics”) — made human beings (and human environments) prosthetic. The organic and the artificial are combined into an alloyed function.

The human and the technological environment are integrated, becoming together the infrastructures of speed/logistics. A new, militaristic, and fractal idol then appears at every scale — security.

An extended excerpt from Speed and Politics:

Aside from its military function, the rampart of the fortified place assumes a class function; its poliorcetic conception allows it to prolong the social combat indefinitely. The communal bourgeoisie gives rise to a new phenomenon, like a prolonged and patient war that has all the earmarks of the inertia of peace, and nothing more of the bloody effusions of ancient civil war, the seasonal outbursts and violent movements of the country battlefield. Bourgeois power is military even more than economic, but it relates most directly to the occult permanence of the state of siege, to the appearance of fortified towns, those “great immobile machines made in different ways. “ In the same way, the decadence of the enclaved bourgeoisie, the loss of its own will, will be linked to the decline of its military technique in the domain of ground warfare. As Montesquieu remarks, “With the invention of gunpowder, the impregnable place ceased to exist.”

Clausewitz has admirably shown the mercenaries of the large Italian cities, then of Europe in general, lending their services to powerful economies-the only ones capable of furnishing the military entrepreneur with an increasingly large budget, the goods and transferable holdings that he can take with him at the end of his engagement contract (whence the “evident conjuncture between money and what seems to found it, its military significance” -Marx to Engels, September 25, 1857). But he doesn’t go far enough in designating the latter as technical manufacturer, as engineer (of weapons). In fact, it was the military engineers who, depending on the opportunities afforded, were able to protect or destroy private securities within the bourgeois citadel. And here we have the unspoken conjuncture from which the “cannibalistic classes” will come-not only the bourgeoisie, but also the permanent military class. The Marxist definition of capitalism, “consumer of human life and founder of dead labor,” is quite apt for the bourgeoisie, but only insofar as it is associated with its military technical adviser, who simultaneously invents the means of producing and of destroying what he produces, a war entrepreneur who will be at the origin of the State armies and later of the military industrial complex. Just as the condottiere had benefited from this system of ruin by leaning on the city’s economic orientation, so the communal bourgeoisie already carries within itself the same ambiguous association of wealth and the production of destruction.

This fatal merger was formed on these grounds like a chance meeting: “The strategic importance of a given proposition is not the result of largely hypothetical combinations, but of the very configuration of the countryside: this will be an important knot of communication lines, the meeting point of numerous roads or the confluence of valleys.” As we saw before, wherever these conditions are fulfilled, there are population centers; where there is traffic, there is also the urban area. To recapitulate, the conditions that obtained at the birth of the great cities are always those that make these cities important strategic points. The solution, then, imposed itself, and up until the twentieth century they almost always decided to transform the most populous centers into large fortresses. National Defense continued to mix, in almost medieval fashion, military men with the civilians whose resources (supplies, physical labor, lodgings, arms, etc.) were of no small importance to the army. The very givens of capitalism, the inactivity of its wealth, directly contribute toward maintaining the state of siege!

If the fortified town is an immobile machine, the military engineers’ specific task is to fight against its inertia. “The goal of fortification is not to stop armies, to contain them, but to dominate, even to facilitate their movements.” Around 1870 Colonel Delair notes: “Every fortress must possess a certain particular state, a certain power of resistance, which in men is called good health. In peacetime, we officers of the engineering corps are responsible for keeping the fortress in good health.” And a bit further on: “The art of defense must constantly be in transformation; it is not exempt from the general law of this world: stasis is death.”

The communal fortress is a city machine, so much so that Cormontaigne, Fourcroy and many engineers of the eighteenth century, in their “fictional ‘diaries of sieges” or their “moments of fortification,” don’t even mention the troops assigned to defend it, as if the fortress were capable of functioning by itself. General de Villemoisy in the nineteenth century notes its technical superiority: “Out of 300 sieges conducted by the Europeans since the beginning of this century, there have only been about ten in which the fortification fell first.” The military thus seems dependent on the general concept of the fortified place. Carnot praises its division of labor: “It has been proven that bravery and industry — which, taken separately, would not suffice — can, once they are joined, multiply each other.” After Vauban, the defenders’ presence in the fortified place will not be a matter of chance: the decree of December 28, 1866, will still name the governors of fortified cities as permanent residents in both peace and war, just as the garrison will be obliged to perform daily tasks, each one being assigned a fixed and invariable function, repeated day after day.

The occupants of the Maginot Line, for their part, had gotten into the habit of calling it “the factory.” Long after the dismantling of the old communal city and up until the twentieth century, when large fortified places still exist, the military class continues to find work with its old bourgeois employer, the two slowly becoming “compradores.” The interests of the war entrepreneur remain aligned with those of capitalism in permanent strategic schemas: in 1 793, Barere compares the young Republic (the Paris Commune) to a large city under siege and he calls for all of France to be no more than a vast camp. The political triumph of the bourgeois revolution consists in spreading the state of siege of the communal city machine, immobile in the middle of its logistic glacis and domestic lodgings, over the totality of the national territory. And in 1795, it will entrust to Carnot’s new armies the job of pushing as far back as possible the assault by the popular masses come from the suburb, of encircling the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, of forcing the dismayed workers to give up their weapons to its 20,000 soldiers “who had forgotten that they were also of the people” (Babeuf).

The State’s political power, therefore, is only secondarily “power organized by one class to oppress another.” More materially, it is the polis, the police, in other words highway surveillance, insofar as, since the dawn of the bourgeois revolution, the political discourse has been no more than a series of more or less conscious repetitions of the old communal poliorcetics, confusing social order with the control of traffic (of people, of goods), and revolution, revolt, with traffic jams, illegal parking, multiple crashes, collisions. The results of the 1977 French municipal elections were exemplary in this respect, since they reinscribed, on the national territory, Barere’s old plan to cut France in two: at the center the decisive knot of the capital where the right triumphs, and all around the vast camp of the suburbs and provinces that voted for the left because they were concious of becoming a hinterland in which productive activity was on the decline. On the other hand, these elections also show how much the opposing party’s discourse is dominated by the reactionary schema of bourgeois poliorcetics, confining the mass’s ability to move with its ability to attack — the ultreia of pilgrim’s progress. But beyond that, this political police schema, accepted until very recently by every ideology, influences both urban and worldwide planning; the passage from the “great immobile machine” to the Statemachine, and finally to the planet machine, is accomplished without difficulty. The words “politics of progress” or “of change” are devoid of meaning if, behind the electric megalopolis, the city knows no rest, if we can’t distinguish the obscure silhouette of the old fortress struggling against its inertia, for whom stasis is death.

In all parts of the world, social lodgings, the city-dormitory or port of transit, implanted at the edges of cities, highways or railways, the toll systems that the government insists so strongly on instituting at the very entrances to a capital that selection is depopulating, the general police headquarters set up right nearby-this whole apparatus is only the reconstitution of the various parts of the fortress motor, with its flankings, its gorges, its shafts, its trenches, admission to and escape from its portals, the whole primordial control of the masses by the organisms of urban defense.

We also saw, during the German occupation of France, how easy it was for pseudo-social lodgings in the suburbs, like the old poorhouse, to be transformed into pivots toward the “beyond” of other voyages, other deportations. Whatever their supposed ideology, the proper role of every totalitarian regime is to bring to the fore the mitigated role of the army and the police (v. their rivalry) vis a vis the unrecognized order of political circulation. We could even say that the rise of totalitarianism goes hand-in-hand with the development of the state’s hold over the circulation of the masses. Because of this, from the outset, it is easy to spot in the history of the great administrative bodies of the State: it was Sully, himself a grand master of roads and canals, who brought “the administration of fortifications” out of the rut with the edict of 1604 and gave it a modern form which continued well into the twentieth century, despite apparent revolutions.

As Tocqueville remarks, the quartermasters of fortifications simultaneously perform, in the most ambiguous fashion, the state’s civilian and military duties. Under Louis XIV, Mesrine will be assigned to create permanent companies of miners, sappers and boatmen who will originally be part of the corps of engineers, and who will replace the volunteer engineers-labor inspectors come up from the ranks or civilian public works officials, such as the famous Tarade, who was also in charge of Parisian sanitary engineering. Thus, on the eve of the bourgeois revolution of ’89, the Army Corps of Engineers was providentially given a national task: not only the construction/destruction of the urban ramparts, but also the expansion of the logistical glacis over the whole territory (Barere’s “vast camp of the nation”).

Thus we shouldn’t wonder about the exceptional vogue of engineers after the seventeenth century, a vogue that in the nineteenth century would become a veritable cult in philosophy and fiction. The engineer is celebrated as the “priest of civilization’’ (SaintSimon), a perverted image we will come back to, but which appears quite naturally after that of the “castrameter” — the latter really a priest or man of the Church assigned to teach “the art of limiting camps and fortified places by geometrical layouts.” (But already, as Colonel Lazard noted, it was no longer a question of a specifically military art, but rather a kind of reign of descriptive geometry projected onto the sites, over the totality of nature . . . ) The military class is not born of the overpopulated headquarters of the ancien regime, offices in which one saw marshals and general officers alternate, almost daily, the command of the traditional armies. Under such conditions — even if they had considerable budgets at their disposal — there was little danger that these armies could demonstrate any kind of unified thought or strategic imagination. The only military activity that requires continuity of ideas, then, is the logistical project of the urban fortress. And it’s from this equivocal logistical duty that the mixture of combat planning and territorial layout, christened “National Defense” by the bourgeois revolution, is born. (36–42)

You begin to see how Virilio combines his grasp of history with his history of the forms of consciousness (something he shares with Ivan Illich and Barbara Duden — Illich titled the third chapter of Energy and Equity, “Speed-Stunned Imagination.”)

In 2019, if anyone is interested, I wrote a highly editorialized book report about how military counterinsurgency doctrine is routinely employed by American police against Black urban enclaves in the United States (and on how war-making was race-making). Virilio’s ruminations on war and the city thicken that narrative considerably.

The American city was finally domesticated by the high-tech, high-speed automobile dependent suburbs (and now the exurbs), leaving isolated throwaway zones under military occupation and control.

In that same piece, I cited Maria Mies’ thesis that the modern notion of conquest was aimed first at nature, then at women and colonies defined into nature. Where Virilio thickens this idea is with his emphasis on time. The progress myth underwriting The American Dream — that now tarnished idol from the period following World War II — was above all about “time-saving” machinic slaves and the architectures of speed which would carry us into Techno-utopia. What materialized was quite different — “pure war.”

When Norman Angell states in The Great Illusion that war has become economically futile because it is no longer founded on flight at the expense of the “exterior group, “ in other words on portable wealth, but rather, henceforth, on credit and the commercial contract, he is mistaken in thinking that this must radically suppress the “conqueror”; his discourse is somewhat lacking in rigor. In fact, what is revealed by this change in the nature of wealth is only a change in the speed of world economy, the passage from the movable unit to the hourly unit: the war of Time. With the fleet in being, England concentrates its efforts on technical innovation in the domain of transportation, and more precisely on the manufacture of rapid engines. It draws from this both its economic superiority and the orientation that made it the first great industrial nation, the model for all the others-engendering “that primordial feeling of technical superiority that gets confused with a feeling of general superiority.” In fact, there was no “industrial revolution,” but only a “dromocratic revolution;” there is no democracy, only dromocracy; there is no strategy, only dromology. It is precisely at the moment when Western technological evolutionism leaves the sea that the substance of wealth begins to crumble, that the ruin of the most powerful peoples and nations gets under way-viz. Carter’s declarations about the end of the American dream. It is speed as the nature of dromological progress that ruins progress; it is the permanence of the war of Time that creates total peace, the peace of exhaustion . . . (Virilio, Speed and Politics, 69)

. . . With the realization of dromocratic type progress, humanity will stop being diverse. It will tend to divide only into hopeful populations (who are allowed the hope that they will reach, in the future, someday, the speed that they are accumulating, which will give them access to the possible-that is, to the project, the decision, the infinite: speed is the hope of the West) and despairing populations, blocked by the inferiority of their technological vehicles, living and subsisting in a finite world. (Ibid., 70)

The answer to increasing speed, with all its busy-ness — back to out single mom — is convenience. The fast food outlet is convenient. But like the transmogrification of The American Dream into a robocop state, convenience becomes necessity, and the treadmill picks up speed.

Speed not only wins wars, it makes them convenient. The American occupying troops of today, supplied by an uninterrupted series of trans-Atlantic cargo flights, have access to the same fast food as the single mom trying to feed her kids on the way to school or daycare while she keeps up in the rat race . . . the treadmill that keeps incrementally increases its velocity.

Alf Hornborg, the Swedish anthropologist, criticized Marxist geographer David Harvey in Honrborg’s study of money and technology, saying . . .

Harvey can criticize capital accumulation without every questioning the machine, its material form. Yet it is precisely through technology that money remolds the “spatio-temporalities” to which he refers. Time-space compression relies on global processes of time-space appropriation.

Thinking back on cinema, have you watched the Bourne series? The technological dromology? Speed means survival. Speed means victory. It’s all about the race. In his study of cinema, Virilio said ^^^ that cinema structured the consciousness of the viewer, by producing objects (obectifying and distancing), which prepares the viewer to herself be objectified.

This kind of fear, akin to the sense of speed that people seek on roller coasters, did not disappear but simply became more pernicious as the audience learnt to control its nervous reactions and began to find death amusing.

The single mom on her treadmill, her rat race. More than objects and less than people; we are becoming cyborgs, technologically prosthetic beings performing our logistical functions.

To understand dromocratic society and its establishment, it is no doubt more useful to read The Black Code of the Colonial Pact than any other so-called sociological work. “We must not,” wrote Colbert, “constitute in the colonies a constant civilization.” The ancient legislation that will subsist in our colonies until 1848 considers the negro to be furniture; the black slave is first of all a movable commodity. His legal existence is solely a function of his movable/furniture quality, of the transportation he is subjected to. The vogue of Black American jazz after 1914, the frenzied gesticulation revealed by the first American sound film that colored the face of a white actor and bent him to the rhythm of the movable slave, reminds us of that country’s dominant culture today, and of James Baldwin’s profound reflection: “Tomorrow you will all be negroes!” (125)

Tomorrow you will all be objects, furniture . . . prosthetic cyborgs. The march of progress. The “intoxication of the speed-body.”

No one can hide now from techno-military power — sorry, Jason Bourne — because it has so thoroughly appropriated time (and eliminated the old defenses of space). The skilled swordsman could parry his opponent’s thrust. Then came the rifled bullet, which required being out of range or in a trench. Then came artillery, then the aerial bomb, then the missile, then the drone . . . passing over ground mapped and observed from satellites, the information gathered and interpreted at the speed of light by calculators many thousands of times faster than any mere human. All they require is cyborg operators.

In the popular and fast-moving cinematic and television genre of the police procedural, the detective says, “Get me the CCTV,” and “get me his financials,” and “pull up his record,” and “let’s see the post-mortem,” as the tech cyborg or cyborg doctor dutifully — even joyfully — complies.

Slow the pace, and you and I become restless, bored. It’s the race to which we’re addicted. And the assault for which the whole episode has prepared us, with which we identify.

The prosthetic human living in compressed time-space can no longer rely on geometry — the basic science of the infantry when my military career started. Geometry has been supplanted by trajectories, accidents by catastrophes. We know what climate disruption — the grand unfolding global catastrophe of dromocracy — can and will do; and we are helpless to stop it. Our trajectory is friction-free, a runaway train. Like “Locomotive Breath,” we can’t slow down.

We can watch, and be watched. We’re caught in the sniper scope, the computer monitor, the TV screen — objects, cyborg prisoners of speed, the trained audience who’s learned to control its fearful reactions. Virilio saw this coming in the 1970s.

Two nuclear armed powers watch each other tensely right now, each realizing that with a single command, the exchange could begin. Virilio writes in Speed and Politics (1977):

This logic of practical war, in which the operating costs of the (aerial) vector automatically entail the heightening of its destructive capability because of the requirements of transporting a tactical nuclear weapon, is not limited to attack planes; it is also becoming the logic of the State apparatus. This backwardness is the logistical consequence of producing means to communicate destruction. The danger of the nuclear weapon, and of the arms system it implies, is thus not so much that it will explode, but that it exists and is imploding in our minds.

Let us summarize this phenomenon:

— Two bombs interrupt the war in the Pacific, and several dozen nuclear submarines are enough to ensure peaceful coexistence …

This is its numerical aspect.

— With the appearance of the multiple thermonuclear warhead and the rapid development of tactical nuclear arms, we see the miniaturization of explosive charges …

This is its volumetric aspect.

— After having cleared the planet surface of a cumbersome defensive apparatus by reducing undersea and underground strategic arms, they renounce world expanse by reducing the trouble spots and advanced bases …

This is its geographical aspect.

— Once responsible for the operations, the old chiefs of war, strategists and generals, find themselves demoted and restricted to simple maintenance operations, for the sole benefit of the Chief of State …

This is its political aspect.

But this quantitative and qualitative scarcity doesn’t stop. Time itself is no longer enough:

— Constantly heightened, the vectors’ already quasi-supersonic capacities are superseded by the high energies that enable us to approach the speed of light …

This is its spatio-temporal aspect.

After the time of the State’s political relativity as nonconducting medium, we are faced with the no time of the politics of relativity. The full discharge feared by Clausewitz has come about with the State of Emergency. The violence of speed has become both the location and the law, the world’s destiny and its destination. (165–7)

Here’s an image — in a frame. You recognize it. Yet your fearful reaction is held at a long distance. You’re not in it. You’re in the audience. And still you are . . . in it, as a consumer of security.

[T]he government’s deliberately terroristic manipulation of the need for security is the perfect answer to all the new questions now being put to democracies by nuclear strategy-the new isolationism of the nuclear State that, in the U.S., for example, is totally revamping political strategy. They are trying to recreate Union through a new unanimity of need, just as the mass media phantasmatically created a need for cars, refrigerators … We will see the creation of a common feeling of insecurity that will lead to a new kind of consumption, the consumption of protection; this latter will progressively come to the fore and become the target of the whole merchandising system. This is essentially what Raymond Aron recently said, when he accused liberal society of having been too optimistic for too long! The indivisible promotion of the need for security already composes a new composite portrait of the citizen — no longer the one who enriches the nation by consuming, but the one who invests first and foremost in security, manages his own protection as best he can, and finally pays more to consume less. (139)

Look around.

I’ve just given you a small taste of Virilio, like the Jewish schools of old where teachers put honey on the chalkboard for the children to lick, showing them the sweetness of learning.

Do with it what you will.

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Stan Goff

Stan Goff

Author of the books “Hideous Dream,” “Full Spectrum Disorder,” “Borderline,” “Mammon’s Ecology,” and “Tough Gynes.”