Anelpis: a preliminary expedition into a world without hope or potential

Anelpis: a preliminary expedition into a world without hope or potential
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  1Horne, R. and Hall, S. (1995) ‘Anelpis: a preliminary expedition into a world withouthope or potential’, in Parallax: a journal of metadiscursive theory and cultural practices  ,   1(1): 81-92. AnelpisA preliminary expedition into a world without hope or potential.- I - This article represents a first attempt to outline a particular social problematic whichthe authors consider to be of fundamental significance and urgency, and which seemsto be resolutely avoided by the established criminological and sociological discoursesof the moment. The ideas behind this piece have developed from several yearsworking with the long-term unemployed and persistent young offenders; they areheretical, but we unfortunately believe they are probably correct. Because we areuttering heresy we have not sought, and do not wish to suggest, any support from theinstitution which employs us. At strategic moments the narrative is cut by vignettestaken from Steve Hall’s field-work with young offenders. These are offered both asillustrations and part of the argument, spoken in another voice.  John hated his ‘community industry’ training post and didn’t feel as though he could ever go back to education or get a ‘proper job’."Bright? What are you fucking talking about, you daft old twat? What’s bright got todo with it? It`s who you are, for fuck’s sake, not how bright you are’’.‘‘Anyone can train, John.’’‘‘Look, you silly cunt, if you and me both had the same qualification, and werestanding in a line at the dole for the same job, who do you think would get it?’’"Me." ‘‘And why you?" ‘‘Because I’m better looking." ‘‘Fuck off you fat bastard, that’s one thing you’re not.’’‘‘But you’re you and I’m me. That’s why you would get the job. The only way I’d get it would be to pretend to be some fucker else. Simple as that’’. The practical triumph of instrumental reason was to create and establish a paradigmof rationalisation within the sphere of social reproduction. The Enlightenment project of subsuming all thought and practice under the sign of an abstract Reason found itsmaterial complement in the rational modernisation of every aspect of the commoditycycle: primary and secondary production, circulation and consumption. On this base amodernisation - an ordering and structuring - of social forms and social spaces waselaborated such that social being, inextricably entwined with these processes,  2identified its methods and its meanings with this intricate regime of forms. This wasthe triumph of Capitalism in its expansive heyday [Adorno & Horkheimer,1979;Lefebvre,1971; Foucault,1970].It is almost banality to insist that this dynamic process demanded the elaborationamong its subjects of a whole range of attitudes, skills, dispositions and practicespredicated upon the productive imperative. Punctuality, sobriety, conscientiousnessand the other respectable working class virtues (vigorously promoted by the nascentlabour organisations and working-class institutions) went along with the specifically job-denoted physical skills of hand, eye or muscle which primary productionrequired. Such virtues, of course, never became universal: but they became thestandard, the norm from which departures were acknowledged to be deviant[Thompson,1963; Hobsbawm,1975; Procacci,1978].It is, however, perhaps less banal to insist that another set of skills were concurrentlyassimilated by industrial workers, primarily those who inhabited the lower strata of the emerging hierarchy of labour, if we define the term ‘skills’ to include all specialacquired attributes dependent upon a particular set of social and practical imperatives.In the early capitalist context of only patchily mechanised heavy industries theseskills were those which enabled workers to accept - and ultimately glory in - theintolerable conditions of back-breaking, mind-numbing physical toil. Predominantamong these skills were those predicated upon traits of fortitude, persistence andendurance collectively known as ‘hardness’ [Willis,1978]; and a rigidity of thoughtand sedulous restriction of mental activity [Willis,1978; Marcuse,1964] which canbest be described as ‘stupidity’.But the dynamism – the anarchic dynamism – of capital, which demands that itshould continually remake itself in ever more modern forms, has left behind theconditions and practicalities of its srcinal establishment. The technologies whichhave been developed in its headlong flight from its own past have virtually renderedproduction itself moribund, at least in its classic formations. The commodity cycle isto a large degree short-circuited and we have seen the end - at least in theory - of needs and scarcity. Which is to say, the end of the desperate quest for raw materialsand for manufacturing processes by which these are transformed into commodities:by and within which processes classical Capitalism grounded its very being.Neo-Capitalism, in sharp contradistinction, inhabits a technological universe wherehuman work itself has become largely marginal to production and social being isincreasingly invested within the cycles of circulation and consumption. The ‘post-industrial paradigm’ is one in which increasing managerial, bureaucratic andtechnological investment has superseded the productivist paradigm of a former age, aformer configuration of forces. " I wouldn’t mind doing what you’re doing and getting your fucking wages. I could have what car I wanted then, couldn’t I! " " You take so little notice of me, I’m surprised you know what I do." " You can laugh if you want but I mean it. It doesn’t matter how much notice I take, I still wouldn’t know what any of you fuckers do." " Which ‘fuckers’? "   3 " You fuckers! Fuckers like you! Fucking social workers and businessmen and  politicians and cunts like that. Listen, when I was waiting once to see that fuckingstupid cow in the careers office I looked at the jobs in the paper and I couldn’t  fucking understand what any of the fucking things meant. I wouldn’t know where tostart.’’ By adopting the term ‘post-industrial’ to refer to the current configuration of Capitalist forces we intend to indicate a process whereby certain fundamental facts of the classical Capitalist mode have evaporated and novel, often provisional, forms andstructures are emerging from the broken edifice of the old. We do not seek to mark an‘arrival’ at any new synthesis, but rather acknowledge a series of points of departure.Over the past generation the Capitalist mode has undergone a radical shift in its verybases of operation, its meanings and its forms: it is no longer the case of the rationalremoulding of processes but the radical rebuilding of foundations.One thing has become very clear from the nature and trajectory of this transmutation:the new configuration of forces predicates a new form of social being. The painfulstruggles of this social being’s realisation are the concrete base upon which thecurrent notions of ‘postmodernity’ are grounded. But, just as post-industrialcapitalism has no place for the monolithic productive engines of heavy industry, so itsnew form of social being finds the traditional industrial virtues of ‘hardness’ andsclerotic mental inflexibility, previously tolerated or even tremulously glorified whenthey were functional to the expansion of imperial capitalist nation-states,embarrassing if not abhorrent: quite rightly. Such a state of being is the Brave NewWorld’s concrete, practical ‘Other’. ‘‘I’m not fucking daft enough to fall for the fucking ‘self-esteem’ crap you give us allthe time. Most people wouldn’t like me and there’s fuck all I can do about it except bemore fucking like them, and I wouldn’t fucking do that no matter what. I’m like I am. I’m just a cunt, that’s all, and I’m a fucking cunt because every fucker else I know’s a fucking cunt an’all. You should be fucking thankful there’s not really that many of usaround, that’s all, and fucking leave us alone to get on with what we fucking doinstead of telling us fucking lies and trying to fucking rescue us all the fucking time. Like me? Nobody in their right fucking mind would like people like me’’. Current within the circuits of social theory is a certain notion, or vague phantasm, of the ‘postmodern society’ - even, for some totalising thinkers, a ‘postmoderncondition’. [Lyotard,1979; Baudrillard,1983, among many others]. [1] We haveourselves spoken of the dissolution of the classical modes of production establishing aprocess of provisional forms which, in some sense, constitute points of departure inthe rebuilding of societal foundations. The problematic around ‘postmodern society’,however, is one from which we wish to distance ourselves. We are not interested inglum fantasies about the ‘end’ of this, that or the other; nor in the suppositiousemergence, through a breakdown of ‘master narratives’, of a system of autonomous,plural potentialities within a diverse gallimaufry of discourses. Rather, we take as ourmost basic position that massive changes in every element of society are in train.Whatever the outcome might be, a new world is forming itself – painfully, tentatively– out of the dying, discarded body of the old. But the old body does not simply  4disappear, quietly and conveniently. It rots, and it stinks; and we are trying to speak of that historical Other which this process has left behind.It’s necessary to be quite clear about this. We are not simply contributing to thecurrent debate about the creation (or not) of an ‘underclass’ in British society[Mann,1992; Morris,1994]; that is, the differential elaboration of levels of relativedeprivation of access to the processes, products and bureaucratic services of Capital.What we are trying to talk and encourage debate about is something far moreelemental; the social debris that Capital’s transformation is discarding. In conditionsof genuine, pragmatic disaster amounting to complete system-collapse at a micro-communal level, there are small but growing bodies of people who have quite literallybeen overstepped and left behind by the new configuration of Capitalist forces.These ‘bodies’ are not exactly communities, though they have geographical locations;they can perhaps be more adequately described as ‘habitus-areas’[Bourdieu,1977,1984] where, although it is not a universally pertaining condition, thedominant mode and form of life is one postulated upon a generalised excision fromany positive or constructive engagement with the flows and forces of contemporaryglobal Capitalism. The term we have provisionally adopted to refer to such disvaluedlocuses is ‘microclimates of disaster’. - II - ‘Microclimates of disaster’ are specific but formally diverse locuses which, becausetheir constituents can only ever encounter the commodity form and the powers whichprotect its circulation as negativity, are objectively criminal and increasinglycharacterised by non-rational, unpredictable forms of violence. They are a rapidlygrowing minority who exist in industrially depressed areas amongst the economicallypoor; a poor who are, all at once, their camouflage, their subterfuge, their recruits andtheir victims. We will elaborate upon the distinctive elements of such locuses shortly,but before we do it seems necessary to investigate the explanatory options currentlyon offer within criminology.Within the criminological discourse – which is an undertheorised zone if ever therewas one – there appear to be three basic responses to the area of social problematicwe have attempted to outline.The first, which is the province of most of those professionals entrusted byCapitalism’s administration with the task of treating these particular symptoms of historical process (the probation and welfare services), is basically to deny that itexists. The idealist and ahistorical interactionist perspective consistently and crudelyadopted by such agencies disallows any wider perspective than that of individualcases and individual circumstances, paying lip service to social structure withsimplistic social constructionist formulations of symbolic power imbalance[Lemert,1951; Becker,1963].  5The second, which is characteristic of the liberal/left intelligensia and most clearlyembodied in Geoffrey Pearson’s writings [Pearson,1983,1985] acknowledges thatthere is some kind of objective problem but in effect denies that it is anything new.Pearson’s reliance on the historical continuity of class struggle and the reproductionof social relationships which essentially remain the same across space and timeallows him to locate the Elizabethan ‘underclass’, for example, in the same,uninterrupted genealogy as current forms. There have always been problem areas, sothe argument runs, and there has always been trouble between those who have andthose who have not, and the powers that be have always over-reacted to any untowardbehaviour. According to some of his cohorts, indeed, such behaviours invariablyrepresent nascent political or even revolutionary action [Gillis,1981;Humphries,1987; Hall & Jefferson,1976]. In this way, a few isolated and contextlesshistorical incidents are effectively mobilised to deny history as a process capable of producing real changes of circumstances, meanings and forms.The third discourse, associated with the leftist socio-critical approach, attempts toutilise selected concepts from key sociologists like Durkheim and Marx – ‘anomie’[Merton,1957; Cloward & Ohlin,1960; Clinard,1964] and ‘alienation’ [Bonger,1969;Taylor, Young and Walton,1975] – in order to contextualise and then explain thephenomena. This seems to be the only available option that has any substance, but itstill fails to engage with the problem as we see it.Durkheim’s [1952] conception of anomie is quite precise: it is the mental state whichbasically should be termed psychopathic – where human desire and aspirationradically exceeds any possible or attainable social goal. A truly anomic society wouldbe a psychopathic society wherein all the normal forms, rules and codes of socialbehaviour have broken down or no longer apply. The concept was never more than atheoretical construct or ideal type. A fully anomic society has never been known andindeed it is difficult to see how one could exist in actuality, except for a brief momentof self-destruction; or how we could ever know of it, as its chaotic psychopathicsuicide would hardly be expected to leave understandable records or traces. The fewpart-anomic social groups that have been tentatively indicated by sociologists oranthropologists – disaster victims [Erikson,1976] or the Ik of Northern Uganda[Turnbull,1973] – do not fit very well with Durkheim’s predictions and onlyimperfectly match his conceptual bases. The Ik, for instance, are very definitely pre-industrial and pre-Capitalist, and yet anomie can really only exist in a world whichhas superseded the practical goals of survival which are paramount in all pre-Capitalist cultures – that is, in a developed and fully capitalised world.Of course the term is generally used in a diluted and utterly vague sense to indicate nomore than a kind of social malaise, a disquiet or dissatisfaction. As such, it has lostany explanatory power it might have had, and, really, has no meaning at all. Merton’s[1957] idealised reformulation of the condition as a kind of ‘frustration’ produced byan inability to achieve the primary goals of a consensual value-system and an ensuingrationalised criminal response was the final blow which consigned an alreadydevalued concept to obsolescence.
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