Dave Antagonism's overview of Jacques Camatte's ideas of domestication.
"All the conditions would seem to be ripe; there should be a revolution. Why then is there such restraint? What is to stop people from transforming all these crises and disasters, which are themselves the result of the latest mutation of capital, into a catastrophe for capital itself?
The explanation for this is to be found in the domestication of humanity, which comes about when capital constitutes itself as a human community."
The Domestication of Humanity
Domestication — the reduction/destruction of humanity’s wild and autonomous subjectivity — rises with the earliest Neolithic origins of civilization. It reaches new heights with the origins of the despotism of industrial capital. The domestication of humanity is the Social/psychological State of the processes mentioned above. The human being undergoes “analyzing-dissecting-fragmenting” and then “capital reconstructs the human being as a function of its process”. The effect of this is that capital captures and transforms the fundamental critical facilities of humanity, the ability to think, conceive, communicate and wires them as part of the broader social circuitry. Camatte writes that “precisely because of their mental capacities, human beings are not only enslaved, but turned into willing slaves of capital”. The (re)production and circulation of life-as-capital require a huge amount of deep personal investment in all of capital’s processes. Hence, the post-modern economy is a vast libidinal economy gripping in constant agitation and anguish. The process of domestication involves the recuperation of the desires for community and individuality of gemeinwesen: “communal being comes in the form of collective worker, individuality in the form of consumer capital”. We see a recurrence of a central point of Camatte’s thinking: that the despotism of capital is the achievement of the premises of “communism” but in negative.
What has allowed this domestication are previous pre-suppositions of capital that structure the behavior of humanity in certain ways: “[t]he rupture of the body from the mind made possible the transformation of the mind into a computer which can be programmed by the laws of capital.” This is critique then of the project of rationality: the celebration of thought above and outside the body, and the broad instrumentalization of life that accompanies it. The inheritance of rationality is the extension of the binary of mind/body into the irrational as well. Part of the condition of domestication is the reduction of human experience to a seemingly inert and scopohilic state. Camatte states that “man (sic) becomes a sensual and passive voyeur, capital a sensual and suprasensual being”. Again, only a cursory view over the representations of mass society is enough to give some validity to this perspective. For example, think of the explosion of Reality TV, where countless thousands are desperate for a chance to move up a notch in the Panopticon in an attempt to infuse their lives with action and meaning.
Interestingly enough, Reality TV helps give weight to Camatte’s view in other ways as well. Witness how, when on air, people are quick to behave in ways that are already scripted, to faithfully act out all they have been taught. Here we see people, as they are everywhere: “reflections of capital.” Yet this does not quite allow us to explain the lack of revolt. We must go a little further. The effect of domestication is a difficulty in the ability to begin to act autonomously. The rise of the ideologies of new social movements is for Camatte not the arrival of new rebellious social actors but a product of the “disintegration of consciousness”. The project of self-activity by conscious human beings against the totality of capital recedes to the support of reified actors against sectional challenges. This is a condition of the Right as well as the Left. For Camatte, the disappearance of class and the arrival of the despotism of capital means all politics has been reduced to a competition of various “gangs”, none of which just embodies the fractured modes of being.
Trapped in such a huge mass, imprisoned in a global and seemingly infinite division of labor, engaged in endless activity, overwhelmed with ideology, is this the end for our protagonist humanity? For Camatte “this is nothing other than the reign of death”. Can we begin to image lines of escape?
Camatte remains a revolutionary and, as mentioned previously, was optimistic about a revolution against capital erupting in the mid 1970s. To understand this we have to see his theorizations as theorizations of process. What he is writing about are unfolding social tendencies that are in motion. Camatte does foresee a time when domestication will be so prolific that the nature of humanity will be fundamentally different, just “accessories of an automated system”. But not quite yet.
There are two currents in Camatte that work to explain the potential for revolution: one implicit in his writing and the other explicit. The former is the concept of species-being. This concept has fallen in ill repute with radicals due to the ascendancy of the ultra-conservative ideology of socio-biology; something that Camatte rejects. Camatte writes that capital “having de-subtantialized everything, it simultaneously becomes charged with a substance that inhabits it.” In other words, even as capital captures, and recreates as its self all human social life, there continues on, even in a fractured and alienated state, some kind of essence of human inter-relationship. Alienated and repressed as it is, it provides an antagonist kernel in the heart of capital.
The second current is that the activity of capital creates revolution itself. As seen above, capital constantly revolutionizes social processes. Camatte argues that this constant change creates instability, a permanent sense of crisis and a fear of the future that compels people to rebel.
It is here we can locate a major flaw in the writings of Camatte and the broader theorization of GA/AP. The flaw is that all activity is prescribed to capital — humanity appears to be a passive victim. If we take on Camatte’s arguments about the presuppositions of capital, then we construct a 10,000-year meta-narrative of constant oppression. Indeed, GA/AP writer Zerzan describes the history of civilization as a “horror show or death trip”. David Watson talks of the dominance of capital as a “mega-machine” and compares it to a “hydra”. Both authors then paint a picture of total dominance and inescapability: a non-dialectic view of history. There is some justification for this. The collapse of all serious revolutionary challenge and the horrors of “real existing socialism” are testament to the continual power of Power. The daily-lived experience within the despotism of capital is one of hopelessness: the cultural climate being a mixture of inertia and anxiety.
This problem seems to be almost epidemic to those who analyze the conditions of real subsumption (Frankfurt School, etc). By its nature, they assume the end of an exterior to capital and thus the end of the space from which resistance arises. However, there is one tendency that escapes this quagmire: a current we can call Autonomist Marxism (AM). It is the suggestion of this essay that Camatte and GA/AP more broadly would benefit from a reading in combination with AM (and vice versa).
In some ways GA/AP and AM are polar opposites. A crude reading of both sees the former as an image of the constant power of capital, the latter as the constant power of labor. Maybe something fertile can arise from thesis and anti-thesis?
What we can take from AM is the conception of the constant antagonism of those caught up within capital as our theoretical starting point, and that the conditions of real subsumption don’t signal the end of struggle but new and shifting battle grounds. Crucial to this understanding is to see capital not as a state of “fetishism” but of “fetishisation” — a distinction between the concrete of domination and its concretization. The former assumes the end point is here, that latter sees a constant struggle that capital can never win: history is not just 10,000 years of domination, but also 10,000 of resistance both within and without domination.
Reading Camatte through this lens, we reach an interesting insight. Capital’s condition of anthropomorphis is the transformation of everything into a state of tension. We are caught up in a social relationship that is itself a permanent crisis, the tussle between fetishization and anti-fetishization. Read this way, the formation of material human community by capital, is the formation of every aspect of life as struggle: the generalization of revolt as the sine qua non of existence.