Who Is the Best at Regressing?
Conspiracy as The Key to Knowledge
Under the title “Did You Say ‘Health Dictatorship’?” Anselm Jappe had headlined his criticism of repressive health measures, up to and including compulsory vaccination, and defended himself against being labeled a “conspiracy theorist.” This was not enough for Karl Rauschenbach. He wants to go beyond Jappe… Exit!, which he imagines as “at war” with conspiracy fantasies, thus serves as a negative foil. The group is apparently united by “three dogmas” that also constitute a “moral code”: “Thou shalt not deny Covid and the pandemic! Thou shalt not be a conspiracy theorist! Thou shalt not be a contrarian!”
Now Rauschenbach’s zeal against exit! could be left aside if it did not reveal something about ‘conspiracy theories and lateral thinking.’ The dogmatism attributed to exit! is extremely forced and contrived, as are the statistics that are supposed to support it. The relationship to the Covid pandemic and the political response to it becomes, as it were, a fundamental epistemological category with which to examine social conditions and hallucinate a practice of resistance. The point is not to understand Covid in the context of the social totality, but vice versa: the social totality, including the consequences for practice, is derived from the pandemic – and this quite directly, without ifs or buts.
Even Jappe’s talk of a “health dictatorship” cannot clear such a high bar. He jumps below it conspiracy-theoretically. Rauschenbach discusses this ad nauseam. He refers to “social mechanisms that do not require an actual [sic!] conspiracy” and cites as examples “the sensationalism of the media,” “the conformism of politicians,” “the profit-seeking of individual actors and capitals, such as the pharmaceutical industry or this digital economy.” Later, he mentions the restructuring of capitalism and the possible replacement of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. In any case, the enumeration of such phenomena obviously does not allow us to establish an overall social context, because “given the depth and duration of the state of emergency, such phenomena do not represent its essence.” It is therefore necessary – so far so good – to think about the phenomena together with the essence that is represented in them. That essence is found in the “conspiracy.” This is not a denunciatory attribution, but the author’s plain language: “The structurally conditioned upheavals cannot do without conspiracy in the broader sense.” With the conspiracy, the “actual” has emerged from the thicket of phenomena.
It is precisely this bar of the “actual” that Jappe failed jump over. His decisive jumping error is that of “a dutiful distancing” from the conspiracy theory. After all, he does not want to be considered a conspiracy theorist and thereby lose his reputation. Therefore, “a pliable sentence” flows into his PC: “Of course, there are no secret meetings of the superpowers who pull the wires in all freedom.” Rauschenbach knows how to correct such pliability and refers ‘quite concretely’ to “a little secret meeting of some superpowers” in 2019, at which “the New York financial octopus Bloomberg allied itself with the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE)” in agreements on the problem of an aging population with “unaffordable social promises.” In addition, of course, there are “many such nodes of power.”
As one might expect, the whole construction boils down to Covid; for “now two years later, we see how, under the cover of a false pandemic, work has actually begun on settling both the pension question and the question of unaffordable social promises, of which the healthcare system is one.” Thus, “much […] makes more sense if one accepts the hypothesis that the king flu is an operation of the representatives of the ideal and global total capital, and much becomes clearer if one analyzes the machinations of such and similar conspirators of power.”
What is problematic is not simply the references to actors and their meetings, but the epistemological meaning attached to conspiracy. Of course, there is no self-moving fetish of abstract domination here. Nevertheless, the fetishistic structure of capitalist value-dissociation socialization as abstract domination forms the objective social context that even economic and political actors cannot escape. It would be necessary to start from this basic structuring context when trying to understand the crisis relations and the actions of the various actors. The assumptions of conspiracy theories are already contradicted by the fact that uniform action – even in the context of Covid – could not be discerned. The powerful actors in their alliance with the pharmaceutical industry could not even bring about compulsory vaccination. The crisis conditions simply work differently. They are driving a confused and increasingly rapid alteration between the familiar polarities of economy and politics, market and state, and within these between deregulation and re-regulation, freedom and coercion, with a recognizable tendency towards the authoritarian. The latter, however, can be discerned not only among authoritarian politicians, but also in civil society groups and, not least, in the conspiracy theory and lateral thinking scene.
A “Fermented Heap” And New Alliances
The path of lateral thinking leads from the imagined conspiracy of some to the longed-for conspiracy of others. The conspiracy of the powerful is to be opposed by a conspiracy of the powerless. For this, allies are needed. They can be found among the “people who have been labeled Covid deniers.” They are “the only ones who are allowed to somehow name all the horrors.” Among them are more than a few who distinguish themselves by means of their identity from the horrors experienced by others on the seas, in wars, in the destruction of their livelihoods, and who are primarily concerned with their ‘horrors’ under the ‘health dictatorship.’ The goal is to fish consternation and anger out of the darkness of diffuse feelings in order to arrive at a practice of resistance. Such a “fermenting heap” is suddenly imagined as capable of emancipatory fermentation. For despite its ideological fragmentation and a lack of real organization, “the protest against the impositions of the recent years, which is as broad as it is confused, has grown out of it.” In addition, “it must also be said that the explicit structure of lateral thinkers was the most likely to oppose the state of emergency in an organized way and thus at least hinted at a danger for the authoritarian state.”
Such strategic considerations are opposed by those who insist, for substantive reasons, on distinguishing themselves from conspiracy fantasies and lateral thinking. They stand in the way of the longed-for ability to form alliances and take action, to “make a difference” in some vague way. “If one wants to achieve something [sic!] on the street or even in the counter-public that has long been forming, one will have to seek the split with the gatekeepers in one’s own ranks.” There, however, Anselm Jappe got stuck in the middle. True, he made an effort and was also less timid than the other “Halbschwurbler” on the left. But that doesn’t change the fact that he also jumped under the bar. There is only a chance to jump over the bar and to get out of half-hearted criticism and to make “even the bitterly necessary criticism of capitalism more credible again” if there is an offensive commitment to the health dictatorship. So say “health dictatorship!”
In looking at Jappe, Rauschenbach seems to be concerned with the question of who is the best at regressing. Instead of emancipatory insights that aim to break with capitalist relations, the progress of the crisis processes leads to regressions that are an expression of the ties to the relations that should be overcome in an emancipatory way. Classes, identities, interests, identifications of good and bad, newly identified ‘revolutionary’ subjects, and strategies of alliances around a “fermenting heap,” are supposed to save us from the crisis. The less one can do within the framework of fetishistic crisis relations, the greater the pressure seems to be to take sides, to save one’s own skin, or to be on the right side, if not to win, at least to show greatness in resistance.
These times of crisis call for the ‘simple’ and the ‘manageable’: for simple explanations to the point of conspiracy hallucinations, for actionist feasibility, for alliances that bring as many people as possible into the streets. The fact that ‘right-wingers’ and ‘left-wingers’ think and act in contradiction to each other does not bother many people, but is rather seen as an advantage. What is disturbing is content – all the more so when it goes against to the urge for immediacy and is linked to theoretical reflection. What is needed are ‘concrete’ and immediately comprehensible explanations that can also show against whom anger and indignation should be directed and discharged through action. The world becomes manageable, can be sorted into ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ without tedious theoretical efforts that bring with them the unbearable feeling of powerlessness. Actionism, on the other hand, suggests a diffuse power to act. It must remain diffuse as long as it refuses to adequately comprehend the conditions. Compared to the sobriety of an analysis that seeks to understand what people suffer in the context of fetish relations, feelings of immediate self-efficacy are more comforting, especially the affirmative feeling of being able to “make a difference” in a counter-public that is forming – combined with the awareness of being on the right side, on the morally good side of the ‘affected.’ And those who are on the good side, who are even ‘affected’ themselves or at least see themselves as the advocates of the ‘affected,’ may also feel empowered to implement and enforce ‘the good’ in an authoritarian way.
Fabio Vighi shows that in all this ‘squirming’ there are also cross-hybrids. Following Robert Kurz, he analyzes the developments in financial capitalism as attempts to compensate for the crisis of capitalization. To this end, huge masses of “money without value” had to be mobilized. Through a cycle of pseudo-accumulation, money could flow into production and consumption. This cycle is leading to the present situation of intensifying financial crises in the combination of deflationary debt crisis and stagflation, which is “practically impossible” to overcome or stabilize. So far, the analysis is comprehensible and enlightening. At the same time, however, it is precisely here that the regression into conspiracy hallucinations takes place. According to Vighi, the elites have realized the hopelessness of managing the crisis economically. Covid and the war in Ukraine were fueled by the elites and used to once again prolong the crisis of capitalism and to control it by authoritarian means. In Vighi’s work too we encounter an epistemological shift from the question of abstract domination and the actions of actors embedded in it to the immediacy of cognition and the purposeful actions of elites.
A “Cult of Immediacy”
All of this is underpinned by a fixation on an immediacy that is unwilling or unable to grasp individual phenomena in their objective social contexts or, driven by an addiction to the supposedly ‘concrete,’ imagines the objective social context as a conspiracy. This is where the pragmatism that has been ‘cultivated’ for decades, with which the reflection on social contradictions and objective social crisis has been banished from thought, takes its revenge. It finds its expression, among other things, in a – structurally anti-Semitic – hostility to theory and in a hatred of intellectuals who fail to formulate complicated social relations simply, i.e., as a rule, in a personalized and manageable way.
A “cult of immediacy” (Günter Frankenberg) is regressively spreading against the question of understanding the phenomena of the crisis in relation to the social totality of fetish relations, the core of which consists in the fact that society as a whole is subjected to the irrational and contentless end in itself of the multiplication of capital, while at the same time the realms of reproduction are dissociated and marked as inferior. Only the recognition of how these relations mediate what people suffer globally can open up horizons for an emancipatory practice. Specifically, an understanding of the categorical constitution of capitalist relations in value and dissociation, in production and reproduction, in work and money, in economy and politics, as well as in the subject that is certain of itself and its autonomous capacity to act, that is self-sufficient and that in its narcissism loses the reference to objects and thus to content. Everything that is hallucinated in false immediacy is not ‘concrete,’ but pays homage to a pseudo-concretism. Something becomes concrete only when it is understood in its constitutive social context. An emancipatory practice can only be effective where it understands the irrational and abstract relations of domination, whose destructive dynamics become visible in the phenomena of the crisis, and aims toward their negation.
If this were the ‘dogmatism’ of exit!, it would mean a commitment to the content determination of the critique of capitalist fetish relations, which are up for discussion as a whole, connected with the question of an emancipatory practice. These relations are not to be understood statically, but in terms of their movement. Therefore, there can be no critique that stands alone from which everything else is blithely deduced in an identity-logical manner. It has to reflect processes, especially the accelerating crisis processes that are driving towards global destruction, in terms of their mediation with the social totality, taking into account different levels of mediation, from the economic to the socio-psychological, while at the same time thinking against itself. Such a ‘dogmatism’ implies, in terms of content, a demarcation from the various forms of lateral and conspiratorial thinking and their ‘mishmash.’ Exit! will therefore not say “Health Dictatorship!” and will withdraw from the competition to see who is the best at regressing.
 Cf. Karl Rauschenbach: Einige Anmerkungen für halbschwurbelnde Linke, die künftige Gesellschaftskritik betreffend, Aug. 23, 2022, https://magma-magazin.su/2022/08/karl-rauschenbach/einige-anmerkungen-fuer-halbschwurbelnde-linke-die-kuenftige-gesellschaftskritik-betreffend/. All quotations are taken from this text, unless otherwise indicated.
 TN: The German word Schwurbler is a derogatory term for someone who rambles on excessively about nothing substantial. It was used at the beginning of the pandemic to refer to conspiracy theorists and people who spread misinformation, but was eventually taken up affirmatively by those who it had referred to.
 Cf. Fabio Vighi, Pause for Thought: Money without Value in a Rapidly Disintegrating World, May 30, 2022, https://thephilosophicalsalon.com/pause-for-thought-money-without-value-in-a-rapidly-disintegrating-world/.
Originally published on the exit! homepage in 10/2022