Thirteenth floor

They think, therefore they are: the new life
of capital flows

Capital flows are invisible forces: they affect our lives and shape what we call reality

9 settembre 2016

LONDON, September 9th 2016 — The traffic flows perpendicular to the columns, reaching towards the sky, towards the flag of the United Kingdom. The traffic light breaks the movement. I adjust the newspaper under my arm, I cross the street towards Tate Britain and I can almost feel them, all around me.

They are “liquid” and imperceptible, like a transparent fluid, they form the primordial substance in which all humans are immersed, like fishes in the tank.

They are everywhere and they drive our choices. They are in the warp of the fabric of the fancy jacket of the businesswoman rushing on the opposite sidewalk, with her low heels resonating on the cobblestones.

They are in the spare time of the thin and dishevelled student wearing jeans, on the stairs in front of the art gallery in Millbank, in the heart of London.

They are in the pistons and engine of a taxi  speeding on the asphalt, which gets polished by the rain while summer comes to an end.

They are in the spaces between the letters of the multi-coloured advertising posters, in open conflict with the Tate’s austerity.

Between the lines of this newspaper and in the watermark of the pound notes in my pockets. They come from there: from banknote paper, the universal equivalent of any trade, which is called “money”. Before fading away, through an ascetic and almost mystical movement.

Capital flows are invisible forces: they affect our lives and shape what we call reality. They are invisible but I can almost see them now, along the neoclassical façade of this building, like neon lights on the tympanum, or metal souls in the Tate’s columns.

They cannot speak, but I can almost hear their voices in my head. Or maybe my old mind is starting to show the signs of ageing… Mr Wade is an old Professor at Birkbeck College, he is wearing a velvet jacket and has a newspaper under his arm, he no longer has the energy of the young Philip, and neither the working-class accent typical of Liverpool, the city where he was born and raised. Today, this old man would not be so irresponsible to accept a job as a strategist for the Big Bank in the City, for Derek Morgan, the King of illusion.

Nine minutes later

There is a cold and aseptic light in the room. It bounces off the paper in my hands and it does not get absorbed.

I read on the newspaper that, for the first time, a machine was able to learn by simply watching and without being programmed. This is the future: the advent of artificial intelligence.

Cogito ergo sum, Descartes said. He referred to humanity and to the irrepressible faculty of thinking, which proves the existence beyond all doubt.

This is no longer an exclusive privilege of human beings.

…Machines are learning to learn, I think, while my eyes glaze over and the letters get mixed up on the paper…

…Machines can absorb great volumes of data, they apply algorithms at an unprecedented speed, they can detect bugs and correct them, metabolize viruses and meet virtual capital flows. And on the optical fibres of global connection, in the silicon chips, in the market networks, as in the huge mutation of a nuclear fallout, a new life is beginning… as independent, autonomous and anarchic as the true power.

They think, therefore they are.

I look up. And I can almost see the representation of the world for what it is. The piece of art on the longer wall is a flash that breaks the veil of deception. This is the most brutal triptych of Francis Bacon: Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. Bacon was the cursed one, rejected, insane, homosexual. Bacon was the poet of the secrets of reality beyond appearances. The characters in the paintings are deformed, the body parts are losing their outline and shape, they are breaking down into blood, bones, tissues and naked organs. These monsters are as deformed as this new life, which is born from the union of technology and money abstraction. And its effects are deforming the world.

When capital flows gush out impetuously, thousands of lights start shining on the city. While the abandoned places silently die and remain in the dark. But also the big cities bend to the new shape imposed by this secret matrix. The cities break down into parts, torn by the rifts of endless conflicts. The isolated suburbs, similar to dumping grounds, are in contrast with the shining luxury and service centres.

The characters in the paintings cry out pain and anguish. The creature of the second picture expresses terror, it is crouching down and its teeth are falling over the open mouth with blood squirts.

Pain and anguish are also spread in the world by the invisible forces, altering the shape of territories and causing a grimace of pain on the faces of men and women. The city workforce squats down with a piercing noise, kicked out by the cavity where capitals are progressively poured. Suburbs are considered useless, and transformed in sterile lands of despair for marginalized people.

The characters in the paintings are screaming out their claustrophobic status and their non-communicability. They are in black, on a dazzling background and they are breaking apart in order to try to adapt to the circular environment. The creature in the first picture seems to show the observer the only possible way out: a black, curved and deadly frame.

Circular financial machines are also claustrophobic. An inevitable path, with no way out. Pension funds necessarily invested in speculative funds, leading the countries to deindustrialization, which forces the factories to shut down, and in turn, their unaware employees are forced to subscribe pension funds, hedge funds, and so on, towards unemployment, inactivity, relocation of companies, and finally new labour laws… Similar curves guarantee the circularity of the mechanism, which in turn guarantees success. In this mechanism, actors do not speak to each other, they often hate each other, but they are as connected as the bones of a single, horrific skeleton.

These paintings date back to 1944 and they convey the essence of World War II, the global killing of the 20th century, my tragic century. Also the global capital “biomorph”, the great Leviathan, is in a permanent state of war. A war against resistances, to de-form geographies, and re-form the remaining Fordist strictness, ruin of the past. Politics bend in front of the monster becoming an appendage of the same. Elections and referenda are irrelevant for the separated life of the organism. Governments are incapable of acting and too far from their electors. Referenda like Brexit are the result of the humiliation of the excluded from the winning urban areas. The value of this vote melts down between the centre and the suburbs, like a revolting liquid. Those who were walking on the path that transformed farmers into labourers, and later into office workers are now lost in the darkness. And such a darkness does not allow us to hope for a better life. The representation consists of a dead body with no innards. Politics are surrendering to capital, the embalmer.

The gallery, Millbank and the whole city of London are shaking furiously… Animals shouts are deafening me… The carcass in the third picture sprays blood and I protect myself with the newspaper instinctively …

Everything bends down, mutates and transforms in front of the invisible monster.

Forty-six minutes later

I walk with the newspaper in my pocket and the open umbrella. In the opposite direction to the river. It keeps raining on this part of the city, this is the perfect ecosystem for capital flows, the basin of an intangible network of culture, technology and fashion. From this perspective, London represents the quintessence of the transformation made by invisible capitals. Here, the Millbank Tower’s lights are shining, and the Thames mirrors prosperity.

I turn on John Islip Street. In front of me, a man in suit and tie has just slipped on the wet sidewalk, but then he rushed away without worrying. Life in London goes on normally, unaware of the secret forces that drive and permeate the city.

People believed that Brexit would represent a lesson for aggressive bankers and the financial community, but they were wrong. London has been transformed into the perfect habitat for this new life, a centre of gravity for the financial surplus of half the world.

Disjointed images of the past break the logic of thought… A few years ago, in an impersonal room… a man with broad shoulders, squared face and black, unfathomable eyes…

A few trees break the alternation of the red bricks of the old buildings, and the big windows of the modern ones. In similar areas, capitals shape reality, and hide huge transformations with a veil of illusion. Behind the veil, we find the secret plot of power… The private education system is designed to attract the descendants of the inner circle, it guarantees a network of consolidated contacts. The ravenous greed of extractive capitalism is devouring everything.

It was in my old life, at the times of the Big Bank… And that impersonal room was the old office of Derek Morgan. The US QE days. Money waterfalls were injected in the system, like a cortisone dose into a sick organism. Like the radiations of a nuclear explosion, which alter the code of life. The American barely greeted me when I entered the room: he was concentrated on the package on his table, a rectangular package wrapped in thick paper…

I hold my umbrella against the gusts of the wind. Two Asian tourists wearing a Chelsea shirt are laughing and trying to find a shelter from the rain. This new and post-human form of life does not spare anything human. New capitals with ambiguous origins are progressively recycled in leisure and entertainment. In the UK, also sports are at the forefront of this subtle and sick subsumption, and London is the perfect stage for this spectacular, global and post-modern show. The soulless city has sold its plurality of souls, and it is now filling the vacuum with the essence of capitalism…

I met him because I wanted to talk about a projection of QE. I confirmed what he already knew: the survival of the dollar by refinancing of the American debt.

I also said that drugs should not be confused with cures, because drugs are also poisons, and because the solution of gaining a few more time was nothing but a desperate move. He did not say a word and he kept opening his package with controlled movements. The need to be in control was – and is –Derek Morgan’s issue…

I walk past an elegant woman on the sidewalk, she is talking on the phone with a resolute tone. I cannot hear anything but it seems that she is giving orders. The tidy life of London will keep on flowing in the stream of capital flows. And Brexit will only cause a few and insignificant landslides. European finance no longer exists: it was reshaped in London and it cannot be replaced. The invisibles who voted for Brexit will have no impact, their cities will continue to be ignored by capital flows. They will only receive the kind charity of the shining London City.

He did not say a word for a while. And then he looked at me, shook his head and showed me the framed picture. I recognised Escher’s Waterfall and its illusion, the water movement upward… He walked towards the wall in front of the writing desk and hung the lithography with a nail before whispering: “Do you think that the water going upward is just an optical illusion of perspective, Phil? You don’t know the power of confusing and creating illusions that are rather true”.

Actually – I think while I close the umbrella because it stopped raining – I know that both of us deal with illusions, similarly, Bacon and Escher have twisted the reality. But I discriminate illusion and distortion and I look for the truth of reality, while for Derek, illusion is a tool to bend the world to a secret will.

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