John Russell


TREES & THE POLITICS OF DEATH 2018
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In the old days OLD PEOPLE used to sit and look at trees, contemplating their spiraling intricacy, eyeballs winding down the twisting branches and curling shoots of green and twigs and leaves in increasing acceptance of forthcoming eternal non-existence.

Up-market Age Centers still roll out this Soylent Green experience with carefully manicured gardens, corpse-viewed through large double-glazed windows, except for on sunny days when you can sit outside on the benches with your face turned towards the sunlight. But most people will die watching daytime TV with the volume and heating and drugs UP HIGH as savings will allow.

Because people are living longer, dependent on personal finances, social context, geographical location and so on, sucking up valuable oxygen well beyond the old Welfare State plan for sixty-five plus maybe five. A few happy years, pensioned-up[1] and bloating out like a dead fish before keeling over in the street. After a few happy Christmases with the family and summer holidays.

But the fantasy has faded. Human lives are expanding into the 80s and 90s and beyond, with dementia rates rising in line and multiple co-morbidities complicating end-of-life care[2]
Synced with the neoliberal ramping up of the extraction of profits for the rich and mega-rich and our docile compliance or participation in this. Slipping back to Victorian levels of division and inequality, including cutting state funding[3] for health care, social housing, education, as well as assistance for dying. In the UK there is still shrinking, means-tested, state aid for end-of-life-care. For help with mobility, washing, dressing, eating, toilet, turning over in bed, taking medication, recreational activities. As well as subsidized heating and tax exemption. If old people move into care-homes, either residential or nursing-intensive they are sucked out of any remaining money they have set aside, as obedient citizens, saving for the future or for rainy days or whatever. Good capitalists shouldn’t hoard so good-capitalism redistributes money (not capital) in the same way as a physical body is redistributed as nutrients to feed plants and trees. Bones picked clean and washed ready for the Almighty! It’s the Cycle of Life (nature).

According to the ‘2018 Sun Life Cost of Dying report’ the average cost of a funeral in the UK now stands at £4,271.[4] ‘We’ve been doing this research for the last 15 years and, since we started, we’ve seen a steady rise in costs […] we’ve also calculated that the total cost of dying is at an all-time high of £9,204 and this figure is only set to grow’. This includes the average cost of a funeral, send off and cost of professional fees.



‘Cost of dying at all time high’ (Modelled picture). Some of the costliest burial fees are in Lambeth, South London, where an adult Lambeth-resident’s grave costs £2,704.00 for 25 years, or £6,654.00 for 75 years (and 4,434 and 11,832 for non-residents) and a Dedication of Rose Bush & Plaque for 5 years is £337.00. [5]


The ‘Politics of Death’ is rearing its bloody head like the skin rotting off a Lion King skull on a barren comedy hillside, coded into the complex root structure of power and discipline.[6] Because the uber-rich are increasingly living increasingly longer. The age-gap stretching as wide as the wealth-gap. And how wide will that go before they seem like a different species to the ordinary citizen. A hundred, hundred and fifty, two hundred, five hundred years, or a kind of semi-immortality? Supported by minute-by-minute private medical care, sophisticated remote monitoring[7] and organ replacement. Hidden away in billionaire geriatric paradise islands guarded by private security forces. With the upper middle classes and bourgeoises living slightly less long but feeling like they are benefitting from the system, and the middle classes still less, receding down already existing demarcations between classes, races, genders, First and Third World etc. Will these thousand-year-old shrink-wrapped chickens have to start pretending they died already? To hide the age-inequality? For instance, how much older than the general population can the Royal Family be before they have to think about voluntary euthanasia or simulated death-rebirth. To keep up the PR illusion of the Royal Family as being ‘just a normal family’. Or will we worship them like immortal Gods.

Prince Phillip. The ghoul who refuses to die. Will we worship him like a God?


So when you look up at the sky at night you don’t see a chariot carrying your granny away, or angels or fiery demons, but only the expanding diaspora of capital with its bewildering comedy-movements and algorithmic expansions beyond understanding. Lined up with the sweep of eternity and Nature as ‘fact’. A statistical or mathematical sublime, potentially infinite, beyond measurement; an essentially religious concept – n+1 +1 +1 +1 +1. Contrasted against the pedestrian-fleshy terrestrial mathematics of the finite expenditure of labour power (as creation of value)[8], chopped up into small circuits of work and pay, repeated again and again (and dependence upon this repetition) until death, n-1. An excessive spectacle of the Divine traced onto the night sky[9]. Something we are not a part of but which is rooted in our flesh[10]. But at the same time increasingly something that is sold back to us – as a melancholy drama of finitude. Twisted up with the last scrapings of religion. God wants you to die in comfort! You deserve to die in comfort! Would you like to ensure yourself and loved ones final years of pain-free care and a modest memorial of your lives. A happy ‘Dementia journey’ and luxurious slide into eternal sleep with pre and post-humous payment structures.

It is worth noting here that Outer Space is on the verge of being ‘owned’.[11] The satellite industry is worth $300 billion per year (with ever-increasing usage of communication data-based services and GPS systems). But there’s more up there, billionaire entrepreneurs are licking their lips like slavening dogs[12]. Bank of America Merrill Lynch sees the space industry growing to $2.7 trillion in 30 years[13]. ‘A raft of new drivers is pushing the Space Age 2.0’ including falling launch costs and the potentials of in-space habitation, construction and refuelling. Space mining (water mining, asteroid mining), transportation (including space tourism), construction, hospitality and real estate present the potential of vast profits. Elon Musk (SpaceX) has clearly stated that his objective is to set up colonies on Mars and Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic) has already sold 700 tickets for space flights, costing $250,000 each. ‘The economic value of the water alone contained in near-Earth asteroids, not even considering the tons of valuable metals they may also contain works out to 44 quintillion dollars[14].

Space treaties drawn up in the 1960 and 70s conceived of Outer Space as a ‘province for all mankind’[15]. protected from commercial exploitation. But now it is being argued by powerful commercial interests that ‘International law is ambiguous. And the only way to exploit “the potentials of outer space” - cheap pollution-free energy, mining and colonisation of the stars - is to establish a more permissive extra-terrestrial legal property system ‘to enable both incentives and predictability’[16]. Space development is a highly risky endeavor - they say - as well as mind-bogglingly expensive. Who would expend the effort in developing a space colony? Turning the moon into a “gas station” for further exploration, if they were not certain of the project's legality and profitability? How else can we sett up giant banks of solar panels in Earth's orbit and on the moon's sunny side, using the solar energy to power space development projects, and beam the excess down to Earth as microwave energy for terrestrial use. Unless we can impose the rule of law and the markets. Otherwise we may be denied access these fruits. “One small legal step permitting the private ownership of space territory would be one giant leap for mankind”[17].

An outer space trickle down where new resources will cascade from trillionaire-heaven like the blood of Christ. Quintrillion-dollar corporations run by the living-dead, speech acting their way to extra-terrestrial primitive accumulation. Filling up the void[18].

The issue here is not an occupation of the ‘space of imagination’ or ‘hope’ (of the wilderness or Nature) but more as a tracing over the moribund structures of previous sublimes as unknowable/unreachable ‘others’ or transcendent realms, More of ‘more of the same’ as a morbid and censorious, hard edge bureaucracy. Trapped in philosophy’s stinking shithouse of collapsing ideas and maudlin melancholy. A sentimental theatrical sublime, or radical juxtaposition sold back to us as the marketized distribution between the finite and the infinite, as a range of quasi-mystical commodities. The mythical majesty of galactic capital as the fetish written across the stars.

 

 



FOOTNOTES

[1] Built on a hundred years of socialist activism, profits from colonial oppression and/or post-war loans from the USA (depending on the histories you read).

[2] In the UK, for example, over just the last quarter century the proportion of deaths occurring at the age of 85 or older has risen steeply from around a fifth in 1990 to almost half current annual deaths.

[3] Low level redistribution of stolen labour time.

[4] SunLife Cost of Dying Report 2018, A complete view of funeral costs over time https://www.sunlife.co.uk/siteassets/documents/cost-of-dying/cost-of-dying-report-2018.pdf

[5] London Borough of Lambeth Cemeteries and Crematoria Fees from 1st April 2018 https://www.lambeth.gov.uk/sites/default/files/bdmc-cemeteries-and-cremetoria-fees-2018-19.pdf. My Grandmother has a plaque on the West Norwood Wall of Remembrance.

[6] Gilles Deleuze, ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’, October, Vol. 59. (Winter, 1992), pp. 3-7 https://cidadeinseguranca.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/deleuze_control.pdf

[7] One of the largest life insurance providers in North America will no longer offer policies that do not include digital fitness tracking. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-45590293

[8]Yes …immaterial labour, taskification etc ..I know …same thing.

[9] This is the affect of ‘Radical Bewilderment’ as the move to ‘molecularity’ in context of culture, politics, social relations whatever, where matter, as ‘particulate’ becomes a kind of sublime miniature [or ‘whatever-vastness’], and the blooming of ‘ontological wonder’ separates ‘the space of rapture from questions of ‘commitment, collective struggle, utopia.’ Jordana Rosenberg, ‘The Molecularization of Sexuality: On Some Primitivisms of the Present’, Theory & Event 17.2 (2014), Project MUSE.

[10] Not a move towards some kind of heroic atheism but or an extension of the always-already fate of the poor, convicted criminals or heretics, the pauper’s grave or cloth-sack in unhallowed ground. Anonymous death contrasted with the limited immortality granted to the rich - statues shitted on by birds, or Benjamin’s bourgeois living room mocking the mortality of the upper middle-classes. Not death-as-zero as excessive ‘absolute expenditure’ and anti-economy (Bataille).

[11] In line with this, on November 18, 2015 the US congress passed the Space Act of 2015 which will give US space firms the rights to own and sell natural resources they mine from bodies in space, including asteroids.

[12] Elon Musk, CEO and founder of SpaceX, along with other billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen, and Richard Branson all have extra-terrestrial commercial interests.

[13] Michael Sheetz,The space industry will be worth nearly $3 trillion in 30 years, Bank of America predicts, CNBC, 31 Oct 2017
https://www.cnbc.com/2017/10/31/the-space-industry-will-be-worth-nearly-3-trillion-in-30-years-bank-of-america-predicts.html

[14] Asteroid Mining (Phase 1) to Begin in 2020, Says This Space Pioneer’, Fox Business, 26 May, 2018. https://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/asteroid-mining-phase-1-to-begin-in-2020-says-this-space-pioneer
‘The asteroid named 2011 UW158 comes within a few million miles of Earth and reportedly contains about $5.4 trillion worth of platinum’ in ‘The race to militarize space is no joke,’ CNN, 2018 https://edition.cnn.com/2018/03/28/opinions/race-to-militarize-space-pedreira/index.html

[15] The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Moon Agreement of 1979. Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (United Nations) http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/SpaceLaw/o...

[16] An event of cosmic proportions occurred on November 18 when the US congress passed the Space Act of 2015 into law. The legislation will give US space firms the rights to own and sell natural resources they mine from bodies in space, including asteroids

[17] Ezra J. Reinstein, “Owning Outer Space”, Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business, Vol. 20, Fall 1999: 98

[18]This is the idea of continuous capitalist expansion and political ways of figuring or meaning of infinity (or the void) or the ideology of this. When you look up to the stars and the moon has a big Nike tick on it. In capitalist terms outer space is just a void into which go-getting entrepreneurs can expand. Like in Rosa Luxemberg’s Rosa Luxemburg describes capitalist accumulation  .Or aa David Harvey suggests that the world capitalist system needs to find $1.5tn profitable investment opportunities today in order to keep growing at its historical average of 3 percent a year – and $3tn by 2030. From David Harvey, ‘The Enigma of Capital and the Crisis this Time’ (paper prepared for the American Sociological Association Meetings in Atlanta, 2010).