COVID-19 exposed the pre-existing conditions of the current global crisis. Many Western states failed to protect their populations, while others were able to suppress the virus only with sweeping social restrictions. In contrast, many Asian countries were able to make much more precise interventions. Everywhere, lockdown transformed everyday life, introducing an epidemiological view of society based on sensing, modeling, and filtering. What lessons are to be learned?
The Revenge of the Real envisions a new positive biopolitics that recognizes that governance is literally a matter of life and death. We are grappling with multiple interconnected dilemmas—climate change, pandemics, the tensions between the individual and society—all of which have to be addressed on a planetary scale. Even when separated, we are still enmeshed. Can the world govern itself differently? What models and philosophies are needed? Bratton argues that instead of thinking of biotechnologies as something imposed on society, we must see them as essential to a politics of infrastructure, knowledge, and direct intervention. In this way, we can build a society based on a new rationality of inclusion, care, and prevention.
About the Author
Benjamin Bratton is Professor of Visual Arts the University of California, San Diego. He is Program Director of The Terraforming think-tank at Strelka Institute of Media, Architecture and Design in Moscow. He is the author of several books, including The Stack which develops a comprehensive political philosophy of planetary-scale computation.
“If you’ve emerged from the past year disoriented, you may find it exactly the right time to read Bratton’s book. From quarantine urbanism, to 5G conspiracy theorists and technological refusal, to incisive philosophical analysis of mask-rejecting Karens and the West’s shambolic response to covid writ large, Bratton is a ruthless guide to what has unfolded. But this book is soundly concerned with the future, through and beyond post-pandemic politics. Its pressing questions—can the world govern itself differently? how do we direct emergent technological capacities towards competent planetary governance?—will continue to be more and more relevant as the ecological crises deepen. There will be manifold books on the ‘lessons’ of the pandemic, but Bratton uniquely grasps what is at stake.” —Holly Jean Buck, author of After Geoengineering
“Bratton is one of our best global systems thinkers, adding to theory and philosophy a sophisticated understanding of infrastructures, design, AI, and governance: what this adds up to is a rare and valuable insight into civilization and its match, or mismatch, with Earth’s biosphere. In the wake of the Covid pandemic he has given us a swift and propulsive reorientation to the situation we find ourselves in, a species in a single biosphere, ruled by an ad hoc nation-state system. What can we do now to help sort things out and dodge the mass extinction event we are initiating? Read on and learn.” —Kim Stanley Robinson, author of The Ministry for the Future
“A provocative skewering of dogmatic Western political culture, Bratton’s book is a crucial contribution to thinking through what planetary governance could and should look like post-pandemic.” —Nick Srnicek, co-author of Inventing the Future
“The pandemic has laid bare the frailties, failures, and fissures of the contemporary world. The Revenge of the Real offers a clarion call for organising ourselves differently. It is forceful, engaging, and thought provoking, and I expect it to prove immediately influential.” —Helen Hester, author of Xenofeminism
“When anti-lockdown stances such as the one espoused by the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, QAnon’s conspiracies, anti-vaxxer propaganda, and a return to an innocent relation between the humans and the planet are a match made in hell, the rise of crypto-fascism variants is the least of our concerns. We are indeed witnessing a fundamental erosion of the contemporary left’s capacity to respond to planetary-scale emergencies. This inability to systematically think about and act upon the plights brought upon this planet is what Benjamin Bratton calls the lack of planetary competency. Bratton’s The Revenge of the Real is a sober yet enthusiastic analysis of how and why some strains of the left continue to be appropriated by individualistic libertarianism if not by crypto-fascism. Yet Bratton’s work is more than that, it sets a way out for the left by mapping the scale of planetary events and what it means to think and intervene at that scale.” —Reza Negarestani, author of Intelligence and Spirit
“Bratton’s is an incisive intervention: at once polemic and productive. A counter to the self-imposed ineffectuality of certain strands of theory, The Revenge of the Real provides buoyant and zesty rebuttal to the suspicious mode in philosophizing, all whilst in search of more pragmatic alternatives.” —Thomas Moynihan, author of X-Risk
“Sharp as a tungsten needle, Bratton reveals the paradoxes of the pandemic at atomic resolution and etches a positive outline of how planetary biopolitics could be otherwise. Vital reading.” —Kate Crawford, author of Atlas of AI
“Every moment has a theorist native to its strangeness, a singular voice that can uniquely navigate its impossible truths and unfathomable realities. At the end of the end of the world it is Benjamin Bratton’s running commentary that cuts swathes, like a megastructure through mountains.” —Liam Young, architect and filmmaker
“[Bratton’s] call for a global shift in priorities is galvanizing.” —Publishers Weekly
“Fascinating.” —Pat Kane, The National
“Enjoyable, nourishing … [Bratton’s] views are often far-sighted, which helps make sense of some of the bewildering side effects of this pandemic.” —Alex Mair, On Magazine