The multitude beyond measure: Building a common stupor

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In response to contagion, competing and contradictory movements emerge that engender openness to new modes of life and reactionary defenses of old ones, that acknowledge mutual dependency and vulnerability and that heighten the policing and surveillance of borders. Through reading the Empire project, this article articulates these as struggles over measure that unfold on the terrain of sovereignty and biopolitical economy. We show that the passage from modern to imperial sovereignty hinges on the former’s inability to adequately impose calculatory regimes, to which the latter’s flexibility and fluidity responds. This accompanies the passage from industrial to biopolitical command, from regulation through the wage to rearbitration through extractivism. Having articulated the contemporary coordinates within which the multitude finds itself, we then propose an educational weapon for the struggle against sovereignty and capital: stupidity. Turning to Jean-François Lyotard, we demonstrate just how fundamentally the rule of Empire depends on the outside of measure for its continual reproduction, and how Empire frames the communicative networks of biopolitical labor, a framing from which Hardt and Negri haven’t adequately broken. As the other of thought, as that which can’t be articulated, commanded, or absorbed by capital, stupidity remains totally useless and unproductive for Empire, which is exactly where its potency lies for the multitude. By critically engaging stupidity, we can refrain from reducing the pandemic to a need for heightened immunity and enclosure achieved through articulation.

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