Utopia of the future or future utopia: what will we have left after the war

Volia Davydzik

In the book “Hyperobjects. Philosophy and ecology after the End of the world” Timothy Morton writes: “At the non-phenomenological level (i.e., at the level that does not depend on experience) – at the level whose existence could be confirmed by an alien with a microscope – we are strangers to ourselves. So close is the other. Ecology is a matter of intimacy.” [Morton, 2013]. A utopia associated with a new ecological consciousness, where everything is in intimate mutual communication, we must decide how to reconcile the existence of people and non-people (any other objects where a person is the same object of the environment), shifting the anthropocentric perspective towards ecological, ecopolitical or anti-anthropocentric. The proposal to build another utopian model of the future does not look untimely now. We have already witnessed the rapid disappearance of the “normalized” world of the beautiful past, which was quite tangible yesterday, where life in a hibernated autocracy and even pandemic isolation appears as a golden age. But war is the destruction and devaluation of all intimacy, all chains of communication, all tolerance for mutual recognition.

We often repeat the reference – now there are no halftones, there are only black and white, absolute evil and absolute good. This modification of the world for Belarus became tangible back in 2020, dividing it into “before” and “after”. The war in Ukraine has cut through the intermediate values, finally raising the question of how we will live on when the war is over. The question of the future is the most important question from the point of view of human society, the question with a trick. In terms of Lacan it is the question of what humanity should do with its shit; from the point of view of the historical framework – it is a question of modifications of common sense. Once upon a time, burning scientists at the stake fit into the logic of common sense, in the same way as the war in Ukraine fits into the head of the authorities of Russia. In the logic of the anthropocene, the next modification of common sense is given to us by non–people (how a hammer determines what they need to score, and a Kalashnikov assault rifle determines what needs to be fired). These instructions are formed outside of human consciousness, even before the moment is reflected. This is the level of the deepest settings, layers in which I find myself, as in a room with an environment. Surrounded by these instructions coming from entities, we discover the ability to make decisions late, concludes Timothy Morton [Morton, 2013]. 

In some cases, the instruction will be correlated with the prevention of a forest fire from a match that has not been extinguished, in other cases – with the beginning of the craziest war in modern history in subordination to some modification of common sense that determines the course of these actions. What to do with this unbearable variety of definitions and guidelines? How to reconfigure this contiguity and take into account the importance of the existence of this diversity? On what grounds is it possible to live and act in a world of global increasing violence and how to define solidarity and collectivity?

Since February 24, 2022 we, comfortably numb, have been watching how the map of peaceful life has turned into a theater of military operations, how peaceful objects have become targets once again, how a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding, how the mechanism of bureaucratic machines is turning, how infinitely beautiful speeches are being made, anti-war slogans are being taken out of the pockets of politicians, celebrities pose in blue-yellow suits, and parliaments applaud standing. 

On the one hand, for the global community, these gestures are an expression of solidarity and the priority of peaceful existence expressed collectively, on the other – in Groys’ terms – it is a continuation of the logic of the aestheticization of the political with a tendency to reduce the political reaction to a total decoration, to a screen, to a manner. The aestheticization of the political is evidence that this order of things already belongs to eternity and the only thing left to do is to turn it into a blooming columbarium. Groys notes that the total aestheticization of political reality and political action symbolizes the end and death of structures, institutions and ideologies. However, this does not exclude the possibility of acting within this world, if at the same time we hold the revolutionary horizon. “Total aestheticization not only does not interfere with political action — it creates a finite horizon for successful political action, if this action has a revolutionary perspective.” [Groys, 2017]

What is this revolutionary perspective, how to define it? Have we reached the final impasse of the impossibility of further designing a joint future, perhaps all our prerequisites are hopelessly outdated and everything is meaningless. 

In terms of Bauman and Donskis, we have come close to understanding that evil is spilled in the world, that it has a liquid form. Evil in modern times is in status nascendi, it is in a changeable, all–pervading state, unlike previous forms of evil’s existence – this is its new incarnation, when it no longer has a transcendent source, it cannot be fixed in a finite form: there is nothing to appeal to, give an order to stop, there is no such instance, which could drown out the source of evil, there are its endless transformations, the flow from one to another, the overflow of evil. Evil is an instance of seduction and temptation, not coercion, which becomes a form of soft power.

A world without alternatives, the illusion of choice, the tyranny of the economy, the political system, and the comfort society are forms of a new evil. We are not yet able to agree that rationally limited choice and freedom are its most important enslavement. Choice in the consumer society is its total absence, a gaping void instead of the opportunity to choose. In our attempts to escape from the repressive machine, we end up in another, less obvious prison, we have created a world and entangled everything around with sociality, there is an entrance to a system from which there is no exit. “We live in an era of fear, denial and bad news. There is no demand for good news: they are not interesting to anyone (although a fun and exciting story about the Apocalypse is quite another matter)” [Bauman, Donskis, 2019]. 

Liquid evil is a flow, an acceleration of the world in which we have lost historical memory, and neutrality becomes a new moral priority: we are neither “for” nor “against”, the mass of people refrains from any position, supporting the tendency to depoliticize, and any event is transformed according to the context. Evil in its new forms has left no key to understanding the good, eliminated the black-and–white social perspective, ceasing to shade the good, good news is the absence of news, the future is not in an unclear perspective or its design, it is the certainty of its deletion from the ontology. The role of the individual is indifference, non–interference, non-choice, consumption, whatever happens, I remain a neutral value, safe for myself and for the authority. In the text “Belaruski pratest: baratsba z mayklivay bolshastsiu” (“Belarusian protests: a fight against silent majority”) belarusian philosopher Paval Barkousky, analyzing the reasons for the deprivation of the political in Belarus, focuses on state terror, which achieves the goal of transferring a citizen to the field of the implosive mass, capable only of contemplating and enjoying the political scene, remaining indifferent to what is happening: “But the transformation of citizens into silent masses in the pan-European context, which was actually written by the same Baudriard or Debord, since the 1960s, can be associated with a certain loss of confidence in the political, which occurred largely due to the lack of alternatives to the social agenda: the victory of the Liberal Democrats… over their socialist opponents, the rise of economic logic over the logic of civil action, the intimidation of an infinite number of social transformations without a definite result” [Barkousky, 2020].

In the text “To the genealogy of the “community of the shocked”: common sense/ sensus communis/ koine aesthetics”, another belarusian philosopher Tatsiana Shchyttsova, referring to the events of August 9-11, 2020 in Belarus, returns to the concept of common sense as a kind of substrate of sociality, a social contract, an assumed general agreement on the principles and mechanisms of existence in a collective. It is assumed that the social system remains stable and exists due to the fact that we have a common idea, a common experience about concepts that are significant for the collectivity (good, evil, normativity, deviation, etc.). For a major part of the Belarusian society, the 2020-2021 has brought significant shocks that interrupted the state of drowsiness and complacency, bringing awareness that the current system and institutions are simply unable to provide contract guarantees for the majority. The pandemic, the election campaign, firstly, made the critical separation of the state apparatus from civil society obvious, secondly, influenced the formation of horizontal solidarity and initiatives that responded to the basic need of people for effective and efficient cooperation, and thirdly, exposed the catastrophic, fatal inability of government institutions to implement in continue their powers without going against society [Shchyttsova, 2020]. 

In fact, the social explosion of August 9-11 destroyed the parity that had been preserved before, completing the rapid transfer of a critical mass of people to the political dimension on the basis of a newly formed understanding of common sense. “At its core, the Belarusian Revolution is the collapse and reboot of common sense. A reset, during which a common moral sense should become the basis for the establishment of common sense in our country” [Shchyttsova, 2020]. In this emerging new cooperation, there is no place for the existing system and mindset, because both management and the unprecedented, asymmetric violence have taken it out of brackets, made it redundant in relation to the required common sense installations.

Citizens within the Belarusian society have long been accustomed to a state of semi-neutrality in the state mechanism of half-tyranny, half-freedom. The welfare state forms the idea of a “neutral citizen”, which should fit into the image of a stable system of relations; everything that goes beyond this idea should be defined in terms of control, surveillance and repression [Bregman, R., 356 p.]. “… the welfare state focuses less and less on the causes of our concern and more and more – on its symptoms” [Bregman, R., p. 24]. Autonomy, as something that defines the boundaries of a subject’s private existence in society, his inviolability, is the sphere of his direct influence, in the modern world it is presented as a politicized variable that should be inscribed in the context of care implemented only by the state. State institutions assume responsibility, determining the degree of autonomy, political participation, forma and principles of protection and safety standards, gradually turning neutrality into learned complacency. But is there a fundamental difference between a complacent citizen of Belarus, Poland, Germany, England at the time of emergency state, the war? Is it important to take into account these semitones and shades in the very second when you see how the corpses of Mariupol lie straightly on the floor of the shopping center?

Starting from the pandemic crisis, it became obvious that forms of vulnerability, codependency, on the one hand, and subordination, control, on the other, reach the deepest layers of existence, affecting the level of subtle, intimate settings, turning precarity into a diffuse characteristic: subjects experience their vulnerability in different statuses and social situations. Power has turned into bio–power, politics into biopolitics: under such conditions, it is impossible to avoid exploitation, colonization, total subordination. The question arises whether there is a limit to precarity, whether there is something beyond the work of inclusion-exclusion machines, what is the basis for such a mode of existence and how to form new types of connectivity, ethical and political relations, how is positive vulnerability possible as the basis of solidarity, how should we take care of one another?

In the arguments about the social crisis in the context of the pandemic, Butler raised a number of significant issues that concern both the possibility of the existence of communities, and the mechanisms that underlie the production of solidarity and the conditions of presence in the public space. This logic of questioning continues even in the conditions of war [Butler, 2020]. 

Privileges are not only familiar goods, services, and resources available to a minority. These are also forms of life, lifestyles, health conditions, working hours, the ability to determine whether to stay at home or participate in a public process, security, involvement, i.e. those aspects of sociality that, as implied, individuals can control and determine for themselves. The sphere of care has never been a neutral value that is equally accessible to all participants. In fact, all this is a privileged resource in hierarchical distribution systems, when power and control penetrate into the most intimate layers of existence, simultaneously determining how individuals will communicate with each other. To revolutionize the sphere of care, to take it beyond the limits of egalitarian logic, means to revolutionize the entire political structure, to collapse the repressive selection machines from within. Biopolitics has changed the idea of power and methods of governance, and has given rise to new forms of control and social institutions in which the body has become an object of political concern, bodily manifestations have become objects of political manipulation. Birth, death, fertility, health, illness, heredity, sex in biopolitics aren’t things of a private order, but belong to state apparatuses, society, nation (the “new technology of power”, which allows the use of different tools, Foucault). The body becomes maximally objectified, accountable, is subject to the accounting system, statistics, is in the focus of professional care. In the system of biopolitical relations, it becomes difficult to determine where the boundary lies between private and public, individual and public. The system of political relations is based on the production of “bare life” (Agamben), the operation of inclusion-exclusion machines, the non-differentiation of external and internal, the placement of bodies in a situation of emergency, violence and deprivation of the subjective right to determine the boundaries of life, death, intervention.

The body-manifestation of solidarity is a form of opposition to the crude machinery of power, penetrating to the level of subtle settings of vitality. A fragile body, a vulnerable body, an unarmed body, an affective body, a plastic body exposed to public space, speaks for itself and produces emancipatory practices, manifests its rights and freedoms, becomes an act of political demand (Butler). Assigning body care to people themselves is already a political action.

Bodily solidarity, recognition of the importance of establishing togetherness, involvement in various forms of connectivity, joint actions and reactions to power are a claim to the return of the “natural right to have a right”. Bodily solidarity, the establishment of horizontal ties, the development of networks, the creation of alternative infrastructures creates opportunities for real participation of actors and contributes to the change of established forms of relations and social spaces in an attempt to reformat the sterile proffesionalized political theater. In contrast to any form of control that normalizes by its nature, the assembly of bodies, the solidarity of bodies refers to bodily practice from the point of view of all life manifestations, “to the life of bodies, with their needs, desires and demands …” [Butler, 2020], which must be noticed and understood politically.

In a situation of war, we are faced with the need to comprehend ourselves and the Other once again, but first of all, politically, to think critically about the ways of his existence and manifistation, to notice the Other (as well as the Dead Other), to recognize his otherness. But this idea refers not only to human agents, but respectively to non-human agents. 

The crisis of the social, the building of rigid hierarchies is marked by the inability to fix and describe all the variety of differences, connections and associations formed in which actors are involved. In addition, in the research field, everything is aggravated by the totalizing function of the very concept of “society”, which boils down to rationing, developing consistent, positive identities, determining their finite number. There is also a crisis of ideology, which seeks to unite disparate actors, to establish a homogeneous, recognizable, positive environment with a set of stable connections. Latour introduces the concept of the sociology of associations as opposed to the sociology of the social, which considers society in a number of other, other collectivities that do not always consist of subjects, and the established connections are not always social. In addition, both subjects and objects (human and non-human agents) can be involved in associations, and the type of connections between them is unstable [Latour, 2005]. The reassembly of collectivities, including human and non-human agencies, firstly, erases the dichotomy of social and natural, endows the latter with agency, excludes the totality and pre-establishment of the world, the regularity of stable and well-established connections, exposes the “seething multitude” beyond any totality, frees us from the oppression of another collective. Thus, the picture of the “world” is a restructured composition that is in constant motion, reconfiguration and reassembly [Bryant, 2019].

What does such a vision or way of thinking give us? For Timothy Morton, such a change of rhetoric makes it possible to overcome the inertia of previous ways of talking about the world and create a new worldview. Morton suggests abandoning the attitude in which society is embedded in nature, and that, in turn, is a supportive, surrounding world. From his point of view, such a statement does for nature the same thing that patriarchy does for women – determines their precarious status. Putting nature on a pedestal, admiring it is an act of sadistic admiration, turns nature into a source and a resource, and our attitude into an act of violence [Morton, 2007].

Morton introduces the concept of a network in order to present us with a new system of relations between objects, living and non-living, which consists in an infinite variety and variability of types of connections and relationships, each of which cannot prevail over the others. Thus, to think ecopolitically is to avoid thinking about the distance between the forms of existence and the types of connections, because they are all located very close to each other, and even overlap. In this way of thinking about environments and relationships, there is no higher or lower priority way of life or non-life, and the “recognition” of the object of the environment is an even greater distance from it, alienation from it, proximity becomes threatening, because it covers the network with the illusion of the familiar.


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