Franco “Bifo” Berardi. Image via Serpentine Gallery
On Verso Books’ blog, Franco “Bifo” Berardi has written thoughtfully on Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who has been a target of much press in recent days for allegedly crashing a Germanwings flight into a mountain in the Alps. The German national has been problematically characterized in the press as mentally ill man whose depression “made him do it.” Berardi importantly acknowledges that depression is often a repercussion of precarious labor, and that suicide rates have increased as precarious labor has become more common. “There is a relationship between this incredible surge in suicidal propensity, and the triumph of neoliberal coercion to compete,” he says. “And also between the spread of psychic frailty and the loneliness of a generation that is meeting people only through a connected screen.”
Read the text below.
It seems that the young pilot Andreas Lubitz who hurled himself and the airplane, packed with innocent people against the rocks of a mountain, concealed the medical certification of depressive pathology from his employer, Lufthansa. This is bad of course, but totally understandable: turbo-capitalism does not like workers who go on leave for health reasons and most of all it dislikes references to depression.
Depressed, me? Don’t even mention it. I feel fine, I’m perfectly efficient, happy, dynamic, energetic, and most of all competitive. I go jogging every morning and I’m available for over time. It is the philosophy of the low cost airlines, you know? And the philosophy of the perfectly deregulated economy where everybody is demanded to give ceaselessly the best, in order to survive.
After this suicidal mass murder air companies are invited to double-check the psychological conditions of the workers. Pilots should not be maniac, depressed, melancholic or panic-prone. And what about bus drivers and policemen, steel workers, and school teachers? Everybody will be subjected to psychological screening in order to detect and expel from the labor market those who suffer from depression.
Good idea indeed, except that the absolute majority of the contemporary population should be put on leave. It’s easy to target those who are officially labeled as psychopaths, but what of all those people who suffer from unhappiness, try to keep calm but might fly into a rage in dangerous situations? Hard to distinguish between unhappiness and looming aggressive depression, and the proportion of people who suffer from despair is growing and growing. The frequency of psychopathology has been on the rise in the last few decades, and according to the World Health Organisation, the suicide rate has increased by 60% in the last four decades, and is dangerously high among the youngsters.
What in the last four decades has been pushing people to run and willingly embrace the black dog? There is a relationship between this incredible surge in suicidal propensity, and the triumph of neoliberal coercion to compete. And also between the spread of psychic frailty and the loneliness of a generation that is meeting people only through a connected screen.
For every person who succeeds in committing suicide there are twenty people who unsuccessfully try to kill themselves. We must acknowledge that a sort of epidemic of suicide is underway on the planet earth.
Here possibly lies the deep explication of some appalling phenomena of our time that we tend to read in political terms, but cannot be fully realised through the political lens. Contemporary terrorism should be interpreted first of all as the spreading of a penchant for self-suppression. I know that the shaheed (suicidal terrorist) is apparently acting for political, ideological or religious motivations. But this is only the rhetorical surface. The inmost motivation of suicide is always despair, humiliation and misery. He or she who decide to destroy their own life is someone who is experiencing life as an unbearable load, and sees death as the only way out, and in murder the only vengeance against those who have deceived, humiliated and insulted her/him.
The most likely cause of the surge in suicide and particularly in murderous suicide is the transformation of social life into a factory of unhappiness of which it appears impossible to escape. The decree to be a winner, compared with the consciousness that winning is impossible, means that the only way to win (at least for a moment) is destroying other’s lives then committing suicide.
Andreas Lubitz has sealed himself in that gory cockpit because his suffering was intolerable to him, and because he blamed his colleagues and the passengers and all the human beings of the planet as guilty of his suffering. He did what he did because he could not get rid of the unhappiness that has been devouring contemporary mankind since advertising began bombing the social brain with mandatory cheerfulness, and digital loneliness has been multiplying the nervous stimulation and encasing the bodies in the cage of the screen, and financial capitalism has been forcing everybody to work more and more time for the miserable salary of precariousness.