Skip to content

Metastate of Exception

The anthropocene means a “permanent” — intensifying, long-duration — state of exception.

Reichstäglich fires: Western democracy burns and burns. It’s capital!

The tire fire, the coal bed fire.

Natural causes.

metastate of exception? What is a “metastate?” Wikipedia says: “In statistical mechanics, the metastate is a probability measure on the space of all thermodynamic states for a system with quenched randomness.”

As poor metaphor derived in sloppy fashion from physics, it will more than do. (The best ones always. Do.)

Quenched randomness! Except in a state of exception randomness remains unquenched, hence the exception, right?

Notes derived from: Masha Gessen, “The Reichstag Fire Next Time,” in Harper’s:

“In [Carl] Schmitt’s terms, a state of exception arises when an emergency, a singular event, shakes up the accepted order of things.”

“Legal scholar Stephen Holmes calls this wisdom ‘the intuitive claim that grave emergencies require discretionary authority to act outside and against inherited rules and standard operating procedures.'”

Today, when it is said that a terrorist attack is sure to happen, it is assumed that the attack will be carried out in the name of the Islamic State. The premise of inevitability is notable—one would think that such acts of terror occurred in the United States on a regular basis. Since September 11, 2001, however, there have been eleven attacks ostensibly driven by jihadist ideology; they have claimed a total of ninety-five lives. “The death toll has been quite similar to other forms of political—and even non-political—violence Americans face today,” a recent report from the New America foundation summarized. The report referred only to domestic terrorism and mass shooting incidents, but many more Americans have died at the hands of the state: In the first four months of this year, the use of deadly force by police claimed three times as many lives. These killings, extrajudicial by definition, are a symptom of the state of exception, which has turned the police into a military force. As a nation we insist on being united in fear of the one-in-millions chance of a particular kind of violence. That we seem so certain of the outlines of the Reichstag fire to come reveals the fact that it has already occurred.