Sunday, 8 May 2011

An essay on language.

I wrote this essay for my theory module at the university of plymouth.

To what extent does language play a role in contemporary international relations?

The essay has a linear argument tracing language as a body of knowledge onto the power/knowledge relationship; this is brought into play and made important via language’s relationship to reality. The argument of language’s relationship to reality merits a discussion of ideology, hegemony and struggle, which are closely interlinked. This is all for the effect of showing the role language plays in international relations. Language is the very framework for our understanding and in this essay it is understood in its most basic components as a semiotic system, or a system of signification with an ever present emphasis on social practise. Contemporary international relations is assumed to be the outcome of an amalgamation of individual actors, their beliefs and values, institutions, regimes and differing social structures. Additionally, international relations can only be understood, interpreted and represented through language, in this way, language plays a chief role in international relations and the elucidation of its mechanisms is key.

When considering language as knowledge we understand this to be the shared ideas or norms of an actor, therefore knowledge relates to the broader linguistic structure within which it is embedded. Constructivism assumes actors are social, that ‘identities and interests… are constructed by these shared ideas’ (Wendt 1999:1). Thus, Wendt assumes language as the bedrock of identity. Importantly it can ‘frame international situations’ (Wendt 1999:141), acting as a perspective and is ‘any belief an actor takes to be true’ (Wendt 1999:140). In international relations, every actor’s identity is constituted within a linguistic structure shaped on the knowledge that they take to be true. What cannot be emphasised enough is that the knowledge of actors, their values and beliefs are assumed to be real, and so they act on them with conviction. This can explain the willingness of International Monetary Fund (IMF) economists to make policy prescriptions through their ‘“one size fits all” approach’, because they believed in their methods (Stiglitz 2002:34-35).

For Foucault there is an issue with this neutral status of knowledge, ‘power and knowledge directly imply one another’ (Foucault 1979:27), concerning actors, ‘it is transmitted by them and through them; it exerts pressure upon them’ (Foucault 1979:27).

Mcnay (1994:99) clarifies this articulation of biopower, the power/knowledge relationship as it is channelled through bodies ‘is fundamentally normalizing and regulatory’. For instance, the United Kingdom is both a subject and advocate of human rights regimes, for one of many examples of this see the European Human Rights convention (European Court of Human Rights 2010). Another example resides in the insight of Stiglitz (2002:34) and the discourses mobilizing the IMF’s ‘lack of detailed knowledge’ in making policy, mentioned in the previous paragraph. The relevance of believing these discursive regimes was recognised by Foucault, saying, ‘even the word of the law could no longer be authorised…except by a discourse of truth’ (trans. of Foucault 1979, by R. Young 1981:55 cited in Mcnay 1994:86). The belief in a discourse and its normality is an important dimension to knowledge, both legitimating and maintaining the power in knowledge mobilization and the social regulation of subjects in the wider context of international relations. This would suggest no ‘distribution of knowledge’ or ‘identity’ is neutral but is the product and the producer of ideational power relations. The importance of this power/knowledge relationship in conjunction with its normalizing and regulatory function becomes apparent when we consider the restriction of ontology on epistemology.

When actors talk, they wish their language reflects actual material reality (The Real). This seems an almost commonsensical notion, we want to describe what we see and what we feel, etcetera. We can only do this, however, through systems of signification and are ultimately torn from the Real by our inability to experience it before signification. There is a drive, Lacanian Desire, in that systems of signification are repeated ‘attempts to colonize and domesticate the real with reality, to represent the real in discourse’ (Glynos & Stavrakakis 2004:205). If the real is an objective state that we attempt to conceive of subjectively, through language, then all reality construction involves reifying categories for the purpose of truth, to somehow make it fit. However, truth and language are entangled by ontology and it is the structure of the discursive system that limits what we communicate, think and know. As Glynos puts it, there is an ‘epistemological barrier’ but ‘this barrier is ontologically constitutive’ (Glynos & Stavrakakis 2004:204). As an example of this we could understand the conflict between the West and Islamic fundamentalists as a conflict of ontology/reality. After all, freedom is closely associated, if not synonymous, with democracy and markets (for a view that propounds this explicitly, see, Fukuyama 1992), but for Sayyid Qutb democratic freedom is a ‘servitude of servants’ (Bergesen 2008:23). Ontology has the ‘potential for an infinite production of meaning’ (Mcnay 1994:86), allowing it to constitute new knowledge and practice. The validity of knowledge would be exclusive to reality rather than to the Real, it can only be verified with reference to many other signifiers. So, with the Real and reality as ‘axiomatically unbridgeable’ states (Glynos & Stavrakakis 2004:205) reality construction becomes an a priori power relation. Thus, it makes sense to omit a line from Barthes that reads ‘in the present state of history…’, and instead only acknowledge that: ‘all political writing can only confirm a police-universe, just as all intellectual writing can only produce para-literature which does not dare…tell its name’ (Barthes quoted in Marcuse 1964:84). This lays the foundations for considering language as the site of hegemony, ideology and struggle.

Hegemony, for this essay, is the state of fixed meaning in its totality, an ontological consensus, or ‘an exhaustive representation’ (Glynos & Stavrakakis 2004:204) but as has been discussed, we cannot know the Real, only attempt to make sense of it through signification. It is because ‘discourse is in a constant state of tension’ (Glnos & Stavrakakis 2004:204) by virtue of its impossibility ‘to reach an exhaustive representation of the world’ (Glynos & Stavrakakis 2004:204) that the concept of hegemony is more a theoretical potential, or ontological mistake, there is not and never will be total consensus. If this is true, ideology should be the analytical level where the centrifugal state of hegemony is played out. Ideology is a system of ideas with some semblance of semiotic closure, thus we can attribute the concept of knowledge an ideological flavour. It has the effect of ‘fixing the… process of signification’ (Eagleton 1991:196), but still, with recourse to the ‘unbridgeable’ Real (Glynos & Stavrakakis 2004:205), ‘ideology is always a field of struggle’ (Zizek 2009:37). Examples of this have already been given: IMF policy, European human rights and democratic freedom; these are all ideological constructions, none have total consensus. Our drive to ‘colonize and domesticate the real with reality’ (Glynos & Stavrakakis 2004:205), becomes the practice of ‘hegemonization’: an attempt to ‘fix the meaning of social relations’ (Critchely 2004:113) through language. The drive towards semiotic ‘closure’ (Eagleton 1991:196), is therefore inscribed into the logics of language. An interesting parallel exists with Marcuse’s operationalization: ‘to make the concept synonymous with the…operations’ (1964:86) for the effect that ‘thought is stopped at barriers which appear as the limits of Reason itself’ (1964:14). Thus ideology as a state of fixed meaning has the effect of abridging other meanings and ways of thinking. (One should self-consciously refer back to the divergence of ontology between Qutb and Fukuyama.) Humorously, UK national security strategy highlights ‘ideology as a driver of instability’ best tackled by a commitment to promote ‘justice, tolerance and the rule of law’ (Cabinet Office 2009:13) while they, the UK government are an open champion of the ‘liberal, market-oriented vision of a free society’ (Cabinet Office 2009:8). Indeed, the ‘denial of ideology only provides the ultimate proof that we are more than ever embedded in ideology’ and that as ‘ideology is blind’ (Zizek 2009:37) -ontologically, of any other reality- so too is knowledge blind. This has strong implications for language, and international relations, if is to be meaningful, language must have some semiotic closure, thus reality (the linguistic construction of the real) is an ideological construction. The closure in this essay therefore implicates the role of language as necessarily ideological, exclusionary, regulative and thought-abridging. In international relations, the question becomes magnified. It is not, where is ideology, or, what is ideology, but, which ideology? What is excluded; what regimes are upon our bodies; what thoughts are omitted?

In conclusion and tracing the argument, the system of language aptly accounts for our cultural proclivities, providing a foundation for our knowledge, which in turn provides an identity that is acted upon. Belief in this knowledge is an important dimension, and through the power/knowledge relationship we see how language has a regulative function on the body, but also, that identity and knowledge are not neutral. This point is reinforced when we consider how language cannot reflect the Real, but must constitute itself a reality through which it perceives the Real. This brings us to the relevance of ontology on our knowledge claims, and we see, due to the separation of the Real from reality, ontology defines the extent and validity of what we can know. With these points in mind, language and representation in international relations must construct itself with some closure to be communicative; the effect is that reality construction is ideological and so necessarily regulative, exclusionary and thought-abridging.

Word Count: 1555

The references will follow.

However let me take a moment to continue. This essay is essentially asking us to forgive our constant fear of 'ideology' and accept that ideology is the very basis for reality construction - to be, is to be: ideological. We cannot stray far from that, this is the very logic of langauge. However, contentions do exist for me.

The essay treats humans as merely textual objects, caught up in a web of signification, willing to signify. Yet this very approach, that ontology defines epistemology, is a false dichotomy - if Derrida taught us anything, it is suspision of binary opposites; who serve to obfuscate thinking. Epistemolgy, our knowledge is certainly largely down to ontology (our symbolic categories - if you will) yet it misses the very state of humans - we are not pure textual beings. We have a rich adaptive history in biology and neurology that suggests more than text. Additionally, look to animals who differetiate between objects in the Lacanian real. How is it that this is done? We are forced to contemplate them having a textual base, or that there is something more. I have no concluding thoughts yet.

When we mix these two ideas, the neccessity of ideology in reality and the potential for a non-textual (perhaps neuro-biological) infuence, then the questions remains whether an ideology can have positive effects on the human condition, something akin to the ideas of Liberal thought, or the Hegelian master/slave dialectic. And what of the laws of thermodynamics, for there is much evidence that even in signification, that things tend towards entropy (chaos/disorder) - does this make us all the hegemon!? Perhaps we shall fixate ourselves with these 'progressive' ideas of 'purpose' and nobility, or we admit that living life 'confirms a police-universe'. Which police-universe, then, should we allow? And how can we answer, considering any attempt to give one will be reliant on our current normative concepts and ideas, it will be constructed from our already active ideas of truth, justice and right and wrong. Thus, we judge our future through thier past, and it is difficult to do otherwise.


Bergesen, A. J. The Sayyid Qutb Reader, selected writings on politics religion and society, 2008, UK, Routledge

Cabinet Office (2009) The National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom: update 2009, Security for the next generation, Available at, (Accessed: 21/02/2011, 12:00)

Critchley, S. (2004) ‘Is there a normative deficit in the theory of hegemony’, in Critchley, S & Marchart, O. (eds) Laclau: a critical reader, New York, Routledge, pp. 113-123

Eagleton, T. (1991) Ideology: an introduction, Finland, Verso

European Court of Human Rights (2010) Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Available at, (Accessed: 29/01/2011 15:00)

Foucault, M. (1975), Surveiller et Punir: Naissance de la Prison, trans by, Alan Sheridan (1977), Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, UK, Peregrine Books

Foucault, M. (1981) The order of discourse, trans. of ‘L’ordre du discourse’ (1979) by Young, R. in, Mcnay, L. (1994) ‘Foucault: A Critical Introduction’, Cornwall, Polity Press

Fukuyama, F. (1992) The End of History and the Last Man, England, Penguin books

Glynos & Stavrakakis (2004) ‘Encounters of the real kind: sussing out the limits of Laclau’s embrace of Lacan’, in Critchley, S & Marchart, O. (eds), Laclau: a critical reader, New York, Routledge, pp. 201-217

Marcuse, H. (1964) One Dimensional Man, Reading, ARK

Mcnay, L. (1994) Foucault: A Critical Introduction, Cornwall, Polity Press

Stiglitz, J. (2002) Globalization and its discontents, Great Britain, Penguin Books

Wendt, A. (1999) Social theory of international politics, United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press

Zizek, S. (2009) First as tragedy then as farce, US, Verso

Monday, 6 September 2010

On Reading

This is a small note on my experience of reading.

No matter what i read, I'll gain some sense of it. Even if this "sense" is not in the spirit of what is written, what the author intends. The open ended nature of textual discourse, -the phenomenon of the subjective- means that no matter what is read it is full of meanings- intended or not. I read passages and even when i don't understand, the thoughts that come of it are meaningful, they lead on into different thoughts and etcetera. Much of the breadth that occurs in reading is this phenomena.

This is more obvious, and intended, in some respects, with fiction. However, for non-fiction the experience is the same. If you read, and you don't understand, the thought processes that ensue are as valuable as the intended meaning of what is written.

That is all i have to say.

Friday, 20 August 2010

On the End of Capitalism (and Humanity)

This post is intended to point out what seems to me to be an obvious yet highly unknown fact. Capitalism will inevitably destroy itself. As a Marxist I am inclined to argue that this will be done via revolutionary uprising by the Working Class. However, I believe this is one of only a few scenarios that may bring about an end to Capitalism. I will now discuss what I believe to be the next most likely cause to the end of Capitalism.

The Environment! Of all the stupidity and ignorance that exists within this system is the pure fact that it is damaging the environment and therefore us! Most disregard Global Warming, Climate Change and Pollution as I quote 'a conspiracy of the Left'. Granted this was said by Nick Griffin (leader of the far right British National Party), which for obvious reasons should not really be considered in any worthwhile argument. However the apparent lack of response to the environment issue (I.e. most recently the absolute failure of the Copenhagen Conference) from major countries such as USA and China or even the ever rising power block that is the EU.

Are we so ignorant enough to the scientific facts which I know are disputed by many to not understand that destroying out planet means we will inevitably destroy ourselves. Just because the causes of the rise in carbon dioxide levels are disputed, does not mean its not happening. We are with out a doubt polluting the Earth's Ozone Layer, which is letting in more rays of sunlight, which is warming up the planet. This in turn is causing the Ice caps to melt which is making the oceans have less salt water and more fresh water. This effects the temperature and current of the oceans which completely obstructs the Earths Eco systems. They can become hotter or colder, cause either a Minni Ice Age or mass droughts and ever expanding deserts as James Lovelock argues in his book 'The Revenge of Gaia'.

So how you may ask will this lead to an end to Capitalism. Its simple, messing around with our Eco systems will lead to problems with our food supplies. Which means less food for humanity, which means a lot of humans will die (as there are now in places like Africa but starvation will become a global phenomena). This would inevitably lead to a breakdown in society, I.e. War over the last of the Earths resources, mass riots, social collapse and eventually the collapse of civilisation as we know it. (Obviously there are other examples of the sort of consequences that are envisaged by scientists). Hence the collapse of Capitalism and quite possibly the end of Humanity. But don't worry this is just left wing propaganda created by the poor to scare the rich into giving up some of there money and change their lifestyle.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Idea of an Alternative

I’ve always flirted with the idea of existing in a totally new way. Zizek has pointed out that there is no real, visible alternative to global capitalism and that “There is a real possibility that the main victim of the ongoing crisis will not be capitalism but the left itself, insofar as its inability to offer a viable global alternative”. It is of huge importance that there is not a palpable opposition to capitalism. It is not as though the current framework for existence was planned with any precision; it is mostly arbitrary and damaging. So we can’t just sit here and assume that this is the way we should live, or that it can, “on its own” get better. But I don’t think there can be a unified response, a unified “viable global alternative”, a cogent agreement between strands of thought and people; there are disagreements at all levels.

I feel as some of these obstacles stem from the problem of language, that is, there is no necessary relationship between the words we use and the phenomena it describes- its truth. So we can say what we like, red is green, and nothing apart from reason (in this example) can tell the difference. The left, or whoever, can lay down their narratives on how to create the best society, and we are none the wiser that it’ll work, or that what they say describes reality at all. This is typically a problem for the Idea of communism- we’ll never know ‘till we try.

If we expand this idea, this “Problem of Language”, we get a much wider scope of the notion of cultural hegemony. The discourses that shape and weave our lives together are just one “package” (you could say) of a description of events and have no necessary correlation to what is going on. In this way we are blinded of the alternative version. For instance, gay marriage and Islamic law- one enables marriage as a viable option for two consenting couples, while Islamic Law rejects the notion of homosexuality. Cultural hegemony via the problem of language is manifested the discourses we use by virtue of their complete ignorance to truth. This means we don’t need some grand socio-political propaganda machine like the media, we are it. Not to play down the media’s role, after all they do a lot to sustain current discourses. It is from cultural hegemony that we should understand the prevalence of a lack of a "viable... alternative". And this plays out clearly when it concerns a unified response.

Another issue which in many ways is embedded in the problem of language but expresses itself differently, are the conceptions we have of the scope or area of change, or the institutions by which it could be precipitated or, in the more likely sense, negotiated. “The Government”, be it democratic or authoritarian is just one example of an idolized concept in politics and a failed institution to arbitrate national, regional and global politics. It some how, though, remains and would likely be the institution that would invoke this so called “viable global alternative” and it raises the issue of our inability to autonomously determine the answers to questions that tear at our most fundamental assumptions of how to conduct our political space or how to run an economy. Indeed, another example would be money, this concept, when articulating alternatives, is likely to embed itself as a useful part of our current framework. How would a unified response occur if the discourses used to construct such an alternative are flawed.

That which works to undermine our treasured discourses is sidelined or seldom even mentioned. There is a point where we can say that the lack of a "viable... alternative" is not so much sidelined or purposely not mentioned: there are to few alternative discourses to choose from in the public conciousness or space. This resonates the new-speak of 1984, how would one know they were oppressed if they had no concept or word for freedom. People don't have alternatives discourses at hand to re-evaluate their lives or the global political space. And therein lies the greater problem, the greatest barrier to change in a huge, revolutionary way, is our selves; not that we openly accept that or that we are conscious of it, or that we care.

As I said before, the hegemony we experience (the prevailing discourses we use to describe our reality) is subject to the Problem of language: no internal reference point for truth. Not only does this make the choice of discourse rather arbitrary, additionally, prevailing discourses, by virtue of them prevailing, sustain themselves in our use of them. This is a problem when we understand that the Viable Alternative must appear as a discourse, it must appear in public conciousness and fight to stay. When it appears, it will do so in an oppositional stance, on these terms how would a discourse sustain itself, if it speaks out and against our current framework from where does it receive it's strength?

It should be a huge concilation to many that despite these structural barriers i have listed we still have the idea of change- at least, some of us do. The agreement we should make is not the form of political organization that takes us away from capitalism, not the end result: after capitalism but the idea of change itself. The form of political organisation that precipitates "after" is one of many. As i have suggested, we cannot engineer a society because of the multiplicity of ideas but we can try to begin anew. This is not the end and not the best form of organization, but it's an attempt. It represents, in a very real way (although i'd like to say, symbolically) our self determination.

Here i am trying to reflect in simpler terms Zizeks notion of the Communist Idea- "one should 'begin from the beginning' not from the peak one may have successfully reached in the previous effort" echoing Lenin. Or, Badiou's Communist hypothesis; that we should "help a new modality of existence of the hypothesis come into being". Yet i would erase from this passage the words "communism" and read again. The "idea", the "hypothesis" is what we should hold onto and manifest into a locomotive for change.

If there is no possibility in a unified response, as i feel, then there semi autonomous groups attempting to carve out alternatives and we must wait for the "idea/hypothesis" some public consciousness, awareness and i hope a yearning, for change.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Capitalism: Murder, Slavery and Vandalism.

I have a problem understanding the moral outrage at murder, slavery and vandalism- but the blindness to structural processes of capitalism. aka: what's pretty much built in. To not draw issue with these processes is typically picking and choosing what to care about and what to ignore. These processes influence, produce and regulate our actions.

The huge, obscene amount of deaths caused by the structural tendencies of capitalism renders it genocidal. This is brought into effect in many ways.
Statistically, poorer people live less. This is a washed over correlation that seems to shake few. This can be down to many reasons, poorer areas are dirtier, more enclosed, stress prone (maybe lack of money? or a lack of the ability to self-determine!?) they cannot cannot afford the same par of healthcare. What do you think all the issues over third world debt are about, these people arn't struggling to pay for their second house- because of their lack of money, they have no water, no food, poor infrastructure. The formula Money=Life should make sense of it all.
The ability of capitalism with it's incentive of money (which translates as... life) to organize and mobilize people for production (without the reality of everyone opposing such production, which perhaps links into slavery) is able to bring into existence a mass of weapons of destruction. Without such an apathetic labour force, insomuch as work is for money and not tied to what the work is. i.e. the manufacture of weapons, this would not be possible.
The same form of apathy is employed in capitalism with cost/benefit analysis. Cost is money lost, while benefit is money gained over money lost. The analysis is of money but the apathy deployed entails that people do not enter this equation. A good example is not the cutbacks of jobs for money, but the much used GDP of economies. This does not show the well being of people. People within a country could be dying but their GDP is up! Structurally this translates as the governments of those economies not being pressured for an increase in general welfare (GW?!) and not responding to the GW of it's people - while it has a growing economy and foreign investment, what's wrong!?

The capitalist relations with the environment can be described as an angry lumber jack chopping everything down. He, the capitalist, has a reason- plus, without his work there would be no living, and when he cuts trees down everything looks clearer and more civilized. But this description misses all the people standing in the forest or who are underneath the timbre.

Although, clearly, this ties in with vandalism, for capitalism drives industry which pollutes (and has a profit motive for avoiding environmental regulation shown by company moves to less regulated countries for profit) and vandalises the air, the ground and the sea, these repercussions are felt in the deaths of millions of people. Whether these deaths are past events, such as this; or current events, such as what we are breathing now, or the mobilization that's been able to mass produce and distribute tobacco alcohol and guns; or future events, either the somehow debatable erosion of the o zone layer, or any replication of past events.

The most difficult issue to level to people is that of slavery. Because of the past we think of slavery as a very overt conception whereby you literally need to be in chains. But this cannot be so. In fact it must not be so, it is an important concept with strong emotive implications and if we are to use it well it should be redefined. Most often it is understood as ownership of a person, but it could also be where a person is controlled via other methods. Slavery in it's broadest strokes should be seen as control that is not seen, or not understood. It the enslavement of your mind to assume that certain relations are OK. The slightest and most subtle formation of slavery, then, is born out of a hierarchy of relations. The family, the pub, the shop, the law, school, money, friendships. All these have hierarchies that if not addressed and unveiled are enslaving in as much as we become subject to them and most often respond with compliance. It is the lack of awereness of these oppressive relations (which could be reconfigured) that brings the term slavery. For instance, it isn't usually considered a problem that money defines, largely, what you can do.
However, this was just the broadest dynamic of slavery. It appears in far more classical terms (ownership, or non-evadable coercion) when we review the role of jobs/work and markets. Here, I will be drawing heavily on the The Coming Insurrection by The Invisible Committee. Simply put, to access the means to live we must get a job and earn money. TCI summarises this notion in the title of a chapter: "Life, health and love are precarious- why should work be an exception." Work is a structural necessity for capitalism, it "is tied less to the economic necessity of producing goods and than to the political necessity of producing producers and consumers and of preserving... the order of work" and of capitalism. We are trapped in the vortex of a confused economic and political system where, to access the means of life, we are forced to the imperative of getting a job and entering the market. Rather, it would be more appropriate to have access to the means of life. The argument here lies in the contrast, we have the technological capabilities to provide for people without charge, based on peoples input, but instead we ensure that money holds a monopoly over existence.
In another classical sense the wage-slavery concept comes into play. This suggests that people who work do not earn enough money to change their situation. However, other definitions are suggested like living for your wage, a case where your existence is dependant on you wage. There is no agreed definition- likely, because the term refers to many similar phenomenon. While the paragraph above refers to the imperative of money (aka, you need it), wage-slavery refers to ones abilities once they have money. (you're still not free!)

By far the easiest claim to level at capitalism is that of vandalism. Interestingly, this is not often a claim levelled at capitalism. When a company drops toxic waste in a river it is deemed to be the fault of the company- case closed. While this is true, it is the fault of the company and we cannot shed responsibility in that area, it ignores the scope of the problem. Here the company had the profit motive; it was cheaper to dispose of it down river. There was an incentive to vandalise, (which killed and maimed) systemically present in the capitalist framework (maximization of profits). This type is the typical vandalism that is more or less systemic in capitalism, companies have a huge incentive to tip waste products and avoid regulation for profit.
However we can ask deeper questions... why is it not considered vandalism when a company forces the foreclosure of family business, or even another business that has been bringing the community together (such as a pub or coffee house). We are forced to say, in the rhetoric of the market, that they weren't "efficient" enough, that they couldn't "compete"- this misses the issue entirely. Community comes second to capital.
If the foreclosure of small family business in favour of homogenized corporation can be levelled as the actions of a vandal, a similar form is present too. Governments that subsidize their industry, such as the E.U or US subsidy over farming, damage the market prospects of better products and undercuts the competition- isn't this a form of vandalism? essentially the direct sabotage of better companies in favour of the "national interest".
But why does the analysis only go as far as external property, what of ones mind, surely that can be vandalized. As an economic structure, capitalism has vastly influenced and defined the way we think. Instead of the altruistic helping of people, we employ help. Note the word, employ. We have a state of being that is closer to a relationship between things (objects, commodities) than between people. Quite often we choose friends in the same way we choose shampoo.
It may have spawned entire ways of thinking, the cultural imperative to get a job, pay taxes- being the sponge or the layabout- the life of an accountant- our response to the 2008 financial crash- being "working class"- insurance. All of these discourses are found within capitalism, and would very unlikely exist otherwise. Look at education, it is driven by, and held back by, money. In fact the curriculum itself is the by-product of a working society, we must work to work, we must, learn to work. Grades are geared towards achieving in the competitive job market and in many way serve to neutralize so many economic inequalities. The problem with assessing how capitalism makes us think is that it is the way we think, it is not obvious and requires imagining an almost alien reality.
As was reflected in an earlier paragraph, the organisational capabilities of capitalism rendering it a "murderer", and which make us alien (apathetic) to what it is we are doing, extends to vandalism. Needless to say, the extent of pollution; the foreclosure of community business; the subsidy of business; the overcrowding of space (with buildings) is only possible with mobilization capabilities which are present in capitalism, and the apathetic attitude which it instills.

I hope this post raises an empathetic and emotive attitude to the cards being dealt in this life, it really should stop, but it starts with the majority.

Monday, 12 July 2010


Beyond Capitalism?
Could we exist in a world that had forgotten money? a world where value takes on a role only as a reference to a specific cultural conception, specific, again, in history? or a world, at least, which has chosen to organise itself. (so unlike the world today).
It could happen several ways. I mean, we could always choose to exist on a relational level other than via a transactional network of inherently unequal relations - it would however require the equal consent of the many land owners and engineers (etc) to happen. Or we can pay for this form of organisation (painfully, at that) by setting up sustainable infrastructure but, again, developing a set of relational networks that do not use money is required.

The trick to post capitalism, that is, the trick to achieve it, is rather relieving in simplicity. The current profit motive provides an ample framework for people to be driven ; the same way we are driven to work everyday - for MONEY, to want a post capital order. To have low costs on the essentials of life is to free people from work.
If governments, or the private sector can provide key aspects of existence for next to no cost the goal is in sight. Housing, water and food are the most important parts of this, to provide these next to cost is integral to a way of achieving post capitalism. None, in their current dimension are adequate, the housing market, for instance, is subject to rent seeking and more importantly, the current architectural design and environmental relationship is flawed. I.e. housing is monolithic, expensive, inappropriate. Really, it does not reflect the mobile and communitarian nature of people. Food is centralised, subsidised, and prosthetic. It needs to be grown and sustained and reproduced (in excess) by people on a decentralised basis. etcetcetcetc.
The idea is to make the fundamentals of existence replicable via social, rather than capitalist means.

There is no inherent reason why this has not been achieved. What barriers are there to this? I do not take answers such as labelling essential ideas of humans, i.e. we are greedy/stupid. It is apparent, and we can reconfigure this many times in different ways, that social existence can be and could be constructed in many different ways. Our social practises can be reconstructed at any moment. We are not subject to them, they are subject to us.
Apparently this is not so.
When the Banks failed, we bailed them out. For some reason no one was patiently sat there, waiting, poised, a symbol reflecting that repetitious volatility of capitalism and our self awareness of that fact. No one, for some obscene reason, was ready. But when they failed a "select group of people", because "we" certain didn't, poured lots of public ("our") money "saving" the banks. This was done to "save us" from the economy.
now why not just say, "oh." We have a system that we have little, passive, control over. We don't control our productivity, it does. (note the job losses and lower company profits since the meltdown) Our life, the apparent stability of it, is reliant on the economy being stable. NOW WHY DO WE DELEGATE THE POWER TO HAVE A STABLE LIFE INTO DISEMBODIED, UNSTABLE "ECONOMY".

It is an interesting state of affairs that we have the communication to achieve the post capitalist end... but don't.
I hope this post draws attention to the aims of post capitalism, the relative ease (in theory, apparently) of achieving it; the reconfigurable nature of social relations; the happy connection between the profit motive and it's stimulation of post capitalism (namely, that people want to avoid spending money); and the redundancy of now.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Capitalism and Freedom

There is little connection, if any, to these two words acting as a title. Capitalism, does not necessitate, freedom. Both Fukuyama and Milton Friedman figured that capitalist markets are the purest expression of freedom - at least, as far as we can deduce. Friedman for his defence of a free market in promoting freedom, and Fukuyama for a market as an End State to humanity.

I am not going to attack the alleged relationship between capitalist markets and freedom by negating the suggestions by these two people or others nor by attacking the concept of freedom as incoherent, which it, pretty much, is. Quite simply, I am attacking the the state of being one has in a capitalist market, and our current understanding of freedom (assuming it is some coherent expression) within capitalism- and how that idea is internally fissured. In conclusion, i draw this together and suggest alternatives to experiencing freedom.

When we enter the capitalist framework several things become apparent, if you don't have the money for something, you cannot have it. While this is not a problem in it's most superficial aspects - no, you are not allowed to own the ferrari- it is hugely problematical when we consider that this person cannot have the best healthcare. It is a difficulty where that person cannot have clean water, or cannot have a safe home or get the best education.
Not only is the quality of, and access to, a service being arbitrated by the amount of money you have, but there is the internal problem that the service quality itself is negotiated by it's access to money.

One must exist based in relation to their capital, the ability to "do" is ultimately de-limited to what they can afford. This ranks next to: the length and quality of our life has a relationship with money.

This is our current social organisation. Where action is precipitated far quicker by money than by effort and ingenuity. (unless we replace effort with how much money you put in, and ingenuity to the subtle allocation of money.) And this is the quintessential problem when framed according to our capacity for freedom. How free are you where your actions are arbitrated by some paper, and the extent of your actions are arbitrated by paper. Simplistically, but this really does get to the heart of it: if i have a ten pounds, i am far more free than the person with none.

We often go for an account of freedom and organisation based on liberalism. This account of freedom, of morality, of organisation, sounds something like: "we are all equal" and "you can do what you want as long as it doesn't hurt others." It sounds oddly utilitarian. However this notion of liberalism is curiously tied up with capitalism and in fact, surely, it is at odds with itself. The typical liberal account of what it means to be free, or even some of it's fundamental tenets such as "equality" and "rights" are under heavy fire in a capitalist market. In this way it seems there is a severe confusion over what it means to exist freely and our relationship to the economic model of capitalism. This confusion is amplified to a state of delusion when the two ideas are connected, and there is no apparent contradiction.
The idea is further and far more obviously confused when we look at economic liberalism (an extreme strand of capitalism) in it's relationship and even it's root in liberalism. Why is there even an academic strand that goes as far as connecting philosophical liberalism to economic liberalism when the two are most certainly at odds. It seems perverse to suggest, that in an unregulated market, any sense of liberalism can hold out: we would not be equal, have equal things, or even basic rights. We would be as free as how much money we have.

It also raises the observation of having a moral model which is internally fissured in logic but externally coherent in perception, in its marriage within a capitalist existence. Not only does this highlight the lack of necessity, in accuracy, between language and things, it also goes to show how perception can define our relations. With this in mind, freedom becomes a far more important concept. Our idea of freedom becomes the measure of freedom, we have a position of philosophical liberalism and this exists alongside capitalism and this is not a problem? This is not contradictory? This doesn't make us revolt - because, for some reason, this is what it means to be free. This is a pretty convenient state of affairs for us.

In conclusion an excerpt from wikipedia really sets the groundwork, "Proponents of economic liberalism believe political freedom and social freedom are inseparable with economic freedom" this is the sounding of Fukuyama and Friedman, that freedom in it's totality can be gleamed by the existence of economic freedom. The assumption that economic freedom should take the form of capitalism is sick - indeed, the fact the the words economic liberalism and economic freedom signify capitalist markets is sick. There is little relationship between capitalism and freedom especially when they are seen as distinct states of affairs. Capitalism often undermines freedom.
If social and political freedom has an integral relationship to the economy, and we know the social and political freedoms we want (broadly speaking a form of liberalism and democracy), we can engineer an economy; simply, we should be developing an economy that does not work on scarcity or profit and removes the totality of capitalism (the fact that everything- even food and water- costs) from our lives. We should develop an economy based on social action, human action, rather than that which is motivated by profit or money to achieve social and political freedom. In this way we agree with the quote, when economic freedom ceases to mean capitalism, no matter the strand, and begins to mean economic freedom - then we'll have freedom.