One of the key claims of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus is that the functioning of capitalism is premised on the expenditure of abundance rather than the allocation of resources under essential conditions of scarcity. This premise, of course, accompanies their more generalized critique of lack as a foundation of desire.

Anyone who pauses to reflect on the logic of non-academic discussions of political thought can discern just why this critique of scarcity is so important. As Deleuze and Guattari put it, if we falter on this point, “…all resignations are justified in advance” (AO, 74). Where the social comes to be understood as a response to scarcity, then politics becomes the means by which decisions are made as to how scarcity is distributed. While there might indeed be many different ways of distributing scarcity, what is ineradicable or impossible is inequity. In short, all inequity is justified in advance and a priori.

What we thus encounter here is the essence of ideology as understood by Meillassoux. As Meillassoux puts it in After Finitude,

If every variant of dogmatic metaphysics is characterized by the thesis that at least one entity is absolutely necessary (the thesis of real necessity), it becomes clear how metaphysics culminates in the thesis according to which every entity is absolutely necessary (the principle of sufficient reason)… …[The] refusal of dogmatism furnishes the minimal condition for every critique of ideology, insofar as an ideology cannot be identified with just any variety of deceptive representation, but is rather any form of pseudo-rationality whose aim is to establish that what exists as a matter of fact exists necessarily. The critique of ideologies, which ultimately always consists in demonstrating that a social situation which is presented as inevitable is actually contingent, is essentially indissociable from the critique of metaphysics, the latter being understood as the illusory manufacturing of necessary entities. In this regard, we have no desire to call into question the contemporary desuetude of metaphysics. For the kind of dogmatism which claims that this God, this world, this history, and ultimately this actually existing political regime necessarily exists, and must be the way it is– this kind of absolutism does indeed seem to pertain to an era of thinking to which it is neither possible nor desirable to return. (AF, 33 – 34)

Meillassoux is able to demonstrate an internal link between metaphysics and ideology, demonstrating the manner in which metaphysics functions as an apologetics for the necessity of whatever social system happens to exist. In developing this position, he moves in the radical direction of demonstrating the contingency of existence itself (regardless of whether any humans exist), and attempts to show the impossibility of any necessary being. If philosophy is to be measured by the originality and novelty of its arguments coupled with its conceptual creations, then Meillassoux certainly ranks highly. (In an unrelated vein, it seems to me that this also raises a number of questions about the Lacanian use of the matheme and the tendency among Lacanians to treat certain structures like the graphs of sexuation, the discourses, etc., as real in the Lacanian sense of “that which always returns to its place”. Zizek, for example, seems to make a number of deductive claims about what is and is not possible, what is and is not fantasy, in his political thought. This is reflected in the enthusiastic way some have been taking up Schmitt, though with very different aims than Schmitt himself advocated).

At any rate, the manner in which the argument from scarcity works is clear within the framework of Meillassoux’s understanding of ideology. On the one hand, we are told that since resources are intrinsically scarce, social organization must necessarily take the form of inequity and hierarchy. As the old saying goes, “there are the haves and the have nots, and so it is, so it has been, and so it will always be.” As a result, questions of distribution and production, and the principles and decisions underlying distribution and production become invisible and naturalized. On the other hand, we are told that envisioning any other possibility either a) necessarily leads to the political terror of social systems such as those found under Mao or Stalin, or b) is just an immature fantasizing that fails to recognize the true nature of reality. In connection to point a, it is intriguing to note that we are told both that other alternatives are impossible and are implicitly forbidden from even contemplating alternative systems of production and distribution. There is something symptomatic in the way that something that is impossible is simultaneously prohibited. Here the elementary gesture of any critique of ideology would lie in 1) demonstrating the contingency of existing social relations, and 2) uncovering the site of possibility where another form of social relations is really possible and coming into existence. Negri and Hardt, for example, attempt to do this with their analysis of emerging multitudes, that evade the logic of sovereignity, representation, national boundaries, and traditional factory models of production. Whether they’re successful is another question altogether.

If, however, as Deleuze and Guattari argue, social production is always based on abundance and surplus, if the question is how to expend surplus, then we come to see that the current mode of distribution is, in fact, contingent and that scarcity is manufactured through relations of anti-production. As Deleuze and Guattari put it,

We know very well where lack– and its subjective correlative –come from. Lack (manque: lack/need in the psychological sense, want/privation/scarcity in the economic sense) is creat4ed, planned, and organized in and through social production. It is counterproduced as a result of the pressure of antiproduction; the latter falls back on the forces of production and appropriates them. It is never primary; and production is never organized on the basis of a pre-existing need or lack. It is lack that infiltrates itself, creates empty spaces or vacuoles, and propogates itself in accordance with the organization of an already existing organization of production. The deliberate creation of lack as a function of market economy is the art of a dominant class. This involves deliberately organizing wants and needs amid an abundance of production; making all of desire teeter and fall victim to the great fear of not having one’s needs satisfied; and making the object dependent upon a real production that is supposedly exterior to desire (the demands of rationality), while at the same time the production of desire is categorized as fantasy and nothing but fantasy. (AO, 28)

Here we encounter the ground necessitating the linkage between psychoanalysis, Nietzsche, and Marx. If Marxist thought requires supplementation by the theory of desire developed by Nietzsche and psychoanalysis, then this is because all too often Marx concedes too much to liberal economists and political theorists by developing his thought in terms of naturalized needs and scarcity. Although Marx occasionally speaks of the manufacture of needs (see, for example, the very first section of chapter 1 of Capital), he all too often privileges natural biological needs and the attendant scarcity of goods in the environment. In short, Marx fails to think through the logical implications of his own observations of the produced nature of desires. Likewise, although Freud glimpsed the productive nature of desire, he falls back into ideology by arguing for the necessity of the Oedipus, the family structure, and treating lack as a primordial ground that precedes desire rather than lack being a product of desire. Where, by contrast, desire becomes productive, it becomes possible to discern the possibility of alternative social relations to those premised on lack and scarcity.

My naive question is to what degree is it true that the world is characterized by abundance rather than lack. Clearly when we talk about intellectual resources it is idiotic to speak in terms of lack and scarcity. Computer programs, books, music, articles, etc., can all be reproduced without limit; especially now with modes of electronic transmission. Given that academics and scientists get little or no compensation for their intellectual work, yet continue to produce outstanding work, it also seems ridiculous to argue that somehow art or science would suffer were there not the lure of great financial rewards. Deleuze and Guattari are able to also show how the desire for types of clothing, transportation, entertainment, food, etc., is manufactured. But it is difficult to see how their analysis of desire and lack can be squared with the need for food as such, the need for clothing as such, the need for shelter as such, the need for good medical care, etc. Can these forms of scarcity be so easily exorcised from the foundation of the political? Is it that somehow semiotized desires that are produced or manufactured rebound back on basic biological needs, creating scarcity in these domains as well through the hoarding of resources by a select class of people? I don’t know.

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