Jodi Dean has a couple of absolutely chilling posts up on plutonomy (here and here). I don’t know what is more harrowing and depressing here: The fact that the document Jodi links to reads like a mad scientist version of Marxist thought that uses analysis of the structuration of our contemporary situation not as a means for emancipation and developing alternatives but to even more effectively exploit us, or the poster that responds to the Citigroup document by pointing out that it contains bad grammar, that the author is stupid, and that they’re just “wicked”. I don’t find the author of the document particularly stupid– in fact the bits Jodi cites strike me as uncanny and frightening and inverted doubles of something one might find in a “radical political theory” journal or book –rather, what is so upsetting about the document is how clear sighted the author is about the economic structuration of our moment and all the injustices it contains.
Rather than seeing this as impetus for emancipation, the author instead sees it as opportunity for even more effective exploitation. What does strike me as stupid is the idea that somehow suggesting the author of this document is stupid and wicked constitutes an adequate response to such reasoning. The author of this piece is obviously what Zizek characterized as a “knave” or someone who cynically serves the ends of dominant power. The person that denounces such reasoning on abstract normative grounds is clearly the leftist fool that believes he’s won some sort of important victory when secretly not holding the testicles of the lord that claims the right to prima nachte as he rapes the serf’s wife on the dusty road and commands her husband to hold his balls as he does so. The leftist fool thinks he’s here gotten away with some radical victory after not preventing the lord’s testicles from getting dusty as commanded. Unfortunately, his wife has still been raped.
read on for more rant!
And this situation seems precisely analogous to the leftist fool that thinks somehow normativity, somehow pointing out the wickedness of these folks, is an effective strategy that really makes a difference. Sure you’ve dirtied your lord’s testicles but nothing’s changed. You’re still being fucked. Leave it to the armchair academic (usually in the form of a white, privileged, hipster kid that has issues with his daddy) to think that the appropriate response to this sort of power and injustice consists in saying, in a sophisticated fashion with all sorts of impressive rhetorical bells and whistles, to say, with suitable transcendental armor, “you suck and are really bad!” Or perhaps it’s the Habermasian that believes he’s developing a knock down argument when he suggests that “simply through entering into discourse you’re implicitly endorsing certain norms of rationality.” Riiiighhhhtttt. I can’t say the tyrants seem very convinced. What was your point again?
Somehow I don’t think the powers that be behind abominations like “Right to Work” states are all that concerned with being bastards. Were we to flash back into the past of those who advance this sort of response, I would not be at all surprised to see scenes of them on the playground, being bullied by the stupid jock, saying “you’re mean and that’s not right!” in a whiny nasally voice. Meanwhile that bully continues to do all the things he was doing before and sleeps just fine at night. Were it not such an awful situation I would almost be inclined to say such people deserve what they get because such a mentality is absolutely pathetic and frustrating. Leave it to the armchair hipster to completely divorce these questions from any sort of real concrete engagement, any real analysis of the situations, and any real efficacious action. After all, that would require getting their hands dirty by descending to the empirical and figuring out why things really work this way. And that descension to the empirical would evoke a sort of ontological anxiety where they could no longer rely on abstract principles and rules to navigate the world to which they’re so socially maladapted. Better to feel good about being right about the assholishness of these folks than to do something about this bastardery.
In the first place, none of us needed the moralist to tell us that the whole situation royally sucks and is profoundly wrong. We’ve been living it every day and know quite well that it sucks. What we needed were effective strategies and practices to change the situation, and that requires knowledge of how the situation actually works. “You suck and are mean!” doesn’t cut mustard here and is the refrain of the pimple faced weasel that uses an inhaler a lot. We didn’t need Habermas, Kant, or Adorno to “guarantee” the suckiness of the situation and why it’s wrong. Tell us something we didn’t already know! For instance, tell us how to punch that bully and break his nose or effective strategies for kicking him in the balls. “Being right” doesn’t do a whole hell of a lot of good when everything remains intact exactly as it was before, but somehow many of our brightest minds think they’re doing something important when they establish the grounds under which one side is right while leaving situations intact exactly as they were before. It makes you want to pull your hair out with the absurdity of it all as they solemnly tell you about the is/ought distinction, the eternity of norms, their absolute status, while nonetheless kids in Africa are still having hands cut off to compel villages into slavery over diamond mines and while we’re being bilked out of jobs, healthcare, a voice, workplace protections, a cut of the pie, livable wages, etc. The fantasy here seems to be– and it is a fantasy in the proper psychoanalytic sense –that if we just firewall norms enough, if we just render them impervious to being and the world enough, then we’ll finally have norms powerful enough to triumph over tyrants and convince them to play by the rules. This way of thinking is nearly as obscene as the actions of the tyrants. Yet such a belief, a belief in the is/ought distinction, or the “non-existence” of the transcendental (this maneuver still makes me chuckle… transcendental normativity is so pure and absolute that it must be entirely situated outside of existence! what a howler!) as a means of protecting the transcendental from all worldly contamination, is dangerous superstition on par with explaining lightning by reference to Zeus. It’s a comfortable myth or fantasy with zero effect on circumstances. Seriously, this is your silver bullet? Seriously, you think this is doing something? Seriously you really think there was some huge mystery to be solved here or some question to be grounded? Really? Meanwhile, the rest of us know there’s 1% of the population that is the equivalent of a vampire sucking the blood out of everyone else (not to mention cracking our bones open and eagerly eating the marrow) and 99% of the situation filled with people trying to navigate a shitty situation without a way out or a viable means of punching back. And here all the nomo-maniacs are sitting around discussing the epistemic conditions under which we can determine whether the Titanic is really sinking. Surreal. They don’t even understand what the question or issue is.
It is an abomination and obscenity to even have the discussion by virtue of the energy, distraction, and time that it wastes. I mean, to looking all of the volumes of Habermas sitting on a bookstore shelf, all of the conference panels and articles devoted to his work, is enough to make you want to cry. Seriously people? Communicative rationality? Seriously? This is what you’re devoting your time to? No wonder you got hit on the playground. Everyone around you felt sympathetic to the bully by virtue of the absurdity of your response. And to advance such a position is already to collaborate with that 1% precisely by virtue of the manner in which it wastes so much energy and is completely inadequate. You’re busy indulging your nomo-mania or stroking it, while they’re running the field. What a sad thing for philosophers to render themselves to irrelevant. No wonder the “intelligentsia” is so distrusted. They don’t understand what the basic issue is and create a sense of desperation in which people are left with the sense that “only a god can save them”. They’re sitting there discussing how we can determine what the right or wrong political stance is, how normativity can be grounded, while jobs are being outsourced and women in sweat shops are being forced in to sex slavery. But somehow we’re supposed to figure out what merits the judgment that these things are abominations. Again, it’s surreal. In the meantime, those that point out that it’s surreal and absurd are charged with lacking rigor, not being able to ground their discourse, or with advocating “anything goes”. At the same time, these folks exercise the Hegelian counter-move of turning Marx back on his head and placing everything in the realm of the ideal completely ignoring the material. Ergo the Kantian and Hegelian priests of the state win. Terrific. Such is the sickness of anyone who’s never had to build anything and who therefore is thoroughly unacquainted with the labor, risk, and complication that goes into making something stand and therefore is idealist through and through. For them it’s the ideas that are real and all objects, bodies, and situations are ephemera and epiphenomena of the ideal. No, the non-builders can rest content with products and treat these products as more real than the process, the labor, by which they were made to stand or built. They literally believe that it was norms that drove things like the labor movement at the turn of the century, rather than seeing these norms as the product of these struggles and situations. Of course, the world becomes a mess when viewed through the prism of that sort of privilege that is completely blind to the work of building and where everything becomes inverted or turned upside down where the order of the real and what produces change is concerned. All the wrong questions get asked. As Latour would say, not Science, but science in action. And similarly, we should cease speaking of Politics or Ethics, but politics in action and ethics in action. At least the qualifier “in action” has a fighting chance of actually discerning how change is produced, norms are produced, forms of social structuration and organization are transformed, of how things are built, and of taking into account the relevant human and nonhuman actors, rather than falling into the trap of treating accomplished black boxes or actors as somehow more real than the struggle involved in these processes.
Second, newsflash, the lord doesn’t give a damn. The lord knows damn well that the situation sucks, that he’s a heartless asshole, and that he’s exploiting the situation for his own gain. The lord is not impressed by your observation that to enter into discourse is to implicitly endorse the norms of rationality. In fact, the lord is tickled that you make this argument because now he knows that he has one more tool to exploit you, to run the field, to play you to his own advantage. You’re not hurting his feelings or changing anything by telling him this, and you’re certainly not effecting any change by pointing this out. Quite the reverse. You’re instead playing the part of the leftist fool that thinks he’s winning some sort of grand battle by dirtying the balls of the lord. Certainly those of us who live in the suckiness of this suck can come up with a better response than “they’re bad!” and the whining platitudes of the beautiful soul that believes somehow the situation is changed by guaranteeing norms. Certainly there are better ways to expend one’s energies.