A standard centrist criticism of economic politics is to point out that racism, religious mania, nationalism, and other forms of hatred and bigotry don’t arise from economics.  The inference to be made is obvious:  if economics is not the cause of these things, then addressing economic injustice will have no impact on various forms of hatred.  Therefore, the argument runs– in its more extreme versions, anyway –there’s no good reason to address economic injustice.  Indeed, some even contend, addressing economic injustice is even dangerous in that it diverts attention away from the various struggles against hatred.

In other words, the liberal or centrist– the two are the same –wants to treat the domain of economics and the domain of various hatreds as entirely distinct.  Expressed this starkly, I’m sure we’ll hear some voices that rise up in protest; yet everywhere we’ve seen this line of argument.  Of course, the centrists are not entirely wrong.  Regardless of the degree of prosperity, there are religious manias, forms of hatred, and subtle nationalisms that haunt the social field.  However, they do so in a far more subtle– one could say virtual –state than they do in other circumstances.  The question, really, is that of the circumstances under which these phenomena intensify?  What is it that brings the transition of the low level anti-Semitism of the Germans prior to the rise of the Nazis– an anti-Semitism that certainly treated Jews and other minorities differently, that was far from equal, and that was pervaded by all sorts of low-level hate speech –to the open violence against these groups that came the rise of the Nazis?…  A violence that included people being rounded up, brutal violence on the streets, the theft of property, and all the worse.  Why did they transition from one form to another?

Deleuze provides a helpful way of thinking about this in his account of actualization.  In Difference and Repetition he writes that,

[t]he world can be regarded as a “remainder”, and the real in the world understood in terms of fractional or even incommensurable numbers.  Every phenomenon refers to an inequality by which it is conditioned diversity and every change refers to a difference which is its sufficient reason.  Everything which happens and everything which appears is correlated with orders of difference:  differences of level, temperature, pressure, tension, potential, differences of intensity.  (DR, 222)

Elsewhere Deleuze refers to these intensive factors, to these inequalities, as “singularities” (I know many strive to distinguish singularities and intensities– including myself –but Deleuze is often inconsistent in his use of terminology).  In the Logic of Sense he writes, “[s]ingularities are turning points and points of inflection; bottlenecks, knots, foyers, and centers; points of fusion and condensation, and boiling; points of tears and joy, sickness and health, hope and anxiety, ‘sensitive’ points” (63).  It would appear, then, that there are two sorts of intensities or singularities, two sorts of differences:  there are physical singularities or differentials such as pressure and temperature, and then there are affective intensities or singularities like intense emotional states of joy or terror or horror.

read on!

What does it mean to say that the world can be regarded as a remainder or that every phenomenon is conditioned by an inequality (an intensity or singularity) that conditions it?  It means that when a singularity or intensity is present, a phenomenon comes into being.  When water reaches a certain temperature (intensity) we get boiling (phenomenon).  When there is an inequality in air pressures (intensity) we get wind (phenomenon).  When we enter a certain affective state such as anxiety (intensity) our thought process changes (phenomenon).

Frank Darabont’s horror film The Mist perfectly illustrates this thesis.  While watching the film we think we’re being presented with a science-fiction horror story about monsters from another dimension laying siege on ordinary people who don’t know what is happening.  However, the film is really a really a sociological study in what happens to people in periods of turmoil or in the face of bifurcation points (intensities or singularities).  To be sure, there are racial, class, and religious tensions that pervade the film.  However, all of these antagonisms are in a mild, low-level “virtual” state in the town.  They have not become surface-level antagonisms.

With the appearance of the monsters and as deaths increase (intensity), these antagonisms now undergo an actualization and a qualitative transformation.  What was virtual in the town and grocery store, now rises to the surface and social relations reorganize themselves.  Groups organized around identities and antagonisms begin to form:  first along racial, class, and educational lines (black against white, working class against middle class, the uneducated against the educated), and then along religious lines (the secular against the religious).  The differential, the intensity, the singularity of the event organizes identities and sets them in opposition together.  Where before they more or less got along– though imperfectly –now they are at each others throats.  In the realm of the social, intensive factors can be any number of things:  a bad court ruling as we’re currently witnessing in St. Louis (though no one would say that the antagonisms weren’t already on the surface there), a tremendous natural disaster, a terrorist attack, war with another country, or, yes, growing economic struggle.  The key is that with the lightning strike of the singularity, a qualitative transformation takes place where the virtual shifts to the actual and new groupings and antagonisms emerge.  While it is true that addressing economic injustice will not end racism because there is always a virtual racism that pervades society, it can go some of the way towards impacting how those tendencies express and manifest themselves in the social field.  Perhaps the real question is that of why these centrists seem so intent on banishing any politics of economic justice whatsoever?  I suspect the real answer has little to do with a wish to fight hatred, but that’s another discussion.