How The Economy Became A Political Myth

“The ‘political’ critique of Marxism (the claim that, when one reduces politics to a ‘formal’ expression of some underlying ‘objective’ socio-economic process, one loses the openess and contingency constitutive  of the political field proper) should thus be supplemented by its obverse: the field of economy is in its very form irreducible to politics – this level of the form of economy (of economy as the determining form of the social) is what French ‘political post-Marxists’ miss when they reduce economy to one of the positive social fields.

The basic idea of the parallax view is that the very act of bracketing off produces its object – ‘democracy’ as a form emerges only when one brackets off the texture of economic relations as well as the inherent logic of the political state apparatus; they both have to be abstracted from people who are effectively embedded in economic processes and subjected to state apparatuses. The same goes for the ‘logic of domination’, the way people are controlled/manipulated by the apparatus of subjection: in order to clearly discern these mechanisms of power, one has to be abstracted not only from the democratic imaginary (as Foucault does in his analyses of the micro-physics of power, but also as Lacan does in his analysis of power in Seminar XVII), but also from the process of economic (re)production. And finally, the specific sphere of economic (re)production only emerges if one methodologically brackets off the concrete existence of state and political ideology – no wonder critics of Marx complained that Marx’s ‘critique of political economy lacks a theory of power and state. And, of course, the trap to be avoided here is precisely the naive idea that one should keep in view the social totality (parts of which are democratic ideology, the exercise of power and process of economic (re)production): if one tries to keep the whole in view, one ends up seeing nothing, the contours disappear. This bracketing off is not only epistemological, but concerns what Marx calls the ‘real abstraction’: the abstraction from power and economic relations that is inscribed into the very actuality of the democratic process.

– From “The Parallax View” Interrogating the Real , by Slavoj Zizek.


You see a police officer. How do you feel?

“Nervous,” was her answer to the dating site question. The only other response was “safe” and this is not how it feels! She took advantage of the “add an explanation” box:

I feel like I’m in the presence of a person with a gun and club who I can’t fully expect to be restrained by the same social codes as me. This is because cops have a privileged place in our society. People have a hard time seeing them as anything but competent and ethical. They’re understood as having been entrusted with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. This trust is very basic. Violating it signals a disorder from within the so-called order that is often traumatic to confront. Because of that, they’re frequently supported by society, especially other police, when anyone says they’ve done wrong. Wouldn’t that make you nervous?

The Contradictions of Both/And

‎”We must achieve a pattern of equitable growth that lasts from generation to generation [in essence, endlessly] and ensure we do not undermine the environmental and natural resource base on which agriculture depends” Gordon Conway, “One Billion Hungry: can we feed the world?”

This is the dilemma, the downright contradiction (to use a marxist dirty-word) that refutes that new-found wisdom of “it’s not either/or, but both/and”. It is the kind of thing that Slavoj Zizek likes to think he’s getting at when he criticizes multiculturalism and new-agey universal love. Conway’s book is about feeding the world through technologically enhanced agricultural practices, but also through market-driven trade-mechanisms and the use of microcredit for small farmers in countries like Kenya and India. Naturally, Bill Gates writes approvingly for the back-cover of the book. It has the duplicitous character of doing a good job of identifying hunger as a social issue, while proposing a privatized solution (the cultivation of “enabling environments” that’re friendly to markets and trade is a necessary element in his vision of a “doubly green revolution”)

Violence Against Animals Legitimates Human Domination

The following quote from John Miller’s “Empire and the Animal Body: violence, identity and ecology in Victorian adventure fiction” speaks to Shantz’s “Green Syndicalism”, while showing a more complex genealogy than he describes:

To Adorno, the interdependence of human and animal suffering is constituted through a rhetorical strategy that legitimates violence against humans by naming them as animals. Next to this we might also cite Jacques Derrida’s identification in his essay ‘Eating Well’ of a place that remains open through violence against animals for a ‘noncriminal putting to death’ that implicity permits the kinds of atrocities to which Adorno alludes. Comparably, Jean Baudrillard in an analysis of the ‘industrial organization of death’ in contemporary agri-business reflects with similar emphasis on the intimacy of human and animal suffering that, ‘Everything has happened to them that has happened to us. Our destiny has never been separated from theirs.’ (14)

It is also a something lacking from Zizek’s analyses of of violence, curiously so since violence against animals make subjectivizable the conditions of objective violence.

Things Zizek Wishes He Said About Buddhist History

At issue is how the original enlightenment discourse was related to broader trends in Japanese religion and culture. One school of thought has found in notions of original enlightenment an expression, couched in Buddhistic terms, of a pre-Buddhist, archaic Japanese mentality or psychological orientation characterized by the affirmation of nature and accommodation to phenomenal realities. This tendency to harmonize with outer reality is sometimes said to have originated in primitive responses to Japan’s scenic beauty and mild climate, with its orderly progression of seasons, and even to hold the key to healing the rift between humans and the natural world said to have precipitated the ecological problems of the West. More recently, another group of scholars has made original enlightenment thought the target of a scathing critique. These are the exponents of the intellectual movement known as “Critical Buddhism”, of which more will be said in the next chapter. Critical Buddhism charges that notions of original enlightenment introduce into Buddhism the non-Buddhist concept of an ātman or metaphysical substrate, subverting the normative Buddhist teaching that all things are empty of independent self-essence. Moreover, despite its superficial semblance of egalitarianism, the claim that all phenomena are enlightened inherently serves to sacralize the given order and thus legitimates social inequalities. Notions of original enlightenment, say the critical Buddhists, have served to bolster the emperor system, wartime imperial aggression, and uncritical, self-glorifying Japanism.

Page 4 of “Original Enlightenement and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism” by Jacqueline I. Stone.

This is quite literally an example of the kind of Critical Buddhism that I said Zizek fails to account for in his critical-therapeutic schema for universal religions in the age of global capitalism. He argues that Christianity is the only religion today that offers a critical charge, while Buddhism and associated New Age obscurantism make the whole prospect of TINA a spiritual non-problem.

Books to Read Along-side One Another

Below are links to material summarizing or extracted from books that interest me for their overlapping concern with work, time; and a perspective on social action that connects worker-control in the workplace to social-power in worker-communities beyond the workplace or wage-relation. Weeks does this with regard to gender and divisions of labor, while Shantz focuses on ecology and productivism. I mostly include Heidegger because of the importance of his work to deep ecologists, but also because the questions he raises about being and time are compelling inquries of modern anxieties about authenticity and presence in activity, as well as dis-ease about the psychic & social dislocations and ecological repercussions of technology. 

“Green Syndicalism”, by Jeff Shantz.

The Problem With Work: feminism, marxism, antiwork politics and postwork imaginaries”, by Kathi Weeks.

“Being and Time”, by Martin Heidegger.

“Time, Labor and Social Domination”, by Moishe Postone.