Capitalist Stockholm Syndrome

What Mr. Rutten is peddling in the LA Times today is an apology for non-unionized workers’ stockholm syndrome. Most of them have no alternative means of livelihood to the market of private labor contracts that the owning-class monopolizes and co-ordinates to their advantage. The owning-class (speaking on behalf of their god, variously known as the market, capital, economic necessity, value – or if you’re going to get really Old School, Mammon) has told those workers they are going to get less, and being the unorganized lot they are they have had little choice but to accept. However, having so thoroughly identified with the owning-class, these non-unionized workers don’t even begin to think they’ve been screwed by that class and its economic laws of value, growth and capital accumulation. They have been hosed though, and not only should they not be angry at those who refuse to be screwed, but Rutten shouldn’t be trying to legitmate their misplaced resentment. To do so takes us back to 1930s Germany when it was popular to point to the well-organized Jews as not just racial but economic scape-goats for the German workers’ own struggle with global depression. Unions are not to blame for the current economic malaise, which Rutten offers as a token of pseudo-objectivity, but their non-capitulation to the forces of global capitalism is the only hope this country has.

One commenter, who at least seems to have read the comment I left on this article (essentially reproduced above), lashes back:

So we should all have contracts/pensions/free healthcare like the public employee unions? And we would all be better off and thrive happily ever after?
Hey, What the heck. It worked well for GM and Greece. Lets give it a try.

I never said anything about happily ever after. This union-busting stuff is part of a struggle to which we may see no clear-cut end in our lives. I make no arguments about the economic desirability of unions either (i.e. from the “bargain” perspective). Yes, though, we should ALL have the kind of livelihoods that public employees unions (fight to) secure for them. That this is at odds with an economic system rooted in principles of value, growth and capital accumulation is an argument against the latter.


Something is Missing

From Slavoj Zizek’s “The Eclipse of Meaning: On Lacan and Deconstruction”:

This gap that forever separates the lost Thing from symbolic semblances which are never ‘that‘ defines the contours of the ethics of desire: ‘do not give way as to your desire’ can only mean ‘do not put up with any of the substitutions of the Thing, keep open the gap of desire’. In our everyday lives, we constantly fall prey to imaginary lures which promise the healing of the original/constitutive wound of symbolization, from Woman with whom full sexual relationship will be possible, to the totalitarian political ideal of a fully realized community. In contrast, the fundamental maxim of the ethics of desire is simply desire as such: one has to maintain desire in its dissatisfaction. What we have here is a kind of heroism of the lack: the aim of the psychoanalytic cure is to induce the subject to assume his constitutive lack heroically; to endure the splitting which propels desire.

From Robert Aitken and Kazuaki Tanahashi’s translation of Dogen zen-ji’s “Genjo-koan”:

When dharma does not fill your whole body and mind, you think it is already sufficient. When dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that something is missing.

Is Dogen preaching a similar heroism of the lack? This is so different from the Western Buddhism that Zizek critiques, which clings to the pseudo-Gelassenheit, “let it be” attitude, and sometimes exerts itself as the commandment to tolerate or in the liberal apology for ‘the market’. The ‘liberal pragmatic’ outlook and charge of many Western Buddhists, compared with ‘religious fanaticism’, is an ideological caricature that veils class-struggle. However, Zizek’s emphasis has been on the obfuscating qualities of this ideological veil, not too unlike Marx’s critique of ‘false consciousness’, while neglecting the revelatory dimension of such a veil, which by definition functions on account of both concealing and unconcealing.

The question to put to Zizek’s critique of Western Buddhism IS NOT what can it do for the Left, but what can it not do for itself? What is missing—not as a specific object, but in terms of the splitting and rendering asunder that propels desire? Moreover, what do popular conceptions of ‘balance’ and ‘harmony’ put in the place of this lack, this missing-something, so as to maintain a certain semblance?

Uncritical Exuberance: Judith Butler On Obama

I should have posted this days ago, from over at IndyBay. Butler makes many points, but the one that resonated with me is how many who voted for Obama did not transcend their bigotry so much as voted with their wallet. For this she points to the majority of Proposition 8 supporters who also voted for Obama, or those who did not give up their racist beliefs or attitudes so much as temporarily subordinate them.

If there are avowed racists who have said, ‘I know that he is a Muslim and a terrorist, but I will vote for him anyway,’ there are surely also people on the left who say, ‘I know that he has sold out gay rights and Palestine, but he is still our redemption.’ I know very well, but still: this is the classic formulation of disavowal. Through what means do we sustain and mask conflicting beliefs of this sort? And at what political cost?


Zizek: ‘Don’t Just Do Something – Talk!’

Alerted by Perverse Egalitarianism to this new London Review of Books article by Zizek, I thought I’d say a couple things I like and find lacking in Zizek’s assessment of the financial crises.

While I like how he takes the time to strike down “bi-partisanship,” he only does so for when McCain advocates it. I see him trying to fudge Obama as being in the position most relatively aligned with The People, and it would help Zizek seem less hypocritical to explain how he sees “setting aside politics to get stuff done” function in the discourse of either candidate when both are significantly bought up by business interests. Maybe the difference is between how McCain and Republicans in general seem to think the question is “state-intervention or not,” while Obama and the Democrats in general seem to be more focused on what Zizek calls “the real dilemma … what kind of State intervention?”

Of course, then there is the possibility that the Democrats will advocate the wrong kind of intervention and/or for the wrong reason(s). Yes, most Democrats may recognized that “Main Street can’t thrive if Wall Street isn’t doing well,” but I don’t think we can hand it to them that they fully recognize or demonstrate in their voting records that “what’s good for Wall Street isn’t necessarily good for Main Street.” Alternatively, if the Republicans and conservatives face what Zizek’s called “the real dilemma,” their response to “what kind of state-intervention?” could be fascism or more State Capitalism. Thinking and talking no longer about the possibility of state-intervention, but state-intervention as such, is what I take Zizek to be advocating when he says “don’t just do something, talk,” but he should be saying that to the Democrats as much as the Republicans, Obama as much as McCain.

In a similar vein Jodi Dean concludes:

If this is the collapse of neoliberalism, we have to push a positive, affirmative view of state action. But it can’t be a kind of apologia for the wrong sort of state action.

I think N. Pepperell has been all over the stakes of this space of critique, too, for over the last week:

All of this needs more analysis than I can provide at present… But one interesting dimension of the current crisis is the rendering manifest of these distinctions in much more popular discussion than we’ve seen for some time, I think… Articulations can have their own hard power – as well as normative force: large-scale public discussion of capitalism – what it is, what it should be – has now opened up on a massive scale. What is articulated now will likely define a space of possibilities for the sorts of actions that lie ready to hand in the decades to come… Opening some potentials… Placing others farther out of reach… This is a time when theorising structural possibilities becomes… unusually impactful… The previous major structural transformation opened an experiential and interpretive gap into which flooded the interpretive systems and policies that have led us here. The question when confronting present and future transformations is how to open the potential for something other – for something that holds onto emancipatory promises that can otherwise be easily drowned out in reactive responses, conditioned by an environment primed to be receptive to ideals of capitalism as an end in itself…

In other words, the dog-eat-dog world of the “[free] marketplace of ideas” has to be re-thought from within very carefully, but what is emerging now out of what Zizek has called the Denkverbot of our “(post-)ideological consensus” is the possibility of thinking again.

Democrats and the Logic of Capital

What do liberal, progressive or otherwise Leftist detractors from the Democratic Party have in common with Wells Fargo? They both endorse deferring responsibility in the face of fucking-up.

I say Wells Fargo because that is the bank I use, but I can imagine most banks advocating what I have in mind. For as long as I can remember, Wells Fargo has been regularly offering me credit cards. On the one hand, this is not entirely out of the ordinary. On the other hand, the most frequent kind of credit-card offer I get comes with what they call over-draft protection.

The idea here is that you use more money in your checking account than you have, and instead paying a $30 or more fee the difference is sent to your credit-card and no fee is incurred. In other words, the bank, usually what we associate with financial responsibility, is encouraging you that it’s okay to be financially irresponsible. If you do not have a credit-card, the bank will usually offer a line of credit to you. This makes perfect sense too, because since you need overdraft protection, you probably do not have the minimum of financial responsibility to keep up with your credit-card charges. Even if you aren’t a complete dolt, and get the charges paid off before they get completely out of hand, the bank still wins by encouraging reckless spending, especially if you regularly don’t pay off your credit-cards before the interest actually exceeds the typical overdraft fee.

A very similar logic of deferred responsibility dictates the actions of many “conscience-voters.” Seeing the Democratic Party let them down, they do what any good consumer is knows to do: instead of demanding quality, they demand choice. Typically, the choice implied is the choice of a third-party candidate. However, some freedom of choice advocates go so far as claiming that The People cannot be served by a single party, but only by multiple kinds of representatives who account for the diversity of The People. Everyone is entitled to their very own special opinion, and by extension everyone is entitled to their very own special political representative. Even within the Democratic party this rhetoric of choice prevails: “Yeah, Obama isn’t perfect, but he’s the best choice we’ve got!”

Instead of seeking more effective forms of political organization, many liberals and progressives retreat from power, whether they blindly embrace  or blindly reject the Democratic Party. They frame either move in a rhetoric of choice that is central to liberal capitalism, which is why Republicans can and do talk about responsibility in purely economic terms. Responsibility is a value the Left should embrace for itself, except it should re-cast it in terms of political responsibility first.

Faking an Unimpressive Orgasm

Stanley Fish wrote an interesting article last week re-visiting the so-called Sokal Hoax. While Fish specifically related a contemporary issue within the culture of wine-review readers to how trust did or didn’t operate in the 1996 fart of a scandal, I had a thought about the very claim Alan Sokal made to perpetrating a hoax.

Why even let what Sokal did obtain the dignity of his self-proclaimed hoax? The guy waited until the article was accepted and published, but barely let any time pass for people to actually read it before, with infinite smugness, he flailed about frantically “admitting” his submission was a hoax. This claim here to a hoax is the biggest crock of the so-called “Sokal Hoax.”

If Sokal were serious with his hoax-attempt, he would have let it not only get accepted and published, but he would have waited to see if it received any (positive) attention. What he did was make sure that the readers of Social Text couldn’t falsify his essential thesis, that (postmodern) Leftists in the Humanities can’t tell the difference between bullshit and obtuse abstraction. If from Sokal’s perspective prior to his publishing the paper we could say it was all a bit of an experiment, it clearly was biased in order to achieve the bare minimum of a coherent point with the least potentially falsifying evidence possible. In other words, it was like carefully faking an unimpressive orgasm, and begs the question of who are you aiming to impress, if not precisely those impressed with the pathetic?

As an experiment in the strict sense, it was plagued by not just cock-surety, but an uncertainty apparently so unbearable that Sokal had to let the cat out of the bag as soon as he did. To the extent that he was trying to test academic standards, he may have made an extremely narrow point. Compare, however, the narrowness of this point—that a handful of academic editors, in part at least for the reasons Fish argues in his article, could (gasp) at best be fooled or at worst happily embrace the blur between bullshit and theory—to the stupendous breadth of the academic Left, or at least the usual audience for Social Text, and it is not hard to see a sampling bias.

It’s hard for me to believe that Sokal is simply so dumb that he oversaw that though, much in the same way that I have a hard time believing he thought the same of the Social Text audience. His “hoax” relied on sheer deception more than out-witting his targets, as well as a careful selection of his targets so as to maximize the limited power of sheer deception in the face of his situation. Sokal didn’t want to let the “hoax” get beyond the point of mere publishing, because that would mean its success as a hoax would depend on the duping of a much wider audience, which Sokal’s paper could not have done. The “hoax” was its own cover-up; Sokal’s official point against the academic Left existed only to cover-up a hoax that was not.