Sunday, October 10, 2021

Why Marxists are phonies and failures: chapter one of Capitalist Realism

Dear M,

Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism was a joy to listen to and it cost me $5.  The reason I bring up the $5 is because Mark Fisher charged me this even though he hates capitalism.  Or his left-wing publisher charged me this.  Or maybe they both agreed to charge me this.  Either way, I got the book and they got my money.  

Slavoj Zizek: Failure Nerd
That communists and socialists are almost always participating in capitalism has become kind of a stale joke at this point; and authors such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Slavoj Zizek, the latter who inspired this book with "it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism," have been making a living telling us how rotten it is making a living.  This level of hypocrisy has no historical comparison.  It's as if all the followers of Jehovah could only worship Him at the altar of Ba'al, or as if the only way to fight racism was to pick a race and demonize it into submission. 
  
The question is, why?  Why is it that every socialist and communist and every pie-in-the-sky utopian finds himself taking part in the very thing he claims to hate?  They all argue that until the system is smashed they have to.  But I posit that what they call capitalism isn't a system or an ideology at all, but a series of assumptions we all take for granted, and that if we questioned them seriously, we'd all end up killing each other within weeks.

These assumptions are that, in order to survive,

1) A person ought to have something that he has a right to use at any time, and that this "something" is known as his property

2) That everybody else is excluded from using it, unless he gives them permission to.

3) That he can give it away if he wants to, and he can also trade it for something somebody else owns, and 

4) That people who take what isn't theirs are dangerous and worthy of persecution.

Once you accept these four general positions you're a full-fledged capitalist.  You can refuse them, of course, but that means war -- a hellish uncertainty where everything you think you own can be taken at any minute (a state known as anarchy), or a world where somebody else decides what little you get to have and thus everything you get to do (a system commonly known as slavery).      

Thus I posit there is no "system."  There is no conspiracy.  There's no cabal of rich Jews keeping everyone subservient, bait-and-switch, to Mammon.  The "system" exists in every single one of us at every single moment and comes into play whenever two people, who think of the future and plan on living happily for a bit, are forced to interact with each other.  

The leftist rails "the system" because all leftism is an attack on systems.  If leftism blames the underclasses for their own failures it turns into conservatism.  So like the average moron criminal or deadbeat environmentalist, the leftist puts all the blame on everything but himself: the more faceless the enemy, the more abstract, the further removed from his own personal needs and choices, the better*.  He accuses everyone else of the things he won't quit, because he won't and can't quit them.  He's worse than cursed with Original Sin: he's effectively his own devil.

Still, Capitalist Realism is a fun read for several reasons.  He writes about marketers who capitalize on the sacred,
The power of capitalist realism derives in part from the way that capitalism subsumes and consumes all of previous history: one effect of its ‘system of equivalence’ which can assign all cultural objects, whether they are religious iconography, pornography, or Das Kapital, a monetary value. Walk around the British Museum, where you see objects torn from their lifeworlds and assembled as if on the deck of some Predator spacecraft, and you have a powerful image of this process at work. In the conversion of practices and rituals into merely aesthetic objects, the beliefs of previous cultures are objectively ironized, transformed into artifacts.
He adds,
Capitalism is what is left when beliefs have collapsed at the level of ritual or symbolic elaboration, and all that is left is the consumer-spectator, trudging through the ruins and the relics.
Aside from the fact that others' beliefs, unless we adopt them, can only rise to the level of either a curiosity or a threat, he apparently never read Ayn Rand, or at least her speech pertaining to the meaning of money**.  He believes that putting a dollar price on something cheapens it when we used to put sheep on it, or the deed to a house on it -- in short, that most everything material does have an exchange value, and that when money is gone, people rank things in ammo, or bar soap: not a rise in value or a heightening of sentiments, but a drop in both convenience and precision.  

He also ignores the fact that many things can't be bought with money: that few are willing to sell their children, or sell a kidney, or even keep a job when they'd rather tell the truth; and that if many people are selling relics or American flag boxer-briefs or turning George Floyd into a talking pull-string doll, there are many believers who are disgusted by these sales and won't touch them -- that sacredness may be commercialized to everyone except those who consider things sacred.  The man who reveres something pays for it not with cash, but with attendance, prayer, dancing, singing, penance, tithing, submission, and acts of outright sacrifice.  He can live for it, but he can never own it.  It owns him***.

He further quotes Badiou about why capitalists gloss over the sins and abuses of capitalism: 
To justify their conservatism, the partisans of the established order cannot really call it ideal or wonderful. So instead, they have decided to say that all the rest is horrible. Sure, they say, we may not live in a condition of perfect Goodness. But we’re lucky that we don’t live in a condition of Evil. Our democracy is not perfect. But it’s better than the bloody dictatorships. Capitalism is unjust. But it’s not criminal like Stalinism. We let millions of Africans die of AIDS, but we don’t make racist nationalist declarations like Milosevic. 
Fisher adds,
The ‘realism’ here is analogous to the deflationary perspective of a depressive who believes that any positive state, any hope, is a dangerous illusion.
What he ignores here is the rock-bottom fact that having your family tortured and dying in a Gulag is objectively worse than being poor and having a shitty boss, and that everything you choose to do in life involves pain anyway.  The question isn't whether to get rid of all pain, but which pain you prefer to the others.  You either suffer at the gym or you suffer from being fat.  You suffer reading the news or you become it.  To dream of a world without suffering isn't idealistic but stupid; and the great spiritual enemy of the socialist isn't the capitalist, but the effectively Buddhist: the man who realizes goods in evils and evils in goods, and has made up his mind for the latter.  

To hope for perfection is to damn yourself to failure.  It's to consign yourself to a lifetime of disappointment and frustration.  The man who aims for everything will enjoy nothing.  Thus the capitalist hasn't thrown away hope: he's achieved it.  He lives in a state of constant exchange and thus possibility.  He has, in his possession, the thing the man in Venezuela, in North Korea, in Communist China -- in the Soviet gulag -- dreams about.  

So much can be said for chapter 1, and I encourage anyone interested in thinking (and in the narrator Russell Brand) to rent it -- but not before buying Ayn Rand's For the New IntellectualProperty should be spent on people who respect it.  Borrow Marxists' books from the library -- or follow their lead and steal them.  

Yours,
-J

*Of course, the truth is we're responsible for our own actions and we live in broken systems.  We inherit so many privileges and problems, never equally between any two people, that to blame anyone entirely for his own life requires absolute coldness -- a policy we adopt with nobody we love.  For ourselves and the objects of our affections we make excuses.

But the fact of the matter is that, to not hold anyone responsible for his own actions is to ruin him.  No system, or improvement of systems, or eradication of systems, can ever make a man great.  It can debase him, confuse him, ostracize him -- make him lose hope until he divorces the idea of morality from prosperity.  But unless you give him agency and dignity and responsibility, a system can't make him. 

Socialism is the idea that a system can make men good.  Capitalism is the idea that struggling against nature can make men strong.  Christianity is the idea that only an eternal, objective perspective about God can make men right.  I prefer a combination of the last two, and  I'm told by the Christian Left they're mutually exclusive.  But so are liberty and equality, if you try to have them both entirely.    

**One small passage from Ayn Rand's For The New Intellectual -- which every thinking man ought to have on his shelf:
So you think that money is the root of all evil? [...] Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil? 

When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. It is not the moochers or the looters who give value to money. Not an ocean of tears nor all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into the bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper, which should have been gold, are a token of honor—your claim upon the energy of the men who produce. Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are men who will not default on that moral principle which is the root of money. Is this what you consider evil?
***Fisher, perhaps sensing he's been outclassed, quotes Marx on degeneracy: 
[Capital] has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
The problem here isn't capitalism, but a lack of religion go with it --  the finest historical objection to Marx being a business owner (who claimed to be God) grabbing a weapon and beating money-changers out of the temple.  James said money is the root of all kinds of evil.  Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for lying about a donation.  The key isn't to get rid of property but to hold on to your soul.  It is communists who fought hardest for materialism -- and are most surprised at the moral bankruptcy of materialists.

He writes further of Capitalism's absorbing and cheapening all things -- as it monetizes them:
Deleuze and Guattari describe capitalism as a kind of dark potentiality which haunted all previous social systems. Capital, they argue, is the ‘unnamable Thing’, the abomination, which primitive and feudal societies ‘warded off in advance’. When it actually arrives, capitalism brings with it a massive desacralization of culture. It is a system which is no longer governed by any transcendent Law; on the contrary, it dismantles all such codes, only to re-install them on an ad hoc basis. The limits of capitalism are not fixed by fiat, but defined (and redefined) pragmatically and improvisationally. This makes capitalism very much like the Thing in John Carpenter’s film of the same name: a monstrous, infinitely plastic entity, capable of metabolizing and absorbing anything with which it comes into contact.
This, as I've said before, is a fallacy based upon the idea that capitalism is a "system."  Once it's been made clear that no such system exists, that what we call "capitalism" is a fundamental aspect of human happiness and survival, capitalism's "mutability" makes sense.  It devours all because it encompasses nearly every hunger.  All it involves is someone out there, trying to feed his family, seeing a need or a desire and trying to satisfy it.  It thus has no form, and can capitalize on Jesus Christ or romance or pulled pork or Black Lives Matter.      

Capitalism -- or the appreciation and unfettering of property and business -- at bottom, is the attempt to make your neighbor happy.  It can only rise as high or as low as you personally make it.  It can't give you that inner joy or sacredness or religion.  That has to come from other things, and most usually yourself.  But killing capitalism means killing charity -- not by ending it, but by ending it as a means for survival****.  The man in the socialist system doesn't work to make his neighbor happy.  He works for a party official -- who always has a gun to his head.

****Probably one of the most disgusting byproducts of capitalism is the big-time philanthropist -- the man who "gives millions without taking."  But the plain fact is that a philanthropist is a horn-tooting strangler.  He finds the best way to squeeze money out of his business, usually by not giving employees health care, or vacations, or decent wages, or bonuses at Christmas; and once he's put them in the poor-house, he finds a random poor-house and sends it a million bucks.  He works his employees to the bone, and then like Jeff Bezos, throws away billions at the junkies and the criminals in the same city.

Paul said the "Christian" who won't feed his family is worse than a heathen.  Right behind this barbarian, I think, is the man who works you to the bone but spends his money bolstering Black Lives Matter and Antifa.  Imagine how much better the world would be without philanthropists -- where workers are fed well, and the refuse of humanity starves! 

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