“There ain’t know cure…”

In each of the areas I have some, as it were, material interests people are beginning to ask questions about who should be made to pay for the financial crisis.  University students and youth workers, as well as theatre makers are beginning to wonder whether the so-called “cuts” will mean the end of the victories won by the organized working class of this country in 1945.

Whilst those who took to the streets to protest job losses and the barbarous  dismantling of education have learned a sharp lesson in the class-political nature of “economic” and “political” issues, various “subversive” intellectuals and commentators retain the bankrupt naivete they have always enjoyed.

From Ed Milliband to David Cameron, Bill Gates and Bono there is a shared belief that capitalism, the only way human being can organize themselves, has to be tempered by “values”.  Values like respect for the environment, or fair trade coffee, or whatever.  These formulae find a particular iteration amongst Muslim thinkers and commentators.  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iranian populism, Tariq Ramadan’s Islamic Modernism and Hizb ut-Tahir’s if-you-liked-it-you-shoulda-put-khalifa-on-it lunacy, are also versions of this same pattern of thought . (I must stress, given the present racist and Islamophobic climate of fear around mentioning HT or Ahmadinejad, that I am in no way equating Ramadan’s politics or religious outlook with either Ahmadinejad’s right wing populism or HT’s general craziness.)

The problem with so-called “Islamic response” to the banking crisis, is shown most explicitly when Tariq Ramadan did a show recently about the financial crisis.  He said something about Marxists, Christian and Muslims each separately trying to set up some autonomous set of values, insulated from the corrosive power of the market. (The proposed Islamic response, one is led to assume, must take some such format.) We are left to think that some broad progressive alliance might go some way towards resisting the destructive force of objectified greed. Sensing the brief moment of economic crisis, naïve faith in the power of a resprayed social democracy, now in the guise of Ramadan, Monbiot or Galloway, is once again presented as some sort of alternative to the way things are. The problem here is that there is nothing subversive (or indeed new!) to the existing state of things contained in this position. On the contrary, capitalism has always depended on a phantasmic outside to fundtion. In Capital, Marx shows at length how the sights of commonly held land functioned as a sight where, in economic terms, the primitive accumulation of capital could take place beyond the field of the realm of “normal” economic relations. Engels went on to show in The Origins of the Family, how the family, which for the Victorians functioned as the very same allegedly autonomous sphere of values, provided the exact same structural role; in this case masking the often brutal (re)production of the next generation of workers and capitalists. Whilst even a hundred years or so ago, Communist thinkers had succeeded in showing how the relation of exchange defines every so-called value in capitalist societies, bourgeois intellectuals have spent (and apparently continue to spend) the moments of economic crises wondering what particular set of values can be tacked onto the economic motor of capitalist production. Adam Smith himself argued, in The Wealth of Nations that certain parts of human conduct should be kept outside the market, and neither his argument, nor that of the “Islamic bankers” would overtly contradict the thought of Habermas and his disciples.

The thrust of the issue here is that the people in the debate confuse capitalist relations as such, with a kind of woolly attack on various ethical qualities of individuals or the malign intentions of some shadowy “elites”. On the contrary, capitalist relations, in and of themselves, are an act of violence and theft. This is as true in the historical development (through the starvation of 17th centuries of English peasants to kick start the industrial revolution, or the European slave trade for instance), as much as it is in the continuing reality that any capitalist by definition, and regardless of any adherence to religion, nationality or pet celebrity philosopher, seeks to accumulate capital through the extraction of surplus value. Obscurantist, this debate refuses to even consider the radical negation of the market proposition; what Badiou calls The Communist Hypothesis. There is an irony in the fact that such bourgeois philosophers, who don’t have the imagination to begin to conceive of a simple change to the way human beings order production, can easily conjure limitless reiterations of the same argument with Islamicate, Humanist or Neo-Habermasian variations. Clearly, all relations under capitalism are mediated by capital, which as Benjamin Franklin knew, is time. That is to say, capitalist relations are inscribed with the idea that the time one spends in labour is an abstract thing, reducible to some multiple of some unit. A critic might point out that this does not appear to be the case; any home chef knows the qualitative difference between the hour spent preparing food for loved ones and an hour spent doing the washing up.

Such a critic may also draw attention to the fact that for a Muslim, this is not the case. There are certain times of the day when one must pray, or certain times of the year when one must fast, for instance. In so doing, the critic would move close to a conception of the genuinely subversive parts of Islamic practice (with respect to the orthodoxy of capital), precisely because at that moment the debate shifts; that attempt to put a heart in a heartless world, to construct a set of values to patch up our oppression is confronted with fragments of a different life.

He was right again…


7 thoughts on ““There ain’t know cure…”

  1. I think the anti capitalist discourse forgets one thing about human nature, that morality, ethics and civilisation are just constructs. The idea that humans can progress beyond what our genetic make-up allows is a fallacy. Humanists believe that we can advance beyond the rest of the animals that we control our own destiny. Marxism, Communism, Functionalism and the other grand narratives set out their ideological paradigms on how society should operate. They seek to progress man beyond his current position that suffering and immorality can be flushed out of the human system as though we can self evolve. This humanist way of thinking, the application of science, is just a philosophy born of our religious past. The idea that we are not the same as the animals, we are beyond them we are the masters of our own destiny, created by god separate of the animals we can strive towards equality and utopia.

    Some critics would argue that wild animals are in actuality a lot less wild than humans and it is the human animal that murders and commits genocide. Which brings me onto my point about this article. Capital and the immoral values that are used to inhibit its gain are a natural force of human nature. If we free our minds from their subjective shackles and look at human nature throughout history and pre-history we can see that there has always been hierarchy and this is the basis of capitalism. The 20th century displayed the faults of us as animals on a grand scale. The hollocaust proved that morality is a construct and that we sit on a frail line that could easily break again.

    I don’t believe I am a socialist any more because of these reasons. I used to subscribe to the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat and like many I could see the faults of capitalism. But I have also spoken daily to scroungers and free loaders and I think that socialism is a breeding pot for the lazy. I also want to earn capital, I would be happy taking someones hard earned, abstract multiple of some unit. Now any decent marxist critic would argue I’m a victim of false consciousness but in reality I’m a practicing realist. My animal instincts, my genetic make-up are still hard coded in my genome and everyone else who walks the planet. Capitalism is a survival instinct a way of hoarding for later. The means of earning the capital is to tread on someone’s toes because we are naturally inclined t0 be hostile to those who are not of the same kinship. In modern times this equates to what some people deem as immorality, when in reality it is a genetic survival mechanism that only evolution will change.

    Religion is a proponent of the idea that we are beyond animals and modern philosophy has taken on the same idea as well. However it is hard to believe that we don’t have the same impulses as those primitive humans that walked the earth 5-10 thousand years ago. Evolution just doesn’t work that quick.

  2. Good to here from you, but I am afraid your comment doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    You seem to have mixed up two ways of attempting to critique what you think is my position. So let me start by drawing attention to the fact that no where in this article do you see “anti capitalist discourse”. No where is the word used, and for good reason. Today everyone is anti capitalist; every hollywood film seems to be about a lone heroic man taking on a faceless corporation and David Cameron cycles to work. My intent here was to draw attention to the fact though no amount of tacking on some set of “values” to commodified social relations will help.

    With that sorted, I think you are trying to construct an argument built on two contradictory premises. In the first case you criticise arguments that make “grand narratives” out of “human constructs”, a way of thinking “modern philosophy” has taken from “religion”. I think what you have done here is misunderstood Lyotard’s take on post modernity. Lyotard does not, and indeed can not, argue that the grand narrative is something taken from a pre modern “religious” past, on the contrary, he sees it as defining the modern. Be that as it may, the fact that many classical religious traditions draw a distinction between “man made” and “divine” forms of religion (one thinks of the notion of the “god of the sects” in Ibn Arabi, or the distinction drawn between faith and religion in some protestant thought, for instance) shows clearly that there is nothing new about claiming that some object of thought is a “human construct”. Rather, the point is how these constructs work and what they tell us about ourselves and the world we are in. Take for instance, the law of gravity; it is clearly a human construct yet it is (I hope we can agree!) correct, at least in some sense.

    You then go on to argue that because of some evolutionary wotsit human beings have to live the way we do because SCIENCE tells us so. The bankruptcy of your pseudo analysis is evident, just replace the word with “god” and see what happens: We have to live the way we do becuase GOD tells us we do. Your use of all those macho sounding, but frankly meaningless (“hard wired”, “impulses” etc) pseudo scientific words blinds you to the fact that your argument is an updated version of the one that fooled the Great Peasant Revolt. Where they claimed that a world with a king was impossible, you hold that one without capitalism is, where they say that God made things ever this way, your argument is simply that our genes make it so. To be honest, a complete debunking of the nonsense that is “evolutionary psychology” (or “bio-sociology” to the victorians) is easy to find, so I wont go into it here.

    Sufficed to say, that the facile comparison between the effect of evolution on human and animals is upset somewhat that is in fact, an object of thought only for humans and not ducks, for instance. Some would even go as far as to say it is a human construct; a way of looking at the world. Like looking at the world as if it were a see of tiny particles, bobbing in and out of existence, it certainly tells us something about who we are and the world that we live in. But those who do not think of it as a human construct tend to see it as the motor of history, the defining force in human development and the delineator of what can, and can not, be.

    Now that may be the case, but I think they’re making a mistake, namely, they think that an idea is more than just a human construct. Don’t you?

    Merry Christmas and thanks again for commenting.

    PS I don’t every remember you being a “socialist” who “believed” in “the dictatorship of the proletariat”, I remember you as a Blairite who supported the bombing of Serbia. But ho hum, ’twas all a long time ago.

  3. Well I was a revisionist I just didn’t know it I was 14 lol. The bombing of Serbia comment made me chortle. Although it may not seem so, I am not supporting capitalism as an ideology I am attacking those who think that humans are capable of anything better. When you decide to alter this human nature and create change i.e the russian revolution it can only be enforced through power and dictatorship.

    My argument is against the humanist thought that we humans can master our own destiny. It is a philosophy that is used now and throughout history. If we look at it in Western terms (as im not at all familiar with Islamic history other than a bit about Wahhabi-ism and so on) we see that Christianity puts humans on a pedestal we are separate of the animals. Since the French Revolution the birth of modernity has largely left Western societies secular yet the same notion exists that we can master our own destiny we can propel ourselves beyond the animals. Yet despite our advances in knowledge and application we deep down are innately immoral, selfish and animalistic.

    When you mention Lyotard I think you fail to realise I was just taking from his concept as a way to group modern thinkers together. My critique is of modern thinkers and their unthinking beliefs and it seems you may fall into that category, a liberal humanist. Only a liberal humanist would think that Lyotards ideas of the grand narrative were not born of our religious past. Wether its an environmentalist who believes we can become harmonious with nature, that we can all work together to achieve a better world. Or if its someone who believes in a social utopia. Each believes humans are special and we can control our surroundings, this is a philosophy taken from religion.

    This secular humanist thought that is the basis of nearly all modern thinking has christian origins. This was not an accident and was a purposeful move on behalf of those who founded modern humanist thought. The French positivists Saint-Simon and Comte created a set of ideals and a vision of modern society based on science called the Religion of Humanity. This is the basis for all the last centuries political ideologies, it was a leading influence on Karl Marx (scientific socialism) and John Stuart Mill (secularised liberalism). Therefore Lyotard was incorrect when asserting that the grand narratives are devoid of religion and all about science. When in fact they were founded with the post christian faith that humans can create a world better than the one we now live. The Christian idea of salvation has been modernised into the strive for human emancipation and the christian idea of providence has been modernised into progress.

    Social Darwinian’s would argue that human progress is not achievable that our evolutionary genetics are the be all and end all of what we can achieve. Knowledge gained by one generation can be lost by the next, and morality is a convenience only to be used in normal/plentiful times. If we are capable of progressing beyond our evolutionary hard wired nature then by that premiss we will soon see an end to war and poverty. We will be able to elevate ourselves to immortality.

    But if we look forward over the next hundred years do you really see an end to war and poverty? In the next 50-60 years the worlds population will be 10billion and the war for raw materials will grow (it already exists in Israel with the subjugation of the Palestinians, it is primarily a conflict over the control of precious water reserves, masked as a defensive precaution to prevent a second holocaust) to dwarf the wars of the last century. No doubt the dwindling amounts of precious resources will be directly correlated with dwindling examples of human morality, rather than progression of humankind.

    P.S its been 3 years since ive written anything academic or vaguely academic so it may read wrong. Plus its a polemic, but when have u ever expected anything less of me.

  4. Religion, Socialism etc. are ‘just constructs’. Oh dear yes, everything human is indeed constructed by human beings. However, if we can construct culture we cannot simultaneously be determined by some mysterious ‘genome’. So in the first two sentences of your response Keir, you have already gone beyond logic, even, I dare say, meaning. I shall pass over in silence the rest of your, quite predictable ‘facts-about-human-nature-us poor-leftists-can’t-face’.

  5. well beyond sense I suggest you read my second post where I clear up my argument. I have nothing against leftists I just feel its pointless to strive for something unachievable.

    Although its nice to see that you fall into the usual cliche of condescension and ignorance that engulfs the mindset of most people who are bound by ideology. You are kind of proving my point.

  6. I am glad that this post has got people thinking and talking. The play I am currently working on, as well as issues around religious ritual, is very much about how people respond to the helplessness of current political discourse, particularly this idea that nothing can be changed about society.

    Certainly, the debate has been lively, but one can only hope that in the future, belligerents pay close attention to what their opponents say and respond to that, rather than just restating the same position over and over.

    Lastly, I would like to respond to the last post. One could say that it is “pointless” to strive for something “unachievable”. But perhaps, if you will pardon the turn of phrase, this is the whole point. Art, Science, the thirst for political justice and even love can be thought of as precisely that; striving for the impossible.

    Or, as Samuel Beckett put it: Tried once, failed once, no matter. Try again, fail again, fail better.

  7. Speech extract by Jody Mcintyre

    “What is equality? /
    Is that equality? /
    I get the same weird looks you get for being black /
    I get the same weird looks you get for being brown /
    I get the same weird looks you get for being Muslim /
    But I’m not really disabled, or in a wheelchair /
    I’m just using that to strike fear /
    I’m just trying to manipulate the media /
    But that can’t be right, cos if it was, I’d make it much easier /
    I’d make my hair blonde and my eyes blue /
    I’d go shopping all the time and eat loads of junk food /
    I wouldn’t be reading Pilger, Robert Fisk and Tariq Ali stupid /
    I’d be reading The Times, The Sun, and all the papers for Rupert /
    I wouldn’t be listening to hip-hop music /
    I could never see the speeches of Guevara, Malcolm and Lumumba /
    My only heroes would be Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther…”

    “If I say I am not the victim /
    Then I am playing the victim /
    If I say equality for all /
    I am placing myself on a pedestall /
    You can keep peddling your lies if it makes your lives easier /
    Or propping up politicians with your excuse of a media /
    Despite the bias I’ll still talk to BBC news /
    They rep the government so we need to voice our views /
    For every town, village and city that’s been destroyed by our bombs /
    If you had to see their faces this could never go on /
    If you saw the white phosphorus and the skin as it’s peeling /
    Your COD gaming wouldn’t be so appealing /
    If you saw the napalm dropping on Vietnamese /
    Or the terror of Iraqi children bent down on their knees /
    Or the proud Afghani man with his fist in the sky /
    Saying you can take my blood but you can’t take my life /
    Or the Kashmiri teenagers throwing rocks at borders /
    Or the Northern Irish they refer to as social disorder /
    Which institution has really become lawless /
    When the Irish children died, the BBC could never report it /
    All I give is the facts, and all they do is distort it…”

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