[OPE-L] The ideology of capitalist decline and decadence

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Mar 15 2006 - 15:49:05 EST

Jerry, you wrote:

In the epoch of capitalist decay,  economic crises will become more frequent
and intense.  Then, comes the economic collapse.  What happens after the
collapse,  after the economic breakdown?  Why, the "revolutionary moment",
of course.

Quite. Point I wanted to make is, that although obviously a real crisis
makes life more challenging and difficult, people have to make their lives
anyway, crisis or no crisis. Being obsessively focused on a present or
future crisis can get in the way of what a socialist or radical politics can
achieve in the here and now, given the specific problems people are facing
in the here and now. The classical Marxian schema of "reform versus
revolution" is often unhelpful there - we simply do not know in advance, if
or when people who struggle to make an independent life and emancipate
themselves will decide to run through the reformist traffic lights when they
turn red.

A lot of the "crisis" talk was about being taken seriously, that people has
to take these issues seriously, in the sense that there is a real problem
there, that you cannot get away from. But these days with the modern means
of communication, we are confronted with multiple crises all the time.
People dying of hunger and disease in Africa. Israeli's and Palestinians
blasting each other to the next world. Sunni's and Shiites at each other's
throats. World poverty. All sorts of stuff. So as regards crises, you can
more or less "pick and choose" these days, cynically putting it.

The moral problem you get, is one of priorities - how do I evaluate why I
should be concerned with this or that problem, and what, in truth, can I do
about it anyway, while I have to cope with all sorts in my own life. You
might even argue, the more we are peppered with new crises, the less people
feel they can act or do something - they are liable to say, yeah, that's
just TV, now let's get on with real life. And you get pop singers who argue,
well, people want to feel good most of all, give them a pop concert
highlighting an issue, that'll get through to them.

Which leads me back to Mandel's observation - you cannot in truth take the
all information in, you'd go crazy. One element which I did not mention in
my crisis-typology is a sense of spiritual crisis, which is still
controversial in Marxist theory, no doubt because also a lot of bullshit is
talked about spiritual matters (the latest example, as Ha'aretz mentions, is
evangelist Pat Robertson portraying Islam as a bid for "world domination" in
the same way as communism was portrayed previously; you can just imagine
Islamic evangelists converting e.g. Latin American catholics to the new
faith!). I also did not mention the ecological crisis that is incrementally
hitting the human race - I was merely focusing on the progression from
economic troubles to moral-ideological troubles, in the way people
experience life in society.

Maybe in a sense the crisis discourse is an exhausted discourse,  but I
wouldn't give up on it totally, because this "narrative" (to use your
postmodernist term) focuses certain questions such as "what is the problem"
and "why is it a problem". And that can be important, at least if we want to
get from superficialities to a more profound understanding.

I think one reason why the crisis discourse really got going in the 1970s
was, because up till that time leftists had been battling "against the
stream" with a capitalism that seemed to be able to deliver, through the
long post-war boom, more and more of the goods, with mass revolts a rather
dim prospect, except in the third world. Even Paul Samuelson stated around
1970 that the mized economy had finally licked the problem of economic
crises. Famous last words...

These days, however, the ideology is different - you still can get the
goodies of life, but you have to have the right style, you have to
understand the semiotics of things. So then if there is a problem, it's more
in the nature of a deficient semantics, and you need these people who make
things more meaningful for you. People are "graded" on their observed
ability to read the signs.  In which case, the rulers rule, because they
have more semantic wealth. But how do we know they really do?

As soon as modern Prometheans stimulate the ability of ordinary folks to
create their own meanings, the question is in doubt again. Indeed, the idea
that you can enjoy life in spite of all crises often appears revolutionary.
Kojčve's Platonic masterclass undoubtedly has its own semantic world, and
portrays its political project to the public other than that it really is
(e.g. the Iran nuclear scare), but the public credibility of all that is
less and less. Which returns me to the fourth sociological "moment" of
societal crises I mentioned - the ideological-cultural crisis, i.e. the
crisis of legitimation and morality, of how to unite people, how to get them
to co-operate when traditional systems of social solidarity have fractured,
of finding the moral common denominator.


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