[OPE] From globalisation to ghettoisation (redux)

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Sun Jul 27 2008 - 09:30:04 EDT


You ask how is The Wall constructed by Israel a "historic culmination" of globalization? Well what I actually posted is that it "symbolises" that culmination. The Hadrian wall (one of three walls built by the Roman army and slaves in Britain) was supposed to define the border of the empire and keep out the Picts. But of course the Roman empire was a different kind of empire than capitalist empires in the modern era.

I regard Israel as one of the most advanced "testing grounds" of modern capitalist thinking, one of the frontiers of imperialist thought, where all the problems and anxieties (Marxists might say "social contradictions") that bedevil the world bourgeoisie are constantly being practically tested out, for better or worse, and "boundary problems" of all kinds figure very strongly in that, on pain of life and death. The Jews were originally largely shut out of bourgeois production, outcasts in that sense, and Israelis nowadays aim to shut out everything that conflicts with their society or way of life. It's a sort of identity politics "writ large", in which the Israelis cannot escape from the fact, and the consequences of it, that their legitimate trade was ultimately based on robbery and conquest (the "moment" of primitive accumulation) - they are a people who could not establish their own "habitus" (Bourdieu/Elias) without ousting the Other from their habitus, or annihilating the Other.

How does that relate to Marxian thought? As a sketch, the foundation of classic bourgeois morality is that of the autonomous person who owns himself or herself, and who respects the autonomy of others through internalised limits and boundaries - to be "cultured" in the bourgeois sense is above all to know what the boundaries and limits are, positively and negatively, being able to make refined distinctions in that sense, and to act accordingly. Lack of culture conversely means transgressing boundaries illegitimately. 

This morality does not "drop out of the air", as it were, but was historically formed in the context of the requirements for commercial trade, which as Marx says constantly creates new social relations - the bourgeoisie has to "nestle everywhere". 

If you want to appropriate a good, you can of course beat somebody's brains in and grab the good off him, but that is not "trade", that is robbery, plunder etc. defined as crime, barbarism etc. Commercial trade is premised on mutual respect for property, however defined, and markets are mostly unthinkable without a legal framework specifying mutual rights/entitlements and duties in respect of property. Being able to "do deals" requires also an insight into the Other, in this case a (potential) trading partner, with whom you have to communicate and interact, and therefore to understand sufficiently - this gives rise to additional problems and challenges. 

If crime and barbarism are regarded as justified, this can only be (1) because the victims fall outside bourgeois law in some sense or (2) as a defensive response against attack. All this is made very clear in the "war against terror" for example, for better or worse. 

But as Marx and Engels point out in their writings, the bourgeois economy is premised on competition and market expansion, and on a kind of trade which involves the economic exploitation of subordinate labouring classes, which involves a permanent battle between free trade and protectionism (regulation) across the board. This means that, in general, the limits and boundaries for social behaviour are not static, but constantly redefined to meet the requirements of bourgeois society, and this redefinition is most often a problematic rather than a smooth process, precisely because of the forcefield of competing interests which the state is constantly mediating. 

Just because you have trade, does not mean automatically it is fair trade, or a trade of equivalents, or a trade which is beneficial to all. Indeed commerce always aims to "buy cheap and sell dear", constantly looking for ways to reduce cost prices and drive up sale prices to maximise returns; that in turn involves the attempt to strengthen market position (bargaining power) which means either that all gain in unequal amounts, or that the gains of some are the losses of others. 

By implication markets cannot not generate any particular kind of moral system of their own, only a morality which is contingently functional for the perpetuation of bourgeois society. Wars are not regarded as problematic or bad primarily because people are killed or injured in battle per se, they are a fact of life and a cost, but because they destroy property, violate the autonomy of persons, and get in the way of trade. A relative social peace is essential for the social reproduction of the bourgeois economy, that is the real point, and thus the competition and conflicts must be kept within bounds, even if they are a fact of life. Killing and injuries in wars are usually primarily a real concern of the labouring classes, insofar as they have to do most of the fighting and suffer the most from it. Mr Bush is quite specific on this point in numerous speeches: he says you have to fight, fighting is necessary, God tells you so, but the fighting is intended only to set an example that would deter excessive fighting in the future (containment of the problem).

This all makes bourgeois morality & justice highly contradictory in its innermost essence - one concern "masks" another concern, for example, the security of people may mask the security of property, and as Sigmund Freud showed, this masking has important implications for the very basis of personality and character formation: the internalisation of morality (of bourgeois value) creates incessant conflicts between natural dispositions and social requirements, which can lead to neurosis, malformation and psychosis in the worst case. Freud himself was rather pessimistic about the future of "civilization and its discontents" but that is just because he partly confused the "natural" and the "social", which are combined in the human mind, and because the relationship between the natural and the social is also not static, but subject to change, even intergenerationally.

This being said, it is easy to see why globalisation in the sense of an unlimited expansion or free trade (marketisation) aiming to create a relativistic "open economy" ultimately hits up against barriers and limits, both internal barriers and external ones, historical barriers and new ones. Pope Benedict is of course very concerned with a moral relativism that conflicts with the feudal concept of spiritual health, but the real point is that real life is not so relativistic because there are absolute limits, for example if you are dead you are dead, if there is no food you are hungry, if you have no fuel you cannot do all sorts of things etc. But in addition there are social limits. 

Just as soon as technological advancements have annihilated physical limits of time and space, expanding the realm of freedom, it becomes necessary to erect new barriers and place new restrictions on freedom. People should be free, but not too free, because that would threaten the perpetuation of bourgeois society. The more physical freedom is created, the more that social limits assert themselves, which, in a situation of rapid change, becomes highly confusing, frustrating the even negotiation of meanings per se. And thus, so the argument goes, people ultimately retreat to a "space" or "domain" in which they can assert their own meanings, and have them recognised and validated, which involves norms of inclusion and exclusion defining behaviour - within a total environment, however, where there is a constant power & moral & cultural struggle over what or whom is to be included and excluded. 

>From this perspective, the issue is not about the desirability of pluralism per se. Pluralism already exists, it is a fact of life. The real question is whether that is good or bad, morally, scientifically or practically. But as I have just sketched out, there is a certain "logic" to how that discussion will evolve, because there are certain inescapable "parameters". Pluralism is not intrinsically a good thing, insofar as that if a good practical solution to a problem is found that works well in all cases, it makes sense for all to adopt it. Indeed "leadership" consists in providing those solutions for all. To refuse that solution because "you want to be different" doesn't organisationally make a lot of sense - being different for the sake of being different in response to a problem is generally regarded as arbitrary, unless we are talking art & aesthetics & sexuality, or spiritual aspects (individuation). 

In science, pluralism is desirable insofar as scientific progress occurs through a free contest between rival theories and the data. But it is not absolutely desirable, since if science proves that the world is round and not flat, flat-earth believers are ruled out of science. It is absolutely desirable in science only insofar as you must always retain a constructive doubt or openness, the idea that you could be wrong about the truth. There may be a way in which a flat earth makes sense. From a scientific perspective, the Pope could be wrong, and if he is proved wrong, you have to say he is wrong.  But fabricating doubts for the sake of it is reactionary, or else a political ruse to confuse the opposition. Pedagogically you create doubts to encourage thinking and learning, but that's another story, then you have a specific emancipatory intention for it. If you are excluded from a group and you want to be included, of course you will argue for pluralism. And if you want to exclude others to create more Lebensraum for yourself, of course you are going to argue against it. But that is just to say that the "slogan" of pluralism does not enable us to understand the issue in its dialectical specificities, with full integrity. Pluralism might just mask a superficial eclecticism which provides cover for a host of sins.

To be radical is to go to the root of the problem (radix=root), and that process of going to the root of the problem involves testing the limits and challenging boundaries. This may involve going over the limit in order to discover what the limit is. Hence radicalism is often associated with youth, or with a "childhood disease". But this is superficial too, because that just focuses on the question of whether transgressing boundaries is legitimate or not, according to an external criterion. True radicalism operates with an internal critique, not by excluding the Other, but by including the Other, in order to demonstrate the limits and possibilities of Otherness.


ope mailing list

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu Jul 31 2008 - 00:00:10 EDT