The Ancient Taboo
When people come to examine any way of life in the world, they are conditioned not to expose their own social order to the same critical eye with which they view a different or opposed social order. This is because they identify with their own way of life as normality, and thus the other as abnormality. If the other is not only different but also opposed to the home order, then to abnormality is added the offence of enmity.
Accordingly, members of the ‘free world’ competed with one another in denouncing the Soviet Union for the 75 years it existed. But at no time was ‘the free world’ exposed to such criticism by the same criteria of people murdered, killed, starved, persecuted, silenced or dispossessed. Yet its operations were no less subject to humane concern – for example, over 2 million Vietnamese, over 1 million Latin Americans, over 1 million Indonesians and over 3 million Algerian and sub-Saharan Africans killed by ‘the forces of the free world’ during the same period.1
The twentieth century has come to be known as the Age of Massacre, but the mind-bias at work in blocking out one side of the massacre has been repressed from view. There is not only a rule against recognizing the monstrous in one’s own social system, but a rule against recognizing that there is such a rule. This mind-lock is as old as civilization itself.
THINKING PAST THE RULING ORDER AS AGE-OLD TABOO EAST AND WEST
Philosophy is its intended antidote. Thus one of the most insistent questions asked of our politicians and public figures is, ‘What is your philosophy on this matter?’ They are not asked, ‘What is your science on the matter?’ Or ‘Where does public opinion stand?’ They are asked for something deeper: the shape of their overall idea of what a society is and ought to be.
For any belief-system to qualify as reasonable rather than mere dogma, it must be open to question: exposed to analysis of its presuppositions and arguments, and the consequences which follow from believing in them.
Critical thought takes on the recognized power of a tradition from Socrates in the West and Lao Tzu in the East. It’s a kind of systematic irreverence. It builds by negations: going back on its predecessors, stepping out past them, picking up stitches, losing them, rejoining divergent lines in a larger whole, in the end allowing us a wider and deeper view of what deserves belief. The fundamental block in this whole process, however, is that certain critical questions are very dangerous to ask. For example, the question, what are the arguments against the relationship assumed between God’s will and the powers of the State?, has been traditionally dangerous to ask in any of its various forms.2 It exposes unexamined assumptions which state-investitured interests normally prefer to leave unasked. Indeed such questions have long invited attack upon their authors as disturbers of social order who ought to be silenced for breach of manners, if not social treason.
Conventional philosophical questions, in contrast, are accompanied by no such peril. At their purest, they offend no-one and no interest. Compare the inquiry, ‘What is wrong with the empiricist metaphysic?’ to ‘What is wrong with the private property system?’ The former question has been put by almost every major philosopher since Parmenides, while the latter has not been pressed by any main philosopher outside the early Rousseau and Marx, both of whom were publicly maligned and persecuted for doing so.
So strong is the resistance to deep questioning of established social relations that it is difficult to think of any settled form of societal life that is rationally challenged in the history of philosophy before 1750. Socrates, for example, despite his reputation as an inveterate interrogator of conventional opinion, never went so far as to seriously query his society’s belief in enslaving other people to do its work, nor did he ever think to question the system of aggressive war and imperialism upon which this enslavement was based. Like his fellow citizens, he benefited from such arrangements, and however they might cry out for the philosophical daemon he held so dear, he left them unexamined. His questions stopped short precisely where one might have hoped for his gadfly bite – where repression of the light of intellect was at its worst.3
But the lasting significance of Socrates was that he raised questions about the nature of social relations at all. The Pre-Socratics had prudently relaxed in speculations about natural phenomena,4 and it was an accepted view even amongst the reputedly wise that social custom and role constituted fate, or Moira. Indeed, transgressing one’s assigned lot in the social order was conceived as the root of all tragedy: an ancient outlook that continued through Shakespearean times and remains au courant today in denunciation or death to those who are perceived as ‘subversives’ or ‘communists’ or repudiators of the social given of some kind. Socrates distinguished himself in this framework by being sceptical enough of Athenian social forms as to be executed for his impiety and questions (though he accepted without question the laws by which he was condemned).5
Socrates was executed because his interrogation of established values was considered too radical even so far as it went. The great generality of the charges against him – ‘corrupting the minds of the young and believing in deities of his own invention instead of the gods recognized by the state’ – indicate that it was because Socrates was thought to be undermining the very structure of social life his fellow citizens lived and identified with that he was charged with a capital crime. Had he stuck to inquiries into the natural elements as the Pre-Socratics who had safely preceded him, or had he questioned within the framework of deference to power as the sophists who coexisted with and followed him, he would doubtless have been left to philosophize on, ‘minding his own business’ as his judges put the option to him. But Socrates, though never venturing so far as to debate the value of the laws or the state, had his ‘divine command’ to inquire without stint into the rationality of conventional belief. His disdain for the price of offending the socially accepted in this quest was considered too subversive of established authority and order to tolerate.6 In consequence, as in all classical tragedy, where the social order is Fate and its upset by even unwitting non-compliance bears in its wake the sentence of death, Socrates was condemned to the hemlock. In fact if not in intention, he might be called the first martyr of social philosophy.7
After Socrates, social philosophy, as if in tribute, is made respectable by The Republic, but more in name than in influence, because it is the ontological and mainly epistemological arguments within The Republic’s socio-political framework that are taken seriously by Plato’s successors. The really burning questions of social philosophy that it raises seem essentially ignored until they become conventionally acceptable to debate (for example, its arguments on the equality of women). Or they are kept at arm’s length indefinitely, as with the position that disinterested government requires communist governors. (Consider how many Plato scholars have defended that position on the rule of reason.) Approved thinkers in general stay clear of such inflammatory issues. Plato and Socrates themselves avert their rational inquiry from other established social forms of power like mass slavery, Greek hegemony, and competition for victory spoils.
In the Eastern philosophical tradition, there is still less explicit critical reflection on the social given than in ancient Athens, and the same persistent structures of caste, conquest, sexism, blind obedience to superiors, intolerance of alternative, paternal absolutism, disabling punishment, material inequality, and degradation of other life-kinds continue more or less unquestioned as a priori’s of normal thought. Consider that catalogue of violently repressive forms of life again, and how each is repugnant to civilized Western consciousness today. But all were and in many places still are thought to be inevitable and proper. We will see how, in fact, quite as violent and repressive forms of life in a different guise are thought to be perfectly acceptable, and indeed ‘free’ today.
Classical Asian Philosophy More System-Oppressive than the Greek
In the ancient East, however, the shape of fate is different. What remains of social philosophy, other than justifications of the social given as part of the moral order of the universe, is hidden in code. In every case of social critique which survives for us, criticism of the socially accepted is concealed behind the protective face of paradox, symbol and cipher. Lao Tzu’s brilliant dismantlings of Confucian orthodoxies, warlordism, and human chauvinism in the Tao-te-Ching, for example, and Krishna’s dialogical surpassment of the values of competition for reward and caste maintenance in the Bhagavad-Gita, are classics of such covert social philosophy.8 But always the profound criticisms of the social status quo are maintained as personal or metaphysical with their escape-routes. Invariably, questioning the forms of social life within which one lives is regarded as a kind of blasphemy against the Absolute of which these forms are seen as the sanctified expression.
Criticizing the social order is a very dangerous business. For example, the Carvaka, an ancient materialist, anti-caste doctrine in India, was hunted to virtual extinction, and its proponents burned alive;9 while any philosophical work in China which did not feature the Five Relations of social subordination as its cornerstone given – whether by implicit challenge (as with Mo Tzu’s ‘universal love without distinctions’) or by omission (as with Buddhism) – was inexorably condemned as a threat to society itself. Even the Taoism of Lao Tzu, almost inscrutable to conventional intelligence, was soon emptied of its anti-Confucian and antinomian content by the transcendentalism of Chuang Tzu. Eventually, it was assimilated into Neo-Confucianism, where the doctrines of filial piety and the Five Relations that Lao had scorned were re-established more strongly than ever on Lao’s metaphysical basis of universal harmony.
We may conclude, in short, that there is from the very beginnings of reflective consciousness a systematic selection against critical questioning of the social status quo. It is by ancient tradition an essentially forbidden subject.
CRITICAL THOUGHT AS SOCIAL-IMMUNE SYSTEM
Yet coming up from the ground, there is always a countervailing current representing the common life-interest. As a social-immune response to the internal disorders of oppression which attack the living bodies of its members, critical recognition of the more invasive forms of social life still persist, even when its bearers suffer the loss of their own existence in flagging the pathological constructions. Socrates is, it is true, successfully repressed in his aged body, but he springs up more lastingly than before in the dialogical explorations of his student Plato which push back the margins of thought as thought, which can no longer be simply prohibited as an offence against the gods. The range of socially shared consciousness is extended and deepened permanently. Socrates is soon succeeded by the far more robust and unpersecuted anti-conventionalism of Diogenes the Cynic, ‘Socrates run mad’.10 Elsewhere, it is the same mixed story of loss in the particular, gain in the field of life that lives on. The Carvaka, Mohism, and Lao’s mockery of all social regulation arise and are discredited and attacked in their respective societies, sometimes in the most vicious ways. But they survive in the long run through the tests of millennia, opening the span of human self-consciousness still wider, if only by tortuous historical route.
A not dissimilar pattern occurs in Judeo-Christian thought. The more socially critical Prophets of Israel are deprived of their security and threatened from above for their fiery criticism of the wealthy and powerful who ‘tread upon the faces of the poor’.11 Nonetheless, their words outlast by epochs the works of the social orders they condemn.
Their culminating figure, Yeshua, is crucified for his antinomian criticism, whose radical break with every vested interest of the day ends in his execution as a political criminal.12 But however mystified and distorted his attack on oppressive institutions has subsequently been, it still stirs to life-sacrifice critics of exclusionary social orders across the globe.13
Even the Stoics, who form one of the most enduring establishment philosophies in history with their abdication of Cynic iconoclasm for submission to the social given as Natural Law, generate by this concept of universal right one of the most influential normative traditions in history: namely, the idea that there is one law to which all alike are subject. The implication of this universalization of law to rulers and subjects alike is that whoever violates this principle of equality before law is ipso facto unnatural, and against the order of the universe. From the view of received legal doctrine itself develops a tradition that special privilege is no longer a self-certifying given.
In the healthy history of the human race, we see a kind of dialectic at work between, on the one hand, the tribalism of established social habit and the vested interests it protects and, on the other hand, the opening space of consciousness that can conceive of criticisms of and alternatives to conventionalized oppressions of vital life. On the level of social as well as individual life-organization, the system which develops evolves through experience and trial to more comprehensive compasses of understanding and habit.
The Suspension of Critical Thought in a Dark Age
A Dark Age, in contrast, is closed. The long silence of social thought under Roman Church rule is such a period. Recorded social reflection is more or less confined to speculative moral theology as sanctioned by Rome. Questions of substance cease on the normative level. Given social relations are either kept out of discussion altogether, as an unspoken taboo of the day’s media, or they are accorded mere apologetic and justification. We call this ‘the Dark Ages’ for good reason. But a Dark Age can happen again. Do today’s media ever question the corporate-rights rule of the world since 1990, or mock the ‘invisible hand’ of the global market in continuous disasters? Do they not pervasively describe all of significance that occurs as accountable to the Free Market which is accountable to nothing? Do we not confront a new absolutist theology with eternal laws of commerce rather than of God as the world’s commandments?14 The last Dark Age can be seen from a distance. We can discern its culture of imposed silence that brooks no criticism of the ruling order as a kind of collective delirium in which the mind is submerged as in a dream. We see it around us again today – after the fall of a world empire, after the unravelling of civil fabrics by barbarians overrunning all resisters and looting whatever is at hand, and long in the thrall of a global end-of-history ideology.
The medieval Dark Age is easily recognizable to us now. Not once in a millennium of philosophy does rational challenge of a significant form of its ruling social order occur: not of slavery nor serf bondage, not of hierarchical command nor sovereign absolutism, not of capital punishment nor killing of heretics, not of trial by battle nor rule by military lords, not of economic inequality nor living off the work of others, not of sexist relations nor childbeating: not, in short, of any form that might seem worthy of critical recognition. With the conquest of the controls of thought by the Church in return for its theological support of the temporal order, the entire institutional fabric of society is apotheosized as the Will of God, with any criticism of it a blasphemy punishable by ostracism or the fire.
Society’s worshipping of itself as totem is a transcultural tendency as ancient as human groups. In any dark age, there is only one God or System, an all-powerful One, whose prescriptions endow all established relations of the world’s social order with the authority of the final and inevitable order of man. Therefore, to criticize or to challenge any constituent of it is to challenge the laws and necessity of the invisible hand itself. In the last Dark Age, one can search the inquiries of this era’s preserved thinkers, from Augustine and Aquinas to Scotus and Ockham, and fail to discover a single page of criticism of the established social framework, however rationally insupportable feudal bondage, absolute paternalism, divine right of kings and the rest may be.15 In the current Final Order, is it so different? Can we see in any media or even university press a paragraph of clear unmasking of a global regime that condemns a third of all children to malnutrition with more food than enough available, or that strips the biosphere of species at 1,000 times the average rate decade after decade?
In such a social order, thought becomes indistinguishable from propaganda. Only one doctrine is speakable, and a priest caste of its experts prescribes the necessities and obligations to all, with loss of livelihood or life the punishment for disobedience. Endless sacrifices are called for across borders, from one site of harsh discipline to the next. The laws of prescription and penalty are without alternative. Their disciplines are inevitable and necessary for the promise of future prosperity in a time and place that recedes as the terrors of insecurity increase. Social consciousness is incarcerated within the role of a kind of ceremonial logic, operating entirely within the received framework of an exhaustively prescribed regulatory apparatus protecting the privileges of the privileged. Methodological censorship triumphs in the guise of scholarly rigour, and the only room left for searching thought becomes the game of competing rationalizations.
In an era of such captivity of the social mind, systems of abstraction are obliged to avoid this-worldly fact. In philosophy itself, the original Dark Age has never been clearly overcome. John Locke may atypically write a treatise on government that is used by revolutionary movements elsewhere, but his work fails to see the light of day until after the removal of the regime he criticizes from social sovereignty, and the clear takeover of the bourgeois property-holders for whom he has since stood as the prime philosophical defender. Hobbes may write social and political philosophy based on a metaphysic which is also social and political philosophy in an unconscious form, but one can look in vain for a line of it that does not remain within obedient deference to the ascendant powers of his place and time. Of which well-known English-speaking philosophers today are we able to say different? In general, social thought is avoided for detail which is subserved to a system-justifying metaphysic that is given – the ruling paradigm of how societies are to live that is never itself questioned.
This tendency prevails from the Continental Rationalists on. Leibniz, Spinoza, Descartes, Berkeley, Kant, and Hegel, for example, more or less entirely presuppose the social regime of their day and its constituent forms as in some way the expression of a divine Mind, which they see it as their rational duty only to accept or to justify. They confine their attention to purely philosophical, that is, a-social issues – being as such, the conditions of knowing as such, and so on. Or they rationalize the social given as the manifestation of some kind of perfect Reason.16
Even Hume, perhaps the West’s greatest subverter of conventionally accepted assumptions since Socrates, refrains from his vaunted scepticism altogether, as do his successors, when it comes to thinking deeply about the validity of the social order within which he prospers. He rides on received opinion with an absolutist’s faith in repression of their contrary, calling for the crushing of dissent against accumulations of private property as a robberous crime:
Fanatics may suppose that dominion is founded on grace and the saints alone inherit the earth; but the civil magistrate very justly puts these sublime theorists on the same footing with common robbers.17
It is made explicit in what follows that what Hume and ‘mankind’ are struck with ‘horror’ at is the suggestion of certain seventeenth-century English non-conformists that there be ‘an equal distribution of property’. Hume asserts without any argument for the status quo he prefers that such equality would ‘destroy all subordination’ and ‘weaken extremely the authority of the magistracy’. He then concludes that its very proposal is ‘pernicious’ and deserving of the ‘severest punishment’.
There is no point refuting the question-begging virulence of Hume’s position here. Its disorder is all too evident. But what does deserve emphasis is the invisible prison of dogma within which even an arch sceptic is incarcerated when the surrounding forms of social rule with which he identifies are criticized. It is a mental block which few escape, but upon which the open future of life depends. David Hume as others is as riveted to their acceptance as fixedly as any tribesman to his totem. When the English-speaking world’s very paragon of understatement and assumption uncovering acuity reels into intolerant unreason when confronted with the challenge of social alternative, he reveals by his example the hold of the social given on even philosophical consciousness. With Hume, as elsewhere, thought is confined by the force of social habit and rule within a social value programme that regulates understanding to expel whatever does not conform to it.
What we find as a more systematic form of censorship in the global market’s corporate media is, at a deeper level, a profoundly rooted structure of humanity’s still evolving capacity to think. As we will see, the need arises at a certain stage of blindness in a ruling paradigm of society to see past its indoctrination, or expose planetary life itself to progressive depredation by its automatized operations.
LATE MODERNITY’S QUESTIONS BEGIN TO RISE
Rousseau is perhaps the first major modern philosopher to criticize the social given within which he lived; and he does so with respect to its most primary forms: exclusionary property, the ‘chains’ of the law, and upbringing of the young. That he quarrelled violently with Hume is hardly a surprise, and perhaps more due to Rousseau’s philosophical scruples than philosophers have hitherto allowed in their defence of his less troublesome colleague. Compare his trenchant position on privatized property and the civil order with that of Hume. And consider how he speaks in fable for the First Peoples of America as well as the English commoners over centuries. Taking sides with their cause against the God-given Right to dispossess them by enclosure, Rousseau declares:
The first man, who after enclosing a piece of ground, took it into his head to say, this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, how many wars, how many murders, how many misfortunes and horrors would that man have saved the human species, who pulling up the stakes or filling up the ditches should have cried to his fellows: Beware of listening to this imposter: you are lost, if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.18
Rousseau awakes to the social problematic and the underlying structures, principles and values which it is philosophy’s vocation to disclose and to surpass. Yet the revolutionary ideas Rousseau advances are seldom recognized even today: freedom by self-given law, participant democracy, reduction of material inequality, non-authoritarian education, and social sovereignty of the ‘common interest’. Which is not reversed today? Nonetheless these ideas go back to the beginnings of emancipatory thought giving them principled form, and set the stage for the later moral and epistemological theories of Kant and Dewey. They begin to release philosophy from its slumber within the social status quo.
Rousseau does not stand long. He was afflicted with financial worries, church and state persecution, notoriety, and ill-health. He drops his anti-property line soon after his Origin of Inequality, refuses after he is persecuted by the Parliament and the Archbishop of Paris for Emile to talk about an educational system for the Polish Constitution he is commissioned to pen, and by the time of the Social Contract endorses as just such forms as the exclusion of women from public life, special honours and privileges for rank, state censorship, and the execution of anyone who no longer believes in ‘the dogmas of civil religion’.19
It is a tough row to hoe, but others plough on in civil commons time. What breaks open the reflective space for critical analysis of the social given once and for all is the unprecedentedly deep-structural work of Karl Marx. Though refused a post within the University, expelled from France, calumniated by the popular press, tried for treasonous conspiracy, and living on the funds of his best friend and fellow researcher Friedrich Engels, his work decisively breaks from theory’s long acquiescence with the ruling status quo and class privilege. Going far beyond Socrates or Rousseau, he exposes to systematic critique the material power structure of all hitherto existing civil society: the ruling class system wherein, he argues, a self-serving minority owns most of the society’s means of producing the necessities of life, and to which, therefore, the majority is constrained to subordinate its life-interests. No philosopher in history before this had dared to go so far. Ever since, Marx’s work has been a critical reference point on the philosophical landscape: a landmark to thinkers whose concern for underlying structures extends to ruling social forms, and not merely natural and conceptual orderings.
The second major critical blow Marx begins to give to a priori acceptance of the social given is the latent idea that human thought is determined by the social order within which it arises to remain within it. As players of a game do not see or criticize the game’s structure as long as they are playing inside it, so too high theory. All are determined by their position in the game not to question it as the price of advancing their own places in it. This is the invisible prison of historical social orders, and has nowhere more fatally incarcerated the hearts and minds of humanity than today. Incapacity to think beyond it is the social-immune failure which has allowed the global cancer system.
Mill’s On Liberty, perhaps the English-speaking world’s greatest classic of acceptable social philosophy, can be understood as one of the first independent moves towards releasing human consciousness from imprisonment within the social given. Mill argues step by step for the right to think and speak in divergence from customary belief to any extent whatever so long as it ‘does not interfere with the rights and liberties’ of other individuals. Herein lay a pushing back of the margins of acceptable discourse whose opening up of critical reflective space was of momentous importance. But it is against the very force of majority interests Marx was concerned to advance. Indeed it is on behalf of privileged classes that Mill’s arguments are unconsciously made – defence of British imperialism, racism, unequal voting, and disregard for the lot of the oppressed.20
More revealingly still, Marx’s social philosophy is undergirded by the uncritical presumptions and biases of the same ruling order. Despite his unequalled contribution to critical examination of ruling material forms of human oppression and vicious ideological stupefaction, Marx’s work remains within the grips of accepted forms of social life in ways that Marxists a century since have not yet confronted nor surpassed: his blindness to the disenfranchisements of the unwaged, his Euro-supremacism, and his conception of ever more social centralization and machine technology as laws of development not subject to choice. These locked-in forms of social consciousness have been shared across cultures and classes for centuries, and they are underlying principles of judgement regulating normalized thought, even the thought of history’s greatest social revolutionary.
What distinguishes Marx and Mill from the preceding and succeeding mainstream of thinkers is their critical readiness to debate and to evaluate existing social structures and patterns – as rare as hen’s teeth. Marx probes into the inner logic of the rising system of life-oppression of most people, while Mill takes the side of the minority‘s freedom against the normalized majority. In fact their positions are not in conflict as typically conceived. They are complementary.
Critical Social Principles from the Twentieth Century On
By the second half of the twentieth century, social thought seemed to be moving beyond the systematic repression by which it had traditionally been confined. A new internationalism of communications and outlook, an extension of literacy and information resources, and an organization of democratic power together enabled, or appeared to, a far wider range of social critical possibility than in any previous period. The knell of the old imprisoned social consciousness seemed to have sounded. The foundations of a liberated social self-criticism seemed to have been laid.
In the brief era of unlimited social interrogation which emerged between 1965 and the early 1970s, humanity witnessed the most fundamental, far-reaching and transcultural questioning of the social-structural given in human history. An unprecedentedly encompassing challenge of life-repressive forms swept across national and cultural borders. The mass-killing mode of resolving social conflicts, the systematic torture and destruction of other species and creatures by human systems, the oppression of sexual freedom between consenting adults, the abuse of children as the right of parental and school authorities, patriarchal and sexist rule over smaller humans, and even the capitalist structure of controlling society’s means of existence were all and at once exposed to a world-wide re-evaluation. After a few years of this ‘raising of consciousness’, history’s most momentous counter-revolution occurred. It was hardly less than a slow-motion reversal of humanity’s social evolution.
The appearance cultivated by both mass communications and mainstream intellectuals in the years since the mid-1970s has, as we know, been the opposite. The ‘new reality’ has been presented as one of the triumph, rising material prosperity and democratizing universalism. We have already diagnosed the deeper trends in fact against social and planetary life-organization themselves – hardly recognized until the 2008 Crash. Here we simply observe that the substructural pattern of thought repression we have come to recognize at work in other social orders and times is now more deeply at work than ever before. But the ruling paradigm has peculiar features of self-representation. It is deemed to be freedom and, at the same time, there is said to be ‘no alternative’. It is declared to be what people want, and, at the same time, what they must accept as ‘inevitable’. It is what ‘delivers prosperity’, but what requires ever more ‘sacrifices’ of people’s life-security.
What always holds social understanding back from critical comprehension is the law-like tendency of a reigning social system to select against the reproduction of those views which expose and criticize it. This is a transcultural mental block. We have traversed the history of its unseen hold on human thought since the beginnings of social reason. Yet an unprecedented pervasion of centrally controlled mass conditioning reaches across cultural and physical boundaries to almost all humanity, and works at levels of the psyche of which few are conscious. All of its 24-hour-a-day manifestations in all of its bewildering variety of reproductive forms are governed by one master principle: Nothing which contradicts the value or necessity of transnational corporate control of all that exists for self-maximizing returns to shareholders will be reproduced in the mass media.21 This is a diagnostic claim which deserves the most searching scrutiny before we accept its truth. But what exception in the ‘Free World’ can we find? The exceptions indicate the rule.
Humanity has come without notice to a totalitarian moment of the ancient taboo which works by what is not said, reported or debated in any official source or media of record. Thus the causal mechanism behind all of the degenerate trends identified in Chapter 1 is taboo to question.
VALUE-FREE ‘ECONOMIC LAWS’ AS AUTOMATIZED SYSTEM ENFORCEMENT
Let us suppose that conglomerate money-sequence rule of the world has become so entrenched underneath conscious thought that it is presupposed as ‘human nature’ and ‘economic laws’ even by professional thinkers. As Philip Mirowski observes from a standpoint which does not follow up the consequences of the misconception,
The imperatives of the orthodox research program [of economic science] leave little room for maneuver and less room for originality … These mandates … Appropriate as many mathematical techniques and metaphorical expressions from contemporary respectable science, primarily physics as possible … Preserve to the maximum extent possible the attendant nineteenth-century overtones of ‘natural order’ … Deny strenuously that neoclassical theory slavishly imitates physics … Above all, prevent all rival research programs from encroaching … by ridiculing all external attempts to appropriate twentieth century-physics models … All theorizing is [in this way] held hostage to nineteenth-century concepts of energy.22
Mirowski’s concern is that the right kind of physics is not being appropriated. The deeper issue, however, is that any model of physics leaves us comprehending human life as not human. For if even economist critics of the dominant paradigm remain imprisoned within a framework that comprehends the most basic co-operative structure of human life in the same manner as we understand the movement of inanimate particles, there is little hope that the contemporary economics can help us understand what has gone wrong.
Once the social structures of humanity’s life are framed in the same way as inanimate objects and forces, and their modes of life are conceived as governed by laws as falling objects or heating gases are, then no social choice is permitted entry into the structure of the system. This is, as we will see, why the model has been selected for reproduction and dominance within the larger society of actual economic ordering. It rules out humanity’s evolved capacities to be more than law-governed particles of a man-made system. In this way, economics’ submission to the larger ruling order outside it becomes, in effect, a police function of it – as we saw in the case of Milton Friedman and his support of the armed overthrow of Chile’s elected government supported without protest by ‘Free World’ economists elsewhere.
Economics is not, of course, the only site of this subservience as a disciplinary apparatus. Still, its leading members promulgate such notions as ‘the invisible hand’ and ‘necessary sacrifices’ with an aggressive certitude which gives their prescriptions special sanction in the global corporate system they are the priests for. We might say that economics is to the corporate market what theology was to the medieval Church, the investitured deifier of the ruling order. One might have hoped for more critical capacity from a discipline that prides itself on anti-metaphysics.
Yet because economists imagine the capitalist market system as given by the structure of reality like the law of gravitation – David Ricardo’s very model for the labour market – they construe their study as ‘value free’. They do this even while calling for its imposition by force and sacrifice across borders and time. The claim of value neutrality while murderously enforcing their own is absurd, but eco-genocide nonetheless follows for societies failing to conform. In this, the economists follow the larger ruling system they serve. Peoples are terrorized into submission to the ruling prescriptions as the indigenous peoples across the world have been over 500 years by invasion, mass murder, land clearances and criminal prosecution for resistance into today. It used to be conceived as Racial superiority and God’s will. Yet the reign of terror is now perceived by the neo-economics as laws of motion like physics. Money-sequencing capital flows and commodity sales are quantified, plotted on graphs and made into equations with no bodies or diseases counted in from start to finish, thereby appearing as Newtonian laws at work in the world.
‘Economic laws’ are thus not what they seem. They are in fact system coercions where verification is backed by starvation and death. Complete system coercion is then coded into the regularities described by the theory as ‘economic laws’ based on ‘positive facts’. In answer to any objection to the systematic life-oppression, it is demanded that critics attend to the facts as they are, and not as they might like them to be. This analysis is then called ‘value-free’ economics. Those who disagree are categorized as ‘insufficiently rigorous’ or ‘subversive’, and all schools are closed against them.
Yet a ‘value-free’ study of a forced-labour camp would yield the same results. The inmates obey, and the prison-camp labour yields predictable outputs and revenues by minimal cost inputs as long as there is no ‘external interference’ in the supply-demand system. Concern for the bodies piling up is repressed as an unwelcome ‘value judgement’. ‘We must study the facts as they are, not as moralists would like them to be’. In this way, ‘economists‘ proudly repudiate questions of value as illegitimate, while presupposing with increasing certitude that the enforced value system whose effects they describe is as neutral as the laws of motion studied by the natural sciences.23 Yet a second-order question arises in the face of this unexamined meta-programme. Is this sort of economics really an academic discipline, or a science? Or is it the post facto propaganda of an enforced value system? Does it anywhere open, as any authentic intellectual discipline or science must, its paradigm to challenge and question? Unhappily, one will not find anywhere that the money-sequence value system itself is challenged. Yet if value theory is banished from a subject whose every object of study is a value, it is a ludicrous thought system. Because economists have encoded their assumptions into unquestioned first premises and formalist equations, however, they are no longer aware of what they have assumed. Their presupposed values have disappeared into a formal apparatus without life-referents. We can see the bond here to earlier times. Just as ancient Latin operated in the medieval Church to reify dogmas into ritualized sequences untouchable by facts, so neo-economics has done for well over a century. It conceals the value judgements it assumes in an a-temporal and life-blind algebra severed from any accountability to its life-destructive effects. Is it as closed an infallibilism as the Church theology before it, but with self-maximizing money-sequencers in suits and maths rather than in robes and Latin.
The Mathematical Incarceration of Economics in Money-Sequences
The mathematicalization of economics began with a system-deciding metaphysical move which was not examined. Grounded in an engineering model of perfectly divisible inputs and outputs, life is in principle ruled out by a methodological reduction which substitutes an outdated linear physics for the ecology of human and planetary life. Once this life-erased mechanism took hold at the turn of the twentieth century, life-value choices and values were abolished a priori. People were and remain presupposed as a-political atoms of automatically self-maximizing sequences of money value.
Any life-values in disagreement with the system were thus excluded as unscientific. The life-and-blood complexities and histories of society and social relations were simultaneously abstracted away with class divisions – themselves abstracted away. Symbolic rituals again ruled. Only micro money-exchange inputs and outputs computed. Entrants to the calculus were in effect mass murdered by a priori equation.
What is called ‘Economics‘ is in reality the mechanics of money-sequences. What money wants is all that exists. All else is eliminated. And money as we have seen eventually comes to exponentially multiply legal tender by ‘derivatives’ speculations. The mechanical paradigm of ‘neo-classical economics’ was exactly suited to a value system which processed human and environmental life-forms as throughputs of self-maximizing global corporate money-sequences. Once political and democratic interventions were also expunged by the processes defined in Chapter 1, there were no footings left within the ruling paradigm to resist the re-engineering of world life to disposable functions of the global money-sequence mechanism advancing though every life-system and host. Economists and the societies they prescribed to thus became obedient creatures of the ruling value-system assumed by all as ‘value neutral’.
This is how ‘Economics‘ ceased to be a science. Like the received dogmatics of another epoch, its formulations decoupled from reality in a scholastic formalism, its priesthood would not acknowledge the right of any but its believers to speak on the life-and-death issues designated by the subject, and all that lived became materials and forces to be privately money-sequenced to more. Yet it would be a mistake to merely reject this ruling thought system. One has to unmask the principles it assumes in order to comprehend the life-coherent understanding required. One has to lay bare the reigning assumptions to follow the trail of globally life-destructive consequences which the system‘s metaphysic unleashes beneath recognition.
As we know from historical experience, a ruling value-system is most dangerous when it is built on premises which exclude vital life-needs and capacities a priori. In this case, not only has the ruling money-sequence system long mutated from its free market roots. It has developed countless switches and relays of ideological circuits in the face of cumulatively catastrophic trends it is structured to block out.
Philosophy Institutes the First Premise of Economics as Rationality Itself
At the same time, the second-order discipline of philosophy too repels critical examination of the reigning system. Its most influential figures not only tacitly assume the mutated system as a ‘the free market’. More deeply, they posit its first principle of self-maximization as the meaning of reason itself. Thus the dominant contractarian model of both social philosophy and ethics begins in its most famous cases with this unexamined assumption of the commercial market – to relate with others so as to get as much as you can for yourself – as the first law of understanding justice and morality. John Rawls writes (emphasis added): ‘I have assumed throughout that the persons in the original position [of seeking the principles of justice by a contractual agreement] are rational … [By this I mean] It is rational for the parties to suppose that they do want a larger share … The concept of rationality invoked here is the standard one in social theory.’24 David Gauthier extends this principle of rationality as calculated self-seeking to morality itself, assuming with the ruling market paradigm as well that rationality means ‘maximizing the interests of the self’.25
This is not a new pattern of servitude to the ruling idea of an age. Philosophers have traditionally closed their eyes to the value paradigms ruling them, and considered safer prey. They have preferred to challenge other philosophers’ concepts of truth, reality and goodness instead. Philosophy has become in this way a discipline of words about words, principally other philosophers’ words, which pose puzzles not disturbing ruling social orders, however life-destructive they might be.
With noble exceptions, as there always are, the hard realities of mass-child malnutrition, 80-hour weeks in global market sweat shops or stripping of social sectors and environmental protections to provide ‘free circulation to capital’ are issues which are not thought worthy of ‘sophisticated’ argument in either established Economics or Philosophy. Yet philosophical lenses are particularly helpful in seeing through the pretence of ‘value-free’ facts, or an economic paradigm which is imagined to be independent of human norm and choice. This is very important because the global market system is now standardly represented as an inalterable structure of the world to which societies must adapt whether they approve of its consequences or not. This costume of fate needs to be removed so we can see this regulating system of value without its sacerdotal clothing of necessity. Once seen and understood as a social construction, as a theoretically manufactured programme whose designations as good and exclusions as bad are not laws of nature or even of economic organization, we are better able to recognize and respond to its effects.
From Methodological Censorship to Ruling Value-Programme
Methodological avoidance is more effective than prohibition in ruling out questions. Is the taboo built into political science too? Examine any major journal of political theory or affairs to observe the pattern. Analysis invariably assumes the major premise that the global market is a ‘free market’ with no reflection on the truth of this value affirmation, or on the use of a normative affirmation as a description. You will also observe that if and when any changes are recommended to this ‘free market’, they are measures to ensure its further implementation or its more efficient defence. On the other hand, whatever exposes or criticizes this world system is unlikely to be published. For it follows from the premise of ‘the free market’ that what opposes it must be against freedom.
Again thought is bound at its premise-base against posing the system-critical questions. The nature of the ‘liberal-capitalist’ state is ‘democratic’, even if only business-financed parties are ever elected to national government office. Where does mainstream political science ever question the nature of the corporate state as ‘democracy’ or the oligopolist system as a ‘free market’? Where does it not rationalize the surrounding system as the best of possible orders?
Presupposing and identifying with the value system one has been indoctrinated in day in and day out creates a mental block against exposing it even in the sciences. Critical observation of it risks the one’s own identity as well as social acceptability. This is why the great anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss said, ‘I had to leave France to study man’. This block against critical understanding of the social order one lives within is a transcultural problem. It militates against reflective thought the more that all alternatives have been attacked. Social members can be so constituted by this social system of which they are cultural products that each’s own very meaning and identity is framed by the value order all have learned to think in terms of. Each sees and interprets within its frame of valuation as both onlooker and recipient. Each presupposes its goods of achievement and bads of failure as both evaluator of the self as well as others. One cannot recognize its pathological structures without putting oneself into question. This is why I have chosen the term ‘value programme’ as a designator. A value system becomes a programme when its assumed structure of worth rules out all thought of alternative to it.
When the Hindu does not think of a reality beyond caste dharma, and when the marketeer cannot value beyond market price, we see examples of value programmes at work. A social value-programme is a jealous God. Consciousness and decision, preference and rejection are imprisoned within it. Whatever is against it is repelled as alien, evil, abnormal. The modalities of role and individuation, personal gratification and avoidance, become elaborations and differentiations of the programme internalized as the self. Lived alternative to the role-master is taboo. In the adolescence of the species, all members of the group see as the group sees. All experience as the group does. All affirm and repudiate as the group does. There is no reality beyond it save the Other.
We think in this time and age that we are beyond this subjugation to a closed programme: that we are no longer tribal, but cosmopolitan ‘world citizens’ in a global concourse of visibly contrasting ways of life and social belief-systems. But this is a delusion when, in fact, a single value system is presupposed as normal across all the expressions of it. What could such a value programme be, it may be replied, when we are all so different as individuals and peoples? The test is: Which of these different individuals and peoples does not now presuppose the global market value-system as normal; its system of production and exchanges as what necessarily regulates one’s work and after hours; its goods as what one must seek more of; its functions as what one must perform to be accepted; and its requirements as what one must compete against others to fulfil? Who questions the pervasive equation of the global corporate system to ‘the Free World’, or allows for the possibility that its declared enemies may be in the right?
THINKING BEYOND THE SOCIAL SCRIPT AS AN OBLIGATION OF HUMAN LIFE
Yet what is truly human thinks beyond the script of a given social system. Otherwise thought is reduced to the repertoire of a social programme. If the script of the social system has come to be propelled by a value sequence which in fact attacks the life-fabric of its social or environmental life-host, moving beyond its invisible prison is the gravest of human obligations. This is an ultimate choice that has confronted individuals and societies in the past. We now live with little self-consciousness within a ritualized value-system sanctified by ‘the invisible hand’ regulating its distributions, ‘market miracles’ to beatify it, and never-ending ‘sacrifices’ to impose its discipline – in effect a new world theology on the level of representation. Yet none of this shakes the assumption that the system is scientific in nature.
We know from anthropological and historical evidence that religious conceptions and world-views are the traditional organizing frameworks of self-conception in terms of which a social order standardly understands itself. Even the ‘godless’ order of Sovietism worshipped sanctified persona who did not exist, incanted phrases mesmerically to ward off critique, and invoked apocalyptic destruction of oppressors as a legitimating device. We know that since before the Old Testament and the Vedas, individual members of society have comprehended themselves in terms of these larger orders of meaning and fate. We may continue to imagine that we are beyond these collective superstitions which worship their surrounding social order. We may think that in the global market ‘all that is holy melts into air’. Here, surely, such religious mists of illusion and superstition, beliefs in divine plans and magical, invisible forces have disappeared.
Yet as reflection on system phenomena from a life-grounded standpoint soon discloses, there is a theocratic character to the global market system not recognized by its adherents – even as they continually invoke religious categories and ghosts. It prescribes commandments that cannot be disobeyed without harsh punishments and terrors to the disobedient. It metes out rewards and tribulations in accordance with inexorable and immutable laws. Nothing that occurs from its fundamental principles of human ordering can be doubted, however many innocent families and children suffer death and destruction from their prescriptions. Those societies or movements which defy or replace the transnational money-sequence system as sovereign are indeed warred against in global market crusades of an assumed salvational order which is not publicly open to question.
Ironically, it is sincere followers of traditional religion who have been explicit critics of the global market regime. They have focused on this system’s deprivations of those with the least. They have in their ‘preferential option for the poor’ represented an ancient tradition of the Old Testament prophets and, in particular, the founder of Christianity himself. Recent ‘social justice’ and ‘liberation theology’ movements have emerged on this basis. To feed the hungry, protect the homeless, clothe the naked and, in general, care for those excluded by the market system has been a higher moral compass grounded in identification with the lives of others. In the East too, there are contemporary Buddhist, Islamic, and Hindu voices who have spoken from the life-ground past their particular social systems to concern for all that lives.
Yet if a ruling value-programme is virulently closed, one dare not criticize its accepted principles of assigning payoffs and deprivations lest one be put in league with the system’s enemies. Thinking as a human being is excommunicated from the right to speak. Verification of this silent operation is found in the general fact that no medium of record identifies any of the system’s cumulatively degenerate trends defined in Chapter 1. Or ever debates the unilateral corporate rights of transnational trade treaties overriding democratic legislation a priori. Or ever connects cancer and non-infectious disease epidemics to the social causal mechanism producing them.
This is how even a demonstrable cancer system can continue to grow and spread its multiplying circuits of depredation without its being publicly named.
Recognizing Healthy versus Diseased Ruling Value-Systems
There is clear distinction between a healthy value-set and a morbid one. What distinguishes the behaviour of a pathological value-programme is that it continues to rule even if its operations systematically assault organic, social and ecological life-systems. The ruling value-programme is not recognized as the causal mechanism of a rising life-depredation and destruction. It remains presupposed – just as the Easter Islanders were locked into their ruling value-programme of felling trees to erect massive stone totems of their tribe. The fatal consequences to their natural life-support systems were never responded to, and so eventually they had no trees left to build their ocean-going boats to fish and explore, or tree species to supply food, materials, rope and fuel, or undegraded soil for crops, and so on.26 It is this mind-locked blindness to its life-destructive consequences that marks a pathological ruling value-programme. There are countless variations on this theme, and history is, one might say, an unrecognized succession of them.
The 1930s Depression and 1939–45 war followed by the post-war welfare state were both the fall and the recovery of the capitalist system. Then after ‘the golden age’ of capitalism, the system mutated into a transnational money-sequence system with all committed life-functions systematically overridden. The recovery period succeeded within a wider global context of post-colonial socialism and alternative social orders in diverse evolution towards more life-coherent organization. But these alternatives were eventually all but overrun by the deregulated global corporate system moving through one carcinogenic mutation after another as diagnosed in Chapter 1, ‘Decoding the Cancer System’.
The life-organization of a civilization is only as healthy as the critical feedback directing it towards what enables versus disables its life-capital capacities. Without this continuous feedback of the evolving requirements of natural and social life-support systems – as distinguished from more wealth for its wealthiest – a society is inexorably hollowed out. Overview explanation in life-capital terms has been provided in the prior chapter, in the section ‘Life-Capital Sequences versus Money Capital Sequences: The Turning Point of Understanding and Recovery’. We always know any civilization is breaking down when it excludes recognition of and response to its degenerate trends.
Later analysis identifies the implicit ‘social immune system’ and underlying evolving ‘civil commons’ of any viable society. As we have seen, however, these are what the transnational money-sequencing system wars upon by perpetual defunding, privatization, destruction of future life-carrying capacities, and elimination of the life-serving vocations of its young. In the social life-organization that is breaking down, the conflict between system worship and life-reality is erased. Degenerate trends do not compute, identification of them is uncommunicated, non-corporate responses are ruled out, and the life-blind system is continuously extended further – all blinkered out by the taboo against recognition of its life-incoherent ordering.
Re-Grounding in Life-Necessity to Recognize the Usurpation of Society
As we trace an ever clearer profile of the systemic disorder and recognize the evolved social resources to combat it, the most basic principles of immune response and recovery can be seen already aroused in societies across the world. Once seen, the connections become so evident that we recognize they were there all along. We have seen this in the Latin American transformation since 2000 anatomized in Chapter 1 – democratic reclamation of public policies, investment allocation, social sectors and natural resources from foreign money-sequence control with radical decreasing of poverty, inequality and squandering riches with no function.
Yet prior to such pathways of resolution, the degenerate trends must be decoded.
Tracking and documentation of the corporate money-sequence system’s assault pattern on life-organization at all levels has thus been the most laborious task of this study, finding the common causal pattern of the sea-change depredations at work in almost all nations at the same time. To penetrate behind the ever more overwhelming but disconnected images, facts and phenomena to the underlying money-sequence syntax driving all of them has led to the confirmed diagnosis of a cancer system.
Yet in raising the issue here of a serious social disease we may immediately wonder, what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘pathological’? The evolved value judgements of medical science provide a sound ground which we experience in our own lives – the objective difference between our functioning capacities being reduced by a life-disabling disease and not. And we have no difficulty in saying the former state is ‘bad for us’. Such reliable value co-ordinates refute fashionable relativisms which would have us believe that values are merely cultural perspectives or projections. The exact distinctions between healthy and diseased states provide uncontroversial value bearings across individuals and their social life-hosts.
Beneath medical science is a first major premise of value that all assume – the premise that health is preferable to disease. Peoples of all places and in all social orders prefer to be alive and well, and they perform countless functions and avoidances to ensure they continue that way – including famous pessimists like Arthur Schopenhauer. There is no real issue about whether unpolluted water to drink, or freedom from hunger, or having a place to sleep is of value or disvalue. The universal values and disvalues bonding all human beings are quite undeniable once recognized. But in the strange loss of bearings of our time, these values are not recognized in principle in even the social sciences and humanities. Universal values are denied as the fashion, needs are relativized, and no unifying life-base exists in reflection of the deep disorder. Only what is not alive, what is priced or generates a profit, stands as uncontested value. This is the nature of the cancer system. But if we go beneath the pathological value-programme, we find the life-ground again.
Once we re-ground in universal life-requirements and providing for them by life-capital preservation and development – the real economy – we are able to respond to the ongoing ruling invasion and occupation diagnosed in the prior chapter. It is recognizable as pathological in principle because it always selects for money-value over life-value, and its global money-sequence demands come into ever deeper conflict with human and natural life-requirements on all planes. Since only money values count, the implications are fatal over generational time. Yet because even ecologists and environmental scientists are still confined to biological analysis which excludes the determining global economic order, the ultimate causal mechanism is blinkered even as it selects for ongoing extinction spasms and ecocidal destruction.
Species extinctions now proceed at least 1,000 times their normal rate. Up to 99 per cent of the materials used in the US production process end up as waste within six weeks. For every ton of garbage, in turn, there are five tons of materials to produce it, and 25 tons extracted from nature to yield these materials.27 At the same time, 99 per cent of extracted natural resources never reach the market and of the 6 per cent remaining, 80 per cent ends as unrecycled waste within six months.28 As the life-ground is thus stripped and polluted by unfettered global money-sequence operations, the common cause is blocked out. One block is avoidance, another diversion, another blaming other symptoms. If one doubts this common cause, identify which of these ecocidal trends is not driven by transnational money-sequences in every step of the vast looting and waste.
The omnibus justification is Easter-Island-like: ‘It is necessary for economic growth.’ Who dares recognize that every step of the ecocide is prescribed by the ruling value mechanism? The malignant meaning is taboo to publicly discuss and perhaps even to think.
Life-Protective Rule of Law Overridden but Available
As our compass of comprehension broadens, we are inevitably brought to the issue of the ‘rule of law’ in our inquiry. If we can recognize these effects of the system of extracting and using natural resources that the globe is regulated by, the gains or losses of the biophysical carrying capacity and species wealth of our common life-ground, the rule of law can provide us with the precise lines for enforceable structures of prevention – for example, by binding international protocols like the Ozone Layer Protocol.
But this treaty protocol was in force before 1990, and no effectively binding protocol has followed since, although the global necessity has only increased. Instead, the rising destructions of natural and social life-support systems have accumulated and compounded without any effective prevention. If a system catastrophe in motion is not ignored or denied, like man-made carbon gases destabilizing global climate cycles, the problem is euphemized as ‘climate warming’, a welcome change to the North. Then transnational corporate-market rights to pollute and trade these new publicly granted money-value rights for profit extends the corporate money-sequences further.
Here again, the reigning disorder is not merely life-blind, but effectively prohibits effective recognition and response. What is not seen is that on the world-system level there is no life-protective rule of law at all: no law at all to protect employees, no law at all to protect the environment (excepting the Ozone Protocol), and no law or binding regulation to protect any social or natural life-support system, nor even the impartial prosecution of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The transnational money-sequence system of the World Trade Organization and its regional versions is thus, in fact, a lawless system whose thousands of superseding rules protect only foreign money-sequences to profit. The rest is ad hoc public pretence – from greenwash energy schemes enriching transnational corporations while wrecking life-ecosystems with less conservation than before to US-led sabotages of new treaties like the 1999 Biodiversity Treaty Protocol to NATO-led ‘Responsibility-to-Protect’ strategic attacks on non-allies for access to new treasure while the worst oppressors remain allied. Can one think of exception to this degenerate inner logic of the reigning world system?
Human civilization’s long-evolving norms of protecting life are thus overridden. On the other hand, these life-protective norms are already codified and in place for activation inside trade-and-investment treaties, but this as well is taboo to raise at the policy or mass media levels. The very ordering framework of codified law which has evolved beneath class privilege since the Great Depression and the Second World War is effectively abolished from the ‘new world order’ – like the binding International Covenant on Economic, Political and Cultural Rights.29
TECHNOLOGY AS SAVIOUR OR DESTROYER: UNMASKING THE RULING FETISHISM
‘Technological civilization’ is blamed by eminent thinkers like Martin Heidegger, Jacques Ellul and George Grant as the essence of the problem. This comprehension, however, fails to penetrate the ultimately regulating value programme behind contemporary technology which is only the primary instrument of it. It is here that we strike to the inner wheel of the system and its thousand-armed tool of material power. The unifying principle of the programme and its technology can be crystallized into a single formula:
Behind every step of contemporary technology’s planning, design, assembly, manufacture and implementation stands one commanding value-decision: to maximize the difference between input and output of money value.
We need to pause on this claim because, if it is true, then technological development is not our ultimate problem but rather its effect. If we cannot find one significant case in the Western world where technology is not an instrument for the system-deciding goal of maximizing returns to money-value sequences, we cannot blame technology for problems in which it is only a programmed tool.
East or West, technology and its development are not self-moving authors of their effects. They are the instruments and expressions of a deeper value programme. To attribute autonomous determination to ‘Technology’ as the despot of our condition is, then, a mystifying fetishism: one more avoidance of confronting the ruling money-sequence system behind it. As we have seen, the commanding value-programme of a social order is the unexamined substructure of its life-organization. Yet so basic is the money-sequence hold in the global corporate system that the money-sequence programme behind the life-blind rule of machine technology is not uncovered.
The critic of ‘technological civilization’ is properly appalled at the motor-driven destruction of a wilderness by the latest commodity invasion, and by the loss of people’s control over their lives by the homogenizing culture of mechanical instrumentalism. But until understanding connects these phenomena back to the ultimately regulating value programme deciding them, we remain lost in symptoms. In yet another way, the taboo against exposing the ruling system disorder remains itself unseen.
In laying bare the inner logic of prescription which is expressed in every development of modern technology, we are eventually brought back to the core interface of the ruling system and life-protective law, that which legitimates any form of social rule. At an abstract level, the global market economy is the world system of producing and distributing goods in short supply for competitive prices within and across borders to all who have the money-demand to purchase them. In contrast, the law embodies the diverse systems of nations, regions and municipalities which specify normative rules of conduct for the jurisdictions within which these globalized economic transactions take place. It is within these primary and conflicting structures that most of humanity for the last three decades.
At first glance, all this may seem, as it is said to be, an inevitable conflict. The living and the local give way to the ‘new and more efficient’ wherever they conflict. Technology replaces all that is lost in nature and community with more and better. Here we see technology fetishized in another way – as superhuman rather than inhuman. ‘Technological substitutibility’ is the economist’s term, but again the underlying logic is to reify technology and its results rather than recognize the inner logic of money-sequence multiplication that drives them to any extreme of destroying life-systems so long as it nets maximally more money value. Again the system-driving value programme remains masked in its effects. And again the programme is insane to the extent that it seeks always to resolve the problems it causes by more pervasive implementation of the economic policies that generate them.30
With or without a revolution, a rule of life-protective law is required to regulate on behalf of the common life-interest. Yet if the ruling value-programme is structured to reject accountability to law as ‘government interference’ and seeks only more ‘deregulation’ and ‘self-regulation’ of its operations, then we confront a problem of incalculable gravity. For there is no limit to the organic, civil and ecological damage continuously done by a life-blind system with no accountability beyond itself.
The Ruling Value-Programme Behind ‘Technological Society’ or ‘Soulless Mega-Machine’
A Marxist standpoint might hold that focus on a value programme and taboo against its exposure is ‘merely an ideological issue’. Such a position misses the basic point that ideology masks the ruling value-programme without recognizing it – as in the ideological assumptions that money capital ‘creates goods’ when most profits are by property in land and knowledge it does not create, and its manufactures are increasingly bads rather than goods. In the case of contemporary ‘global capitalism’, the ruling value-programme is concealed: transnational money-sequencing corporations control investment, production and distribution so as to maximize private money returns without required life-function (formally, $ → AasM → $1-2-3 → n where AasM = All as Means). Every moment of what is socially planned, instituted, implemented and enforced in this system’s sequences instantiates this ultimately regulating value-programme, but is itself is never named.
‘One must meet the bottom line’ may seem to identify this ruling value code, but it does not specify the code’s defining derangement: the overriding of life-requirements to get maximally more private money again and again without any limit to the cumulative organic, social and ecological life-despoliation. This defining nature of the contemporary global system is demonstrable and has been demonstrated, but is not defined, debated or refuted. Yet it is exactly this regulating code that is the eco-genocidal problem, and that neither ideology nor science ever engages or resolves.
The ruling value-code is most difficult to penetrate because it is taboo to recognize. Though its pathological structure is clear once decoded, it is off limits even to rebut. In order to demystify its hold on consciousness, we conclude in Table 2.1 with an anatomy of the inner logic of the taboo against recognizing the proved nature of the reigning system.
|Table 2.1 The basic value-programme and its grammar of censorship|
|The basic value-programme (BVP)|
|Principle I||Transnational money-sequencing corporations control investment, production and distribution so as to maximize private money returns without limit or required life-function.|
|What can be said|
|Principle II||This BVP is never named or defined as such, but assumption of it sets the limits of what can be publicly stated.|
|What cannot be said|
|Principle III||Nothing can be publicly said which contradicts its necessity or value now and in the future.|
|Operations of exclusion from the range|
|Principle IV||The degree of exclusion is in proportion to contradiction of the BVP.|
|Operations of selection within the range|
|Principle V||What validates BVP as necessary / moral and what invalidates opposition to BVP as impractical / immoral is selected for publication.|
These principles are not system-specific, but universal. That is they regulate any closed ruling order beneath conscious detection or understanding. The BVP could also be: An absolutist state controls society‘s material and ideological reproduction to hold its power and eliminate all opposition. The same generic principles of what can be said, what cannot be said, and the operations of selection and exclusion all regulate here as well. But the currently ruling BVP is unprecedented in its nature and effects. It is a global rule with no other military force in the world capable of overthrowing it. It appears to be open and free until the grammar of censorship is recognized to demonstrate it is not. Most deeply, It is cancerous in its self-multiplying growth and metastases across borders with no committed life-function on any level or regulation to ensure it. Underlying its ruling mechanism of totalizing invasion of organic, social and ecological life-systems and official appearances in the false name of ‘the economy’ and ‘free market’ is a more developed civil commons of life-knowledge, understanding and communication than any time in history. The struggle between this community of understanding and knowledge based in universal life-requirements and the grammar of censorship maintaining the cancerous transnational money-sequence system ultimately decides humanity’s future.
See my ‘Fascism and Neo-conservatism: Is there a Difference?’ Praxis International, 4, No. 1 (1984), 86–102.
Standardly, the state and its laws are presupposed as the expression of divine will and command, and no question as to their relationship arises. This is as true of the impersonal Mandate of Heaven to which the secular rulers of the Chinese have traditionally laid claim, as it is of the unchallengeable Divine Right of Kings promulgated in pre-1800 Europe. We may to think the presupposed connection has disappeared with the modern Western separation of Church and state, but to challenge it before testifying in court, while contesting an election, as a teacher of school, or on any public medium is by no means yet an undangerous act.
It is extraordinary the length to which Socrates goes to avoid criticizing the system of military aggression, conquest and slavery upon which his society is based, even when these forms of life clearly violate his concern to restrain the appetites and to nurture the rational element inherent even in slave-boys (Meno, 82b–86a). A passage where this contradiction between allegiance to reason and subservience to the status quo emerges in The Republic, II 372a–374e. Here Socrates, in a few lines, allows Glaucon to take the ideal republic from modesty, to luxury and swollen armies of labour, to robbery of neighbouring states and war (‘no form of work whose efficiency is so important’), with no argument against any step of the way. By the end, training for war has become Socrates’ focal concern, and the breeding and education of a military class of guardians remains his normal preoccupation.
The Pre-Socratics’ historical situation was one in which the constancy of ancient custom, conjoined with the forces of habit and established power, may well have been sufficient to rule out critical social thought as a possibility. However, it would be a mistake to suppose that Pre-Socratics were incapable of questioning of the social given. Even children question their forms of social life though they know no alternative until their guardians put a stop to it. Herein may lie the genetic structure of humanity’s deepest closure of intelligence.
Socrates has nothing critical to say about the state or the laws during or after his trial, according to the reports of both the Apology and the Crito. Indeed, he argues that the state and the laws are the source of life, his master, his sacred commander, his teacher, and his father and mother (50a–52b).
Socrates was not only legendarily provocative in his style (for which the young used to follow him about to watch the fun), but he was also allied with the Thirty Tyrants who were overthrown as Athen’s rulers before his trial.
Michel Foucault’s words are of interest here:
The history that bears and determines us has the form of a war rather than that of a language; relations of power, not relations of meaning. (Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–77, ed. Colin Gordon, London: Harvester, 1981)
Foucault highlights what academics like to ignore: the structures of social power and struggle within which phitheir research takes place.
Two of Lao Tzu’s acutely relevant insights to today (from the Tao-te-Ching (translated by Wing Tsit Chan, A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972, pp. 155–66):
The courts are exceedingly splendid While the fields are exceedingly weedy; Elegant clothes are worn, Sharp weapons are carried, Foods and drinks are enjoyed beyond limit, and wealth and treasures are accumulated in excess. This is robbery and extravagance. This is indeed not Tao, …(53)
For a victory, let us observe the occasion with funeral ceremonies … (31)
The Bhagavad-Gita is never so direct as this in its social criticism, but its implicit rejection of caste-ultimates and its explicit rejection of self-seeking behaviour (‘To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruit’) might be illuminatingly compared to the standard acceptance of classes, and the uncritical equation of rationality to consistent self-interest by English-speaking philosophy and economics today.
Unlike modern philosophical materialists, the Carvaka’s rejection of soul as anything more than the body distinguished by the attribute of intelligence carried with it radical social implications: repudiation of the merit-justified caste system, the priesthood, and taboos against life-enjoyment. (See Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, ed. S. Radhakrishnan and Samuel Moore, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971, 227–36.)
The meaning of concepts often reverses by ruling system syntax. Consider the historical mutation of such concepts as cynic and anarchist – standing for philosophical positions which criticize and reject social convention and the state respectively – into accepted terms of abuse.
These famous words are Isaiah’s (3:15), but this concern for the poor’s oppression by the rich runs throughout the Old Testament prophets: for example, Jeremiah (5:27–9), Ezekial (16:50), Amos (2:7; 8:4–8), Habakkuk (2:5–9) and Malachi (3:5). One might go so far as to say that class analysis originates with them. But their denunciation of the wealthy’s exploitation of the needy is repressed. In Canada the mere citation of Isaiah by J.S. Woodsworth in the 1930s was enough to incur his prosecution for sedition. (Ross Dowson, Ross Dowson vs. RCMP, Forward Publications, Toronto, 1980, p. 51.)
The execution of Jesus as a political criminal is generally concealed: better for social rule that he is conceived as a religious apostate from colonized Jewry than a rebel against the Empire and Roman Law. As the biblical scholar Oscar Cullman has pointed out, if Jesus’ crime had been religious and against Jewish law he would have been stoned for blasphemy, not crucified with his crime posted on the cross as required by Roman law. (The State in the New Testament, New York: Scribners, 1956, 43ff.)
In the 1980s and 1990s in Central and South America especially, but also in South Africa and in outside supporting metropolitan centres, Christian churches became unprecedentedly involved with people’s movements against repressive governments and exploitative structures of corporate power. An extraordinary example of this identification with the struggle of people to expose and to remove the power-structures oppressing them, is the former Primate of El Salvador, Archbishop Romero, who made the following published comment after the killing of one of his priests by El Salvador security forces:
When a dictatorship seriously violates human rights and attacks the common good of the nation, when it becomes unbearable and closes all channels of dialogue, of understanding, of rationality, when this happens, the Church speaks of the legitimate right of insurrectional violence. (Cited by Alan Riding, ‘The Sword and The Cross’, New York Review of Books, Vol. xxviii, No. 9, May)
Archbishop Romero was murdered with evident government collaboration not long after this statement, on March 24, 1980, with US favour and funding of the regime unaffected.
‘Understanding Market Theology’, in Bernard Hodgson (ed.), The Invisible Hand and the Common Good, Heidelberg and New York: Springer Studies in Economic Ethics and Philosophy, 2004, pp. 151–83.
This compliance of Christian thinkers with the social given begins as early as Paul, who is clear on the duty of unqualified subjection to all relations of established social power: ‘Let every man be subject to the powers that be’ (Romans 13:1); ‘The State is there to serve God for your benefit’ (Romans 13:4); ‘Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord … Slaves, be obedient to the men who are Called your masters’ (Ephesians 5:23; 6:5); and ‘For the sake of the Lord, accept the authority of every social institution’ (I Peter 2:13).
Within such a sanctified framework of unquestioning obedience to the established order, it is not surprising that churches for whom the positions of Paul constitutes unimpeachable authority have sided with the oppressors. On the other hand, Augustine, Aquinas, Scotus and Ockham have been canonized in Philosophy and Logic although bound by the premises of the institution they served to unquestioning conformity to the social status quo. Aquinas was imprisoned by his own family for two years for joining the more socially conscious Dominican Order in its early years, Scotus was banished from France for refusing to take the side of King Philip the Fair in a dispute over Church taxation, and – most significant – Ockham was excommunicated by the Pope over his scholarly support of the legitimacy of apostolic poverty.
Hegel’s dialectical method may be, as has often been argued, an inherently subversive one. The spirit of negation is its very meaning, however Hegel may himself have conceived the Prussian State as the Absolute’s historical culmination. Although Hegel’s dialectic contradicts in principle the absolutization of the social-institutional present, he is unable to refrain from absolutizing the entire institutional edifice within which he lives, though he must contravene his own method to do so. Hegel helps to reveal by this self-contradiction just how confined by the social given philosophy has been.
An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Charles W. Hendel, New York: Library of Liberal Arts, Bobbs-Merrill, 1957, p. 24.
Discourse of the Origin and the Foundation of Inequality Among Mankind, Part 2, paragraph 1.
See The Social Contract and Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Lester G. Crocker, New York: Washington Square Press, 1971, pp. 39, 135, 236, 145–6. For Rousseau’s position that woman’s submission to man is a law of nature, see his discussion throughout Book V of Emile, especially ‘The Education of Women and Training for Womanhood’ (1) and (2).
Mill supports unequal voting and imperialism in his Representative Government where he argues for a plurality of votes for the managerial and professional classes (Chapter VIII), and where he defends British colonialism as a matter of free states governing dependencies (Chapter XVIII). He supports racism by his stated belief that there are backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its non-age (Collected Works of S. Mill, ed. J.M. Robson, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965, Volume XVIII, p. 224).
For a fuller analysis of this principle and its testing, see my ‘The Unspeakable: Understanding The System of Fallacy of the Media’, Informal Logic, X, No. 3 (Fall 1988), 133–50.
Philip Mirowski, More Heat Than Light: Economics as Social Physics, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 377–8.
The analogy is not remote from the facts of the world. ‘Development by invasion’, observes Berkeley geographer, Bernard Nietschmann, ‘is done by all of the most populous states that together lay claim to 63 per cent of the world’s peoples, and 43 per cent of the land area. ‘Nietschman’s and others’ documentation show that the ratios of land controllers to populations, the obey-or-be-killed relationship between them, the absolute prohibition of self-organization to construct an alternative, and the regularized extraction of super-profits from this arrangement reveal the concentration-camp conditions of my model. (Bernard Nietschman, ‘Economic Development by Invasion of Indigenous Nations’, Fourth World Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Winter 1985–86), 89–126.)
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968, pp. 142–3.
David Gauthier, Morals By Agreement, New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 7.
A detailed account is given by Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, New York: Viking, 2005, pp. 79–119. Diamond provides rich evidence of self-engineered social collapses by destruction and depletion of natural life-capital (not a generic concept he uses), but fails as much as anyone in recognition of the causal mechanism behind collapse of the transnational money-sequence system, even justifying it in euphemistic rationalization.
Digby McLaren, ‘Reply to Colin Rowat’, Delta Newsletter of the Global Change Program (Royal Society of Canada) Vol. 7, No. 3 (1996), 3; and Ernst Weizzsacker, Factor Four, London: Earth scan Books, 1997.
Robert Ayres, Alternatives Journal, 26, No. 1 (Winter 2000), 28. Ayres is a member of the US National Academy of Engineering.
See John McMurtry, ‘The Rights of the Human over the Non-Human: The Undeclared World War of Human Rights versus Corporate Rights’, 8-Part Series, Global Research, www.globalresearch.ca.
The following text from a retired senior economist of the International Monetary Fund is a revealing window on the a priori life-blind value program which the IMF demands all conform to at the cost of society’s life:
What we had done over these years was to ‘manufacture’ statistical indices – the RULC (Relative Unit Labour Cost) and several others – that would allow us to prove our point, and push a particular policy line, irrespective of economic realities … Our previous ‘mistakes’ were never mentioned … We went glibly on to ask for more … devaluation of the local currency, removal of price controls even on the most basic essentials, accelerated reduction of wages, removal of exchange controls on external capital and current transactions, spectacular cuts in public sector wage bills, deep reductions in transfers to persons, in social services, including health and education, systematic increases in interest rates, restructuring of the taxation system to increase its regressiveness, and indiscriminate divestment of public enterprises. (Davison L. Budhoo, Open Letter of Resignation to the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, New York: New Horizons Press, 1990, cited in Economic Reform, Vol. 10, No. 7 (July 1998), 10.)