Philosophers are no better than creationists. Philosophers may hate irrationalist leaps of faith, but French theorist François Laruelle locates their own narcissistic origin story. For him, all philosophy begins with the world as ‘fact.’ The atomists begin with the rain of the void, Kant posits the noumenal thing-in-itself, and the New Materialists start from matter. These facts do not speak for themselves but are mere setup, as once philosophy establishes what ‘is,’ then it narcissistically suggests the world exists for the purpose of proper philosophical reflection. Gottfried Leibniz presents the principle of sufficient reason, “everything in the world happens for a specific reason” (and it is the job of philosophers to identify it), and Alfred North Whitehead alternatively says, “no actual entity, then no reason” (so it is up to philosophers to find one). Continue Reading »
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Cynical ideology is a powerful explanatory tool. It is important to be clear about ideology, its function, and the effects of ideology and ideology critique. There is a common sense definition of ideology: the warping of reality. Marx’s definition of ideology in Capital follows a similar path but with a twist of obliviousness: “they do not know it, but they are doing it,” he writes about humans who do not understand abstract labor and thus to unknowingly accept a wage for less than the value of their labor (“The Commodity,” Capital). Ideology in this formulation is the naiveté that emerges when consciousness drifts from reality to delusion. The greater the miscrecognition, the most warped the representations of the social world, and the wider the separation of a subject from effective causes. This problem stated as such implies its own solution: a critical-ideology procedure can “lead the naïve ideological consciousness to a point at which it can recognize its own effective conditions, the social reality that it is distorting, and through this very act dissolve (ideology) itself” (Sublime Object, 28).
Certainly there are some critics of naiveté that promise ways to peer behind illusion to see how things “actually are,” as if there were truer, more accurate ways to see social reality. Frederic Jameson calls this approach to ideology critique ‘conspiracy theory,’ as its focus on ‘unmasking’ or ‘unveiling’ social realities presupposes that action will follow such denuding (“Cognitive Mapping,” 356). Conspiracy theory further approaches ideology through an elitist approach to knowledge whereby a select few hold enough privileged knowledge while the rest are kept in a state of naiveté. Continue Reading »
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An excellent contemporary example of cynical ideology can be seen in the reception of Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street. In terms of content and narrative arc, Wolf fits the template of Scorsese’s biggest films, which have always been character studies, promised by name – Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas – and delivered by chronicling the character’s idealistic rise to the top that is ultimately dragged down by the weight of the outside world. Film critics were immediately polarized about The Wolf of Wall Street. The film’s protagonist, Jordan Belfort, was not Scorsese’s standard anti-hero fair – it does not explore the contingencies of history by probing who “could have been a contender” nor does it reveal the ugly hand of justice through “a man who stood up … to the filth.” This is a film about the predatory wolf behind the raging bull of Wall Street.
Predation is depicted in Wolf as a narrative of excess. The film begins with a plucky Belfort showing up to work hard. His first big lesson in exploitation comes at lunch with a coked-up lecture sealed with a chest-thumping ritual – a practice Belfort incorporates into the pep talks he later gives to his own rabid pack of brokers. Within the first few minutes, Black Monday puts a quick end to Belfort’s good faith; in what follows, he learns to promise others the moon, only to steal a small sliver of it for himself and a select throng of followers. Continue Reading »
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To say that desire is part of the infrastructure comes down to saying that subjectivity produces reality. Subjectivity is not an ideological superstructure.
At the time of Leninism, the government had to be overturned – the trade unions were economists, traitors – power had to go to the Soviets: in short, there was an idea, there was something. But here, really, there is no idea. There’s nothing at all. There’s the idea of macroeconomics, of a certain number of factors: unemployment, the market, money, all abstractions that have nothing at all to do with social reality.
-Félix Guattari, “Crise de production de subjectivité,”
Seminar of April 3, 1984
In a seminar in 1984, Félix Guattari argued that the crisis affecting the West since the early 1970s as, more than an economic or political crisis, a crisis of subjectivity. How are we to understand Guattari’s claim?
Germany and Japan came out of the Second World War completely destroyed, under long-term occupation, both socially and (8) psychologically decimated, with “no material assets-no raw materials, no reserve capital.” What explains the economic miracle? “They rebuilt a prodigious ‘capital of subjectivity’ (capital in the form of knowledge, collective intelligence, the will to survive, etc.). Indeed,they invented a new type of subjectivity out of the devastation itself. The Japanese, in particular, recovered aspects of their archaic subjectivity, converting them into the most ‘advanced’ forms of social and material production. [. . .] The latter represents a kind of industrial complex for the production of subjectivity, one enabling a multiplicity of creative processes to emerge, certain of which are, however, highly alienating.”2
Capitalism “launches (subjective) models the way the automobile industry launches a new line of cars.”3 Indeed, the central project of capitalist politics consists in the articulation of economic, technological, and social flows with the production of subjectivity in such a way that political economy is identical with “subjective economy.” Guattari’s working hypothesis must be revived and applied to current circumstances; and we must start by acknowledging that neoliberalism has failed to articulate the relation between these two economies.
Guattari further observes capitalism’s capacity to foresee and resolve systemic crises through apparatuses and safeguards that it came to master following the Great Depression. Today, the weakness of capitalism lies in the production of subjectivity. As a consequence, systemic crisis and the crisis in the production of subjectivity are strictly interlinked. It is impossible to separate economic, political, and social processes from the processes of subjectivation occurring within them. Continue Reading »
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What if governments, institutions, and NGOs treated us as users? Borrowing conservative jurist Carl Schmitt’s notion “nomos,” which describes the interactive forces of political geography, jurisdiction, and sovereignty as a whole, theorist Benjamin Bratton argues that planetary-scale computing is reconfiguring subjectivity. Schmitt’s conservative project was a lament for the nomos of the Jus Publicum Europaeum, a legal order that helped European nations consolidate into states and facilitate the golden age of colonialism. Bratton agrees that there is a new nomos on the way, but it is a nomos of the stack. Continue Reading »
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