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Democracy is the problem, not the solution.
Parliamentary democracy and capitalism are the two major distancing mechanisms in the practical ontology of the West. These are the two ways of collective being, both of which find their meaning in being elsewhere.
Capitalism has been devastating the earth for centuries, but there is another sense in which we have not even had capitalism until now—the now of a curiously refined finance capital which comes ever more comfortably into its own precisely to the extent that its meaning is dissipated along a thousand plateaus of abstraction, of not being amongst its own.
You can feel this with an object as simple as a cash machine. Is there not something weirdly literary about thrusting that smoothly inscrutable text of plastic into its slot and sensing the action resonate outward into its global contexts? The evocations are anthemic, legion, a multitude. Standing there on the sidewalk at Yonge and St. Claire, you touch the world. The brute fact of a lined rectangle coupling impossibly with the numinous, what English teacher has not been here before? Your interaction with the machine cannot fully signify without its various residues—something of Calcutta or Kerala and of China and of Fort Knox, for example, but there is no end to the murmur of global whispers presaging that deliciously strangled little ten-note fanfare like a leprechaun’s trombone when the bills come popping out.
As my seven-year-old walked by and watched me type that last line, he told me what I’d forgotten, that I’d urged him to memorize that funny sound so that he could remember it later in life. What had I been thinking? That he could shore up against the ruins with it, or that it was the ruins?
Money abstracts us. We are not ourselves, but a series of representations. There is no taxation without representation, and we are forever taxed, and so find ourselves spoken for—represented—elsewhere.
Of the ruinous potential of capital there is no lack of criers, but who speaks against democracy? The problem with democracy is not that it represents us badly, but that it represents us at all. The cluster of unsavory politicians with which we are asked to identify is not a bit of bad luck, but the likeliest outcome of our concession to spectacle, of letting ourselves be, elsewhere. Democracy’s real force is corporatist, not because people are too stupid to understand that lobbyists perform an end run on representation, but because capital and democracy are manifestations of the same ontological dislocation. Which isn’t to say that the freak value of watching ourselves consent to sleeping with some truly dreadful characters isn’t part of the morbid thrill of self destruction. I found a rat in the basement the other night.
* * *
Oh, that rat. I wrote those lines above a year ago, on the way to speak at a philosophy conference to which some York grad students had invited me. How much has changed in that year, and how little. Capital in crisis! Canadian capital! But capital was born in crisis, and thrives on it. And even capital’s critique was born in crisis. 1848! Marx! And that rat. I know just where I was going with that rat. Nowhere. I’ll be hearing from readers on that one, murmurs of corroboration, no doubt. York fell apart this year, everyone’s saying, riven by strikes. And my friends in high places in the universities in this neck of the woods, with their hints of jobs, now they’re turning their palms up. The crisis. What can you do? Just when I was getting myself ready to be sorely tempted by mammon, and to remind myself not to say things like, “the whole administrative class of the universities should disband itself,” suddenly it’s no mammon for old Dave. Things are shaping up nicely for Michael Dickinson’s world-wide strike against money at the lighting of the Olympic flame in 2012. And Liam’s eight, when he was seven as recently as a year ago. One side of my brain is perpetually astonished by this magic trick, and sometimes colludes with the other side for a general riot of befuddlement.
And that rat. Just one of a group of characters I often meet in a series of adventures with which I hope to tax my readers on a future occasion, when we will be less or more in crisis, as the Tao rises or falls. The series, Travels in my Basement, tenders the claim that this rat here is more important than the whole executive branch of a distant empire, according to a principle designated by the philosophers as an attribute of this rat, and perhaps of all rats. The principle of here-ness. Not a pretty word. A drone and a hiss. But if it’s going nowhere you want to talk about, it gets the job done. Stay tuned.
Here at City without Cars, or whatever face of nowtopia we are these days, we are not at all progressive. We do not, for example, hope that one day the politician fools will grant us a city of green electric cars running on the new clean nuclear and the new clean West Virginia mountaintop removal. We have no intention of cleaning up the empire. We have already chosen our lives. Our relationship to democracy is one of abutment and juxtaposition. Contiguity, if you will. We are right up against the democratists, right snug up against them. We are against democracy.
Opposition is a kind of touch.
Because what we are is what we are right here, our form and our content know where to find each other. We go just where our critics say we go: nowhere. And when they say, you said it, pal, we feel their speech as much as we hear it, here it. That’s how close we are. We function at the level of form. Because we are close not just to ourselves, but to the democratists, like it or not, we feel each of their distancings. We brace ourselves in the midst of their hurlings, their castings about and abroad. When they lesserevil the empire, we feel it right here. When they dismiss themselves, send themselves in effigy to the empire, instruct a lesser evil to perform an antic version of their best intentions, we are right here in the midst of their struggle.
And what else would we feel in this stethoscopic claustrophobic life but abandoned? Pressed in tight against democracy, we feel the eternal procession of the self away from the self, the inaugural and formative instinct of the Western manchild to endlessly rehearse his abandonment as self-abandonment. Womanchild, her, abandonment. When the democratists hurt, and they always hurt, we feel it here. Come on, put your hand right here. That’s the pain. That’s the rent in the curtain of Oz, that’s the scream of the abandoned child. That’s me in the corner, losing my religion. It’s always rapture day, and we’ve all been left behind.
This rubber sheath here on the keyboard. For when Liam spills milk. Yeah? But my family has gone off to America for a few days, off over the pewter lake and away. Rapture day. I have forgotten how to travel, even vicariously. So I spill myself onto the sheath, the whole of my self welling up and disgorged onto the rectangular sheath, all the sadness and loneliness of a stay-at-home father. Lonely empty-nested man, loved his babies too much. For eight years, thirteen years, whole year-long booster versions of his children have been breaking off and spinning backwards into spacetime. How do you keep up? These wondrous consolation prizes every year, strange children on the doorstep, beautiful, prickly sweet. “I’m a level eight human,” Liam informs me, “and a level four gnome.” He tries to keep me abreast of things. But the disappearances and appearances never quite add up, the way an appearance is not quite the same as an apparition. Perhaps it is not addition, but multiplication. I must consult new registers, learn to move more quickly.
I will seep today, and not howl. But I have known the first letter in the primer of self-awareness, the appley a of knowledge that stands for abandonment, the beginning of all things. I will be out in the city today, feeling the vinous veinous thrust of blood, the apple-red circulation of democracy, its carnal knowledge without wisdom. I will be fondling quarter panels, admiring the skin of our pods of isolation. I will be pulsing, skittering, hailing my fellows of the street. I will be so close to democracy you won’t be able to see sunlight in there. I am in a tetchy, weepy, expansive mood, and I will align my loneliness and democracy’s, and see what comes of it. I am against democracy. I can feel it.
DAVID KER THOMSON lives in Oz, the name street people use for the area around Ossington subway station in Toronto. Oz is halfway between the equator and the North Pole. Dave.firstname.lastname@example.org