FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Inside the Dead Zone

by

It was at a point when linguistics, cultural anthropology and continental philosophy were converging that philosopher Martin Heidegger proclaimed ‘language is the house of the truth of being.’ The problem at hand was conceiving the role of language in an experiential (phenomenological) sense that closed the distance between the Western inheritance of Cartesian dualism, and with it the need for ‘transcendence,’ and the world.

As abstruse as this probably reads, the political, economic and cultural subtexts of Western modernity: social control, economic concentration and commodification of the social realm, tie through the all-purpose apologia of neoliberal capitalism to shared premises about the structure and nature of the world. What then is to be done regarding the colloquialism ‘don’t shit where you eat’ when the world is home.

Image: Oceanic ‘dead zones’ where climate change, industrial pollution and agricultural runoff, have depleted oxygen levels to the point where nothing lives, surround the U.S., developed Europe, Britain and Japan. The common link is capitalism. One would think the term ‘dead zones’ would cause reconsideration on the part of those causing them. What relationship with the world explains treating it is a garbage dump?

At the nexus of linguistics and cultural anthropology is the otherwise banal observation that different peoples approach ‘the world’ differently. The Western, predominantly Platonic / Cartesian, conception of ‘the world’ as an external object has rough corollary in the astrophysicist’s distinction between the ‘big bang’ as expansion of, rather than in, space. In the prior conception there is no dimension in which to put space. Allow for a moment that this problem of dimensionality applies to key conceits of the Western worldview.

Through erasure of history, identity politics assumes the atemporal dimensionality of ‘now.’ Within it social taxonomy is conceived to be an aggregation of individually constructed identities. ‘Merit’ is individuated competence acting on / in the world. Taken as given are social ‘nesting’ (the ‘in’ dimension above), devolution of the social-categorical to individuated experience (how else could ‘it’ be experienced?) and the permanence of distance (alienation). Here ‘inclusion’ takes the logic of exclusion as its starting point.

Graph: American Whites have claimed more social wealth than Blacks at an increasing rate since the return of neoliberal capitalism. American history— the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow and the New Jim Crow explain the racial divisions. But Western imperialism produced similar differences in wealth distribution outside of these institutions. As the concentration of wealth has accelerated, so have claims that ‘nature’ (markets) explains its distribution. Source: Urban Institute.

Social difference, the historical residual unified by what it is not— the linguistic, onto-anthropological edifice of Western imperialism, disappears through individuation. Liberal strategies of ‘inclusion’ are unidirectional— they proceed as instantiation of imperial directive. As with Adolf Eichmann’s plans for a ‘Jewish museum’ at completion of the Final Solution, through temporal dislocation ‘identity’ is the cultural artifact that celebrates subsumption.

The paradox of Western ‘individuals’ with shared language and onto-anthropological history serves to ‘naturalize’ alienation as linguistic-categorical. Race, gender etc. denote shared histories that are temporally flattened in an eternal present— they are subsumed as inadequate versions of the imperial directive through the direction of subsumption. For instance, the race and / or gender of ‘consumers’ is nested, a subsuming hierarchy is established through de-temporalization.

The seemingly intractable political problem at hand is how to live out the next few decades. Capitalism— scientific economic production, is overwhelmingly to blame for impending environmental calamity (charts above and below) and more broadly, the political economy of annihilation. The Western tendency is to search for technological fixes to problems of technology. This view, as with technology itself, is theological at its core.

Descartes’ ‘dualism’ arose from the effort to reconcile timeless souls with temporal (finite) existence. From this effort the paradox of timeless truths ‘about’ a temporal world link science with its ontological basis in theology. The paradox retains the problem of dimensionality— where do these timeless truths reside (and what do they regard) except the temporal world? Readers are directed to Martin Heidegger and Thomas Kuhn to gain deeper understanding of the issues.

(The issue of Descartes and dualism is recurring, usually with an attempted smack-down by a self-appointed Left. L’affaire Sokol (link above), the last effort to restore gravitas and intellectual rigor to Left discourse, began with a silly prank, since replicated with hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers, by proponents who hadn’t bothered to acquaint themselves with Heidegger’s critique. Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’ can be found online here. Let me know if you need me to read it for you).

The ‘pragmatic’ approach to science taken by working scientists in the present is to set the claim of the timelessness of scientific results to the side. However, the issue of dimensionality is both related and more vexing. Acting on the world, as science does, proceeds from being in it— it is reflexive. It isn’t that this isn’t possible— it just can’t be done without making assumptions about the world that can’t be proven.

Graph: The term ‘anthropocene’ universalizes responsibility for climate crisis while resolution requires targeted assignment of blame. Following WWII the ‘American model’ of capitalist production was exported to the former Axis powers of Germany and Japan. The result: American style industrial capitalism is killing the planet through greenhouse gas emissions. The otherworldly (Cartesian) nature of capitalism can be found in the question: where are ‘we’ (broadly considered) going to live when capitalists are done killing the planet? Source: https://www.c2es.org.

For example, it is popular to claim a biological basis for human existence. Understanding then, whatever it might be, is presumably a biological process. To then claim understanding outside of this process is either circular or renders the concept indeterminate. Any ‘method’ such as science proceeds from and must return to it. Deference to ‘external’ facts falls prey to the metaphysical structure of the question.

Of political relevance is that it isn’t just the claim of ‘true’ truth that is theological. The premise of separate and distinct realms, we as individuals and ‘the world’ in the Cartesian metaphysical sense, is theological as well. The Cartesian soul tucked away in its netherworld isn’t a collective ‘we.’ It is a timeless ‘I.’ The sociological premises of capitalist democracy should be coming into focus here. And note that through the concentration of wealth inherent to capitalism, the capitalist ‘I’ benefits (‘self realizes’) by crushing the democratic ‘I.’

The metaphor of biology was used above in part because Karl Marx was influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as he (Marx) was developing his critique of capitalism. Marx’s materialism was a studied refutation of Hegelian (cum Cartesian) idealism. It was hardly accidental then that toward the end of Capital, Volume 1, Marx included the ‘real’ history of the enclosure movement versus the capitalist economists who ‘deduced’ history through regressing then present circumstances back in time.

The distinction isn’t intended to sell Marx, but rather to suggest that capitalism is dubious social theory premised in third-rate theology. Its products to date are nuclear weapons, environmental calamity, four centuries of social misery, death and destruction and a little bit of glittery crap on offer at the mall. As effete as the latter point may read, how would one go about arguing that whatever capitalism (labor) has produced is ‘worth it’ without also claiming to speak for the preponderance of humanity that has seen no benefit but now bears its consequences.

Finally, the analysis here is an allegory for / sideways-inserted explanation of, class conflict. Marx rejected Hegelian idealism while retaining the social-categorical concept of economic classes. Otherwise, the worldly residual of Cartesian ontology is the preponderance of human history that existed outside of it. Philosopher Jacques Derrida distinguished between the linguistic-categorical and metaphysical and went on to develop his own version of materialism. And unless one wishes to dismiss Marx’s impact on political economy, these ideas have social relevance.

More articles by:

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

February 21, 2018
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein’s on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail