More notes on the Left Which is Not One (archive 2012)

“People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.”
Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason

“One of the main functions of politicians – and journalists – is to simplify the world for us. But there comes a point when – however much
they try – the bits of reality, the fragments of events, won’t fit into the old frame.”- Adam Curtis

“In other words, the man who is born into existence deals first with language; this is a given. He is even caught in it before his birth.”
Jacques Lacan

“We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.”
Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

“The mind is a metaphor of the world of objects.”
Pierre Bourdieu

“…the object [the slave] in which the lord has achieved his lordship has in reality turned out to be something quite different from an independent consciousness. What now really confronts him is not an independent consciousness, but a dependent one.”- Hegel

But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus
productive capacity, as a natural privilege. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right. Right, by its very nature, can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard insofar as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only — for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Further, one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labor, and hence an equal in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal.

– Marx, The Critique of the Gotha program

…if man is only born in the opposition of Master and Slave, he is only fully and actually realised in the synthesis of the Citizen, who is a Master to the extent that he is recognized by others and a Slave to the extent that he himself recognizes them … Man is therefore realonly to the extent that he is a Citizen.

There is an inconsistency in Kojève’s account of the master/slave dialectic (2000, § 35, pp. 212-13). Two adversaries, A and B, meet in a state analogous to Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature in which both possess roughly equal capacities to defend themselves against others (Howse & Frost 2000, p. 14). A and B enter a struggle; one of them, say B, decides that he would rather submit than die in the struggle for recognition. The victor becomes the master, the vanquished the slave. Now Kojève argues, as does Hegel (1977, § 188, p. 114), that the master does not kill his opponent because killing the opponent is inimical to the initial goal of gaining recognition (2000, § 35, p. 212). The master thus spares the slave’s life in return for subjection and servitude. However, Kojève argues, the master finds recognition from the slave unsatisfying because it is recognition from a mere slave, a person who is not his equal because he was not willing to struggle to the death for recognition. But here is the inconsistency as it relates to a master’s foresight. In Kojève’s model of the struggle for recognition neither of the adversaries had the foresight to recognise that the struggle for recognition would be futile — that the only possible outcomes were death or unsatisfactory recognition for the master. [1] Nevertheless, the master had the foresight to realise that killing B would be inimical to recognition; if B is dead,B cannot recognise anyone. However, if the master had the foresight to realise that killing Bwould be inimical to recognition, then why did the master not realise that making B a slave or accepting B as a slave would also result in an unsatisfying form of recognition? – Dylan Nickelson

The idea of innate equality and the idea of individuals as notes in an emergent self-regulating system, to my eyes, and apparently to Adam Curtis’s as well, have always been an excuse for failure of vision. The idea that an emergent comes because we are all non-descript parts of a whole is based on what Marx’s would call a myth of capitalist society. One entrenched in American values and then mechanized through metaphors literalized out of a Newtonian world view. Listening to K.M.O. talk about how Curtis kicked him out of the naive romanticism of collapse-enthusiasm, but the implication in Curtis’s documentary series, Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, is that Techno-Utopianism, Libertarianism, Counter-Cultural Marxism and hippy communalism, and even meme theory are all part of a complex of means of avoidance of power and the responsibility of power. Yet in this structurelessness, tyrannies reemerge: the Cultural Revolution gives us Mao resurgent and then Deng Xiaoping (not mentioned in the viedo), the “unregulated capitalism” allows a political play by China, the hippy communes fail, etc. In a interview for Little Atoms, Curtis hints that he sees this lack of responsibility in Occupy as well even though he supports their overall fight.

An anarchist friend of mine once complained: “Anarchists are so afraid of power. So afraid of hierarchies that they’ll refuse power even when they get it. We need a post-Leninist anarchism.” The Leninist friend of mine observes, “The Anarchists are functioning as a vanguard.” One can always see the classic Jo Freeman article that came out of the 1970s being ignored now:

Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a structureless group. Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. The structure may be flexible; it may vary over time; it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities, or intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals, with different talents, predispositions, and backgrounds makes this inevitable. Only if we refused to relate or interact on any basis whatsoever could we approximate structurelessness — and that is not the nature of a human group.
This means that to strive for a structureless group is as useful, and as deceptive, as to aim at an “objective” news story, “value-free” social science, or a “free” economy. A “laissez faire” group is about as realistic as a “laissez faire” society; the idea becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others. This hegemony can be so easily established because the idea of “structurelessness” does not prevent the formation of informal structures, only formal ones. Similarly “laissez faire” philosophy did not prevent the economically powerful from establishing control over wages, prices, and distribution of goods; it only prevented the government from doing so. Thus structurelessness becomes a way of masking power, and within the women’s movement is usually most strongly advocated by those who are the most powerful (whether they are conscious of their power or not). As long as the structure of the group is informal, the rules of how decisions are made are known only to a few and awareness of power is limited to those who know the rules. Those who do not know the rules and are not chosen for initiation must remain in confusion, or suffer from paranoid delusions that something is happening of which they are not quite aware.

Curtis says that this failure of vision has let many activists (both liberals and anarchists) to assume either this is only about management of notes, or it is only about process. But are failures to actually propose a real counter-organization for fear of taking responsibility for much of the brutality and illiberalism of liberal ideas. This has led to becoming like a libertarian or a lawyer in a declining legal code, and all the focus is on process.

What Curtis does not get to, however, is that this is part of inflation of recognition implied by the way dialectics function at the end of zeitgeist. This is because, between states, that is no homogeneous society possible if a state is understood as such. Therefore, if the health of the state is the primary function, then external enemies are needed. This is clear in the Philosophy of Right. But if the health of citizens are at issue, fundamental inequalities within the system much be recognized. This is not established through citizenship, and places politics and power both within and outside of the state. This makes both liberals and leftists very uncomfortable, but for different reasons: for leftist it means we must recognize not only structural inequality, but actual inequality. One must admit that social equity can just be equity of merit or even equity of intrinsic value. Despite the fact Marx brutally critiqued this on Hegelian grounds within the “Critique of the Gotha Program,” this is ignored in most Marxist circles. Why? As a failure to see any way to actually address the issue is my suspicion.

To deal with this means taking responsibility for the ferocious necessity of power, even if that is outside of the state.


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