Social Market

What would a market, built into which is an acknowledgement of the market’s dependence on central power, on the one hand, and the long term moral and ethical life of workers and consumers, on the other hand, look like? Let’s set aside the policies and governing structure needed to create such a market, and just examine how the people, especially employers and investors, would think and act within it. If I sell heroin, I’m going to keep running out of customers, because they will keep dying or ruining their lives and therefore be unable to pay me anymore. So, I need to keep finding new customers, which I can only do by exploiting unhappy, weak-minded, and desperate people, and making those people no good for anything else, whether it be their families, their jobs, or buying lots of other things. And I contribute to the ruination of the society I live in, diverting the resources of the state into expensive quagmires, where it ends up at war with many of its own citizens. Here, then, we have a model of a clearly anti-social market, from which existing markets will differ to some extent in degree and kind. If I prefer to sell something other than heroin, even if doing so yields me much lower profits, and even if I could insulate myself from the legal liabilities of the drug trade, then this is a choice any individual or firm could make in less extreme situations.

We should make use of the broader, somewhat metaphorical, use of “market” to make sense of the “market” in the narrower, more technical sense of an arena where money is systematically exchanged for goods (where you can’t get goods any other way). The most obvious example is the “sexual market,” explored so extensively and meticulously in the “manosphere,” at sites like Chateau Heartiste and Rollo Tommassi’s Rational Male. The calculation of male and female sexual value is certainly a highly advanced art, and perhaps a science, at such sites. Because, of course, there is something we could recognize as exchanges here, and a range of possible exchanges that might be made. David Graeber identifies three modes of human interaction: communism, exchange, and hierarchy. In communism everyone takes what they need and give what they can, which is actually a fairly common arrangement, found in families and sports teams, for examples. Hierarchy is unidirectional, whereas exchange, however asymmetrical, is give and take. Clearly, communism and hierarchy shade into exchange, which means that at its margins exchange shades into them.

Eric Gans, in his reading of The Illiadin The End of Culture, identifies war as the first marketplace. It’s definitely either that or sex. Warriors are assessed at their fighting value, for which they expect recompense from the spoils—the whole plot of the poem is driven by Achilles’s resentment at being, in his view (and objectively so, it appears), shortchanged. These pre-monetary marketplaces, bordering on communism and hierarchy in very visible ways, are very helpful in assessing more developed, monetary markets. In these more primitive markets, the relation between value and choice is much more direct. The better warrior, the more beautiful woman, the more alpha man—these values can be tested fairly easily, and virtual unanimity achieved. The types of conflicts they lead to are also fairly typical, along with the institutions and positions needed to constrain these markets: marriage, family, commanders, kings. And these institutions in turn create new markets: the position of commander can be exchanged for political support, marriage becomes a way of consolidating status by families. It may very well be that, rather than a strict linear procession of markets, constraining institutions, modified markets, the markets and institutions are co-created in various ways in different situations.

Achilles would want the best sword; the alpha of the tribe would want the most beautiful clothes for his wife (she would want this too)—blacksmiths would want to make Achilles his sword, and tailors the alpha’s wife’s dress. We would see the same thing today with makers of private jets, luxury yachts and Lamborghinis and their customers. The most important buildings in town would be designed by the best architects, who compete amongst themselves. Achilles is sure to know the best sword; the mayor or town council is somewhat less likely to know which design will be best, even under conditions in which we could exclude bribery and favoritism. The odds are much better if the town has a long tradition of prestigious structures, its own style, and if those traditions are respected. The best construction company will want to build the building, and it will want to use the best bricks, mortar, cement, wood, etc. Less important buildings, built by those with less resources, will be designed and built by the second, third, fourth, and so on best architects and construction companies, using correspondingly inferior materials. They will be modeled on the more prestigious buildings though, and will try to borrow their glamor and charisma.

Such a system requires that the elites be deserving, and seen as deserving, of their position. Achilles is the best fighter—he proves that daily on the battlefield, and if you want to challenge him you may be able to find out for yourself. Who are the richest men in town, or in the nation? We can dismiss Balzac’s witticism about crimes and fortunes—for the most part, at the origin of wealth and power is genuine accomplishment. Not everyone can build a giant, innovative corporation that will last for generations—Henry Ford, John Paul Getty, John Rockefeller and the others were definitely better at something which it is very good to be better at, than others, even if quite a bit of luck and ruthlessness facilitated their rise (exploited luck, and channeling ruthlessness are also worthwhile capacities to possess). Nevertheless, if one wants to claim they were unworthy elites, and that we would have been better served by a different breed or batch, then the question needs to be formulated properly—a particular mode of rule or sovereignty allowed these to rise, just as a particular mode placed Achilles at the center. The most effective way of making the market social is through constraining the elites—there is, by definition, a bottleneck allowing only a few people to become and remain elites; the attention of the sovereign, from the narrow perspective of wealth generation and the broader perspective of integrating wealth generation into the entire social order, is to closely monitor that bottleneck. Any social order, at any particular point in time, has a particular stock of technology, infrastructure, sunk capital, homes, buildings, and so on. If the sovereign allows for elites to degrade that stock, he undermines his own occupancy of the center, because he is allowing considerations other than a hierarchy of recognizable value to determine the ordering of society, and the stability of his rule depends on such a hierarchy. If crap is being designed and built, and therefore modeled for everyone else, the sovereign is clearly responsible, and is either incompetent or is being swayed by lesser motives. And this encourages others to try and sway him by such motives.

So, the ruler is the occupant of the center to the extent that he constrains the elites to preserve and enhance the existing stock of social capacities and goods, which also means to generate markets that serve circles modeled on and organized concentrically around those surrounding the sovereign. At each level there would be means of recruiting and elevating talented individuals from the lower levels; indeed, there’s no reason such a social order couldn’t have as much upward mobility as present-day Western ones which, in truth, is not all that much. And it might have more downward mobility, as the maxim that the fish rots from the head would be put conscientiously into practice, with the elites subjected to special scrutiny. The far more important question is that of the mass market. The most compelling moral argument for the contemporary liberal capitalist order is that it has lifted hundreds of millions, by now maybe over a billion, of people throughout the world out of poverty—on the brink of starvation poverty, not food stamp receiving poverty. Even in the wealthier countries, it cannot be denied that mass marketers like Wal-Mart have made available what were once luxuries to pretty much everyone—universal access to refrigerators, cars, air conditioners, ovens, microwaves, lawn mowers and all the rest is far from nothing, and I’ll grant it’s an unmitigated good, even the TVs and computers, which can’t be blamed for what is transmitted via them. But the model of the market I’ve been piecing together here would seem to preclude such direct appeal to a mass, all-inclusive consumer market, one that has not been adequately formed by the market spaces proximate to the sovereign.

Of course, all new products start off expensive and are first of all marketed to the wealthy; still, the process by which such products go down the line, finally reaching the wage earner (and welfare recipient) has accelerated to the point where it barely exists. A new Apple phone, which would have been an astonishing, well-nigh science fictional device to younger versions of many of us, is marketed directly to everyone. How is this done? Vast amounts of capital are moved overseas, so that near starving workers can produce the items at prices affordable for those elsewhere a generation or two beyond near starvation wages. OK, let’s go along with this for a moment, and take the economic, libertarian argument at its word: those working at near starvation wages now will be middle class in a generation and the work will then be passed on to some other impoverished nation, and so on, until… well, what, exactly? The process has worked for South Korea and the other “tigers,” it seems to be working for China, but then what? It seems to have made no progress at all in the Middle East, much less Africa, which is being colonized by China for its raw materials in a development no Western narrative is equipped to recognize. The results are mixed in lots of other countries, but, anyway, all of these production processes are going to be increasingly automated anyway. Then what? The question of the mass market turns into the question of creating high-quality forms of activity out of the universal networks we are all plugged into.

Hannah Arendt remarked that Marx never seemed to consider the implications of the end of labor in the fully automated society he projected communism to be for his own anthropology, which defined man as homo laborans. The same question can be asked of free market liberals—if all necessities and a lot of luxuries can be produced with very little labor, as will no doubt eventually be the case, why is anyone going to work, what is the point of buying and selling what is readily available to all, etc.?—but it’s a good question for anyone. It may be that the work we do will be more social, as the old tech-utopians from the 60s like Marshall McLuhan and Buckminister Fuller thought—lots of teaching one another to do all kinds of interesting things. As Gaston Bachelard predicted, society will be for school rather than school being for society. (Liberals might consider how inane protests over things like “white privilege” will seem then.) There will also be a lot of caregiving—the health care professions, which have been expanding dramatically for a while now, will no doubt continue to do so, as various forms of therapy will become more nuanced and we will be troubled and seek help for aches and pains we don’t even notice now.

I think what this would amount to is a process of de-disciplining and re-disciplining. Take health care. We still go to the doctor for all kinds of things that could probably be dealt with by trained professionals without an MD (even though more and more people do go to these intermediate caregivers). No doubt science and engineering—a great bulk of the work done will involve keeping everything running and holding up—can similarly be broken down into more precise levels of expertise, especially as the frontiers of knowledge advance and subdivide. If all of these professions involve directly helping people who can judge whether they have been helped or not, and maintaining systems the decline or collapse of which couldn’t go unnoticed, then we actually have a social market that has an orderly, hierarchical structure similar to the one sketched out above. I wouldn’t want to speculate on the leisure activities that might accompany the social market, but there’s no need to assume that people engaged in productive, freely chosen and mostly interesting occupations would spend their free time in nihilistic pursuits. Absolutism is not utopian, but these eutopian prospects represent an extinction event for liberalism and democracy, which would therefore fight every sign of them fiercely.

Deferral as Media

I’ve been limiting my discussions of media by assuming it is the sign and sign system that is the media while it is, in fact, the form of deferral created by that particular sign. It is the deferral created by the issuance of the sign that provides for the new form of sense and intellectual activity characteristic of engagement with that medium. Let’s take a simple example: someone insults me. I can take a swing at him, in which case all I really notice is the spot on his face I am aiming at (if I’m collected enough to aim). If I refrain, though, other things come into view. Maybe, his insult was a prelude to an attack on me, in which case I might notice a determined, aggressive expression on his face that suggests I would have been better off hitting him (sometimes he who hesitates really is lost—that’s the bet we lay down in gesturing rather than striking). Even in that case, though, I might now better prepare myself for what could be a sustained struggle. I might, though, see some hesitation in his expression and posture, I might notice something to suggest that his insult might be a response to something I said or did, perhaps inadvertently (maybe I notice a bag of groceries spilled at his feet and realize that I had in fact bumped into him). My deferral opens up a world of observations to me, directs my attention in ways it wouldn’t have been otherwise, and suggests other possible uses for my eyes and ears (at least). I might even refrain from returning the verbal insult, returning a good word instead, and see where that leads. It is whatever posture and attitude I have replaced the potential blow with that generates this space of deferral in which looking, listening and thinking are possible.

It would be necessary to show how each new media form, through the different forms of writing up until alphabetic, through print, film, TV and electronic media represent more advanced forms of deferral. Each of these formal advances have been denounced as sources of infantilization, starting with writing and most certainly continuing through the most recent forms of electronic communications. Certainly any modification of the sensorium will involve a loss of some capacities, capacities deemed indispensable by those still immersed in the newly marginalized form of media; and maybe capacities that it would really be better to preserve. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if we were all capable of memorizing a few thousand lines of poetry. But I think the more important problem is that each new media form reflexively attempts to model itself on the forms it is displacing. In the example I have spent a great deal of time on lately, writing took upon itself the task of making the written text a simulacrum of a speech situation, one that could be reproduced by the reader. We still use terms drawn from orality to speak about writing—we refer to what a text or author “says,” and don’t even have alternatives drawn from writing should we want to use them. If one individual speaks with another individual, or a few, the listeners or interlocutors know the speaker, can assess him, respond to him, speak amongst themselves, etc. A single text “speaking” to thousands or millions of people is taking up residence in their minds—it becomes their own voice. The experience and consequences are radically different, but it’s still modeled as an “internal dialogue,” even if one of the participant is remotely controlling that dialogue.

If writing were represented and performed more as what it is, a mapping of speaking and listening possibilities, it would not have these hypnotic effects. The focus on a single speaker, who must be made answerable, cross-examined, defeated in rhetorical and logical combat (essentially, expelled from the mind); or, on the other hand “internalized” and agreed with completely, would be deferred. One would, instead, be prompted to generate hypotheses. I think the same is true for the other allegedly stupefying media. There’s probably no point to talking about TV by now, since it has become such a minor medium, but the internet and online communications is anyway the far better example of how it is the holdovers of previous media that contribute to a kind of mindlessness easily associated with new communication forms. In fact, the recent discovery that the major media companies manipulate their algorithms so as to hide and marginalize thinking considered heretical by state liberalism, provides a perfect example. Now, there’s no doubt that Google, Facebook and Twitter have become the media arms of Antifa; that’s not the issue. The issue is the assumption that algorithms can be neutral, constructed without assumptions regarding a hierarchy of importance concerning ideas, events, agents, and so on. When someone searches “Trump” what should they find? The documents that mention his name the most times? The most recent documents? The documents that mention his name and are on sites that are otherwise the most searched in general? The documents that have received the most hits (partisans could hire illegal aliens to sit and click on the preferred sites all day long)? Some combination of all of the above (and a dozen other criteria we could easily devise)? Which combination?

People who ask for neutrality here are imagining what is in fact one of the precedents of the internet: the archive. They are imagining, however vaguely, a scholar, researcher or investigator, interested in getting at the truth of whatever one imagines oneself to be getting at the truth of, sorting through masses of documents, assessing authenticity and reliability, ascertaining relevance, generating links between documents that could only be discovered once one has seen enough of them. An ideal self for themselves as inquirers, really. But most people can only imagine the results of such work, having done very little or none of it themselves in the course of their lifetime. What they imagine is the popular narrative of the heroic sleuth discovering the truth hidden beneath a pile of lies and revealing it to all just in the nick of time, confounding the falsifiers. Or they are imagining a kind of decentered public square, an agora, where equals exchange ideas, battle it out, and get a bit closer to the truth. These are extremely attractive models. But they are all also essentially sacrificial. The attraction lies in the promise to have a scoundrel, stripped of all his protective covering, served up to all. Each new gradation of deferral saps sacrificial thinking of some of its power, power which powerful forces within the new form will seek to exploit and intensify. The online lynch mob is far more ferocious and consuming than the real thing, and if it seems somewhat less devastating in its effects, I would say that it would not be at all surprising to pass the point at which online lynch mobs start instigating the real thing. Would either George Zimmerman or Darren Wilson be safe in public in most places in the US?

But it’s possible to imagine a far more productive discipline of algorithmic design in a well ordered society. If computer programmers know what people need to fulfill their disciplinary assignments, they could design the algorithms most helpful to them, from the sovereign on down. We would all learn, unevenly and in accord with necessities, to think probabilistically, to project probabilities further and further into the future, albeit with declining degrees of certainty as we go further ahead. That is really the essence of deferral: if we don’t think primarily of how to kill each other right now, we can occupy ourselves with more profitable uses of our time; if we extend that period for ten years, yet further vistas open up; for a hundred, and we can imagine civilization building. Then all our thinking would focus on what builds trust and what minimizes resentment, and our practical activity would focus on deploying resources and energies so as to build that trust and neutralize and redirect that resentment. How would we know we have another hundred years (perhaps to then be renewed indefinitely)? We really wouldn’t, but we’d be able to speak in terms of which activities and which ways of thinking made it either more or less likely. We could be wrong, but then we could study the source of such errors as well, and seek to minimize them.

But there could be no such “we”—overlapping disciplines, concerned with the intersections of scientific development, technological advance and anthropological understanding—without an unchallenged center. If I want one figure at the center and you want another, that incentivizes us to start arguing over different definitions of “trust,” different assessments of this or that resentment, opposing opinions regarding which anthropological understanding best accounts for a particular conflict. Your acceptance of the self-evident belief that we should be building a society to last becomes for me the arrogant assertion that my subordination must be imposed, my complaint ignored, eternally. We have to then argue about how our respective claims can be adjudicated, and we have to argue about rights, procedures, mediators, and so on. The media form enabling a new transcendence is then weaponized by being saturated with corrupt simulations of earlier forms: oral argument in court, tabloid journalism, state propaganda etc.

The study of the new media counters this development by articulating the increasing delay of consequences and projection of consequences beyond the immediate consequences, of events “processed” through the media, on the one hand, with the centering and continuity of power, on the other hand. All our inquiries into the future effects of present decisions presuppose a fundamental stability and continuity of order, and all attempts to project probabilities onto particular “timelines” are also attempts to hold constant the bulwarks of order that, first of all allow me to hypothesize without having to daily defend myself and construct my own order. Those most devoted to research and scholarly pursuits, to the maintenance and articulation of the archive we are all becoming part of, should be the freest and the most powerless, and therefore the most insistent upon the organization of all institutions around central power. Inquiry and social commitment converge, because the best conditions for anthropological research, which is ultimately the basis of all research, are those in which human possibilities are multiplied and presented in well formed, public ways. We have nothing more learn from revolutions and other upheavals; we have a lot to learn from the endless possibilities of dialectical transformations of disputes into agreements, and then those agreements into more disputes that we already know will be aimed at generating new agreements.

But the media still remain, at least the most elementary ones, like body and voice. The new media become more proficient at turning ostensives and imperatives into declaratives—something like “look at that criminal—stop him!” becomes something like “demographic, environmental, urban and architectural studies demonstrate that instances of disruption can be most significant reduced through the following combination of lighting, surveillance and direction of pedestrian traffic…” Instead of shouting at bystanders to stop the guy running away with a purse, you report the incident to security which undertakes a review. But at each point along the way, “fleshy” human responses—what people see, hear and feel, what they look like, how they move, how they play off of each other—gets fed back into the system. But that just means the more ancient media are resituated within the new space of deferral, and they take on meaning insofar as they serve that deferral. We speak and gesture, but we do so as if we might be recorded or are ourselves recording; we write by hand, or by spray paint, but in doing so we present what we know can only be seen as a scrawl; even print writing has “always already” been chopped up into excerpts and sound bites; we sing, in anticipation of various remixes and electronic voice modifications. All the media can therefore be kept in play, for the most expansive production of meanings should be kept in play, but always as the oscillation between our “speaker’s meaning” and the now unlimited possible “text meanings” that might result. Deferral lies in that oscillation.

Moral Modeling and Ideology

The concept of “moral equality” is very similar to the concept of “social justice” insofar as both manage to be tautological and oxymoronic at the same time. “Justice” is intrinsically “social,” so the “social” doesn’t add anything except to suggest that “justice” is attained by changing society as a whole on the model of making an injured individual whole in the courtroom. But in doing so it ensures that a great deal of injustice will be committed, because in “society” there is no governing frame for determining who has been injured. Likewise, insofar as “morality” already implies that we have obligations to each other, we are, as moral beings, already “equal,” which is to say, the same, with respect to having obligations to others. The only thing the “equal” adds is to suggest that morality involves making people more equal in other respects, which is of course the source of a great deal of immorality, in the simple sense of doing bad things like stealing and expropriating the property of others.

The “moral model” of the originary scene is a central concept to Eric Gans’s Generative Anthropology. For Gans, the equality on the originary scene, where all share in issuing the sign and consuming the central object, is the form taken by all morality, in any human society anywhere in history. I would agree with the centrality of the concept, but would suggest a different way of thinking about it. For Gans, the concept leads to a distributionist morality: in any social order, some members will contribute more to the wealth and well-being of the community, and the community will correspondingly reward those members; in short, there will be inequalities in wealth, power and status. The moral model comes into play when those with less resent those with more, and demand some kind of compensation: the “accumulators” need to prove that their productions are for the good of all by conceding something to such resentments. Even if I were to concede that this kind of resentment (and the response by the wealthy and powerful) emerges in all societies, I would still have to say it has nothing to do with morality, in any meaningful sense of the word which, it seems to me must include its commonsensical meaning of doing the right thing or at least not doing the wrong thing. Who, in this model, is doing the right thing? The “disadvantaged,” in making manifest their resentment? Even if they have a point, even if they are 100% right, they’re not being particularly moral in advancing their own self-interest. Even if they’re not immoral, they certainly aren’t presenting a model of moral behavior. Is it the “advantaged,” then, who behave morally when they concede wealth, power or participation to the resentful? If they were doing it out of love and a desire to help, the expression of resentment wouldn’t have been necessary; insofar as it is that expression that has prompted them to act, they are also behaving out of self-interest (a desire to avoid crime, riots, revolts, etc.), and therefore not modeling especially moral behavior. Is “society” as a whole more moral? It’s hard to know what it would mean to call a society, but not its members, “moral”; and, at any rate, it just seems as if they’ve institutionalized an extortion racket.

It seems to me that Gans’s use of the moral model focuses exclusively on the periphery, completely neglecting the center—it horizontalizes, and loses sight of the vertical. And you can never develop a coherent moral thinking focusing on the periphery, or the horizontal. On the originary scene, all are equal in relation to the center, equal, or the same in having that relation to the center. As soon as the center is established, so is a kind of “perimeter,” which no one may transgress. Rules emerge regarding the treatment of and approach to the center. They are first of all ritual rules, but moral insofar as they embody the coherence of the community, and everyone’s obligations to each other and the whole. As discourses of the center emerge, and models of action are attributed to figures on the central scene (mythology), new moral possibilities emerge: one can act like the one who rallied the community to repulse an attack by a neighboring tribe, or the one who put out the fire that almost ravaged the entire village, or the one who was always resolving disputes among members of the community. Morality takes the form of enacting these models, which are generalized in the forms of maxims and proverbs. Maxims and proverbs concerned with doing the right thingand not doing the wrong thing, and turning yourself into the kind of person who does right and avoids wrong consistently.

After the long history of kingship, and the penetration of Christian morality into Western society, Gans sees the liberal democratic order as recovering and restoring the originary moral model by establishing equality (and more, and more equality) amongst its citizens. I would first make the point I made previously—none of this implies that anyone is behaving well, or is doing the right things while refraining from doing the wrong things. In other words, liberal democracy has nothing to do with morality. The institutional mechanism by which the resentment of the have-nots towards the haves is manifested in liberal democracy is, for Gans, the alternation in power between the contending political parties (even in multi-party parliamentary systems, there tends to be two dominant parties). Gans has lately spoken of this in terms of a dialectic of “firstness” and “reciprocity.” To put it crudely, some people invent and create things, and reap the benefits; and then everyone else demands a slice of the pie. One party defends the former, one the latter. What I said above about the irrelevance of morality to this kind of arrangement holds here as well. Neither the inventors and creators nor everyone else need to be good and decent people for any of this work. One could speak of a kind of center, and therefore a kind of morality, insofar as the institutions are founded on laws which generate precedents, which in turn provide a model for living good lives. I can’t think of Gans ever discussing, say, the constitutional order in these terms, which would anyway undermine his model: if public morality involves, say, protecting the constitutional order, the main political conflict would be between those defending that order and those subverting it in various ways. But that would be a conflict between good and bad, and therefore not really a political conflict it all—if the established public morality called for selected representatives according to constitutionally prescribed procedures, and those representatives then serving in their offices in constitutionally prescribed ways, how could there be an “oppositional” party? What would it be for—overthrowing what everyone agrees to be good? Even if we could say that there are different ways of interpreted the constitutional morality, if all parties are in good faith trying to do that, they would be continually striving to narrow the differences between them—which is exactly the opposite of what multiparty democracy promotes.

Gans has come to speak of his model as accounting for conflicts that get institutionalized in terms of firstness vs. reciprocity. All conflicts in Western democracies get formulated as some version of the underdog vs. the overlord: the underdog naturally elicits everyone’s sympathy, while enough grudgingly and tacitly admit that the overlords actually keep everything running to prevent their complete extinction—in most cases, at least. But we may be in a hall of mirrors here: Gans is assuming, reflecting upon, and providing a kind of blessing for an order that, of course, pre-exists his model. If one has lived all one’s life in the US, it seems completely natural that blacks, as a whole, would resent whites, as a whole (with each and every black resenting each and every white? To exactly the same extent?), because some whites did bad things to some blacks over a long period of time. However, if we subject all these naturalized assumptions to scrutiny, we can see it’s not very natural at all. What model accounts for a young black man in, say, Chicago, feeling resentment for some elderly white woman in, say Miami, because another white man enslaved some other blacks 200 years ago? Even if we factor in 10,00 events (and why do some get factored in and lots of others don’t?) it doesn’t add up to the tidy model of whites as overlords and blacks as underdogs. If we really want something close to an experiential, commonsensical model of resentment—someone else usurps the center I thought I deserve, or thought no one should occupy (that guy down the block is ruining my property values with his unkempt lawn, my coworker is stealing at work while I follow all the rules, etc.)—then this certainly doesn’t provide it. Such resentment, i.e., political resentment, needs to be ginned up, and a lot of effort and resources need to be expended in doing so, and in naturalizing it. I’ll leave the “high-low v. the middle” model out of this discussion, but suffice it to say that the have-nots themselves are not the ones investing the effort and resources into giving these conflicts their convenient moral narrative structure.

This is even more true for all the other equalizing movements modeled on the civil rights one—women, gays, immigrants, even the environment. A kind of shell game is being played here, and the moral model is in fact critical to exposing and explaining it. Gans has argued recently that victimary thinking or “political correctness” is predicated on the model of a conversation—just as, at a dinner party with a small group of friends, you would go out of your way to avoid offending someone whatever your actual opinion of him, in our social mediated order we react strongly against anything that would offend some of the “guests” at the universal public “table.” (Leaving aside that some may prefer rougher, blunter table talk than others.) I would extend the analogy: the imaginary of modern egalitarianism presupposes that the entire world is a single scene. If that’s the case, then the model of the originary scene would apply. But this is ideology, not morality. Whatever we would take to be the center of this scene is really an anti-center, systematically seeking to terminate all competing centers in the name of victims selected so as to pummel a particular institution or tradition (the target institution or tradition would in fact give us the explanation of the framing of victimhood). Could some kind of global articulation be attempted in a different way? Only if the question is not how to make us all equal and over-abundant in rights, but how to build institutions that can allocate power effectively at very different levels.

The application of this egalitarian version of the moral model to liberal democracy is ideology because it is an attempt to ignore the legacy of the big man—the one who seized the center and became the locus of worship and distribution. The Big Man has never gone away, and is not looking ready to any time soon. In fact, the Jewish and Christian moral innovations would make no sense without presupposing the existence of imperial monarchies. The fact that big men are now selected by tightly controlled processes called “elections,” and blocked and harassed by a series of mostly ineffectual but distorting institutions muddies up that reality, but doesn’t change it. If you don’t want to look at the center, it’s because you don’t want to see the heir of the Big Man sitting up there—the egalitarian version of the moral model allows for the fantasy that the occupant of the center is just a spontaneous synthesis of our individual desires, and therefore not really a ruler. But if there is going to be a ruler, how do we clear the way for him to act morally, ethically and effectively? Regarding governance, this is really the only meaningful question. Ask a supporter of liberal democracy whether the system he endorses is the best way to get the best rulers in place, and ensure they act in the most reasonable way. He will look at you like you are crazy, because he has never asked himself the question—and then will call you immoral for asking it.

Morality doesn’t counter (“check and balance”) the occupant of the center; rather, it refrains from seeking to tear apart that occupant, whether physically or symbolically. Once the center is occupied anyone can imagine himself at the center, and anyone can be violently centralized by a convergent mob of others. To be moral is to resist such processes, whether they target the occupant of the social center or a potential scapegoat on the margins. The institutional component to morality is the construction of practices that removes from our attention to the center everything sacrificial—that is, everything that is aimed at settling some issue among us, the potential convergents, rather than allowing delegated, responsible agents to follow clearly inscribed imperatives for how to intervene under given conditions. Meanwhile, a refusal to violently centralize allows for the emergence of love and kindness—if I’m not looking for signs of provocative, deserving victimage in the other (what is he after? Why is he in my way?) then I can see signs of virtue, a kind of at least potential discipline, and an instigated victimage one wants to protect. Of course, people sometimes need to be criticized, condemned, punished, removed from their positions or even just disliked, and it better to do such things firmly than hesitantly. But, as much as possible, such actions are done in the name of a center, that is, of the system of practices that sanctifies the highest level of deferral so far attained. Morality can’t be uploaded to the political order—people in positions of responsibility can act morally or immorally in those positions, but voting or contributing to one or another, much less protesting, petitioning, etc., can’t make anyone more moral. That’s all just grabbing for bits of power. The moral model always involves soliciting others in the preservation of the center, which means the near center, one that enables the practices which include soliciting others to join in its preservation. That, an actual scene, is where we can look for the instantiation of the originary moral model.

Constrained Economies

It might be best to think of markets as networks. The word “market” tends to evoke a society of randomly distributed individuals, each with some property, but with none of them related to any other property owner more than the others. If I buy bread from one baker for $2 a loaf today, I’m quite ready to switch over to another baker for an equally good loaf for $1.95 a loaf tomorrow. The baker himself is quite irrelevant to the equation. But if I’ve been buying from the same baker for 10 years, and I like his bread, maybe like his store, like him, the 5 cents, or even more, won’t make a difference. Especially if the baker is on my way to the butcher, and then the laundry, etc. Of course, I’m presenting an antiquated model here, but which supermarket we go to is similarly determined. Quite bit less, though, at least in some respects—no one thinks the supermarket you go to will miss you, personally, if you start going to its competitor. But that just means the form of our loyalty changes—it’s the specialty items plus the sales plus the fresh rolls in the morning and maybe that you’re more likely to see your friend there. You are “always already” tied into a certain set of connections, you have a built in “bias,” and if you want to make a change it involves wrenching yourself away from all that. You are never all alone faced with a vast range of equally plausible alternatives, which you then proceed to whittle down based on a checklist of pros and cons.

The same thing is true if you want to start a new supermarket, or a new anything. You know how to do something, you’ve been around people who do the same kind of thing, they know about people with money who like people who do that kind of thing, and they know about the kinds of people who buy the kind of product you’re planning to make. You can figure out what kind of person you need to present yourself as so as to be trusted with the money and support of the people in the networks you’re proximate to, you can shape your product and your persona to their inclinations. Again, it’s never you, with an “idea,” “shopping” that idea around to an endless list of people with enough money to invest what you need in your “idea,” and then trying to arrange meetings where you “pitch” it to them. You’re always embedded in a set of relationships with different foci and different degrees of strength, different levels of trust. And, no doubt, various “extrinsic” affiliations, like ethnic, religious, geographic, college ties, and so on help to consolidate these networks. This is all so obvious that I’m sure it’s already well known, but it’s important to point out that there are really a set of gradations from gift and kin networks to the more abstracted relationships normally represented as market ones and, even more, that the introduction of more marketized relationships into more networky ones are just strategies by some up and coming network aiming to usurp power from a more established one. Even when an institution or organization deliberately goes out of its way to break up established networks by, for example, pursuing “diversity hires,” that just means that either the institution has embarked on a path of self-destruction or the network will take on some new form, drawing upon other, emergent networks—perhaps this helps to account for the politicization of so many corporations.

If markets are ultimately networks, and relations between networks, then the whole notion of governments interfering with or intervening in markets must be reconsidered. First of all, that markets are networks would help explain why so much government regulation is ineffective and harmful—the government looks at one part of a dense network, in accord with a narrow purpose, or at the behest of a specific constituency, and tries to affect or control that, without understanding how all the “tissues” of the network fit together. But it also makes government involvement in markets less intrinsically fearful. A de-politicized government, one which didn’t need to be elected, and which therefore doesn’t need to buy off members of one network while being bought off by members of another, which doesn’t need to take sides within the various networks, could simply be part of the networks. Some working members of all the networks would simply be government agents—this would be known to all, and some of the actual agents would be known to be such, while others wouldn’t. And, of course, the government itself needs to buy lots of things, and would therefore be present in many networks. The government’s one demand must be that no network resort to settling disputes by violence that falls below the threshold set for a recognizable justice system. That threshold itself is assessed with the specific networks in mind—even vigilante justice is not necessarily excluded, as long as it doesn’t pass the threshold beyond which there will be nothing but vigilante justice.

The government introduces its own bias into the network of networks (I mean “bias” here more in the sense of a “tilt” that leads objects to roll in a particular direction than in the sense of deliberately favoring some over others). As an economic agent itself, it has more need of some things than others (the most advanced weaponry, for example), and as the agent responsible for maintaining a coherent social order, must promote some things over others (the population must be fed, energy independence, to the extent possible, is a good thing, etc.). The networks will be constrained accordingly. In this, any ruler will take other, presumably successful, rulers as a model, while also considering that any decision modifies the results of previous decisions made by the ruler himself and his predecessors. These considerations, and the reference to models, provides ways of thinking things through and arguing for one decision over another. In constraining the networks, meanwhile, the government makes itself un-networky, which is to say hierarchical and imperative: the government must value continuity, consistency and chain of command over all else. Hierarchical imperatives will therefore reach into the networks as well, in the form of establishing guarantors that constraints will be adhered to, and in the form of some kind of conscription, according to which hierarchs in the networks do government work, at government pay, in some kind of rotation.

The networks are all oriented, “tropistically,” toward the center. Money is the means by which agents compete within the networks so as to prove their usefulness to the network and to the center. Money itself consolidates networks while allowing for new entrants—I think Mises was right to say that when the government puts money into circulation, those who receive it first are advantaged over those who receive it later, and who are we to imagine receives it first if not the most networked? Still, someone receives it last, and having money enables one to access a network, on the margins, without actually being known by the participants in that network. Those with some money on the margins, the “end consumers,” make it possible to determine, once all the biases have had their play, which economic agents should be recognized and elevated within the networks. (This may be a much more orderly version of how much of this works now.) But the social nature of capital would need to be more explicitly recognized. The most common complaints about capital and capitalism today provide us with a frame for speculating on ways of doing this. First, capital eviscerates communities and even countries by exploiting its mobility so as to first, undermine living standards at home and eventually leave those affected devastated by exiting the country in search of cheap labor, lower taxes, less regulation, etc. Second, capital homogenizes by replacing local cultures and norms with standardized national and ultimately global ones; while what is lost in the first case is extremely palpable, the losses in this second case are more intangible, and more balanced against the gains (the only gain even adduced in the first case is cheaper goods, which is really only a gain for those who haven’t lost anything in the first place, i.e., the “salaried” employees who are not dependent on an industrial base).

I would keep in mind that the first process, in particular, was set in motion by the conditions created in the late 60s and into the 70s by the welfare state and widespread unionization, which created costs for capital beyond any gains in efficiency. (The second process is more endemic, even constitutive.) Still, the process continued and even accelerated and became more systematic once the unions were broken and taxes dramatically lowered. The reason is simple—politicians on both ideological wings became completely dependent on the support of transnational corporations, even while this dependency was inflected along different ideological lines—neither party, in the US at least, even refers to working conditions or workers at all, other than the completely anomalous Trump. If you listen closely, it’s easy to get the sense both parties hate wage workers. The solution is not to bring back unions, especially if a de-politicized order is based upon disallowing organizations predicated on perpetual conflict. But the government can certainly constrain these known propensities of capital.

In the second case, constraints can be imposed so as to limit standardization, or produce diversities within standardization. Local boards could propose the constraints to be imposed, and if they do so credibly and in good faith, keeping in mind that the final decision will not be theirs, their recommendations might be taken very seriously, maybe even routinely incorporated—this in itself would have a “heterogenizing” effect. In the first case, perhaps a certain amount of the capital held and gained by companies can be held in trust by the government, to be returned to that company based on that company’s adherence to a series of graduated constraints involving working conditions, wages, community investment, stability, commitment to stay put, and so on. Companies that wish to surrender some of their capital in the pursuit of cheaper labor and greater profits aboard might be free to, since that would also provide what might be needed economic information and the repatriation of profits. And agreements with the countries capital might decamp to could also help contain such movements. In the course of all these decisions being incorporated into rule, a well governed order would make the central source of economic value the consistency and coherence of government decision making itself. A company that eschews short term profit in cheaper labor abroad would do so in the knowledge that its government will constrain the market at home so that, while it might be good to have newcomers nipping at the heels of established companies, large scale waves of investment and “dumping” will not be permitted to overwhelm normally functioning companies. This approach is clearly a “decelerationist” one, from which it further follows that innovation will be encouraged but so would efforts to mitigate the effects of innovation on companies, workers and consumers alike. Again, it seems to me that constraints, rather than more targeted interventionist approaches, will be most effective here. Perhaps constraints would determine the ways innovations need to be embedded in existing networks, structures, institutions, and disciplines. Ultimately, it would be simply taken for granted that of course we take a holistic approach to economic and technological developments, once the sociopathic reduction of all corporate decisions to the imperative to maximize shareholder value is a distant memory.

Signing Up

The human is that being for whom repetition is problematic. A sign has meaning insofar as it can be repeated, which is to say, repeated as the same sign. We can go further and say that the meaning of a sign is precisely the various ways and occasions upon which it can be repeated. One’s understanding of a sign is demonstrated by the ways one is able to repeat it and have it accepted as that sign. But since a sign refers to a shared center, others, whose cooperation, or even attention, cannot be ensured, meaning can never be guaranteed in advance, just like you can never be sure whether a joke will fall flat. It is conflicting desires and resulting resentment that makes signs possible, necessary, and problematic. All culture is created so as defer violence and protect the center that enables us to do so, but in that case it might be more minimal to say that all culture is concerned with making repetition as certain as it needs to be—to ensure that this sign remains this sign for as long as and for whom it is necessary.

The originary hypothesis assumes an event at the end of which one thing is significant (the gesture of aborted appropriation) and one thing is sacred (the central object)—meaning is completely concentrated in that gesture—the rest of the world is (now) “meaningless.” If meaning is articulated by the ostensive gesture, though, it must articulate the entire bodily posture of the individuals involved. Pointing toward the central object while standing still, and bending slightly backwards, would help endow the sign with meaning in a way that pointing toward the object while leaning, or creeping, forward would not. There would be a tendency to saturate the human bodies with meaning as the originary event is repeated, both in ritual and in its extension to other practices. Certain situations would call for certain kinds of accentuation, and certain kinds of downplaying, of rendering “null,” certain components of the sign. We learn to calibrate the accentuation and nullification—any English speaker can make out, for the most part, the same sentence as spoken by an American Southerner, a New Yorker, a Midwesterner, a Brit, an Australian, etc., which is to say we can control for accent when we’re interested in a specific kind of meaning (semantic); at the same time, the accent can at times become an important part of the meaning.

I would assume that the ability to exercise such control is a consequence of millennia of learning and the development of media that singled out specific features of meaning, the most important of which media I would consider to be writing. The earliest sign users must have moved quickly from that one, single, meaning, to a world bursting with meaning. The slightest move by another member of the group would take on the form of some kind of menace, suggestion or invitation, which must be directly responded to, because there could be no question as to the meaning of the movement, and that meaning must be “verified” or extended, which is to say, repeated, by a complementary sign/movement. The surrounding world would also be replete with meaning—every animal, plant, change in the weather, etc., would be saying something. And those signs would be repeated as well. A “system” would develop, but it would look nothing like Saussure’s “system of differences,” or grammatical or logical systems; rather, it would be a system of what Marcel Jousse called “gestes,” in which sound/gesture/posture articulations, each with its own balance and rhythm and communal meaning, would complement other such articulations, in a never ending process of generating social coherence. Coherence would result, which is to say repetition relatively ensured, by making this gestural-oral system finite and exhaustive, such that every sign can be seen as indirectly referring to all the others. It is the textual reduction of meaning that creates the infinite system. (Is there, then, a tendency in the “secondary orality” of electronic communication, to return us to exhaustive finitude?)

In a finite, exhaustive, or ergodic system, all signs must ultimately be coming from the same place: the center. All individuals are mouthpieces, or enactments, of the center—this doesn’t imply a lack of individualization on the part of early, gestural-oral communities; in fact, there are many reports that the more primitive communities contain a greater richness of individual differences than our more civilized ones, and I think this is credible because trying to speak for the center might easily generate far more diversity than striving to distinguish oneself from it, which actually gets monotonous pretty quickly. It is also the center that would enable a hierarchy of significance, making it possible to distinguish between higher and lower stakes events—every gesture by any other member of the group that suggests in the slightest one’s lesser value within the group doesn’t necessarily have to be answered with maximum and immediate force. But you know that because the center, in the form, say, of a ritually consecrated ancestor, who is at the same time you, tells you so. This is to say that most insistently and carefully repeated signs create a tissue and texture that helps ensure consistent repetition all around—unvarying repletion of meaning would be extremely wasteful.

The most consistently and completely meaningful system, then, would have been sacral kingship—there, all meaning flows from the center and is directed back to the center, with that center claiming its centrality by way of its descent from the origin of the group, which is to say humanity, itself. After sacral kingship, we no longer speak from within the center. I hope it’s needless to say that no nostalgia for sacral kingship is implicit here: the point of remembering it is to explain why the reductions of meaning that followed sacral kingship tended to assume the surest way of maintaining stable repetition was by distinguishing the individual from the center. Just as the distribution of money to buy victims for the sacrifice replaced the collective presence of the group on the scene, the distributibility of the center leads one to focus on the rules for distributing the pieces. This involves a diminishment of meaning, or “disenchantment.” It’s logical to assume that the trajectory to be followed here is to keep “clarifying” meaning, and distributing it in discrete, measurable chunks. There will always be significant power centers that find this trajectory convenient, and those power centers will have large constituencies, precisely because it produces conveniences more broadly.

The counter to this process is a re-embedding of meaning irreducible to its calculated distribution. Clearly, a return to pagan ritual and sacral kingship is not an option here. In this case one must accept the cliché that in order to get out one must go through. The new mode of thinking initiated by the originary hypothesis provides us with a conceptual vocabulary for describing, with great detail and accuracy, every single desire and resentment, and to do so in terms that would not be chosen by the bearers of those desires and resentments but that would be simultaneously very difficult for them to deny. This kind of “parrhesia” provides for a convergence of GA with much of the alt-right and neo-reaction, both of which similarly wish to map out, openly and honestly, the “mechanics” and rules of interaction between individuals and groups. It is only such a peeling back of illusions and ideologies that can make a “formalist” political project, in which actual power relations are formalized, possible. (Without a disciplinary space trained on all the various articulations of power, how could the actual relations be formalized?) Pursuing such an inquiry is the highest vocation of the human sciences.

The question, then, is how does this contribute to the re-embedding, the re-repletion of meaning? First of all, I will note that an indication of how depleted meaning is for us is that the most meaningful thing one can do today is mock, ruthlessly, the circulation of the clichés and commonplaces that have hidden large chunks of reality for decades. What is eminently mockable is diminishing in meaning (the mocking accelerates this process) which means that a process of diminishing returns is in play here. It’s very interesting to consider that, for example, as Jean Baudrillard proclaimed long ago (and Slavoj Zizek, among other postmodern thinkers, have a good sense of this as well), we can all cease to believe in any of the propositions of the “dominant ideology”—we can all come to realize that liberalism, equality, democracy, rule of law, etc., are all jokes—and that the system can go on, because of as much as in spite of this. But Baudrillard, Zizek and the others don’t know that meaning is deferral.

To describe desire and resentment in “long form” is to make explicit much of what is usually left tacit; it is to put what usually remains on the ostensive and imperative levels into declarative sentences. X resents Y at work for getting the better office. It would take quite a few sentences to unpack this resentment into a series of explicitly stated relations of difference, power, signs of status, the limits of possible responses to this “injustice,” the concept of ‘injustice” itself, the reasons for the limitations on possible responses, and so on. Think about explaining things like desire and resentment to intelligent, non-human beings. This has always been the goal of metaphysics, and more narrowly, the human sciences, even if mathematics replaces some of the propositions that would be required. But metaphysics and the human sciences have done so to reduce to a minimum the hold ostensives and imperatives have on us—the liberal millennium, which not coincidentally looks a lot like the singularity, would be the complete replacement of the ostensive and imperative realm by the declarative. That would inaugurate the “Age of Reason,” but we would find all those declarative themselves devoid of meaning, since they would never actually be referring to anything; or rather, they would have pure power meanings, as they would be built to subjugate anyone insufficiently proficient in their articulation.

But if we are creating a new human science that has a different goal, which is to use declaratives to study the intricate networks of ostensive, imperative and interrogative sentences that in fact make them possible and are inscribed within them, we are free to note the inherently parodic results of precisely the most accurate and detailed transcriptions of desires and resentments. There is a good reason that pretty much all good modern literature is in one way or another a satire of disciplinary or, more broadly, “hyper-declarative,” thinking. The explosion of language generated by the human sciences can so easily be used to show the desires and resentments of the human scientists themselves. This satiric take on the disciplines is effortlessly included in the new, originary, human science, which defuses desires and resentments by exposing them, while also revealing the social relations we assume and therefore the obligations we take on in nevertheless experiencing slightly more deferred desires and resentments.

So, the “red-pilled” or “uncucked” right, whatever it will be called and whatever it will be, is inherently a satiric operation (perhaps the first constitutively satiric politics ever). Not “satiric” in the narrower sense of criticizing present day norms, mores, and “follies,” but more like what Wyndham Lewis called “metaphysical satire,” one directed at humans as repeating beings who never quite get repetition right. Satire, more than other literary forms, is based on repetition—it purports, unlike “realism,” to represent actual and not merely possible actions (for satire, even when fictionalized, to work we need to have specific targets in mind), and to do so in a way that is “distorted” from the standpoint of the target but truer for the satirist. It is therefore also the most responsible form because its goal is to help continue to check and improve our iterative capacities (is that portrait like so-and-so or not? How can we tell?). It therefore is well suited for the project of replenishing the world with meaning again, as it implicates the fundamentally paradoxical nature of our being as sign users (signers?). with its help, we can see signs of the origin of our human being everywhere.