GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

April 7, 2009


Filed under: GA — adam @ 12:05 pm

We are in the steepest economic downturn since the 1930s, in or verging on another Great Depression; and, yet, there are signs daily that we might be starting to emerge from the recession by Spring 2010.  I wonder if the Left, now that they are in power, want to play the same kind of game they accused Bush of playing with the War on Terror:  it’s a emergency, requiring vast expansions of government power, and yet daily life goes on as normal, aside from the occasional color coded alerts, which I am certain not a single person paid the slightest attention to.   And, to tell the truth, they had a point:  if the War on Terror, or against Islamic supremacism or radicalism, was indeed the highest calling of our generation, why are the Iranian mullahs not only still in power but about to obtain a nuclear weapon?  Why is Pakistan likely to become the first nuclear armed jihadist state–or, at least, no less likely now than before  9/11?  Why are the Saudis still riding high, receiving obsequious bows from our new President?  In the end, did Bush take all this any more seriously than the Democrats take the financial crisis, which is clearly nothing more than an opportunity for them to pass a wish list of Great Society programs along with a lot of good old-fashioned graft which they had kept on hand for the moment when they would finally be free of the dead end of Republican rule.  “Subjectively” maybe he did, but wouldn’t that simply mean with all the good will in the world an assertive strategy of expanding freedom throughout the world is simply impossible, for reasons I am not able completely to explain?  Even more, one would have to say that things like policies and strategies are really impossible–what is impossible, that is, is anything that would subordinate procedures and the news cycle to some externally determined purpose.

I wonder if I am the only one dissatisfied with the thinness of accounts of the economic “crisis”–it is almost as if no one considers themselves obliged to explain exactly what the “freezing of credit” or whatever is anticipated would mean to billions of people.  My own credit is perfect–so, will no one issue me a credit card, or give me a mortgage or car loan?  Nobody?  Are they sure?  How can they be?  Will no one loan to any one else?  No one?  To anyone?  I think we really need to ask the questions in this way if we are ever to get straight answers; or, failing the straight answers, awkward, obfuscatory answers that are relatively easy to decode.  Because I suspect what they really mean is that only people with genuine reserves will be able to lend, and only to people with proven track records of making money and paying back loans; and, who knows, maybe only to those people with a reasonable business plan or documentable source of income.  No one, it seems, to me, can prove that such activity won’t continue, and in that case the real “crisis” is that things can’t go on the way they have.  To put it bluntly, people will no longer be able to lend money they don’t have to people who won’t be abel to pay it back and people won’t be able to buy, again with money they don’t have, “assets” that represent only possibilities based on speculative accounts of future economic developments.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s a blessing, not a crisis.

GA supports, as we all know, the free market as the most effective mechanism for deferring and recirculating resentments yet invented by human beings–indeed, we can’t really see anything beyond the free market, which I imagine is why Eric Gans finds Fukuyama’s End of History Thesis so compelling.  But the market GA supports is one in which everyone takes on their share of deferral, participating in the Weberian “Protestant ethic”–only with such ethical support will the market economy not end up generating more resentments than it can bear, in turn calling into being monstrous leftist agglomorations of resentment that will take down the system.  But the cultural contradictions of capitalism leave their marks on any originary analysis as well:  what if the intensification of social antagonisms require that we abandon the Gold Standard, institute the welfare state, lower interest rates so as to artificially sustain growth, etc.–on what grounds can GA argue against any one of those resentment lowering innovations, and in favor of a “pure” market system?  People have to defer the rivalries gathering force around them, and they can’t leave those immediate conflicts untended to in the name of the abstract system which we are one day sure to find is best for deferring conflicts.

But perhaps we can make an argument within GA for a return to beginnings, for periodic refoundings, re-constitutions of our own singular versions of the originary scene.  The century of Progressive depradations upon our constitutional order (which have been legitimated through association with the one genuine improvement to that order, the inclusion of black citizens) has given a great deal of credit to the notion put forth most forcefully by Marxism–that capitalism produces social conflicts beyond the capacity of the minimal state and individualist culture to handle–the assumption, that is, that the lower orders will have to be bought off perpetually in the name of social peace.  Even now, one can sense the terror in our rulers lest a real recession ruffle the surface of our social life for a couple of years–something, anything must be done prevent that, or at least make its effects tolerable through redistribution or the flat creation of money out of nothing. 

So, who is willing to bet that if unemployment goes up to 10, to 15% or higher, if most of us have to give back our second cars and not buy that third TV set or PC, if many families will have to live on one income for a while, etc., we will, nevertheless, not start slitting each others’ throats or forming militias and laying siege to the capital or the home office of Citibank?  Who is willing to bet, indeed, that local lending institutions, mutual assistance organizations, patronage of local businesses, charities, and other spontaneous forms of self and other help, will fill in the gap?  This would be a version of the market as well, if a more embedded one.  Indeed, could it be that that possibility is just as frightening to our rulers as the nightmarish visions of social collapse?

In the interest of bi-partisanship, I will apply the same logic to the threat of Islamic terror–why not, as I am forced to conclude that we (the collective “we” of our state institutions) are incapable of addressing victimary blackmail outside of such obeisence to the collective international norms which have been corrupted beyond repair by such blackmail.  I must painfully acknowledge that the approach I will recommend won’t work for the Israelis–we may be close to the point where the attitude towards Israel of its friends will take on the character of rescue rather than support.  Unfortunately, the Israelis themselves, albeit under enormously difficult situations, have not shown much capacity of late for avoiding the suicidal paralysis we have succumbed to–they can much less afford it, though.  

So, let’s accept Obama’s understanding of the US as one nation among many, with nothing exceptional about it at all.  The protection and freedom of others is their problem, not ours.  Indeed, perhaps we are returning to the natural state of the American republic, a state interrupted by the exceptional threat posed by world communism.  In that case, our political energies should be directed towards a withdrawal of American troops from the rest of the world–let’s begin with the places where they obviously don’t serve any purpose anyway, and where it is not at all clear they are wanted:  Europe, Japan and S. Korea, for starters.  We should work on withdrawing from the UN as well, on having that wretched institution removed from American soil, and on repudiating all international agreements that might infringe on our sovereignty.  The world market will no longer have its policeman, and will no doubt fall prey to all kinds of pirates; we, though, can build carefully constructed bi-lateral relations with specific nations–relations outlining very clear reciprocal duties and benefits, both economic and security.  Let anyone who does want our protection request it and offer something tangible (not “stability”) in exchange.  Similarly, we should outline very clear forms of deterrence, also on a nation-to-nation basis.  Perhaps such nation-to-nation alliances will lead to networks of alliances, new collaborative institutions, with the obligations of all involved to be carefully clarified at each stage.  (At the same time, private associations of individuals might form their own alliances with citizens of other lands, friendly or hostile, willingly taking the risk that the US government will not be able to back them if they get into trouble; hoping to convince their fellow citizens to take that risk.)  And, since the world will clearly become a much more dangerous place, border security must become an absolute priority, one which we will now have the military resources to attend to.  Such a political program would intersect with a movement to restore our constitution, and would cut against the grain of the ruling Left’s transnationalism in some very effective ways.  We would consistently be on the side of austere, focused, fair and accountable policies against flabby, diffuse, easily corruptible ones.  We could constantly be exposing and explaining, very clearly tagging particular policies as in or opposed to some definable American interest–most obviously wealth generating activities that also increase our energy security, like drilling for oil and building nuclear power plants.  And we could keep things very simple–for this, against that; for the local, the national, the productive, the friend; against the transnational, the parasitical, anything that fetters free activity, the duplicitous pseudo-ally.

The market is always tainted by thousands of political decisions, attending to this or that resentment that has emerged through the markeplace or the latest adjustment made in response to a previously expressed resentment.  It gets to the point where the sign is obscured beyond recognition–what does it mean to be a participant in the marketplace, once any economic decision is bounded on all sides by government moralizing, hectoring, bullying, helping?  At that point politics has to be about clarifying what we are all loyal to:  what are our basic signs and events?  Certainly individual citizens should avoid at all costs confrontations with Leviathan–but I don’t think that bureaucracies are going to get any smarter, and there must be all kinds of ways of outwitting and neutralizing them, of privatizing what the state would like to control, even in foreign policy.  The politics I am arguing here is one of going first–asserting the reality of some sign by acting on it and inviting others to gather around it, working on several levels–local self-help, movement for constitutional amendment, lobbies for attacking the most unpopular and vulnerable entangling alliances with transnational bureaucracies and regulations, actual friendships with lovers of freedom abroad, radical and yet reasonable claims for abolishing dysfunction institutions like the CIA and State Department–while being prepared to work small, under the radar, or go mainstream in the midst of the chain of crises that are surely coming, that has perhaps already begun. 

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