GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

February 21, 2015

Random Political Indexes

Filed under: GA — adam @ 10:29 pm

It is becoming clear that a country can have Muslims, or it can have Jews, but it can’t have both. It may be when Muslims reach a certain percentage of the population, or when the Jewish/Muslim ratio hits a certain point, but (my hypothesis would be) every country does get to the point where, along with the virulent antisemitism imported by Muslims, the host population finds it too annoying, exhausting, and/or dangerous to bother defending the Jews against them. Indeed, when it gets to that point, it becomes convenient, and even obvious, to blame the Jews for the Muslims’ hatred towards them, and other, sedimented forms of antisemitism re-emerge. This is distressing, of course, but what is interesting is that such a hypothesis is unthinkable in liberal (in the broader sense) terms. To imagine that different categories of citizen, different “demographics,” are simply incompatible within a given national society, is confess the failure of multiculturalism (of course) but also the notion of a modern political order as such. Which would leave us without the barest beginnings of a shared political vocabulary and grammar.

Many American blacks will long remember that, not only did a majority of American whites vote against the Obama (a substantial majority the second time around), but they voted in a Republican congress capable of frustrating Obama, and turning the first black President into the abject failure he will surely be seen as. Many American whites, meanwhile, will long remember that we would not have been saddled with the most destructive President in American history without the virtually unanimous support of African-Americans. How many? Enough to show Abraham Lincoln to be the greatest political prophet in history?:

Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Lincoln, of course, is referring to the war itself, but perhaps it has never really ended, however much the sides, and their respective moral stature may have changed, perhaps that 250 years of ill-gotten wealth has not yet been sunk, or perhaps we have to account for all the wealth made possible by that piled by the bondsman; perhaps the blood drawn by the lashes must be paid by that drawn from guns and bombs and who knows what else—but it is perhaps fitting that an idiotic attempt at racial redemption on the cheap should re-activate the sinking and drawing.

The idea behind the sexual revolution was that once fear of pregnancy and all the surrounding social norms and moral rules tying sexuality to marriage and procreation were overthrown, the pleasure taken in sex would be uninhibited, unobstructed and frequent. But maybe, as reported declines in sexual interest in Japan (for example) suggest, that’s not the case at all. If there’s no desire to have children, there’s no inclination to get married; if there’s no inclination to get married, dating seems pointless; if dating is pointless, all the preparatory activity (flirting, gossiping, going to parties and bars, shopping, attending to personal appearance, etc.) becomes uninteresting. There will always be the random hook-up, but once you get past the point where lots of young and men and women are in close and constant contact with each other (i.e., college), that probably becomes too much trouble to be worth it as well. So, while Heather MacDonald has made a plausible case that the draconian new sex codes on college campuses represent a roundabout, if unconscious, way of restoring a workable sexual morality, it might just as well be the case that these codes are a way of making sex high-stakes once again, and therefore dramatic and interesting. At least for a certain segment of the younger “demographic,” sexual enjoyment relies upon the thrill of creating a new sexual morality—more explicit, micro-consensual, mappable in all of its moves and experiences. In that case, these rules would be nothing more than an attempt to impose a single, fairly idiosyncratic sexual fantasy on everyone else—a particularly noxious form of tyranny.

It is very possible to reduce politics to the conflict between those who save and those who borrow. Those who borrow have an interest in inflation, money printing, government growth, and bailouts, while those who save have an interest in more minimal institutions that do little more than protect people and property and stable currency. Beyond these direct conflicts, borrowers are likely to be more libertine or “socially liberal,” savers more continent and “hung up.” The two, moreover, are interdependent—from whom else are borrowers to borrow, if not savers? At the most minimal level, savers are not necessarily dependent upon borrowers, but the greater the discrepancy between savers and borrowers the greater the interest (literally) the savers have in lending—this is what has been known as “usury,” like “price gouging,” a concept completely devoid of all content aside from resentment toward its referent. But lenders must rely upon some agent of force to collect from their debtors, and unless they are to rely upon private security forces (which they do, of course, to some extent), that means the state—at the very least, they rely upon laws that allow for coercion to be used in the collection of debts. Savers had the upper hand politically for quite a while, playing a central role in the emergence and consolidation of civilization: for quite a while debtors were imprisoned, and countries with debts to civilized countries and banks occupied. Saving money, after all, is a most basic form of deferral, and one from which many others flow. Today, lenders are deeply plugged into the circuits of power, but that’s not the same thing as a politics favoring savers: now, those who lend money function as distribution and redistribution mechanisms of the state, getting the new money before anyone else does and when it is worth a bit more. They are the conduits of a political order, one that draws wide support across all classes, aimed at increasing borrowing and keeping later borrowers sufficiently afloat to generate enough money for the earlier borrowers and their political facilitators. The contemporary left struggles mightily to frame politics in terms of the struggle between lenders and borrowers, but are themselves part of the postmodern politics aimed at mocking, demonizing, subverting, and ultimately fleecing savers. The notion of “pump priming,” used to describe Keynesian spending measures aimed at goosing the economy, really better describes the production and reproduction of the borrower class, which comprises a set of historically new psychological types: worshipful of celebrity, resentful of limitations and therefore contemptuous of externally imposed norms, entitled, conspiratorial, terrified of being out of step. When there is a flood, they will loot the store owned by the guy who had the foresight to buy and stock lots of water pumps, their political representatives will denounce him as a price gouger, and their flatterers in the media will immortalize their fist-pumping as they splash through the broken glass. Saving provides the ballast of civilization—how much of it do we still have in the bank?

Foreign policy bureaucrats, and the pundits who feed them their lines, like to say that we should only go to war “in defense of a vital US interest,” or something along those lines. But they never say what we are supposedly interested in, much less vitally, and why. You could make a list: maintaining global free trade, sustaining the flow of relatively safe energy, protecting democracy, etc. But on what grounds could one ever say that some other country’s participation in trade, or accessibility as a source of oil, or another country’s freedom, is a vital interest? Approaching things in this positivistic, ultimately nihilistic, way is incoherent and destructive. We are interested in supporting our allies and weakening or destroying our enemies. (We are all hostage to each other.) How vital the interest depends upon how much that ally can help us fight our enemies, and how much it is willing to risk to do so, and how much harm the enemy can do us or our web of alliances. How do we choose our enemies; or, how do they choose us? That’s another way of asking who we are, which is in turn defined by who is attracted and repelled by us. But, of course, our allies and enemies are always already given (however we might trace back their conditions of possibility), revealing us to ourselves, and we can always start by simply cultivating those alliances and, in confronting those openly committed to doing us harm, clarifying which alliances are worth cultivating. The really difficult question is when to treat non-state actors—private citizens and associations—as allies or enemies. We can answer that question only when we have answered a previous one: do we want to destroy our enemies (and take responsibility for the resulting systemic confusion) or weaken then but keep them in the game. How good a game is it?

One can always deal with evildoers, and sometimes one must. It should be possible to deal with evildoers while continuing to be honest about them—we would only deal with them out of some very compelling interest and we can assume they must see us similarly to how we see them and therefore only deal with us out some compelling interest of their own—an interest that would override any insult our honesty might occasion. In other words, we should be able to say, “you’re a bunch of thieving, murdering, raping SOBs, but we’ve got to go through that pass and if you let us do so we’ll send you enough food to tide you over this famine”—and they would presumably respond in kind, if they really don’t want to starve. We become abject when we assume that dealing with evildoers requires that we not call them what they are—first of all because we thereby communicate that dealing with them must be of greater value to us than dealing with us is to them. We are further compelled to treat as a “problem” anyone who exposes the lie we tell to cover our cravenness—and that means not only anyone who speaks honestly about the evildoers but, even more and especially, their victims, whom we must then discredit, slander, and trivialize. But the first lie is the one we tell ourselves, that there is not so much difference between us and the evildoer. But once we tell that lie it becomes true, and thus easier to believe.


  1. Random?

    The one index of yours where i have doubts is the savers/spenders because you don’t seem to recognise the role of banks in creating money through debt. When banks create loans they don’t need actually worry about reserves since in bookkeeping, the loan creates both a deposit and a credit for the bank. Debt is revenue and governments help insure the downside.

    We have such an indebted society because the banks have great interest in facilitating absurd degrees of leverage in housing purchases and this allows prices to be bid up to the point where many people who want to own homes, drive to work, etc., have no choice but to play the game and get deep in debt. Of course, as long as the market rises, they then have the option of using their home equity as an “ATM” for consumption and this does exacerbate the problem, fair enough. But overall, the amount of capital we sink into real estate/construction, instead of more productive possibilities is surely a great problem that should just as soon be an area where left and right might find some common ground (as in the fight against crony capitalism more generally) as allow for some easy division of savers and borrowers though i certainly agree that the present system makes saving via money markets a dead end while borrowing at low rates created by banks with a license to print money is easy.

    Comment by John — February 24, 2015 @ 12:36 am

  2. I accept the Austrian economics critique of fractional reserve banking, and your critique of the mortgage industry. But doesn’t that just mean that banks are ultimately not about saving anymore. Is it impossible to save at all, in any way? That would imply complete victory for the borrower forces, which would have thoroughly annexed banks, the one time institution of saving. There is still precious metals, though, isn’t there? And I would imagine, even if I can’t say for sure, that it’s possible to found banks that are genuinely institutions for saving. (At any rate, that would be an index of how thorough the rout has been.) But saving cannot ever be totally eliminated, I think–there will always be some basis of some kind of savers politics.

    Comment by adam — February 24, 2015 @ 4:32 am

  3. Well you can always try to save through investment in commodities or equities but it seems to me it’s a great mystery to everyone how to divine the value of these in an environment where bubbles seem to be blown through debt culture.

    I can agree we have seen a great rout by the borrowers but how do we know what undoing comes with total victory? Private debt is growing again in the US

    Comment by John — February 26, 2015 @ 12:26 am

  4. Sorry having copy and paste problem….

    Private debt is growing again in the US, and this helps the economy grow, but the more the economy depends on the acceleration of debt the closer it comes to a wall where there is just not enough income to service it; even a decrease in the rate of debt growth (debt still increasing overall) will show up as an overall decline in the rate of growth/income and there will be a need to go again into a “recessionary” period of debt deleveraging. And that’s not fun for borrowers, so that the political implications of debt culture remain unclear to me.

    Let’s take, for example, an idea that circulates on the left today: there should be new regulations on banks that specify how much leverage they are permitted to offer people seeking mortgages. Keep that low and the only way people can bid up house prices is by actually having the savings to do so. The left want to free people from the clutches of bankers, but why couldn’t the politics of savers also sign on to some such idea? Similar rules aimed at restricting inflationary bubbles could be proposed in other investment fields.

    Comment by John — February 26, 2015 @ 12:30 am

  5. Certainly a borrower’s politics unmoored from saving reaches its limits and those limits are revealed catastrophically, in booms and busts. You can in the way you suggest, by investing in more “stable” elements of the economy, but of course the more unstable everything gets the more problematic that is. There is still precious metal. I haven’t seen the leftist proposal you refer to, but it seems to me that if the banks were left alone, and not forced to make bad loans in the name of social justice, they would figure out on their own how much a borrower should be required to put down or hold as collateral.

    Comment by adam — February 26, 2015 @ 3:25 am

  6. I have come to believe the arguments that banks have such an interest in creating debt that even eliminating the “too big to fail” guarantees will only moderate their behaviour for a while. Over time, memories fade, and the short-term incentives for bank revenue and individual bonuses will lead banks (whose money creation is not dependent on reserves) to take risks and grow debt faster than the real income that services it. I don’t think “social justice” politics satisfactorily explains the recent crisis. It was not just in the US, with its racial politics, that the banks got out of control, but all over the West, with the encouragement of governments that see home ownership as a discipline for saving (although you might include the politics of all this under the “social justice” rubric).

    Anyway, I don’t know how widespread the above-mentioned idea is on the left. I see it among economists, after following some a bit on twitter! See, e.g. Steve Keen’s manifesto; scroll down in particular to sections on “the Pill” and “Jubilee shares”:

    See also, e.g., the recommendations for local banking at the end of this paper:


    Comment by John — February 27, 2015 @ 2:31 pm

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