December 25, 2018

Distribution from the Center

Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:41 am

I’ve been overlooking the most obvious and (materially) important thing the center does: distribute. Examining the way all distribution is from the center will take us a long way towards addressing all kinds of economic questions: it all becomes a question of what, exactly, is being distributed. On the originary scene, we assume a roughly equal distribution of the central object. Everyone who has issued the sign gets a piece. But why should this be the case? Why couldn’t one or more members of the group get shoved aside once a symmetrical relation to the center has been established through the sign—say, one or two particularly weak or non-contributing members of the group, who pose no threat to anyone, and therefore were less important than others in addressing the danger created by the mimetic crisis? I think the answer is that the event could only be remembered and repeated if equivalence between issuing the sign and being a member of the group is absolute. If it turns out, in the midst of the sparagmos, that one or more members who participated in emitting the sign were closed off from consumption, the pre-human pecking order will have been reintroduced into the new human group (or violence will erupt again), meaning that the “humanization” of the group has failed to “take.”

But this still doesn’t mean everyone gets an identical piece. It would be impossible for us to determine exactly what that means now, much less for those eating together on the originary scene. We must assume an at least minimal hierarchy on the originary scene—a hierarchy now mediated by the use of the sign, which I assume must be flashed repeatedly in the course of the sparagmos. The stronger member will defer to the weaker member, but as the stronger to the weaker, just as the weaker defers to the stronger as the stronger. In this new situation there will be enough uncertainty about who, in the total scheme of things (the alpha having been displaced), is actually “stronger,” and by how much, to allow for a balance to emerge. We could call this a spontaneous emergence of order, but, in fact, it is the sign, continually pointing to the center, which allows for the portions to be “allocated.” The center is the source of distribution, and the proof of this is that when the originary scene is formalized as ritual, the distribution most approximating total inclusion, that is, pre-established “equal” pieces, will be adhered to—with any exceptions being due to special functions any particular member plays in the ritual. The group itself must assume and insist that apportionment is determined by the center. What matters most is that inclusion in the group—even of a member despised or mocked—is beyond all question. The most terrible consequences of liberal individualism come from the destruction of this assumption that all individuals, before all else, have their entire existence within the group.

Once a human occupies the center, distribution is determined by the central authority. At this point, equal distribution is no longer a consideration. The central authority will distribute in accord with merit and loyalty. This also means that possession of what has been distributed will be contingent upon continued shows of merit and loyalty. The most skilled hunter might get the largest share of the game for himself and his family or tribe; the bravest warrior will likewise receive goods and honors commensurate with his significance. Over time these “aristocrats” will become centers of distribution themselves. I will assume that it is first of all subsequent to conquest that land will be distributed among the conquerors, in accord with rank and contribution to the war effort.

This is all unproblematic as long as sacral kingship holds, which is to say as long as there is no differentiation between the occupant of the center and the subsistent center (corresponding to the central object on the scene, and what keeps the center the center once the object has been consumed). Tribute comes into the central authority, which is simultaneously the ritual center, and is distributed from there. Differentiation between the two modalities of the center sets in with the discrediting of sacrificial practices, which is to say practices which assumed a moral correspondence between tribute flowing to the center and distribution flowing out from it. Once an exchange between what is given to the center, and the benefits in life one receives can no longer be believed in, the occupant of the center and the subsistent center must be made commensurable again. This is the yet unsolved problem of humanity.

The first attempt to solve the problem is through the concept of “justice,” one of the first concepts explored by the first discipline to liberate itself from the sacral order, philosophy. Justice: each gets his due. Unmoored from a juridical system relying on precedents and limited to questions of property damage (which would include crimes like murder and rape), the concept immediately becomes unworkably complicated. This is also the condition of possibility of imperium in imperio—the measure of a good ruler is that he acts justly, preserves justice, which means that a ruler who does not do so is not a “genuine” ruler. “Justice” is the subsistent center, to which the occupant of the center is subordinated. How many rulers have been overthrown, how many failed attempts at overthrowing rulers have been made, in the name of justice? The assumption, though, is still that distribution comes from the center: justice is the distribution to each of his due, whatever that means and however it is to be determined. What is being distributed here is not something possessed by the recipient; rather, it is access to a mode of decision making, a recognition of something like a “right” subsisting in the claimant in the justice system.

The new philosophical, theological and legal disciplines study “justice,” and the rulers are dependent on their conceptual constructs. Those conceptual constructs are inherently divisive, unlike strictly prescribed ritual distribution, because each player within the social order can articulate the conceptual order to his advantage (such concepts enable one to be conscious of this possibility)—this is possible because the real content of these conceptual orders is the possibility of extracting rights from the sovereign. All subsequent disciplines, all the human sciences, from political economy to sociology to anthropology even, I would say, seemingly unrelated disciplines like psychology fit the same pattern. They are all constructing entities, groups, subjects, categories of belonging, that can be managed by and activated to make demands on the center. The post-literate order more or less coincides with the post-sacral order, and these disciplines are constructed in accord with the logic I’ve been exploring in my posts on the disciplines: supplementations of speech acts required so as to make writing a simulation of speech are turned into nominalizations which then designate entities, ultimately mental (even the most “materialistic” disciplines, like economics, are ultimately comprised of mental entities, like “choice,” “utility,” “value,” etc.) that can be the recipients of the rights distributed by the center. Even a state law for institutionalizing the mentally disabled will be constructed in terms of the “right” to treatment of the patient and the “right” to protection of society. The disciplines are essentially studies into the simulacra known as “rights”—what they are, what they entail, who can have them, who decides on their implementation, etc. We are still really within the frame of “justice.” Goods and property are no longer distributed by the center; various kinds of rights to access, or compete for access, to goods and property are distributed (of course these rights translate more or less directly into actual goods—the indirectness offers lots of wiggle room to sovereign and activist players alike).

The demand for autonomy explicitly made by the bearer of rights is therefore a demand for greater centralization. This is the major paradox of the mature liberal order, and at least a part of the cause of all its major dysfunctions. So, in a post-sacral order, what, other than rights, is there for the central authority to distribute, and to do so in a way complemented by the subsistent center? I think the most radical break with liberal utilitarianism is necessary here, and we have to say that what the center distributes is opportunities to make a complete donation of oneself to the subsistent center. There are only two possibilities that follow from the abolition of the imperative exchange of the sacrificial order: the endless struggle between claimants for ever more obscure rights, i.e., “justice”; or, replacing the donation of a part of your property to the deity in exchange for continued life, health and prosperity, with a complete donation of all that you are to whatever is “highest,” or most central. What this entails is something I have discussed many times: embedding the commands of the occupant of the center in all social practices. There is a constitutive gap between the command given and the command obeyed: self-donation entails the effort to enhance the consistency of the command given with the command obeyed—you could say, to make the command better than it is while ensuring it is a form of obedience that would be recognized by the occupant of the center as obedience to the command he has issued. The human sciences, then, are transformed into studies of imperatives from the center, tracing them back to earlier imperatives, speculating regarding possible imperatives, hypothesizing regarding the extension of present imperatives into networks of future ones.

The full donation of one’s self to the subsistent center is demanding—not everyone will be equally capable (everyone will be somewhat capable). But once we have dispensed with “rights” and “justice,” except for within very sharply circumscribed settings, authority can be distributed in accord with evidence of self-donation. This is not mere self-sacrifice—it’s not a question of placing someone who gives all of his possessions to charity, or can refrain from proscribed actions more consistently than others in charge of important institutions, by virtue of those “sacrifices” alone. Demonstrations of self-donation involve some clarification of the imperative order, some “competency” in translating the commands of central authority into sustainable practices. Nor is this a matter of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” which is just a modification of “justice.” Those granted more authority will also be rewarded, because the rewards include greater command responsibility. Only in this way could we, on post-sacrificial terms, reverse modernity’s collapse into distribution according, ultimately, to “feelings,” and establish an order predicated upon raising the level of discipline.

One of the most powerful critiques of modern liberalism coming from a postmodern standpoint is that, despite its formal inclusiveness, the rights-based order must always locate some group or type of person unworthy or incapable of bearing rights. “Rights” are possessed by “humans,” so the argument simply becomes one over who counts as “human.” I would say the real basis of the critique is that there is always someone who, if granted rights, would subtract from the rights of others. If some minority is to have its rights guaranteed, then whoever is deemed a threat to those rights must have their own curtailed. There is always some exclusion, and exclusions from a social order provide leverage for subversion by those in power disaffected with that order. Receiving the gift of the opportunity to donate oneself to the subsistent center necessarily includes everyone within the order. Everyone is expected to give themselves, and what each is expected to give and receive is commensurate to the contribution made to deferring violent centralizing. The enhancement of the command received by the command obeyed is effected by embedding the command in some practice of deferral. Everyone can be expected to engage in such deferral, and we need never abandon the possibility that even the most reprobate may eventually do so. So, there is no need to place any “category” of human outside of the social order.

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