GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

May 23, 2020

Exchanges withe Center Over Time

Filed under: GA — adam @ 8:15 pm

All discourse is with and of the center; all exchanges are of and with the center; all discourses are mediating exchanges with and through the center. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the human is the center speaking and exchanging with itself, with humans as the medium of discourse and exchange. We’re the language and money of the center. The reason this isn’t a solipsistic monologue of an autistic deity is that the exchanges take place over time, and the center of now is not the same center as the center now (nine words further along in the sentence). When we think of economic exchange, which is t say, desacralized exchange outside of the ritual center, we think of exchanges between agents located on the periphery—so, my formulations here counter that model. But even if exchanges on the periphery merely interface exchanges of the center with itself over time, that mode of exchange would still be a new interface of intra-center exchanges, and one that itself going, eventually, to be mediated by money.

Money, then, while initiated to facilitate imperative exchanges with the center through the provision of articles for group sacrifice, comes to stretch imperative exchange to its limits. With an imperative exchange, the participant can say why he is bringing this article, why now, why here, and the reason will include references to a ritual tradition which includes established forms of reciprocity between individuals, families, kin, and communities. The tendency of money is to abstract from all that and render it irrelevant. But what money doesn’t abstract from is its relation to central authority, as means of distribution and measure of stability. If someone has $200,000 in the bank, that $200,000 represents, not the amount of labor that person has performed minus what was spent purchasing the results of others’ labor, but the existence of that bank, within a world of banks and other means of registering and preserving amounts and accounts, protected by a particular mode of sovereignty guaranteeing in various ways the ability of the bank to have any or all of that $200,000 available when called for by the holder of the account. And, of course, that $200,000 also represents a certain amount of purchasing power in relation to the rest of the economy, which means today it can buy you a nice house in a good neighborhood whereas perhaps in a couple of years it will get you a decent car.

Money, then, is a tissue of threads anchored in the sovereign which, in quivering, register clusterings of power interfering with central authority, new delegations of disciplinary power more or less directly sanctioned by central authority, the moral health of the community using that money, insofar as that moral health figures into the structure of the workforce and consumption, and so on. And, not only registers, but reweaves and sometimes cuts off connections. It’s obvious that for a community to have, say, a certain number of highly skilled engineers, it must have a certain number of functional families raising children with the discipline to become trained as engineers, and some form of schooling that does the training, and a sufficiently pacified environment so that those who might become engineers are not compelled, as teenagers, to join a gang to survive, or to avenge the rape of their sister, and that to have all of these things one must have a lot of other things as well. Since all this is articulated through money, a true understanding of economics would find ways of using money to measure all this. But, for starters, we could say that the question of, say, “priming the pump,” or “printing money,” or “qualitative easing,” must ultimately be a question of whether enough (and how many will be “enough”?) people, in the “right” places, expect the central authority to see to, over the long term, the core social competencies that will produce X number of highly skilled engineers, with X being the number necessary to sustain and enhance as needed the various infrastructures needed to make everything else happen. And such expectations are going to be formed in accord with the extent to which the central authority can be seen maintaining the distinctions and differentiations, or the pedagogical relationships, that would ensure that what we mean now by “highly skilled engineer” will be commensurate with what we will mean by that phrase ten years from now. And that continuity in meaning can be “read off” of all the phenomena we see around us, in new terminological coinages, in slippages in the use of familiar terms, in new specializations that either degrade qualifications or represent genuinely new disciplinary spaces. If we know how to read it—which means that those who know to read it—and to read money flows as signals in the movements of meanings—will eventually constitute the “social spine,” if there is going to be one.

To read money as rendering the meaning of social differentiations is to read against the grain of money, the primary tendency of which is to efface them. This doesn’t necessarily mean “opposing” money (it doesn’t necessarily mean not opposing it, either), because one could introduce some measure into an order for the purposes of observation and modulation while granting it the necessary autonomy to be of use in that regard. The exchanges among non-sovereign institutions and individuals facilitated by money represent a concession of authority which is really a delegation, by the central authority. There can be good reasons for relaxing control in some areas, and maintaining a system of measurement to indicate when further relaxation might be beneficial or, on the contrary, control should be tightened. The alternative is to have spies, or plants, which is to say some kind of sensory “membrane,” in institutions granted authority, which reports back to central authority. Of course, both methods can be used simultaneously, and for those find the notion of spies or plants in “private” institutions to be disturbingly totalitarian, I would ask whether the currently mythologized figure of the “whistleblower” represents anything other than an encouragement to individuals to train themselves as potential spies and plants.

But reading against the grain of money does lead to imagining its extreme limitation, to the point of its disappearances, at least as a thought experiment. If money serves the same purpose as could be served by spies or plants or, let’s say, sensing and measuring agents directly responsible to central authority, then we could formulate a kind of “equation”: the more that money is minimalized, the more pervasive the sovereign sensorium must be. However “appified” all this sensing and measuring might be, there will always be authorized individuals making decisions. (One of the comical aspects of the systematic and often bizarre censorship exercised by social media corporations like Google, Twitter and Facebook is the fact that, for all the sophistication and complexity of the algorithmic-driven data collection and sorting, in the end the specific decision to suspend this or that account is made by some neurotic, hyper-sensitive, peer pressured, semi-educated 20-something.)  In this case, money would be measuring the fluctuations of the integration and isolation of disciplinary spaces within institutions: the more the social order is constituted by skunkworking throughout its institutions, the more meaningful money would be, and the better indicator of social health over time; the more skunkworkers are reduced to the condition of “whistleblowers” (with greater or lesser effect), the less meaningful money will be. Things could get more complex—fake whistleblowers can try to undermine genuine skunkworks, for example, in the interest of clusterings of power subverted by effective work—but these developments would also be fluctuations of the integration/isolation of disciplinary spaces. At the extreme, if we could imagine achieving “total skunkworking,” it’s hard to see why there would be any need for money at all—money, as a map, would have become so meaningful as to become absorbed into a shared attunement to the “territory.”

Friedrich Hayek’s argument was that all of the tacit knowledge embedded in the practices of all the distributed agents in the exchange order would be lost if those practices were to be reduced to the direct imperatives of a central authority. For Mises, the problem of there being no money is that price signals are necessary to mediate to allocation of resources. But there seem to be exceptions: emergency situations where mobilization proceeds in accord with motivation, competence and courage, and where it’s easy to see who’s a slacker or malingerer. Maybe just like hard cases make bad law, emergency situations make bad social science. But the equivalent of a permanent emergency would be a project engaging the energies of the entire society. The tweeter “scientism” makes a good case that the purpose of liberalism is to prevent the coalescence of such a project—the last such project was the organization of the social order to serve and glorify God, and liberalism got its start by muddying up that project. It’s hard to imagine anything as comprehensive as that replacing liberalism, but what can replace liberalism is a social order of “seed projects,” proposals seeking support for space exploration, medical research, communications and infrastructural developments, and even such leftist fetishes as cleaner energy—the sovereign responsibility would be to order and prioritize amongst such projects, to devote long-term research allocation to them, and to assign to the others the organization of educational and other institutions the task for preparing the people to participate. The articulation of large scale planning and distributed tacit know-how would then take care of itself.

Exchanges with the center over time, then, involve disciplinary spaces transforming disciplines and doing so by recognizing and creating other disciplinary spaces. Any creation of a new line of attention confers, however indirectly and imperceptibly, meaning upon money by enhancing the sensorium of the (possible) central authority. One could always, in principle, state explicitly the articulation of distributed scenes represented by a particular use of money: $200 for this television set represents a certain number of people working a certain number of hours upon a certain kind of machinery, with the product of that labor then being transported in a certain way of a certain distance, and so on. Leftist activists used to excel at such visualizations of the “global factory,” and it must be much easier to do today. The idea is that the more you state it and visualize it, the easier it becomes to consider changing it. This is obviously true. If you look at one link of the supply chain, e.g., the working conditions in some factory in China, you can say: “this is unacceptable. These conditions must change.” You can then specify the changes you would make and put a dollar amount on that. Maybe improving the working conditions or moving the factory out of China would make the TV set cost $220. This, in turn would distribute outlays of money all along the line. The purpose is to integrate production and consumption decisions into a moral framework. As in so many other cases, we can say to the leftist activist, first, “what kind of central authority do you imagine being able to approach the supply chain in the kind of systematic way necessary to make this approach coherent?”; and, then, “once you have imagined such a central authority, what makes you imagine it will do the things you want it to do”? The question applies equally to all of us, of course, but we will be better equipped to aid in the installation of such a central authority if we are exclusively focused on contributing to a pedagogical order in which disciplinary spaces as the sensorium of central authority are a matter of course.

We can set the problem, then, of translating a particular monetary exchange into the measure of the distance between the actual alignment of disciplines and a possible alignment characterized by a further increment of pedagogical relations, or fractal hierarchies made more explicit. As always, we work with a specific slice of the stack, interfacially, “app”ially. And pataphysically, or through what we could call the imperative imagination—so, for example, paying 20% more for your TV set means some worker in China will have free time to study neoabsolutist theory—so, get to it! This can be, at one and the same time, a mockery of activist hysteria and an invitation to a discussion of social priorities, and the assumptions we make about authority when we posit them. You don’t claim to represent the totality, just to be an interface between the totality (or Cloud) and the specific situation (the desire of some user). You want the terms of exchange set up by a new occupant of the center (even if it’s the same occupant at a later time) to be consistent with previous terms. You want money to represent the “stock” of skilled engineers, intact families, settled populations, functional educational institutions, and so on, rather than the power grabbing or desperation of someone close enough to the center to inflate it like a bubble.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Powered by WordPress