July 20, 2010

The Energy of the Marketplace



The energy of the market-place, at times, possesses an astonishing versatility, diversity, creativity and inventiveness, in the realm of ideas as well as actions.

The neo-liberal, turbo-capitalism – in which we currently live – is the emptied out, apocalyptic perversion of this potential.

We are integrated into this system at the level of our desires. When I want something, or have a fantasy, this want or fantasy are shot through with capitalism.

I don’t know about you, but speaking for myself, I am totally fucking in it. I behave, not like a capitalist, but like capitalism itself. And I am against capitalism. So I am against myself.

The greater the margin of economic profit, the more people’s lives are destroyed. This is why I prefer only a slight profit. (While secretly hungering for larger conquests.) How can one honestly look at the world, have a good heart, and still not be didactic? Because the fear of empty words, or worse, of hypocritical gestures, is far greater than the fear of doing nothing? But there is no pleasure, no risk, in being only consequent.

I started writing this in Geneva. Now I am writing in Madrid.


There is an incredible electric charge, an overwhelming surge of perverse empowerment, in consciously or unconsciously doing something that one knows is wrong. Good deeds cannot match this pleasure, they have only a tepid narcissism with which to rally.

Acts of kindness are plentiful in the world, but most often take place on a modest scale. Acts of malice can be monumental. I don’t know if this is true. And if true, I don’t know why. But I wrote it and, as I was writing, could feel it resonate.

Monumental acts of malice often require a great deal of technology. What are the technologies of kindness? A genocide is a monumental, terrifying act of malice. What is the equivalent in the realm of kindness?

But perhaps kindness is beside the point. To witness a monumental act of malice (the French revolutions descent into terror, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, Cambodia, Rwanda, etc.) is to experience a violent, equally out of proportion, sense of disillusionment.

People are an astonishing mix of complexity and non-complexity. What I think of as myself doesn’t come from me. It comes from advertising, television, pop songs, magazines, the odd book, half understood social conventions and taboos, the failures of my education and my parents. A hodge-podge, a bricolage.

This is the self, with its endless patterns repeating endlessly, though it remains elusive just exactly where they came from or why. Of course there are answers, theories, therapy. But like all useful reductions, they fail to grapple with the fullness of the struggle. A struggle not only with myself but with the world.

Subjectivity is produced. Deep in our consciousness we are given a challenge: either you attempt to become rich or you will end up poor. This has nothing to do Darwin. Nature is equally symbiotic, a careful balance within and between eco-systems. Animals help each other survive.

As now I am writing in Montreal, the most charming city in Canada. (I dare you to tell me that its not.) I struggle to call it home.


The entire model of opposition needs to be re-thought. Yes, fascism must be opposed and fought against in all instances. (The fascism of capital, the fascism within ourselves, the crypto-fascism of everyday life.) But perhaps it must be fought against using a model somehow other than opposition.

Opposition always leads to one of two things: to being absorbed or being destroyed. It is true that when ones ideas are absorbed one does – in some sense – alter the status quo. However, if the original model was less about attacking and more about something else, I am once again thinking along the lines of symbiotic relationships found in nature, than perhaps a greater degree of change might be possible, one that does not create the insidious distortions beneficial to power that absorption so often entails.

Fierce opposition always leads to something akin to a cycle of revenge: positions on both sides harden, become further ingrained, more rigid, the longer the antagonism continues to escalate. Both sides become less likely to soften, shift or change.

And yet the more I think about such questions, the more unclear I become as to what this other model might look or feel like. Might it be a model based on listening?

Listening to the enemy? Not dialogue, not some naïve belief in the power of communication. Simple listening, as a first step.

But what if, as you are listening, all you hear are lies? What if, as you are listening, you receive three bullets in the back of the head (when one would have sufficed.) How to transition from a state in which listening is dangerous and foolish, towards a state in which it, once again, becomes constructive? Listening for the insecurity behind power. Thinking if there are other, less violent ways, to make it feel secure. As I write this I feel naïve.

Writing in Toronto, the city that instilled in me a deep, but cautious, antipathy towards business, sports and post-modernism.


Where is power in capital? In the things it makes us do? In the things it allows us to do (to ourselves, to others)? In the things it makes possible: the organization, hierarchy and destruction? The overwhelming imbalances that simply could not exist without it.

Evolution doesn’t explain everything, no key can unlock every door. Capital is not omnipotent, cannot absorb every single resistance.

Where is the power in capital? In the fact that nothing seems possible without it, without a bit of dosh, that even the homeless panhandle and must feel they have no choice, that it seems impossible to imagine our world organized in some other way? Capital is not omnipotent, but neither does it have to be in order to maintain a fairly consistent and spectacular control.

Competition isn’t natural. Competition is produced like everything else. In the natural world they don’t compete because of an implicit ideology that competition lends value. Animals hunt for food out of necessity. Where is the necessity in everything that surrounds us?

How to imagine deep, structural change, happening slowly over decades, overcoming the continuous onslaught of insurmountable obstacles and continuing to push through. Beginning with subtle but ongoing shifts in our most basic understanding of ourselves and the world. Is that a place to begin? What would it mean to listen to the insecurity behind the savagery of power abused?

At the door of Kafka’s castle you cannot haggle. At the Wall Mart and gas station you cannot haggle. But in the marketplace, the dirty marketplace of ‘early capitalism’, my romantic misconception of a marketplace before the hard shock of industrial production, there was still an always present one-to-one potential for give-and-take. What would that marketplace look like without a king, without a church, growing out of some improvised combination of barter and local currencies?

If they can have the psychotic fantasy of a pure, unregulated free market; why can’t I have the idyllic fantasy of some future, down-to-earth, flexible, generous marketplace of necessities and ideas?

Writing in Zurich, in a near empty café, filled with early spring sunlight.


They’re ideologues, and ideology is like an addiction to one’s own position. Ideologues don’t stop until someone stops them. But how to stop them without becoming equally, negatively tenacious and single-minded.

We all have fixations, obsessions, things about which we are absolutely stubborn. But ideologues want everyone under the boot of their own infinite stubbornness, which they view as noble discipline, and they keep coming back.

Are these the ones I’m suggesting we listen to?

But it’s easy to call your enemies names, easy to demonize them, infinitely more difficult to find the miniscule point from which some degree of communication might begin.

Resistance is always unfinished, always a work-in-progress, because if you win then you’re in power, and somebody else has to resist against you. Might such an idea ease the inherent frustration involved in any act of sustained resistance?


This text has also been published in The Coming Envelope. Order one here.


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Rupinder said...
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