Monday, June 07, 2010


Crises of consumption:

The totalizing impulse of capital broke free from the state, and an unfettered consumerism marked "the end of history."

History begins anew with each autonomous culture met by capital; it records no greater threat in its past.

Consumerism announces itself as democracy at the point of consumption, and no one will be denied their rights. The security guard is trampled by the mob, but he dies in defense of the same principle they advance. Not inherent worth, but exchange value.

The language of capital displaces its rivals, and what can't be heard can't easily be said. Meaning is powered through the circuit of commodity exchange, as part of its larger process. This leaves the art of human expression limited to those who "succeed" at doing it, while the rest of us spend our time talking about them. We may admire, or we might resent; but we cede their authority by referencing them, for want of a language of our own.

Any association with power will lure humankind away from self-mastery of it. Proximity to that circuit most easily seen as external to the self dampens the power which occurs naturally, internal to it. No culture can satisfy the need for community within a circuit that runs external to the individual -- not even through the promise of association. Human culture must be composed of individuals first, with community expressed through differentiation.


Hunter said...

Been lurking for a while, but tremendously enjoying this series. There's a lot in today's installment (maybe even as much, sentence for sentence, as in the post this post is annotating), and I'm going to have to think a lot more about the last paragraph. But the thing that inspired my delurkification, was this:

"Not inherent worth, but exchange value."

Hmm... I'm clear on what exchange value is (how can one not be, given the language of consumerism we all must live with?), but this "inherent worth" business seems... problematic. What constitutes inherent worth? It strikes me (and I'll defend this if anyone wants me to bother) that there can be no such thing as inherent worth. There is only worth relative to some value system or another, and such systems may be more or less useful to actually existing humans depending on the context of their deployment. Indeed, exchange valuation is very useful for figuring out a lot of things, which is why it's the dominant mode of valuation in our culture / the world. Even today, though, it's not the only one: marriage has over the last century or three become dominated less and less by exchange valuation and more and more by other valuations (love, or whatever). Attention to the general theory implied buy these comments will prove necessary, I think.

For any mathematicians out there, I'd say the difference is as between category theory, which shows the structure of the relationships between mathematical structures, and set theory, which can model those things, but kind of has to be forced to do so.

DPirate said...

I read inherent worth, in that sentence, as referring to one's worth as a person (creature, whatever, living being). Certainly one has self-worth - is that inherent? I should think it ought to be assumed.

JRB said...


What you say is true; and as DPirate points out, "inherent worth" has a meaning that is socially accepted as it relates to those things required for human fulfillment -- like life, liberty, etc. -- even if it is too often superseded by competing value systems (the power prerogative, for example).

unfashionablylate said...

"Human culture must be composed of individuals first, with community expressed through differentiation."

Would like to see this thought expanded... To me it sounds very much like the logic of consumerism. Commodities must be composed of individual products first, with brands expressed through differentiation. Though I do think that contemporary subjectivity is so imbricated with consumerism that perhaps this consonance should not be as bothersome as it may seem.

JRB said...

I think it is the inverse logic of consumerism -- which is producing a variety of things out of one process (capital), often while utilizing one ingredient (petroleum, corn, e.g.). "Brands" are usually comprised of large quantities of lying.

What we should be producing are people: individuals afforded the means to become themselves.

DPirate said...

Hunter said: "It strikes me (and I'll defend this if anyone wants me to bother) that there can be no such thing as inherent worth."

I'll bite. New to your blog here, so maybe I'm coming at this from a direction that is besides the point, but...

You may be right in saying there is only worth relative to a system of value. If so, luckily, each individual is born or learns very early a system in which he values himself. Sometimes they decide they are no longer valuable and suicide, but on the whole that's negligible.

This value we place upon ourselves is what is meant be "inherent", wherever it comes from. I think any social system which does not recognize this idea is disastrously flawed.

Leaving it out of the paradigm will lead to social injustice of any and all forms. You know, reason must serve biology, not vice versa.

(Maybe that has nothing to do with what you wrote, I'm not sure.)