the borderline between white and black magic

‘In a sense, it is the market that free-rides on extra-market values that make our market society a bearable place, by tempering the relentless opportunism that the market model commends. Norms of civility are a public good. Without them, the world would degenerate into a society of relentless mutual suspicion.” – Robert Kuttner

LI’s last post breezily went on about the social imposition of money as the supremely cathected object. To understand that, I thought it would be nice to turn to a product that is on the twilight borderline between white and black magic – blood. You know, the substance the wine turns into during mass. That fascinating liquid with the color that serves no evolutionary purpose – pure accident, that red.

As a matter of fact, blood and its sale was the object of one of the most cited books in defense of the welfare state by Richard Titmuss, who correctly saw that white magic depends on inverting a fundamental human fact – that the gift relationship logically and historically precedes the money relationship. But Titmuss is not nostalgic for the highly hierarchized society overthrown by the white magic. This is why the donation of blood is such an exemplary act for him:

“Unlike gift-exchange in traditional societies, there is in the free gift of blood to unnamed strangers no contract of custom, no legal bond, no functional determinism, no situations of discriminatory power, domination, constraint or compulsion, no sensed of shame or guilt, no gratitude imperative and no need for the penitence of a Chrysostom.”

Blood, like air, love, a fuck, a wank, everyday speech, etc., is one of those seemingly unmonetized things, the things outside the white magic mesh. The task of making money a super-cathectic object entails the double task of either monetizing these things or devaluing them. Those functions are, of course, related. So, for instance, that air is free means that there is no cost to polluting air, no individual hurt. There is no stealing, here. In the white magic world, stealing is a fundamental negative principle, defining what is valuable. Prometheus stealing fire, or Jahweh commanding his people not to steal, are just as founding, in their way, as any incest tabu.

To which subject I will return in another post.