Saturday, November 25, 2017

spinoza and the american predicament

There have been innumerable searches for the roots of the American predicament that resulted in the election of Donald Trump. I came across this passage from Spinoza that provides a general framework for the racism, ignorance, stubbornness and despair that goes into giving your heart to a senile bully:

“Men would never be superstitious, if they could govern all their circumstances by set rules, or if they were always favored by fortune: but being frequently driven into straits where rules are useless, and being often kept fluctuating pitiably between hope and fear by the uncertainty of fortune’s greedily coveted favors, they are consequently, for the most part, very prone to credulity. The human mind is readily swayed this way or that in times of doubt, especially when hope and fear are struggling for the mastery, though usually it is boastful, over-confident, and vain.”

The rules, of course, that once governed at least certain circumstances in the capitalist world – rules that countervailed the rule of the richest and the most powerful – were long ago re-constituted in the U.S. by both the Dems and the Republicans. They called it de-regulation, or privatization, and what they were really doing was abolishing rules that limited the behavior of the great holders of private power. Meanwhile, fortune’s greedily coveted favors – which is the real name of “being competitive internationally” or whatever flavor of bullshit is being put out by the Harvard Business School this season – were what the working class, the creators of value, were encouraged to strive for – a sort of clientelism that destroyed all the long built up solidarity and substituted an ethos of dog eat dog. The end result was, as Spinoza well saw in circumstances of similar reaction, a visible increase in credulity.

Political superstition, at least, comes about when the conditions that support superstition are put in place. They have been in place for decades. We are now seeing what this leads us, Gadarene swine that we are. 

1 comment:

isomorphismes said...

Don't forget that Bernie had as good of a shot as DJT.

I don't believe the causes of the wealth gap are so simplistic. Pikkety rightly mentions the Saudis. Decline of unions might be just as important as "deregulation" (of which industry?)---Alinsky's point that workers should be just as aggressive as firms.

I also think the ill effects of Harvard are much more complex, and worth taking the time to undercut more thoroughly. The public's engagement with the HBR for example is truly Zizekian.