Sunday, February 18, 2018

nineteenth century observations about the twenty first century

The difference between intentions and conditions is a tricky topic, one that philosophers dance around, taking different partners to the dance.

In the creaky old nineteenth century, they came up with the magic word “determine” and waved it over this business. So that they ground out phrases like, the economy determines history, or man determines his fate.
Yet what was determination? Was it cause? And if so, why not just substitute the term cause here? But that, it turns out, was a substitution too far. For determine meant something more like: produces the terms in which… And this leads us to a difference between simple causes and conditions. And this leads us to the making of distinctions, which is not an American specialty. Save for Henry James, Americans are not big on making distinctions, which has a sort of sissy feel. I can imagine the bumper sticker: only sissies make distinctions!

But to go back to something that isn’t dumb methodogical individualism. Let’s hypothesize that larger, institutionalized social forces, like the state, or businesses, or parties, operate in reality not to institute some rigid intention or goal (even if they do that too), but, ultimately, to produce the conditions that will make push forward the self-organizing of a set of goals. For instance, you want your Uber company to make a profit, but you also want to atomize the work force, which amplifies the opportunity to exploit that work force, and to that end you cover your Uber company in a self-employment vibe. Or even a self-entrepreneur vibe.
This might seem secondary. But in the long term, you won’t make a profit if the social conditions are against you. It is part and parcel, then, of your short term intention to make possible its reproduction through a series of short terms – all the way to infinity, so to speak. Thus, it always seems that institutions, like people, follow some intention, but it always also seems that their success depends on creating some condition that is beyond the particulars of that intention. 

In “A treatise on efficacy” Jullien compares the Western and Chinese notions of how states and enterprises operate. For instance, he considers Sun Tzu’s notion that the general, before battle, should “ban omens and dismiss all doubts.”

“The whole of this Chinese thought is prompted by a single concept: whatever happens “in any case” “cannot not happen” (once all the conditions are ascertained); in other words, it is “ineluctable”.

“This idea of the ineluctability of processes and so also of success for whoever is capable of profiting from it recurs constantly throughout all Chinese thinking. Even a thinker such as Mencius subscribes to this logic of consequentiality, despite the fact that he adopts a position altogether opposed to the theses of the strategists, since he considers that sovereignty depends not on the relation of forces and therefore the art of warfare, but on the sway exercised by morality. Or rather, morality is itself a force, and a particularly strong one, because it possesses great influence and uses this to effect, in a diffuse and discrete fashion. Be concerned for your people, Mencius tells the ruler, share your pleasures with them, and you will inevitably progressively come to rule over all other princes. That is because all peoples will desire to pass under your authority; they will open their doors to you and will be unable to resist you. Through violence, you will inevitably eventually come to grief, for the power at your disposal is limited and arouses rivalry.” 

Okay, now, this sounds closer to the 19th century, and its iron laws of determination. Here’s a good example of intention, conditions, and inelectability. In the 00s of mauvais reputation – after about 2005 – there was a moment when the deep thinkers in the establishment realized that Iraq was a disaster. It had created conditions that were ineluctably leading to events that were creating other conditions, none of them good from the U.S. perspective.

This moment, however, passed, like an angel overhead. Because what these deep thinkers did is – they called upon the miraculous. They would say, well, right now Iraq is a mess, but in six months we might have an American lovin’ democracy on our hands! And thus, they dickered with ineluctability, with determination, with conditions, by shutting their eyes. And they were very set on indeterminability. Nobody could predict. Prediction was impossible. And so on. It was as if I decided to build a birdhouse, but claimed loudly that I couldn’t predict, before I finished it, whether it would actually be a supersonic automobile. 
I look back at this moment because I think that not only were the deeper thinkers vastly, bigly, utterly fucked up, but I also think that the mindset of massive excuse-making produced a set of intellectual conditions in these here states. These conditions made it ever easier to make one’s entire career of falsified predictions and bogus analyses. The same conditions that allowed economists to predict in the 00s that we were in the “Age of Moderation” (when we were actually on the verge of the economic precipice), or that allowed the establishment in center-left parties to promote the conditions that would decimate the working class through “free trade” agreements without thinking that destroying their political base would eventually destroy their own political power.
The conditions that have created the great Unintelligence in the states – the Unintelligence that is embodied by Trump, a man of shit destiny  – will blindly keep operating until they are overthrown.

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