Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The synthetic progressive


I have been searching for a term to encompass one of the great features of capitalism – the non-necessary synthesis. I guess I will call it the synthetic synthesis.

A synthetic synthesis is the repeated putting together of two sets of concepts that are not necessarily joined together, creating a “discursive” necessity – or what I would call a mock necessity.

The third way, that ghostly nineties thing, corresponds very well to the synthetic synthesis model. A certain neo-classical economics is retrieved from the conservative opposition to social democracy, and is synthesized with an ideology that came out of the class struggles that brought about social democracy: that is, the struggle for civil rights of oppressed subjects in a liberal nation-state. So, for instance, the type of economic policies that favours a great increase in economic inequality, with its deregulation, its guarantees of support for the financial sector, its lower tax rate for the wealthy (in all its parts, including the blind eye turned to offshore money and the whole system of tax avoidance for the wealthy) is joined to an increasing concern with the legal equality of the oppressed subjects.

In the synthetic synthesis, the former left assumption – that class struggle is the shaping force of capitalist modernity – is simply dropped out.

Synthetic synthesis produces a certain type of managerial self. In corporations, in academia, in politics, in journalism this self is encountered over and over again. It is a self that is rhetorically virtuous, but anchored in every way in an economics of exploitation. The synthetic progressive.

That these syntheses are not grounded in necessity – that is, in any approximation of a total view of society – means that these managerial selves can easily adopt attitudes that go violently against the civil rights ideology that legitimates them.

In France, right now, we are seeing in real time how this works, as Macron – an almost ideal managerial self – and the  National Front (the RN, but I’m going to refuse to call them their new audience friendly name) are tentatively reaching out to each other. Last year, Le Pen’s party joined the left in its criticism of Macron’s reactionary attacks on Social Democratic institutions, symbolized by the fight over retirement. Symbolized, I should say, by the theft, by the political establishment, of years of the life of the employed classes, from clerks to mid-level managers to every employee of every public service. The last named have long been the target of Macronist contempt, contempt at the deepest level.

On the way to assuming power, the National Front, much like some Marxist caricature of fascism, erased its dispute with Macron over economics. And, indeed, in the turning of these wheels, the fragility of the synthetic synthesis comes into full view: why not attack social democracy and promote racism? It is as necessary, or non-necessary, as its opposite.

One of the great terms that has arisen in the social media is “gaslighting” – and gaslighting is symptomatic in late neoliberalism of the grinding sound at the base, as the money that flowed into the plutocracy due to neoliberal policies starts flowing to the reactionaries and fascists. The billionaire philanthropists, it turns out, are billionaires first, and philanthropists only as it gains them power and tax breaks.

It is hard to get one’s mind around a society that has so amply and fully adopted to synthetic syntheses – as it makes the life-world seem, ultimately, a sort of petty game, where nothing is serious if you don’t have serious money. Democracy can be cast aside because it empowers “non-serious” people. The serious buy their seriousness with serious money.

I should amplify this with six hundred pages of note on Adorno’s negative dialectics. But that is for later.


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