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Friday, February 6, 2009

Capital-driven decodification. Or the so-called "westernization".

In 1972 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari published which is probably the most important philosophico-political book of the 20th century:
L'Anti-OEdipe, Capitalisme et schizophrénie (known in English as Anti-OEdipus). In it, the French authors dissected the processes unleashed by Capitalism in the collective (and individual) psyche.

The central process that defines Capitalism as schizoid, is decodification.

Capitalism buys all and corrupts all. What actually works within Capitalism is actually pre-Capitalist, what has not yet been rotten by the drive of profit. Hence the old morals (conservative-reactionary drag) are used by Capitalism to keep the system working for still a few years more but these are simultaneously annihilated by the mere generalization of free market economy.

The result is a society that has no values other than profit and hedonism. In the extreme such society cannot survive because any social organization needs of cooperative values of some sort but Capital is incredibly versatile and dynamic in this its own peculiar "cultural revolutionary" process and normally manages to get sometheing else serving its purposes and keeping the social order for yet another decade or generation.

D. and G. described a psycho-social pendulum that has "progressive" schizophrenia in one extreme and "conservative" paranoia in the other. Capitalism in this context is seen as "progressive" becuase it destroys the old order, the conservative pole belongs always to the past and gets most of its imaginary from pre-Capitalist elements and times. Nevertheless now and then the pendulum goes back and fascisms and the like take over... for a while. This paranoid reaction is a desperate attempt to balance the movement "to nowhere", nowhere with solid ground at least, that Capital generates. But it's a doomed reaction: they can't live without Capitalism and can't offer an alternative, hence they are again decodified, corrupted and annihilated by the dominant schizoid trend.

These are historical processes, of course, and therefore can take decades to complete. And they are anything but simple, of course.

We are now witnessing some reactionary paranoid trend, especially in some areas of the so-called developing world. Of course, Islamism is the one that comes to mind first of all... but there are many others. Actually I was set to think (again) about all this by an apparently shallow news article on the conflict in India about kissing. It is a good example of the decodifying pulse of Capitalism and the paranoid reaction that tries, in vain, to preserve the old morals.

It is also a good example of the (surely intentonal) confusion between decodification and "westernization". If you think about it, 100 or 150 years ago the same moral conflict existed in the West. Only gradually, in the 20th century, the attitudes changed. A lot of people surely had to suffer fines and moral scolding, maybe even jail, for expressing their feelings freely in the West too. So, calling these kind of things "westernization" (or "westoxication") is actually a tendentious argument. That the West has been going one step ahead in this cultural revolution is only because of greater and earlier Capitalist developement.

Decodified societies, where they exist, have weak morals and weak family ties. It happens in some colonial societies, it happens to some extent among some huntergatherers and it happens in modern "western" Capitalist societies. In a sense, one can think of this as a celansing therapy, where all the moral toxins accumulated by centuries are eliminated to allow the body, the human society, to exist as it is: pristine and without pre-determined rules other than the basic genetic frame.

Nevertheless, as this process is dominated by the "virtual" reality of money, it does also arise some very nasty processes like human trafficking, drug abuse, etc. Also people used to live in a moralistic set, when confronted with the final result of decodification: only you and the world, no rules... often panick.

Of course there is an answer to this void. But it does not lay within Capital-driven decodification, unable to build anything in the social realm except piles of virtual "wealth", nor it lays within any paranoid reactionary panick, that is unable to build the new society and also unable to escape the corrupting paws of Capitalism.

The answer is outside the dialectic pendulum: in our ability to create a new ethos and to build a society and an economy that trascends Capitalism. Humanism is the path and is already building a new ethos that belongs to no culture other than that of Naked Humankind. But the process to make this a solid achievement by building the new society and economy is still in its infancy.

Importantly, without morals and without the rotting true "invisible hand" of Capitalism, there is nothing predefined. It is the moment for willpower, for free collective creation. We are the ones that will build the future, that are building it. And no, we cannot look back or, as in the Jewish legend, you will become a salt statue.


DocG said...

Interesing post, Maju. I'm thinking now more about Bataille and "expenditure without reserve" and wondering how that might relate to G & D's work, which I don't know all that well. I've started a new blog to deal with all this "meltdown" business, which I find fascinating. A blog relating poetry and economics, called "Mole in the Ground." You can find it here:

Best Wishes, Victor

Maju said...

Hi, Victor.

I fear I have not read Bataille's work. I'll see what I can gather tomorrow.

I also checked your blog (just a quick brwosing as I'm about to go to sleep) and my first impression is of interest - admittedly more for the opinion essays than for the poetry (don't get me wrong: I just quitted poetry long ago for no particular reason, maybe I felt it did not serve me any further).

I'll take a longer look at it tomorrow.