Saturday, December 15, 2012

Why Do We Stigmatize Suicide, But Make Celebrity Out of Mass-murder?

Why do we stigmatize suicide and quietly brush it under the rug, but make instant-celebrity out of those who commit serial killings and mass killings?

The following is an attempt to provide one possible perspective.

Mass killings and serial killings are an attack on our public identities--specifically, our public identity's sense of safety. But our public identity is constantly bombarded with similar attacks. "You're not sexy enough, not successful enough." And even for those that have found success, one can always aspire for more. That's the healthy thing to do!

Our public identities are so used to the deluge of experiences and prescriptions waiting to be completed, that it is not too disconcerting for us to add one more worry to our check-lists.

But suicide is an attack on our private identities.

THAT, we cannot tolerate. In fact, embedded within our exaltation of competitive markets as the crowning achievement of civilization is the assumption that, privately, we are all imperfect and depraved. The trick of competition is that we are to never make our imperfection public. To do so is to throw away our marketability, i.e. our market-ability--our ability to compete and survive in the market.

Suicide, the ultimate public statement of the vulnerability of our private selves, is an outright challenge to this dogma. Vulnerability is the negation of competition, and so public vulnerability is strictly forbidden in a competitive marketplace.

In the words of Andrew Harvey, "The authentic rebel of love would have to let himself be penetrated and broken open by love. This would be a devastating experience—devastating to the tidy brutalities of the false [public] self."

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Why Socialism? -- The Problem with Economic Markets

“Progress has not followed a straight ascending line, but a spiral with rhythms of progress and retrogression, of evolution and dissolution.” - Goethe

From its inception, capitalism in the West internalized the Protestant leaders’ emphasis on humanity’s “total depravity.” It is thus one of the deeply-ingrained assumptions of Western capitalism that goodness and excellence are to be found outside of the human sphere--goodness is achievable only through non-human, institutional means.

Nobel-prize-winner Muhammad Yunus’s belief in “social businesses” seems more far-fetched than Michael Albert’s “participatory economy,” in this regard. At least Albert recognizes that such a structure is achievable only with the elimination of economic markets, which exist only as a way of thinking, i.e. an insistence that we use structures which prioritize the non-human over the human--numbers over language, digitally-recorded contracts over face-to-face agreements, global markets over grassroots democracy.

‘Celebrity’ is such a structure. First used to mean “famous person” in 1849, ‘celebrity’ is a decidedly non-human category. It is a creation of mass-media that cares nothing about the humanity of the celebrity, i.e. serial-killers can be celebrities as easily as saints. The only requirement seems to be the single-minded pursuit of perfection--whether it’s the attempt to save the world or the attempt to commit the ‘perfect murder’.

Were the early Protestant leaders correct that with the Fall, humanity is in a state of “total depravity” and should seek excellence only through non-human structures such as economic markets? Or is it possible that they were mistaken, and as the Eastern mystics propose, excellence is to be found through balance rather than through the pursuit of perfection?

Why Socialism? Perhaps we should be asking "Why not?"

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Moving Beyond Capitalism

The 20th century has been the century of capitalism and its expansion. But capitalism is only the “end of history” as a dead end. People fear the words ‘socialism’, ‘anarchism’, and ‘communism’ because they believe these words represent a move backwards, a desire to destroy everything that economic markets have built. There may be those that feel this way, but this is not necessarily correct. The desire to erase capitalism must be differentiated from the desire to move beyond capitalism.
History is best visualized not as a line, but as a series of pendulum swings between opposing positions. Society exists in a constant state of tension between opposing ideas. The French Revolution was a collision of the medieval idea of a Great Chain of Being where the aristocracy rules over the peasants with the Renaissance idea of equality. In the 1850’s Abolitionists in the United States did not argue that slavery should be made illegal only in new states, but argued that all slaves should be freed as soon as possible. Social change occurs not through the accumulation of minor variations from the status quo, but through intentionally pursuing the opposite of what the existing paradigms say. As Goethe put it, “Progress has not followed a straight ascending line, but a spiral with rhythms of progress and retrogression, of evolution and dissolution.”
The contribution of capitalism was the creation of a new structure of communication--an economic globalization of which markets are just the bare-bones structure. The longer we stay stuck in this skeletal structure, the drier and more brittle the structure becomes. We must start to flesh it out. We must learn from the globalizing process that economic markets created. Give credit where it’s due--economic markets have encouraged more cross-culturation and travel between different nations than ever before in the history of the world. The process of globalization is an accomplishment that we should credit capitalism for. But, as Wolfgang Giegerich remarks, “this process needs us, needs our heart, our feeling, our imaginative attention and rigorous thinking effort.” “It must,” Giegerich continues, “be reborn through the soul and in the soul,” by which he means we must not forget anything that capitalism has taught us about trade, about product-promotion, about resume-building. We must learn from these language-experiments, but we must not allow their practice to become brittle or stale.
Socialists and anarchists absolutely must learn to view their positions not as descending from capitalism, but as transcending it. It is essential for any post-capitalist vision to maintain the significant increases in worldwide communication and ability to relocate that capitalism has started.