The Forces of Nietzsche vs. the Humanity of Graeber: part 1

In examining debt it becomes very hard not to dwell on morality. As a promise of one party to another, the debtors obligation demands an “owning up” to that promise – or else risks being negatively valued in the community at large. This ’negative value’ clings to any extended look into the situation of indebtedness, so to conceptualize debt and any logic accompanying it must bring its value aspect along with it. The debtor, under this pervasive logic, is charged with making the creditor empty until repayment sets the relationship aright. Before the moment of re-harmonizing both creditor and the debtor, the debtors are stripped of their moral authority and rest firmly in the negative of a binary relation.

We can find help in Graeber’s definition of debt as an obligation that has not reached completion or a relationship of equality that has been skewed – to become equalized or “righted” in the future. Equality and reciprocity are clearly presupposed in the creditor/debtor relationship, which is then complicated by the duration of time between the two transfers: one from creditor to the debtor and the other from the debtor back to the creditor. To borrow from one side of an equation without setting the equation back in balance in the future would be labeled unfair; a promise extends the relationship ahead of time sometimes indefinitely and sometimes scrupulously marked off in advance. But this mathematical formulation doesn’t cover over the issue entirely. The value aspect of debt reaches even as far as the nature of individuals under consideration (sovereign individuals consistent through time): does not the very ability to repay some time in the future (and so “own” one’s debts) or demand a repayment for a past agreement (without which one will be wronged) require a valuation itself? Can one prescribe a valuation on the performative action of own up to the deeds performed in the past and project them into the future?

To put it in other words, doesn’t the ability to make the promise to repay, as the element of “ownership” of one’s contractual agreement across time, presuppose the positive valuation of consistency through the individual’s life? Is it debt that forces us to pledge ourselves to remain the same going forward into the future, or, conversely, does the consistency of the individual come first and set up the room for the contract? We tend to assume that a person be responsible for all of their deeds throughout their life, holding them in a monumental memory and etching them into the very nature of the person. A value hides under this assumption, buried by a gluttony of memories. A reversal of debt-valuation could find a key ally in “paying” attention to a perhaps deeper valuation: that one remain the same throughout their life. A different logic could be at play, one that if made explicit might sever the us from the binds of debt-morality. A newfound strength in an active forgetting – what could be more opposed to the pernicious effects of moralistic debt-logic?

Both Nietzsche and Graeber give strangely similar accounts of debt, morality, and history when examined side by side, though they diverge in a few key spots. You probably wouldn’t see it at first, because *Debt* tries to set its relationship to Nietzsche on its own terms in an isolated chapter. Graeber summons Nietzsche to briefly assist him in recounting some myths parading around as science. The chapter of Debt called ‘Cruelty and Redemption’ examines Nietzsche’s second essay in On the Genealogy of Morals titled ‘”Guilt,” “Bad Conscience,” and the Like’, but much is overlooked in that monumental essay. Highlighting the differences between the two will give us a deeper look into each’s respective normative views, while the commonalities that have been passed over by Graeber will help us to more precisely locate the logic of debt (and all of its moral and religious implications, in all of their violence). The two have basically the same approach to debt, but differ in what one could call a moral sense: Graeber is much more communally minded and has disdain for the forces of violence he believes “rips people from their contexts”, whereas Nietzsche does not shy away from the active forces of the “strong types”. Eventually we will arrive at a crossroads where humanity will attempt to be retained by Graeber and superseded by Nietzsche. Despite groundbreaking inquiries into the nature of debt on both accounts, both writers bring in opposing, not-so-subtle judgments that point in completely different directions.

Having recently uncovered the nationalistic pretensions of primordial debt theories of money, Graeber continues in his quest to dispel theories that lead into myth. When money is treated as a “debt-token” or a mere measure of debt, what we are indebted to and where debt can be extended into in our social relations becomes fuzzy. If the universal store of value that is money is determined to be nothing but a measuring device, the debts we have with each other appear to be everywhere. Again, when all that money is is a measure of value – eventually it seems like we are indebted to just about everything in our community and the cosmos (parents, ancestors, gods, etc.). Our whole lives turn out to be a long list of things that we are indebted to; a sentiment that is particularly susceptible to despotic nationalism, where the state is seen as the guarantor of all of these debts and the only entity big and grand enough to do so. This was covered in my last post on money as caught between to myths.

Graeber seems to think that Nietzsche is recounting something like this primordial debt theory when he begins musing on the creditor-debtor relationship and its place as the origin of measuring one person against another: the origin of values. This is seen as another state-of-nature story like Adam Smith’s barter economy that spawned the more efficient money based exchange system (in other words, a retrospective creation myth for money). Quoted in Debt but with a different translation than here, Nietzsche writes:

“…the feeling of guilt, of personal obligation, had its origin, as we saw, in the oldest and most primitive personal relationship, that between buyer and seller, creditor and debtor: it was here that one person first encountered another person, that one person first measured himself against another. No grade of civilization, however low, has yet been discovered in which something of this relationship has not been noticeable. Setting prices determining values, contriving equivalences, exchanging – these preoccupied the earliest thinking of man to so great an extent that in a certain sense they constitute thinking as such: here it was that the oldest kind of astuteness developed; here likewise, we may suppose, did human pride, the feeling of superiority in relation to other animals, have its first beginnings. Perhaps our word “man” (manas) still expresses something of precisely this feeling of self-satisfaction: man designated himself as the creature that measures values, evaluates and measures, as the “valuating animal as such.”” (GM,8)

In Graeber’s summary of Nietzsche’s plan with his essay, (that guilt, debt, and those sentiments that follow morality are the result of a person-to-person, buyer-seller or creditor-debtor relationship, with community developing only afterwards) what he

“is doing here is starting out from the common-sense assumptions about the nature of human beings prevalent in his day (and to a large extent, still prevalent) – that we are rational calculating machines, that commercial self-interest comes before society, that “society” itself is just a way of putting a kind of temporary lid on the resulting conflict. That is, he is starting out from ordinary bourgeois assumptions and driving them to a place where they can only shock a bourgeois audience.” (Debt,p.78)

There is a split character in Nietzsche’s essay. On the one hand, he is parodying those backward-looking excursions into “primeval times” and taking them from their “origins” (about which Nietzsche is not so concerned) to their logical conclusion as nationalist myths demanding sacrifice to the great creditor-ancestors of the past. On the other hand, Nietzsche is offering the reader his own understanding of God-less forces in the course of weaving through the simple-minded and triumphalist narratives trumpeting around in his time. The primordial debt/nationalist story continues along with our indebtedness level rising in tandem with the power level of society – as though the greatness of a tribe, become a community, become a nation, become an empire had increased the debt to each of its members as it rose up to each level. To add to Graeber’s portrayal of this side of Nietzsche (the parodying side):

“The fear of the ancestor and his power, the consciousness of indebtedness to him, increases, according to this kind of logic, in exactly the same measure as the power do the tribe itself increases, as the tribe itself grows ever more victorious, independent, honored, and feared… If one imagines this rude kind of logic carried to its end, then the ancestors of the most powerful tribes are bound eventually to grow to monstrous dimensions through the imagination of growing fear and to recede into the darkness of the divinely uncanny and unimaginable: in the end the ancestor must be transfigured into a god.” (GM,19)

If the story seems coherent it is from a purely didactic viewpoint. When indebtedness is a condition that is universal across one’s society (in the market and religion alike), as well being as entrapped by a large state-apparatus, then the tendency is to imagine such a condition in one’s “pre-history” before documentation or “official history” was bestowed (perhaps by the great creditor/documenter?) into existence. The story of a debt-maximizing God’s rise to prominence through a chain of more and more powerful social arrangements (for Nietzsche) and nationalist primordial debt theories (for Graeber) is rightly labelled as creation myths and not truthful accounts for the history of any societies nor money. That the debt level rises in lock-step with the power of a community or tribe is no where in evidence (as if the feeling of indebtedness is ubiquitous across a “whole society”!). The ridiculousness of these stories is owed to the dream-land of pre-history taking the place of an historical explanation of the arrival of the present situation. In looking for the origin of money or our moral sentiments, our most analytic thoughts and well-documented studies get convoluted and confused because we are predisposed to imagine similarly to what is right in front of us or all around us.

But I would argue that the other side of Nietzsche, who weaves his own affirmations and denouncements through the fake origin stories, is missed by an author rushing on to the rest of real history and real humanity. After stating that “there is also every reason to believe that Nietzsche knew the premise was insane; in fact, that this was the entire point” on one page, in the next has one, Graeber has one subtle and one giant leap that a close reading of Nietzsche’s essay will show is problematic. “It’s a worthy game and no one has played it better;” he goes on, “but it’s a game played entirely within the boundaries of bourgeois thought. It has nothing to say to anything that lies beyond that.” (Debt,p.78-79) Nietzsche is now locked up in this chapter for lack of any further evidence of these days of old. Moving on up in *Debt we will get lots of facts anthropological and historical on the road to mapping out the logic of debt across the ages, but we will also get a recurring terminology in which a humanist morality is snuck in. The values that Nietzsche puts forward are done bluntly and with great enthusiasm – a point that he wants to hammer into his readers’ heads. He writes about unavoidability of a conceptual “prehistory”: “(this prehistory is in any case present in all ages and may always reappear)” (GM,9) – suggesting that origins incessantly pop up and reassert themselves in even the most conscientious societies. Is not the principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” of a baseline communism behind hierarchies and exchange a form of foundationalism that peels away the negative systems to find a romantically good core at the heart of humanity, the origins of sociality?

But Graeber’s approach is more casual and anecdotal – he takes it as a matter of fact that people experience communism as he defines it in our everyday life and that decency between people is as common as the air we breathe. It is only through encroaching hierarchy on the one hand and the demand to make our relations equal on the other that this basic humanity becomes tarnished. New categories papered over with lots of history, however, do not prove those categories more scientific. The non-scientific compartmentalization of social forms in hierarchy, exchange, and common decency (communism) aren’t essentially provable as comprehensive throughout human history and are heuristic categories to make Graeber’s humanistic-moral point easier to grasp. This territory of morality, humanity, and religion is precisely what must be dwelt on further if we are to find our way through the labyrinth of political economy and understand the logic of debt.

Nietzsche will spend more of the space on his pages with thoughts on memory, guilt, and punishment – the violence of inscription onto the body of the individual so as to train it to behave, and behave in docility over an extended duration with a conscience. It is these physical acts of punishment, the tremendous pain inflicted on the body, and the techniques that redirected human emotion inward that will drive the critique. The violence of the state that anarchists like Graeber never tire of pointing out (rightfully) is also pointed out by Nietzsche as a clear bringer of misery:

“…the wielding of a hitherto unchecked and shapeless populace into a firm form was not only instituted by an act if violence but also carried to its conclusion by nothing but acts of violence – that the oldest “state” this appeared as a fearful tyranny, as an oppressive and remorseless machine, and went on working until this raw material of people and semi-animals was at last not only thoroughly kneaded and pliant but also *formed.
I employed that word “state”: it is obvious what is meant – some pack of blond beast of prey, a conqueror and master race which, organized for war and with the ability to organize, unhesitatingly lays its terrible claws upon a populace perhaps tremendously superior in numbers but still formless and nomad. That is after all how the “state” began on earth: I think that sentimentalism which would have it begin with a “contract” has been disposed of.” (GM,17)

As always, Nietzsche digs deeper than moralistic and pious colleagues did (and most other writers have done since he died). He tears through the glossy surface that morality places over the victories of struggling forces, but not to find a basic human existence but ever more forces. Both ethical historians (one a genealogist, the other an anthropologist) are not impressed by the justifications that predominant powers give for their existence, but Nietzsche doesn’t fall for the next myth in line: the myth that human communality was all well and good before the state bore its way into the earth. Despite the terror of the state and the cold calculating law of the markets, another technique deserves our attention in the effects of repeated punishment and the formation of memory. The processes of ingraining a conscience into people also has a history drenched in blood and torture and did not simply exist before the rise of states, markets, and nations. We do not return to a more communal and warmly uncalculating relationship with other people when we remove the state, this would be to replace one myth with another. As we will see, the greater emphasis on techniques of punishment and inflicting pain in the development of a memory will play an important role in making us stand up for or own our debts through time. We own our debts and make contractual obligations through a more subtle and less noticeable coercion than the violence of the state and the equalizing demands of the market; although the history of this coercion is also the result of similarly reprehensible amounts of pain.

The drawing up of Nietzsche’s own primordial debt theory in *Debt is done briefly, but is done solely to assist in dispelling a bad myth. But Nietzsche always takes the game farther. The imaginary, “bourgeois” play with origin mythology is not for him something that when peeled back, we will get our humanity back. Graeber asserts this much about the fun Nietzsche is having with his audience, but this wild-mustached ghost never seems to find its proper place. The “real” that Graeber turns to immediately is a humanistic one oriented by a common community standard:

“in any real-life situation, we have propensities that drive us in several different contradictory directions simultaneously. No one is more real than any other. The real question is which we take as the foundation of our humanity, and therefore, make the basis of our civilization.” (Debt,p.79)

That’s a lot of “reals”! We have a positively real situation, then a multiplicity of contradictory forces (all real), and finally a real question: “what is the basis of our humanity/civilization?” Humanity takes center stage now in Debt, and the history that will follow in the second part of the book is done to tell us how the baseline reality of humanity has been disfigured by exchange and hierarchy. It is actually an extremely profound geo-history of political forms, economic systems, and religious dogma that all seem to compliment each other when attention is payed to all of them. But I am not disputing historical facts here – I’m getting after some contrasting ways of understanding morality in conjunction with debt. Remaining at this phase in the story for longer than Graeber did will strengthen much of his over-arching argument if we allow Nietzsche a louder voice: both are aware of the insidious logic of debt but Nietzsche’s inquiry more carefully focuses on those “reals”. The call for debt cancellation or resistance and a clean slate to reorganize society upon (found at the end of Debt) is prescient, but without dwelling longer on morality and those unexamined “reals”, the effort could be stifled by mental roadblocks. Like it or not, that ghost born posthumously is still hanging around.

The next part of this essay will be published shortly and go into more detail the differences in the theories of Nietzsche and Graeber. The role of memory and forgetting, history and origins, resistance and progress, and morality and resentment will receive further attention.>

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DELEUZE AGAINST SPONTANEITY

billrosethorn:

This is actually a very important point about organizing that Deleuze has provided us. Desire does not come spontaneously, as if “from nowhere” and emerge all by itself. The common affects of a milieu, the places frequented (territories), and shared ways of speaking all play into desire. The “where are we going with this?” question of deterritorialization always lingers between us, and is crucial for assembling a collective desire – with force. Machinic thinking helps us consider these things and not be entranced by mere words or closed-off cliques guarding the boarders of the territory.

Originally posted on AGENT SWARM:

Philip of CIRCLING SQUARES discusses Deleuze in relation to a concept of “spontaneous self-organisation”. This is a fairly common and persistent misreading, that Deleuze has always denounced. In his ABC PRIMER Claire Parnet asks him about the misunderstandings of his concept of desire, and he has this to say:

The misunderstandings generally were connected to two points, two cases, which were more or less the same: some people thought that desire was a form of spontaneity, so there were all sorts of movements of ”spontaneity”; and others thought desire was an occasion for partying. For us, it was neither one nor
the other, but that had little importance since assemblages got created

Deleuze goes on to link the notion of assemblage with that of “discipline”. An assemblage has four components: states of things, enunciations, territories, and processes of deterritorialisation. All these are crafted together, “machined”, in the formation of assemblages…

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Judith Butler: Public assembly and plural action

billrosethorn:

A Judith Butler talk on the right of public assembly and the idea of popular sovereignty. Beyond the statist forms of representation, the performance of appearing in public (with thanks to Hannah Arendt) as the enactment of a people seeking to constitute themselves – the always sought after “we”. The difficulties in a politics of appearing in public come from the mediating technologies of representing such an assembled body; the prison, which blocks much of the population from appearing; police/state violence; and privatization, which subjects public spaces to market forces.

Originally posted on the anthropo.scene:

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John Protevi: Earth and Terra

From John Protevi’s Life War Earth: Deleuze and the Sciences:

“Now in thinking about the geo- of geohistory, we have to recognize first of all that the French word terre in A Thousand Plateaus has various meanings that interweave ontologically and politically in what I have elsewhere called political physics (Protevi 2001). Terre has at least four registers, the first three of which are equivalent to the English “earth” and the fourth to the English “land” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). In A Thousand Plateaus, earth is (1) equivalent to the virtual plane of consistency on which strata are imposed (Deleuze and Guattari 1987); (2) part of the earth-territory (terre-territories) system of romanticism, the gathering point, outside all territories, of “forces of the earth” for intensive territorial assemblages (333-39); and (3) the “new earth” (une nouvelle terre), the correlate of absolute deterritorialization, tapping “cosmic forces” or new potentials for creation (423; 509-10). Land, by contrast, is terre that is constituted by the overcoding of territories under the signifying regime and the State apparatus (440-41).” (p.43)

I am not so sure about that one bit from the second sense of terre – that it is “outside all territories”. As I recall, D & G repeatedly call it the “close embrace” at the “heart” of the territory. This would make it inside but also intensive; in fact, “pure intensity.”

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ON SCIENTISM AS UNSAVOURY POLITICS: shutting people’s mouths with a phantasm of science

billrosethorn:

Well said from Terrance Blake at Agent Swarm

Originally posted on AGENT SWARM:

Zizek has given an interesting perspective to frame current discussions on the dangers of relativism in terms of a struggle for cultural hegemony:

“We are witnessing today the struggle for intellectual hegemony — for who will occupy the universal place of the “public intellectual” — between postmodern-deconstructionist cultural studies and the cognitivist popularizers of “hard” sciences” (Zizek, “Lacan Between Cultural Studies And Cognitivism”).

Deleuze talks about this struggle for intellectual hegemony in terms of the aspiration of various discipines to become “the official language of a Pure State” (DIALOGUES, 13). The ancient supremacy of philosophy has been superseded by new contenders: psychoanalysis, linguistics, and cognitive science, but the favorite is an even vaguer stereotype, “Science”, associated with an equally vague materialist-cum-naturalist hermeneutics. In each case we have a new “interiority”, i.e. the very opposite of the transversality that Deleuze and others call for, that combines various disciplines on…

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The Dual Mythology of the Market and the State

In my last Politics of Debt post, I went through Graeber’s three categories of society, which function to isolate certain distinct social phenomena playing on human relationships: Baseline Communism, Exchange, and Hierarchy. Careful to keep separate the morality that might follow the anthropologist himself from the immense store of facts and recordings on diverse societies that he has researched, my goal is to capture the logic of debt. Amongst the thinkers and scientists in their books and discoveries, could there lie a peculiar social relationship – debtor/creditor – that we could target for achieving a maximum ameliorative effect on society at large? Aside from the quest for an understanding of debt, an emancipatory project could emanate from such a skillful targeting; debt has been used to harm people and communities with a burning intensity as of late, and bringing into question debt and morality (and the interplay of the two) has the potential to reverse our fortunes.

The concern at the moment of the book is the question of money. Money in Graeber’s analysis is not quite a commodity (gold coins flying around marketplaces and as taxation) and not quite a credit or debt. “Thus money is almost always something hovering between a commodity and a debt-token.” (p.75) Both of these explanations for the nature of money correspond to their own mythical origin stories: commodity-money has the myth of barter (where all early societies are inefficiently trading item for item before coinage saves them from their savagery) while credit theories have the myth of primordial debt (where the debts are owed to the ancestors and the state, forming the eventual basis of money). Money thought of as an IOU, a mere promise by one person/party to another person/party, eventually finds its way into the social whole as a thing to be indebted to, with its head being the sovereign collecting taxes. When money is conceived as credit for paying back debts (a purely social arrangement depending on the actors involved), or, conversely, as a “debt-token” (where all money in circulation is a piece of the great debt, with society at large the creditor), then we get primordial debt theories with their infinite indebtedness to a social totality (the myth being a cosmic state, with a sovereign watching over the value of money).

The distinction between commodity-money(myth of barter) and credit/debt-money(myth of primordial debts) is the grey area where money actually lives according to Graeber. In theorizing money, an origin story of a mythical other time has been traditionally posited to give a sense of grounding to commercial value in exchange. The coins or paper or numbers on a computer screen circulating in exchange for commodities, greasing the wheels of commerce, are sometimes thought as commodities themselves and sometimes as either credit or debt. Thinking of money as one or the other instead of both sides of the “coin” leads to an idealized picture of either the great Market or the great State.

Regarding credit/debt money:

“Credit theorists insist that money is not a commodity but an accounting tool. If other words, it is not a “thing” at all. You can no more touch a dollar or a deutschmark than you can touch an hour or a cubic centimeter. Units of currency are merely abstract units of measurement, and as the credit theorists correctly noted, historically, such abstract systems of accounting emerged long before the use of any particular token of exchange.
The obvious next question is: if money is just a yardstick, what then does it measure? The answer was simple: debt. A coin is, effectively, an IOU. Whereas conventional wisdom holds that a banknote is simply the promise to pay a certain amount of “real money” (gold, silver, or whatever that might be taken to mean), credit theorists argued that a banknote is simply the promise to pay back something of the same value as an ounce of gold. But that’s all that money ever is.” (p.46)

This conception of money is espoused by the Chartalists. Money is only the token of debt that is kicked off by a promise from one person to pay back another in equal proportion. During the time it is not payed back, the token can be circulated or passed on to another, third party who treats the debt-token as redeemable currency. It all works out just fine as long as the trust between all parties is held up and the original debtor is good for the payback. But when you get to larger economic systems, the question of trust becomes more tenuous and a guarantor with power must step in to ensure the worth of the debt-token become money. Regardless of who or what acts as the guarantor of the value of the currency is unimportant, as long as the confidence in the value of the currency is consistent throughout the society. Citing the historian G.F. knapp, Graeber writes:

“If money is simply a unit of measure, it makes sense that emperors and kings should concern themselves with such matters. Emperors and kings are almost always concerned to established to uniform systems of weights and measures throughout their kingdoms. It is also true, as Knapp observed, that once established, such systems tend to remain remarkably stable over time.” (p.48)

He goes on to remark that Charlemagne’s monetary system remained intact for over 800 years, despite the fact that the empire he ruled dissolved very soon after he took over. The point is that when money is thought of as a mere outgrowth of the credit/debt system that naturally occurs in normal social relationships, then a currency that expands into the macroeconomy and beyond a small village can only be kept secure by a bigger government entity like a king. Kings then take their power as sovereigns and keepers of the debt-token’s value and pay their armies to fight enemies and/or colonize those neighboring peoples around them. Tax collecting sucks up a portion of the money circulating through their domain and now a portion of that dispersed debt concentrates into the hands of a military protecting the people, or else plundering and expanding to the wishes of the rulers. This is the story under the Chartalist or state credit theories of money.

The argument hinges on the debts incurred from ordinary people going into debt with one another and then circulating those debt-tokens to create a state-wide market with security. These debts are conceived by the state theorists to preexist itself, originating from debts to one’s family, ancestors, neighbors, gods, and society itself.

“The core argument is that any attempt to separate monetary policy from social policy is ultimately wrong. Primordial-debt theorists insist that these have always been the same thing. Governments use taxes to create money, and they are able to do so because they have become the guardians of the debt that all citizens have to one another. This debt is the essence of society itself. It exists long before money and markets and money and markets themselves are simply ways of chopping pieces of it up.” (p.56)

Society itself is the originator of debts, and, therefore, the state-currencies with an official emblem minted on gold slabs are merely the standardizing process for what we all owe to “society.” As to what society is and how we pay it back for the generosity in being our great creditor, accounts will vary. Primordial-debt theorists go so far as to invoke early religious texts involving indebtedness as an existential situation. Lifelong debts, sacrifices to the gods – forces of the cosmos to which we are all indebted, the etymology of the words ‘debt’ as being synonymous with ‘sin’ and ‘guilt’: these ideas and practices all justify the authority that the sovereign claims in collecting taxes and making its subjects use the money that it stamped.

Cosmic religious doctrines that make us stand in relation to the All or God take up the condition of indebtedness and universalized it. A second step in the story comes from the primordial-debt economists:

“The ingenious move of course is to fold this back into the state theory of money – since by “sovereign powers” Théret actually means “the state.” The first kings were sacred kings who were either gods in their own right or stood as privileged mediators between human beings and the ultimate forces that govern the cosmos. This set us on a road to the gradual realization that our debt to the gods was always, really, a debt to the society that made us what we are.” (p.58)

This is how the myth of the state accompanies credit/debt theories of money and chartalism, that is, when very large societies and kingdoms develop. It is a story that justifies and solidifies the role of the sovereign as the guarantor of the value of the currency – the trust that this coin will be redeemed somewhere down the line of exchanges and can be taken by another for some tangible goods right now. The sovereign, the state, the king all “capitalize” on an original debt to society, which they have taken up and quantified into taxation.

“If the king has simply taken over guardianship of that primordial debt we all owe to society for having created us, this provides a very neat explanation for why the government feels it has the right to make us pay taxes. Taxes are just a measure of our debt to the society that made us. But this doesn’t really explain how this kind of absolute life-debt can be converted into money, which is by definition a means of measuring and comparing the value of different things. This is just as much a problem for credit theorists as for neoclassical economists, even if the problem for them is somewhat differently framed.” (p.59)

What Graeber is doing is showing how monetary theorists seeking an explanation for the creation of money and taxes have wittingly or unwittingly created a myth that has drawn on ancient myths about primordial indebtedness like in the Vedas. The teachings of the primordial indebtedness to the cosmos “lend” very well to the sovereign who wishes to command respect from its subjects and take enough of the output from its territory (in soldier’s bodies, weapons, etc.) to wage war. In the earliest civilizations, sovereigns were also in the position to wipe out all of the debts and restart the process of exchange with a “clean-slate.” This was done because of pressure exerted on them by a crumbling community situation, where people were fleeing their impossible debt and the selling off of their freedom and their children’s freedom to cover the cost of accumulating debt. But it was the “cosmic pretensions” of the sovereign that allowed them to do this.

How could we come to think of ourselves as being in debt to “society”? Graeber believes that these grand debts to existence, gods, and kings stem from a myth of the state or the nation.

“…in the idea of primordial debt, is the ultimate nationalist myth. Voice we owed out lives to the gods that created us, paid interest in the form of animal sacrifice, and ultimately paid back the principal with out lives. Now we owe it to the Nation that formed us, pay interest in the form of taxes, and when it comes time to defend the nation against its enemies, to offer to pay it with our lives.” (p.71)

He sees the state as the main perpetrator of self-promoting myths but going even farther than that he proposes the very word society as a kind of nationalist entity. Projecting themselves backward, nations envision their own well-organized composition into the past:

“What makes the concept of society so deceptive is that we assume the world is organized into a series of compact, modular units called “societies,” and that all people know which one they’re in. Historically, this is very rarely the case.” (p.66)

“The reason that it seems like such a simple, self-evident concept is because we mostly use it as a synonym for “nation.” After all, when Americans speak of paying their debt to society, they are not thinking of their responsibilities to people who live in Sweden. It’s only the modern state, with its elaborate border controls and social policies, that enables us to imagine “society” in this way, as a single bounded entity. This is why projecting that notion backwards into Vedic or Medieval times will always be deceptive, even though we don’t really have another word.” (p.69)

In questing for the origins of money and debt, we have been led into uncertainty concerning the very social cohesion one usually takes for granted. The state assures its subjects that it will guarantee the value of its currency and that it is the supreme entity towards which one is indebted. Those economists and neoliberals seeking a non-state theory of money tend to appeal to the other great myth: the Market. We seemed to be caught between two myths in thinking about money. It is the quintessential form of abstract value turned into something material; an imaginary “current” flowing throughout the land and sea which is at the same time the most immediate “real” concern for people’s lives.

So society is stuck in mythology as well, but wither the baseline communism? The basic commonality of humans that I described in the last post is functioning as Graeber’s “real” to the fictions of States and Markets. The fictional state assures us that the official money is good for exchange (redeemable for all debts) and manipulates the religious logic of cosmic indebtedness to its own advantage; the Market is the fictional “other” of the state that does indeed exert its forces of demand, labor, technology, supply, geography, etc. on money, but would not exist without that common exchangeable currency. These two poles are theories in economics but make use of myths to explain just what money is, its origin.

Graeber believes that money goes through shifting periods of being a commodity (backed by something material and stable like gold) and credit-based as in a fiat system. Money in all cases is both a commodity and a debt-token, but the money system, printing or coining a currency and regulating its value in trade by a state, goes through big cycles of being tied to a material or tied to the credit/debt arrangement. This financial arrangement of the economy (meaning banks peddling debt and multiplying there money to astronomical proportions based solely on that debt) is crucial at the macro scale.

This thing that streams all value into a standard number keeps that value thanks to the confusion between two myths. The foundations may be shaky, but we continue on in spite of the mystification as to what money is. Taking another step forward, we might ask: “what does it matter whether money has a sure origin? It works just fine.” This is a question of the importance of origins, and will have to be taken up in the next post.

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Studying Geophilosophy

The following is the result of a close reading of ’Of the Refrain’, a middle chapter from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. It is in this chapter that I believe the most thorough and detailed terminological outline of what they call Geophilosophy is given. The basic project is to draw a diagram that allows for a better understanding of the relationships between geophilosophical terms. I will mostly let the quotes to the heavy lifting. There is inevitably a process of selection in determining which quotes stand out as useful for the task and the copious marks I left on the pages of ATP hopefully brought the key passages forth. I believe this diagram stands up to the text, but it is the result of a singular reading.

After a series of chapters on language and linguistics, where the symbol, sign, signification and the ‘body without organs’ have been elucidated, territorialization comes into play along with the process of deterritorialization and reterritorialization on the surface of the earth. Rhythm and the wave-nature of existence integrates with the territory-making impulse, which produces assemblages of lived bodies in a complex process of motion with respect to their surroundings. Both the rhythm and the territory are like conditions from which social forms may develop and interact with each other: the geographic landscape is brought into consideration in an abstract way that identifies the background of artistic expressions, modes of thinking, and philosophical commonalities in their emergence – their coming-into-being. Geophilosophy is their attempt to dig into the conditions on the earth required for forming societies/assemblages and the complex processes they undergo, as well as the character of the their motifs and manners. What comes out of this study is a diagram that I believe is very helpful to understanding the importance of Geophilosophy for any project involving assembled masses of people.

In this story we begin in the middle, as Deleuze has always been fond of saying. Though the chapter must begin with an opening sentence, there is never any pure beginning free of forces that contort and influence one in this or that way. That said, D & G are describing a process in the form of a writing exercise as they are well aware, and this process, this story if you will, begins in the middle with the milieu. We actually begin with a little scene of a boy lost in the woods. With chaos creeping all around him, he sings a song for the sake of comfort and establishes what little order he can out of the chaos. In the beginning it seems there is only chaos and the rhythm of the song, maybe hummed or whistled or skipped to, to protect oneself from it.

“From chaos, Milieus and Rhythms are born. This is the concern of very ancient cosmogenies. Chaos is not without it sown directional components, which are its own ecstasies… Every milieu is vibratory, in other words, a block of space-time constituted by the periodic repetition of the component. Thus the living thing has the exterior milieu of materials, an interior milieu of composing elements and composed substances, an intermediary milieu of membranes and limits, and an annexed milieu of energy sources and actions-repetitions. Every milieu is coded, a code being defined by periodic repetition; but each code is in a perpetual state of transcoding or transduction… The notion of the milieu is not unitary… The milieus are open to chaos, which threatens them with exhaustion or intrusion. Rhythm is the milieus’ answer to chaos… Chaos is not the opposite of rhythm, but the milieu of all milieus. There is rhythm whenever there is transcoded passage form one milieu to another, a communication of milieus, coordination between heterogenous space-times.” (p.313)

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“Meter, whether regular or not, assumes a coded form whose unit of measure may vary, but in a noncommunicating milieu, whereas rhythm is the Unequal or the Incommensurable that is always undergoing transcoding. Meter is dogmatic, but rhythm is critical; it ties itself together in passing from one milieu to another… It changes direction.” (p.313)

Territory is introduced as an act, the process of territorialization affecting milieus by settling them, at least for a moment.

“The territory is in fact an act that affects milieus and rhythms, that “territorializes” them… There is territory precisely when milieu components cease to be directional, becoming dimensional instead, when they cease to be functional to become expressive. What defines the territory is the emergence of matters of expression (qualities)… It becomes expressive on the other hand, when it acquires a temporal constancy and a spatial range that make it a territorial, or rather territorializing, mark: a signature…
Territorialization is an act of rhythm that has become qualitative. The mark of a territory is dimensional, but it is not meter, it is a rhythm. It retains the most general characteristic of rhythm, which is to be inscribed on a different plane than that of its actions.” (p.314-315)

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“What we wish to say is that there is a self-movement of expressive qualities. Expressiveness is not reducible to the immediate effects of an impulse triggering an action in a milieu: effects of that kind are subjective impressions or emotions rather than expressions…
In effect, expressive qualities or matters of expression enter shifting relations with one another that “express” the relation of the territory they draw to the interior milieu of impulses and exterior milieu of circumstances*. To express is not to depend upon; there is an autonomy of expression.” (p.317)

Every matter of expression is necessarily linked with a territory – the taking on of a territorial aspect of matter that then gains/makes an expression.

“The territory is first of all the critical distance between two beings of the same species: Mark your distance. What is mine is first of all my distance; I possess only distances. Don’t anybody touch me, I growl if anyone enters my territory, I put up placards. Critical distance is a relation based on meters of expression. It is a question of keeping at a distance the forces of chaos knocking at the door. Mannerism: the ethos is both abode and manner, homeland and style” (p. 319-320)

So, we have a relationship with milieu and territory… Now we get to an explicit appearance of the earth. After all, this is all about geophilosophy:

“… The territory groups all the forces of the different milieus together in a single sheaf constituted by the forces of the earth. The attribution of all the diffuse forces of the earth as receptacle or base takes place only at the deepest level of each territory… Moreover, although I extension the territory separates the interior forces of the earth from the exterior forces of chaos, the same does not occur in “intension,” in the dimension of depth, where the two types of forced clasp and are wed in a battle whose only criterion and stakes is the earth. There is always a place, a tree or grove, in the territory where all the forces come together in a hand-to-hand combat of energies. The earth is this close embrace.” (p.321)

Pause and let that sink in. After gaining dimension and losing direction (and expression over function) they posit a depth that is irreducible to graphic dimension, a special “intension” counter-posed to extension. I take extension to be continuous with the notion of the “external world” and the bare, objective world we subjects (with our new mind-space) contemplate or inquire into. The separation that extension makes between earth and chaos must be a direct result of the sectioning off of the ground in territorialization and the displacement of chaos into those “non-secured areas out there”. The earth as ground was the ground of chaos – chaos and panic were everywhere to be found on the earth – before the staking of one’s territory, before a domestication of extension. Or perhaps the earth is only constituted as this intense center located in at the very core of the territory upon the phenomenon of territorialization. Conntinuing on:

“This intense center is simultaneously inside the territory and outside several territories that converge on it at the end of an immense pilgrimage (hence the ambiguities of the “natal”). Inside or out, the territory is linked to this intense center, which is like the unknown homeland, terrestrial source of all forces friendly and hostile, where everything is decided.” (p.321)

Let it sink in even farther. The depth of intension is why the Earth should be placed below, but this is not a vertical downward. This demonstrates the limits of diagraming this idea of the earth in “intension” – a place that is at once the scene of battle, convergence, and decision. This is one of the great passages of Deleuze and Guattari’s writing that has kept me hung up for a number of months now. It is over fast and they move farther on down the diagram briskly, but what a claim! The intense place where all things are decided, the coming together of forces hostile and in serious deliberation: Earth. And there’s is a Geophilosophy.

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“We always come back to this “moment”: the becoming-expressive of rhythm, the emergence of expressive proper qualities, the formation of matters of expression that develop into motifs and counterpoints. We therefore need a notion, even an apparently negative one, that can grasp this fictional or raw moment. The essential thing is the disjunction noticeable between the code and the territory…. It is because there is a disjunction between the territory and the code that the territory can indirectly induce new species.” (p.322) [my emphasis]

What is this necessary notion that appears negative, fictional, and raw? It is a tenuous motion that plays on the boundaries between margin and center. It does not change the coding of a species or alter the genes in a mutation, but it does change bodies with respect to their environment or territory. The fictional moment considered here is not a genetic mutation or deviancy from a norm, it is act of “differentiating” that the variations in territory prepares the way for the act of decoding.

“Biologists have stressed the importance of these determined margins, which are not to be confused with mutations, in other words, changes internal to the code: here, it is a question of duplicated genes or extra chromosomes that are not inside the genetic code, are free of function, and offer a free matter for variation.” (p.322)

The necessities of a sustaining life, the nourishment of the gene with its structurally sound code that only replicates or mutates, are not under examination but the expressions of the outer layers. With that base level of stable coding, the variations of the rest of the body in conjunction with its surrounding environment take on much more interesting and territorially specific traits.

What isn’t being mentioned here but is lurking like a giant elephant in the room is evolution. D & G are trying to emphasize the propensity for species to change, differentiate, and adapt to their environment without a “natural selection” as the operative concept but instead a transformative creation in concert with its territory and irreducible to mutation. The genes are kept the same, while the species morph into something else to fit with the critical distances included with the terrain features. “It is less a question of evolution than of passage, bridges and tunnels.” (p.322)

Assemblage.

“The territory itself is a place of passage. The territory is the first assemblage, the first thing to constitute an assemblage; the assemblage is fundamentally territorial. But how could it not already be in the process of passing into something else, into other assemblages?” (p.323)

“The first question to be asked is what holds these territorializing marks, territorial motifs, and territorialized functions together in the same intra-assemblage. This is a question of consistency*: the “holding together” of heterogenous elements…
But another question seems to interrupt or cut across the first one. For in many cases, a territorialized, assembled function acquires enough independence to constitute a new assemblage, one that is more or less deterritorialized, en route to deterritorialization. There is no need to effectively leave the territory to go this route; but what just a minute ago was a constituted function in the assemblage has become the constituting element of another assemblage, the element of passage to another assemblage.” (p.324)

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Cosmos:

“It is no longer adequate to say that there is interassemblage, passage from a territorializes assemblage to another type of assemblage; rather, we should say that one leaves all assemblages behind, that one exceeds the capacities of any possible assemblage, entering another plane. In effect, there is no longer a milieu movement or a rhythm, nor a territorialized or territorializing movement or rhythm; there is something of the Cosmos in these more ample movements. The localization mechanisms are still extremely precise, but the localization has become cosmic. They are no longer territorializes forces bundled together as forces of the earth; they are the liberated or regained forces of a deterritorialized cosmos.” (p.326)

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“This being the case, in considering the system as a whole we should speak less of automatism of a higher center than of coordination between centers, and of the cellular groupings or molecular populations that perform these couplings: there is no form of correct structure imposed from without or above but rather an articulation from within, as if oscillating molecules, oscillators, passed from one heterogeneous center to another, if only for the purpose of assuring the dominance of one among them. This obviously excludes any linear relation from one center to another, in favor of packets of relations steered by molecules: the interaction or coordination may be positive or negative (release or inhibition), but it is never direct, as in a linear relation or chemical reaction; it always occurs between molecules with at least two heads, and each center taken separately.” (p.328)

“Consolidation is not content to come after; it is creative. The fact is that the beginning always begins in-between, intermezzo. Consistency is the same as consolidation, it is the act that produces consolidated aggregates, of succession as well as of coexistence, be means of the three factors just mentioned: intercalated elements, intervals, and articulations of superposition.” (p.329)

“Consistency necessarily occurs between heterogeneities, not because it is the birth of differentiation, but because heterogeneities that were once content to coexist or succeed one another become bound up with one another through the “consolidation” of their coexistence and succession…
What we term machinic* is precisely the synthesis of heterogeneities as such. Inasmuch as these heterogeneities are matters of expression*, we say their synthesis itself, their consistency or capture, forms a properly machinic “statement” or “enunciation.”” (p.330-331)

Assemblage is not to be confused with machine: “That in fact is the distinction we would like to propose between machine and assemblage: a machine is like a set of cutting edges that insert themselves into the assemblage undergoing deterritorialization, and draw variations and mutations of it.” (p.333)

The Natal:

“The natal is the innate, but decoded; and it is the acquired, but territorialized. The natal is new figure assumed by the innate and the acquired in the territorial assemblage. The affect proper to the natal is the lied: to be forever lost, or refound, or aspiring to the unknown homeland. In the natal, the innate tends to be displaced…” (p.332)

The natal stretches from what happens in the intra-assemblage all the way to the center that has been projected outside; it cuts across all the interassemblages and reaches all the way to the gates of the Cosmos.”

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Black Hole:

“Thus the black hole is a machine effect in assemblages and has a complex relation to their effects. It may be necessary for the release of innovative processes that they first fall into a catastrophic black hole: stases of inhibition are associated with the release of crossroads of behavior. On the other hand, when black holes resonate together or inhibitions conjugate and echo each other, instead of an opening onto consistency, we see a closure of the assemblage, as though it were deterritorialized in the void: young chaffinches. *Machines are always singular keys that open or close an assemblage, a territory*.” (p.334)

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Life and Matter. Stratum and (de)stratification.

“The very words, “matters of expression,” imply that expression has a primary relation to matter. As matters of expression take on consistency they constitute semiotic* systems, but the *semiotic components are inseparable from *material components and are in exceptionally close contact with molecular levels. The whole question is thus whether or not the molar-molecular relation assumes a new figure here. If general, it has been possible to distinguish “molar-molecular” combinations that vary greatly depending on the direction followed. First, individual atoms can enter into probabilistic or statistical accumulations that tend to efface their individuality; this already happens on the level of the molecule, and then again in the molar aggregate… Second, it is clear that the distinction to be made is not between the individual and the statistical. In fact, it is always a question of populations; statistics concerns individual phenomena, and antistatistical individuality operates only in relation to molecular populations… Third, the intramolecular internal forces that give an aggregate its molar form can be of two types: they are either covalent, arborescent, mechanical, linear, localizable relations subject to chemical conditions of action and reaction or to linked reactions, or they are indirect, noncovalent, machinic and nonmechanical, superlinear, or nonlocalizable bonds operating by stereospecific discernment* or discrimination*, rather than by linkage.
… it is, in effect, a distinction between matter and life, or rather, since there is only one matter, between two states, two tendencies of atomic matter… Stating the distinction in the most general way, we could say that it is between stratified systems or systems of stratification on the one hand, and consistent, self-consistent aggregates on the other. But the point is that consistency, far from being restricted to complex life forms, fully pertains even to the most elementary atoms and particles.”

“There is a coded system of stratification whenever, horizontally, there are linear causalities between elements; and, vertically, hierarchies of order between groupings; and, holding it all together in depth, a succession of framing forms, each of which informs a substance and in turn serves as a substance for another form. These causalities, hierarchies, and framings constitute a stratum, as well as the passage from one stratum to another, and the stratified combinations of the molecular and the molar…
If we ask ourselves where life fits into this distinction, we see that it undoubtedly implies a gain in consistency, in other words, a surplus value (surplus value of destratification). …both at once: a particularly complex system of stratification and an aggregate of consistency that disrupts orders, forms, and substances. As we have seen, the loving thing performs a transcoding of milieus that can be considered both to constitute a stratum and to effect reverse causalities and transversally of destratification.” (p.335-336)

Summary.

“We have gone from stratified milieus to territorial assemblages and simultaneously, from the forces of chaos, as broken down, coded, transcoded by the milieus, to the forces of the earth, as gathered into the assemblages. Then we went from territorial assemblages to interassemblages, to opening of assemblages along lines of deterritorialization; and simultaneously, the same from the in gathered forces of the earth to the deterritorialized, or rather deterritorializing, Cosmos.” (p.337)

By the geophilosophical process laid out in ’Of the Refrain’ we have been taken through Chaos, Earth, and Cosmos as resting places of a sort, or as concepts representative of certain limits reached in the flow of matter. Chaos is the scary prospect that must be warded off with the proper comforting rhythm. The empty disorder that one reaches when contemplation approaches chaos is the result of the totalizing “milieu of all milieus”. Earth is a depth that is irreducible to dimension, an “intension” that gathers all of the forces in a single place. The intensity of the moment or the event (so often expressed to qualify a particularly momentous past experience) is “the close embrace” of the Earth in its act of drawing forces and bodies together at the heart of the territory. Cosmos represents the perpetual motion of an assemblage undergoing deterritorialization, not yet closed upon inside the inescapable black hole. Opening onto the Cosmos is to remain in motion – even if just in expressive semiotic/aesthetic way – as a both stratified system of horizontal causalities, vertical hierarchies, and framing forms holding it together, and a destratifying action of passing. A nomadic machine on the move, but towards what? The Cosmos… still not there yet.

This becomes a bit easier when in the next part of the chapter, D & G fit these three different motifs into loose art history categories: Classical, Romantic, and Modern (for lack of a better term). This will be dealt with later. We have still not yet explained what they mean by ‘Refrain’.

Cleaned up a bit for the finale:

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