28 April 2011

Against anarcho-narcissism

One of the things that strikes me from reading The Invisibles - particularly the later, less interesting issues - is how incredibly naive and short-sighted the argument that the essential conflict is between "order and chaos" is. See, the thing about capitalism and imperialism - the current face of The Black Iron Prison - is that it's always combined the two. As Marx put it, the hierarchical order of the firm is balanced by the anarchy of the free market. And in modern consumer capitalism, the dominance/submission model of the workplace is replaced by the GO HOG WILD mentality encouraged by the advertising industry for after work hours. This is why capitalism is so dynamic (or, to put it in another way, unstable) - that very tension between order and chaos.

Which is, I think, why those of us lucky to have the cultural and social capital and productive skills necessary to join the professional or creative middle classes end up selling out the movement for a better world. Because once they get to be their own bosses - or get a boss who encourages them to be creative - they think they've cracked it. Oh! The current system is wrecking the planet and causing poverty and misery and violence and death and torture on a global scale, but since I get to slack off and still get fed well and buy consumer products which tell me I'm a cool person and bitch and moan and make offensive jokes on the intarwebz, it can't be the same as that evil Black Iron Prison thing I read about in all my favourite books, can it?

Yes it freakin' can. The true rulers and archons of this world want a world where some people are free to go to raves and have kinky sex and to write sarcastic blogs, just as long as they think they've earned that privilege by being superior to the slave classes. The current system not only gives "creatives" a special privileged place, it tells them that the class system is just and meritocratic. So that's why anarcho-capitalism always appeals to SubGeniuses and the other lumpen-intelligensia, because it's a consistent system of individualism and chaos, where the Evil Bad Corporate Monsters are vanquished but you get to keep your precious ego and your illusion that you somehow have a separate existence out of the matrix of your neighbourhood, your bioregion, the human species and the wider ecosystem.

But the sad twist is that anarcho-capitalism is the only social system which is actually impossible. The "free market" can't exist without some sovereign to enforce the sanctity of property rights and contracts. Wilson and Shea's contention that there would be such a thing as "property-2", i.e. property rights that everyone would just agree to respect in an anarcho-capitalist system, is bringing in The Cop Inside Your Head through the back door, to reconcile the irreconcilable contradiction of "individualism without hierarchy and punishment". The sovereign individual of liberal/libertarian theory is just as gross and unreal a chimera as the "New Socialist Man" of North Korean totalitarianism, because it dissolves actually existing social bonds and mutual obligations in favour of an administered totality, either that of the almighty dollar or the almighty bureaucracy (or combination thereof).

Any social system worth a damn has to start from human civilisation as it actually exists - a dynamic tension between individualism and community/cultural matrices. A society of yeoman farmers can't exist in the modern era any more than a society of altruistic, collectivised tree-huggers. We revolutionaries are ourselves similarly for both order and chaos at the same time - just in different places than the current system would have it. Of course "Worker's State" is a contradiction in terms, but then so is "Capitalist State". The next era won't abolish all our problems, it will just - hopefully - give us new ones to solve while safeguarding the individual from oppression and commodification, the species from extinction and the biosphere from devastation.

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