Medicalizing the Refusniks in the Conservative Restoration

From fictional character Lisbeth Salander to Greta Thunberg to comedian Hannah Gadsby, there seems to be this little trend on the progressive margins where women who never played along heart and soul with social hierarchy–and in fact go ahead and live and work just fine as any other non-elite, if not all sunshine and lollipops–women who do not labor day in and day out like neurotic, loyal dogs to bark out to other people phrases and images that will affirm a model average consensus–that these women can be profitably diagnosed as mental deviants, autistic. Psychologists use the “spectrum” contrivance to justify the notion that women who do not take responsibility for greasing the social interaction hustle all the time are the female equivalent of men who have no mirror neurons and cannot empathize. Same thing, different order of magnitude, the idea goes.

Psychologists define an autistic female as a female who relates to other people in a similar way to normal, non-autistic males. To understand what is going on here requires the capacity to take social context into account, and in particular to think about how the institutionalized load of hierarchy, equality, inequality, and inegalitarianism works in a social species.

Let me introduce an idea from far outside of psychology, an idea that incorporates societal context: What will happen to girls when gendered parenting breaks down, and girls are raised by dads? Might not such females be socialized by their dads to relate to people in a way that common-sense and psychology currently associates with normal males? Wouldn’t it be weird to understand this as a medical condition or pathology?

Let me throw a real doozy at you. What if hallowed gendered socialization itself produces its own gravediggers–or at least female “autism”– through intergenerational socialization? What would happen if being a normal female, through normal self-abnegation, produced crippling depression, for example? What if, because of an unequal and inegalitarian societal context, normal socialization into “normal” female pro-social relationship behavior is not unvexed, but rather, contradictory?

Let me give you a true-life case to chew on. You have to think both about how contradiction works over time, and about socialization across generations. I know a woman whose post-war mother was very social and believed that it was her duty as a smart, good-looking white woman to have children, lots of them. After spending the very early years of her marriage in a thrilling and satisfying adventure of altruistic, internationalist work overseas, she give birth to her first child and promptly imploded in post-partum depression. The depressed mother weaned the baby girl within three months, handed that three-month old baby over to her clinically-depressed sister-in-law (left for years with four children while her military husband was in Vietnam), and the baby’s mother went camping in the mountains with her husband for that summer. When the parents returned at the end of the summer, the father took up some of the care work for that daughter, which consisted of things like teaching her to box out a very large opponent in basketball, playing burnout catch, and combatively debating politics and law. If that daughter was as a result not as socially female-normal as we would like to see, wasn’t the probable root of her “abnormality”–even by psychological-theory standards– a socialization that resulted from her mother’s generation not having established sufficient distance from feminine social expectations, a failure that caused the mother to fail to thrive, crippling her capacity to perform the “normal” self-sacrificing female role? This example suggests that the female pro-social ideal may not be stably reproduced, except possibly under highly-supported conditions, and that we should not be assuming it as the psychological norm for women at all.

If today’s famous, very “high functioning” autistic women (fictional or real) want to both live in the painful (There is no non-painful option.) but more liberated state of hierarchy refusal, while at the same time asking other people to give them more cooperation and credit–via the culturally-resonant tactic of donning a recognized, masculine mental deviance label with a politicized network protecting it– then good luck to them! Kind of a new take on “I was a tomboy,” it is one survival strategy, available to those people who easily trust medical population management and psychology as a profession. I think that if you need a medical diagnosis to explain to not only others but yourself as well the distance you maintain from normative social interaction to live as a woman with healthy boundaries, you are in fact intensely social, very socially aware.

You should be considered every bit as socially-attuned as the woman who eats and eats and eats garbage in bright wrappers to psychologically offset her endless self-depleting efforts to demonstrably affirm and reproduce a model average consensus, to chase the maximal social approbation available to women (Which is not much.)–popularity, as the kids say. Normative in an unequal, inegalitarian society becomes very unconvincing. If you’re female, dedication to winning social approbation is not a rational-actor self-optimization strategy–particularly not over time, as Mary Wollstonecraft (1792) observed upon “the great art of pleasing.” But because, unlike some women, psychological theory cannot take context into account, the underlying assumption is that irrational self-abnegation is normative for women. That’s how our culture, at the lowest-common-denominator, unconscious common sense (which is often the same thing as psychological theory), reflexively understands pro-social female behavior. I would even say that not being able to take context into account as one navigates the world is masculine-autistic, and psychology is institutionalized masculine autism, or at best a collective gaming a hierarchy. Either way, it’s got a masculine bias that makes it a dubious authority when identifying and treating female normativity and deviance.

For the sake of argument with what I think is just an historical culture, and not a necessary or beneficial one: Just because women can reproduce humans with their thinking bodies does not mean that they also need to reproduce patriarchies and other hierarchical shitshows as well. Women are humans, we’re not unqualified reproduction factories. We’re not 3-D printers. Demands for smooth, machine compliance with mostly-unpaid,  self-destructive, 24-7 reproduction work will be met with breakdowns of one sort or another, not least because we live in a commodity economy that does not reward that compliance, but rather mines it. Considered comparatively, transhistorically, rather than within the fishbowl of our culture, it is really odd that some women’s refusal of self-abnegation speed-up is classified as autistic. Is the female-autistic concept supposed to be some sort of amazing progress upon the 1970s diagnosis of bitch? If there were still mental hospitals rather than just prisons for surplus working-class people and immigrants, women would be in about the same cell we were in Freud’s day. In fact, we recently saw that the biosecurity strategy employed during the COVID19 pandemic did without blinking corral women indiscriminately into the home cells, in order to reserve the remnant public space for the masculine work of policing. Conservatism springs eternal.

Because I’m a prof, all day long I take care of other people’s emotional states–a lot of people’s various emotional states, up and down the social hierarchy. Because I’m female, people expect me to do it, and they punish me sanctimoniously if I wander away from the task. Yes, I had to adjust to that responsibility. And I did it pretty quick and well. Yes, occasionally, over the flow and gush of caretaking demands, I am caught not resonating at high emotional intelligence intensity, and I underperform. But mostly, under my ministrations, people get taken care of in their full human complexity. I help people to develop. Helping people to develop in our society is, very grotesquely, not recognized as pro-social behavior. That’s because it is an input into the labor factor of production, and thus must be discounted so that business can acquire labor cheaply and owners can secure profits.

It’s harder for me than for, say, performers who mostly work alone or entrepreneurial psychologists, to convince myself deep down that when I don’t want to expend the energy to play nice with, fix, and generally Mrs. Dalloway other people, it is because because I’m mentally abnormal, rather than because people in an inequality-normative society are socialized inegalitarians–sexists, capitalists, racists, etc., relentlessly “managing” (dehumanizing people as populations) and thoughtlessly withholding credit and cooperation from social subordinates including myself. Socialized inegalitarians tap the well. I cannot stay a functioning organism, get work done, and simply secure the necessary commodified inputs to thrive, while constantly bending over and self-sacrificing to other people’s benefit and advantage, as much as is socially prescribed in this unequal, inegalitarian society. The female-autism diagnosis, I suspect, is a displacement from recognizing inegalitarianism as culturally-embedded antihuman autism.

It is nonetheless true that over the many years, by frequently distancing myself from the responsibility to reproduce the ever-worsening social hierarchy and throw my elbow grease into creating a sparkly polish for that assholery, I have come to think and act differently from other people to some extent.

As well, as an old person, I can see now that the extent of that difference has been overplayed by my diligent patriarchal discipliners. It is a normative woman’s experience to slowly realize over time that all the disturbing things that rang bells for you, and in vain you asked other people to work with you to address, turn out to be real, trenchant problems, and on a very long lag, other people begin to show that they see them too. I see stunted people.

But if “high-functioning” socially-aware women are autistic, then holy shit, most people are autistic. Wow. So amaze. Much drug profits.

Materialism & Cultural Anthropology

Anderson (1968) cites Britain’s two areas of home-grown intellectual expertise (as opposed to importing White Emigre intellectual hit men) as literary criticism and Anthropology. [Revise: Metaphysics were esoterically permitted within literary criticism, as long as there was no scientific acknowledgement of the metaphysics.] Anthropology had imperial utility for Britain. How has Anthropology, as an imperial tool of surveillance, fit into the larger British avoidance of political-economic and classic sociological contribution to Enlightenment knowledge?

“…(C)laiming culture as foundational, anthropology approached mind and body alike as social constructions, and knowledge practices as phenomena of symbolic exchange. Culture represented a totality of symbol-systems…The imposition of meaning (was the) condition of human existence…Knowledge was a matter of an encompassing, collective, public and shared cultural context…Geertz concluded that while ‘becoming human is becoming individual‘, we nevertheless ‘become individual under the guidance of cultural patterns'” (Nigel Rapport, 2010: 9). Geertz and Evans-Pritchard built Anthropology in deference to White Emigre Wittgenstein’s imperial-friendly linguistic reduction and dismissal of time and change (Rapport 2010: 10; Anderson 1968).

Two Unreconciled Strivings; Two Warring Ideals in One Dark Body

Pagden (2013) shows that Enlightenment knowledge has always emerged from a community of philosophers launching social science, in order to know, via comparison, the range and associated contexts of human capacity, disposition, and institutions–for the purposes of establishing the possibility of and conditions for institutionalizing distributed sovereignty and freedom, or democracy (though not in its conservative-degraded sense). We recognize that Enlightenment philosopher-cum-human scientists were naive, their understanding was developing, and they relied on commercial ventures to span out across the world and gather comparative knowledge. We also recognize, per Melville, Rediker, & Linebaugh, that internationalist “motley crews” contributed to the advancement of the most valid Enlightenment knowledge.

When Rapport describes cultural-determinist Anthropology, he is describing a collective of both Enlightenment and anti-enlightenment scholars, constrained by anti-enlightenment parameters selectively augmenting and quieting voices, and at best wholly substituting the Anthropologist-interpreted insights afforded by (often bunkered and imperially-constrained) research subjects in place of the important, corrective insights of the autonomous, internationalist motley crew. In conceptualizing knowledge as “a matter of an encompassing, collective, public and shared cultural context,” the status work of the Anthropologist in an anti-Enlightenment social context was to make culture systems legible to imperial intervention strategists.

Losing the Enlightenment, Staying Paid

Subsequent collective efforts to maintain status while containing Anthropology’s imperial surveillance function have resulted in failed projects to serve indigenous communities, as where Anthropologists retained imperial cultural-determinism but dumped out Enlightenment social-scientific knowledge, with the Ontological Turn. They reasoned that cultural-determinism without humanism corresponds to a radically-parochialist aspect of contemporary, colonized, Christianized cosmology within some indigenous communities, and adding their academic voice to amplify that separatist cultural construct, Anthropologists testified ineffectively for already-imperially-culturally-interpellated indigenous communities in colonial court and parliamentary contests over territory and resources.

Anthropologists dropped the humanist Enlightenment aspect of knowledge within a context in which the cultural-determinist mode remains steadfastly, primarily useful to imperial-commercial power. It is useful to commercial-imperial power when their expropriation target does not have the capacity to inform ideas about made connections and making reconnections in relation to the flow of pleasures (and pain) over time, across Earthly life–when their target does not have the capacity to clarify what is at stake and ignite coalitional interest in building toward human institutional and dispositional possibility. Anthropologists romantically failed to grasp imperial centre-periphery history, power distribution, and political-economic relations, as overdetermined by the culturalism conferred by prestigious imperial-function constraints.

Materialism, in Anthropology and Beyond

Nigel Rapport (2010: 2) cites Kantian cosmopolitanism, as the combination of local diversity and global commonality, to legitimate his proposal that Anthropology adopt a materialist conceptualization of human nature as species capacities and liabilities.

Rapport cites a physiologist to describe how to undertand humans not via identity or idealism, but as a specifiable kind of process. “An organism is not made distinctive by the existence of a boundary, a skin, animal physiologist Scott Turner explains (2000), but by way of what its boundary does: exert an active, adaptive control over the flows of matter and energy such that the organism’s internal state is regulated in the face of changing external conditions” (Rapport 2010: 2). I would add that the external conditions may also change so that sufficient adaptation, sufficient control over the flows of matter or energy, sufficient internal regulation is no longer possible. Or the adaptation may itself impose limits, precluding further regulation, control, or adaptation, in which case inherent/internal change reaches its limits. In either case, the animal suffers or even dies. I am saying that a liability or capacity of humans is that we are not infinite or gods.

Rapport cites the organism’s boundary interpellation with its environment to emphasize not our susceptibility to having our dispositions reorganized, but rather more masculinely, to emphasize human control over an external environment. “Regulating the flows of energy and matter across its boundary effects an orderliness in nature such that the generating organisms may be described as ‘architects and engineers of their environments’ (Turner 2000: 7). To be human is to have the capacity to attend to the world in a particular way, to direct that traffic..Human beings have unique capacities to become; they can be uniquely fulfilled and thwarted” (Rapport 2010: 2).

At this point, Rapport digs materialism into a comfortable idealist, capitalist pit for his anthropological audience, arguing in purple-tinted prose that humans are specially gifted, in that their environmental “engineering” is “uniquely subtle, complex and flexible,” and more importantly, in that humans are infinitely “becoming,” adaptable (fortunately, for neoliberals and their expropriative masters). However, Rapport’s romantic reversion to imperial Great Chain of Being logic, as well as his romantic intimations of the posthuman (Do I smell the restoration of private-property slavery upon the wind?), are unnecessary and inimical to socio-materialism or historical materialism.

It is enough and better to say–and perhaps from a more-responsible sociological perspective, easier to notice–that human capacities and limitations exist within definite ranges (observable by comparative methods, and subject to organization and disorganization), within which humans are observably plastic, developmental–and their development can be appropriated and stunted. Of interest to Enlightenment human science, human capacities include communicative and  organizational capacities, interventionary cooperative and boundary-setting capacities, and a limited range of senses as well as technological capacity to augment those senses; and human limitations include non-omniscience.

Strategic Error Bias amongst Authoritarian Nonelites

Hypothesis 1: At least a portion of the lower-managerial and producer “Middle” working class is  systematically afflicted with an inability to accurately assess power relations and strategize messaging and action.

Hypothesis 2: This social segment’s systematic analytical error reproduces collective action incapacitation within working-class communities.

Corollary: In particular, non-elite subjectivities can be strategically handicapped by an overly-simplified Power Structure and Power Resource analytical framework. The interactional failures this analytical oversimplification produces in turn reproduce an inadequate tactical and strategic repertoire biased toward individual and collective de-capacitation.

The Non-elite Power-perception Error: Deploying an overly-simplified model of power, and importing elite perspectives on non-elite individuals’ object status, non-elite dispositions can misrecognize any individual power as monopolized sovereign power. For example, they can imagine that a strong individual will or passion alone can reliably overmaster and subordinate other individuals in any situation. As well, they theorize inaccurately that when an objectified will does not simply submit to the command of a presumptive Master will, this is because the objectified person is a faulty object. As with other objects that fail to ameliorate human sentience in the world, the resistant person targeted for objectification is psychologically apprehended by the presumptive Master as treasonous.

Psychological or discursive domination can work on a limited scale; but it is more limited than authoritarian non-elites tend to perceive. Psychological domination tends to work at a low hum along, and not against, categories of social status. Its effects may not be reliable or durable. In a complex society, psychological domination is not transposable to all interactions and relations.

Consequent to a misrecognition of all power as monopoly sovereign power, an authoritarian non-elite individual A (ANE-A) will tend to assign to other non-elite individuals (NE-N) the responsibility for carrying out ANE-A’s own personal interests. Probably, other individuals will not serve as instruments for the individual passion of ANE-A, but rather will pursue their own individual interests or the interests of a more-powerful, organized collectivity.

This is because non-elite individuals do not have sufficient structural social power to individually incentivize or impose what is a hierarchical functioning (subordinating others’ wills, converting other people into manipulable objects, tools, hands).

This structured experience the authoritarian non-elite individual (ANE-A) psychologically projects as a function failure, or malevolent defection, of the object (the objectified), NE-N. Psychological projection of harmful intention onto objects is natural (See Scarry 1985.); but the error that leads to the objectification of people, and projection of treasonous intent or incapacity upon insubordinate people, lies in power-relations illiteracy. The authoritarian non-elite subjectivity misinterprets insubordination as a malevolent and dysfunctional (incompetence) withholding of cooperation and credit in a world of fluid but absolute monopolized sovereignty, realized in simple domination by force of personality in individual interactions.

Emergent problem: Because the structured experience of subordination/objectification failure is rampant within authoritarian non-elite relations, incompetence and treason are perceived as ubiquitous in non-elite subjectivity, and so non-elite people tend to lean heavily on punishment as a tool for managing all but ideal patronage relations. This reinforces a tendency toward patronage-seeking behaviour and social hierarchy. Where corporal punishment is inaccessible, authoritarian nonelites will rely on moral condemnation in an effort to break down their target’s semi-sovereign (social but positionally-distinctive) self.

This produces a collective-action problem within the working-class: Working-class communities are bound up in punishing and thwarting each other. Their strategic capacities and tactical repertoires–including Power Structure and Power Resources analyses, negotiation, and cooperation–are constantly bound, atrophied, and stunted, and not just from above. Defection is universalized within the working class.

In capitalism, capitalists are relieved of universalized defection and crippling by monopoly control over resources. Their monopoly access to social power allows capitalists greater tactical latitude to make allies, form coalitions, and collaborate with rivals, while distributing patronage to delegate their agency. These rich tactical and strategic resources also incentivize capitalists to hysterically avoid expulsion from the capital-saved network and fortify class boundaries. Capitalists can be authoritarian without undermining their collective action capacity. This is not true of non-elite people.

Common “ameliorative” interventions in this serious social inequality problem tend to be constrained to moral discourse: Smallholder identity group coalitions simply exhort each other to act more deferentially, validating authoritarian non-elite individuals’ analytical error–the overprojection of hierarchical relationships of command and objectification. Doomed to fail and to proliferate a sense of alienation, the deference-demand “fix” reproduces the class’ strategic incapacitation.

Note: Some theory entrepreneurs have intimated that British Commonwealth or Southern US culture provide superior deference skills–presumably such that prevent, for example, authoritarianism from eroding nonelite collective action capacity. They suggest that a strong deference culture provides a micro-interactionist solution to collective-action capacity inequality, or makes collective-action capacity inequality a moot issue. I think this (often chauvanist) claim can be contested, including with empirical evidence from the Commonwealth and US South.

If we allow ourselves to imagine that non-elites can use their supposed surfeit of time to become psychological therapists preserving authoritarianism, then we can alternatively propose that instead, they can be assisted to better conceptualize power and improve their collective action capacity. Non-elite people need a better power-analysis framework and a relational-tactics and strategy repertoire expanded beyond authoritarian Master-servant relations, however glorified as “deference,” toleration, or accommodation. For a model, elites are not only better incentivized to understand each other as more than simple hands, they are also better socialized to use a broader array of interpersonal tactics and strategies, to work together coalitionally across rival interests. The sociological craft tradition (Mills, Bourdieu, Lamont, et al) can study and convey to working-class, racialized, and feminized people more expansive power knowledge.

Recommendation: To organize the balkanized smallholders, including feminized and racialized contingents, use the television series Game of Thrones, up through season 8 episode 3 (“Battle of Winterfell”) as a resource to stimulate power-structure and power-resources identification and theory development. Like The Prince, The Prison Notebooks, and The Power Elite before it, Game of Thrones is designed up through season 8, chapter 3 as a prolonged, multi-pronged, didactic corrective to popular misunderstandings of power relations. It was built to stimulate power-theory development. More effective would its pedagogy be if implemented as curricular discussion material in collectives.

(Note: After season 8, episode 3, Game of Thrones degenerates into a dog’s breakfast of Whiggish ideology and movie industry auto-canonization. Zeynep Tufekci (2019) recognized the show abandoned sociology for psychology at the end. If you’re the sort who enjoyed the democratic Enlightenment, or even if you’re a non-slaver American, you will hate being force-fed the Red Coat/Cold War moral framing of Daenerys’ clunky M.O. swerve, along with most of the hackneyed gruel you’re served after the Battle of Winterfell. Orly, Sam Tarly is a naive academic, but our True ‘n’ Just King is The Storyteller. Get over yourselves, Renaissance Festival. Truly, neoliberal times blow in terms of moral-fable product.)

The goal of power-theory development and tactical-strategic repertoire building amongst non-elites would be to replace the preponderance of thwarting and punitive tactics–both corporeal and psycho-discursive–with a broader, more valid power-relations analysis and skills repertoire, thereby reducing working-class political stunting.


Game of Thrones: Lessons on Power

GoT power-relations lessons are not necessarily encapsulated in pithy verbal recommendations, but rather by examining how characters embody power-relations tactics and strategies, and their effects, as well as learn over time. Still, the character Peter Baelish pivots to advise Sansa Stark, as she moves into a queen role, with an important reminder to remain strategically adroit:

Everyone is your enemy, everyone is your friend… Live that way and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before.” –Peter Baelish to Sansa Stark, Season N, Episode N.



Adorno, Theodor et al. 1950. The Authoritarian Personality. University of California Press.

Benner, Erica. 2017. Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli’s Lifelong Quest for Freedom. New York: Penguin Random House.

Game of Thrones, seasons 1-8, episode 3.

Kierkegaard, Soren. 1846. The Present Age.

McAlevey, Jane. 2016. No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age. Oxford.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. 1513. The Prince.

Mills, C Wright. 1956. The Power Elite.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1887. On the Genealogy of Morals.

Tufekci, Zeynep. 2019. “The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones.” Scientific American, May 17.




The Canadian Right-wing Academic Argument Against Environmental and Social Justice

A McGill historian of science, looking as much like Foucault as he can, in 2018 published an article, with a fellow conservative holding physical science credentials, in which he makes an argument that epigenetics should not be linked as a rationale to egalitarian policy change.

After a two-paragraph intro to epigenetics, Canadian Foucault-Latour coins three neologisms, three sins, to package his argument for prohibiting a bridge between physical science findings and egalitarian social policy:

1) “Mischaracterization”: This is the (dubious) problem where the Historian of Science doesn’t agree with findings–for example, that epigenetic information can be transmitted intergenerationally, and he selects those particular epigenetic findings to dismiss as inconclusive.

2) “Extrapolation”: This is the problem (for Canadian Foucault-Latour) where scientists bridge the physical and social sciences, particularly including social epidemiologists, to suggest that with the theory-backed, mechanism-identified evidence of correlation and time-order, we can make a scientific claim that the material world and institutionalized social relations impact human health, and thus changing institutions, design, and infrastructure can reduce the socio-material harm.

Canadian postmodernist doesn’t say here how he defines science, but it’s probably commercial laboratory science, per postmodernism’s capitalism-accommodating idealist reduction. Along with positivists, discourse-totalizing postmodernists are a Cartesian Praetorian guarding the sacred boundary between the human, idealist world(s) and the base, material projection.

The article is basic, and extremely light on the empirical evidence. Yet with masculinist aesthetics, it presents errant pedantry as technocratic rigor. The McGill third arm of policing–not particularly well supported– is to attribute to mostly-unidentified other scholars a lack of his own fine appreciation of the connection between genetics and epigenetics. He decides this is the 3) “Exceptionalism” sin. This is raw crank. Even in pop culture accounts of epigenetics, the historical relation between the Human Genome Project and the growth of epigenetics is emphasized. The authors need to spend more time reading other people’s academic work, and less time in the patio party conversations.

It is a very thin article evincing a cursory familiarity with the substantive topic–which is not a survey of epigenetics. It is how epigenetics are being approached by anti-cartesians. Extremely thin on data, the article is only justifiable by an overinvestment in either positivism or in the postmodern, idealist, theoretical reduction of science to the commercial lab. It is a “textbook” recent case in reactionary “critical” idealism. It is the embodiment of the institutionalized Canadian settler-extractivist theoretical approach to reconciling private-property-reifying liberalism with hierarchy-reifying conservatism: effacing the inequality while censoring the inegalitarianism.

The basis for this authority’s institutionalized expertise is that while he was a grad student, he had to work with an indigenous community, as most Canadian social science and humanities academics did by the second decade of the 21st century, and that required him to write an article denouncing the association in medical studies of Canada’s First Nations with health problems due to the colonial relationship. I know this, because that is what I was being commanded to do then. You were told, by indigenous leaders in institutions, that you had to write stories about how there is no problem. Obviously, indigenous people outside of power were not clamoring for academics to amplify this particular voice. It became a theoretical specialty to argue that the material world is radically divorced from, inaccessible, and unknowable to humans–unspeakable.

Then McGill had a short burst in 2012 of trying to set himself up as an authority on how the biome is just imaginary and a bad discourse, because its metaphysics connects the material to the social–social design, institutions, and infrastructure overdetermine human health– and so its justice telos is about reducing social, economic and political inequality. He analyzes surveys, which is what he uses to back up the idealist social science theory.

In idealist thought, human health is not a thing. Health is just a holographic projection of bad Minds. Some physical scientists twiddle around with health because the tyrannical state. In idealist thought, design, institutions, and infrastructure are not recognized to create different kinds of social relations oriented to distinct justice teloi. Their discursive ontology only permits them to recognize difference, and they reject the idea that inequality is a thing, let alone a problem. The only problem, for which idealist humanities and social science academics are the official police, is reduction of difference–for example, state policy changes that reduce social hierarchy. Reducing inequality is the ultimate injustice from the idealist position. They believe the historical-materialist justice telos competes with the idealist justice telos–to proliferate difference, including inequality.

Inegalitarianism is difficult for postmodernists. Like good imperialists, and against all historical and concurrent evidence, they believe we can have moral, tasteful, polite inequality, reconceptualized as playful, fecund difference, without the discursive rudeness of inegalitarianism, which they typically project outward upon Americans, because of the brutish conservative culture of slavery-backed capitalism that feeds the US global imperial role, or another geopolitical Other–Nazis or Russians.

Canadian Foucault-Latour also sprinkled an article in his CV about how “contagion” is really financial crisis; wholly within discourse, that was a less-reactionary effort.

When critical idealists can keep within texts, they do not necessarily support capitalist and capitalist-state efforts to repress egalitarian, developmentalist design, institutions, infrastructure, and relationships. A postmodernist, like this McGill Man or Latour, may instrumentally play with a conservative, positivist physical scientist–they share the inclination to denounce inequality recognition and egalitarian redistribution; they both bury metaphysics; and they are both keen to reduce science to the commercial lab.

Yet the alliance between postmodernists and positivist commercial scientists of course contains an inner crack. Postmodernists as idealists are distinct from physical scientists in that they abject recognition that the world we live in transcends the textual. The Postmodernists reject an ontology material and historical and social. There are only words, which is the hermetically-sealed flat universe of the social, and when the textual ontology is imported into the social sciences, the lacunae–through which, in proper discursive philosophy, the historical-material world enters–is papered over. Thus postmodernists reject expanded, scientific methodologies, rather than just authoritarian bluster (“Meritcratic” decisionism, eg genealogy, and associated speculative idealism). When they use their idealist hermeneutics against the Earthly and human material world, it is all reactionary conservatism and it has been for a long time.

McGill ref: Huang, JY & NB King. 2018. “Epigenetics changes nothing.” Public Health Ethics 11  (1): 69-81.

Note that the Swedish Universities by contrast are immersed in studies linking epigenetic difference and health effects. Canadian idealism v. Scandinavian historical-materialism. University of Washington has an anti-cartesian epigenetics lab.

Benner: Actually-existing Nationalisms

In her chapter “Explaining Nationalism” (Really Existing Nationalisms, 2018, Verso), Erica Benner conveys Marx’s assessment of the British ruling class M.O.:

“In Marx’s view…a (British) statesman of the bourgeoisie (succeeded) precisely in his ability to avoid British engagement in European conflicts (over monarchy v. democracy) while preserving Britain’s international image as the level-headed guardian of constitutional principles…”

Marx: “‘If he betrayed foreign peoples for fear of encouraging revolution,’ the British ‘did it with great politeness.’ ‘If the oppressors were always sure of (British) active support, the oppressed never wanted a great ostentation of (British) rhetorical generosity.’….(The British) ‘knows how to conciliate a democratic phraseology with oligarchic views…'”

My point: Why aren’t we all as politically-“discerning” as the British ruling class, if in a different direction? Is capital (wealth) required to maintain a political compass within a collective action coalition while that coalition ideologically and materially divides and conquers competitors, rivals, colonies, and enemies? Political compass, backed by shitloads of capital, permit ruling classes so many more strategic degrees of freedom than their would-be challengers have.


“The bourgeoisie’s interests in Britain, as in France and Germany, were thus advanced through the highly-selective application of principles that were supposed to underpin the legitimacy of its representatives. By suggesting that class interests explained why and when those principles were or were not applied, Marx challenged two more conventional ways of explaining foreign policy choices: those based on the idea that statesmen are motivated by free-floating principles or ideals, and power-political accounts which postulated a class-neutral ‘national interest’ as the basic guide to policy-making. Marx’s observations suggest a general, cross-national hypothesis: that the bourgeoisie’s commitment to the political doctrines which express their substantial interests is weakened, not reinforced, in proportion to the clarity of those interests and the confidence that they can be secured” (Benner 2018: 121).

We can reasonably suggest that a Marxist would revise the premise that liberal or constitutional political doctrines distinctly express the capitalist class’ substantial interests. That premise reflects the regional, historical view from unconsolidated 19th c. Germany, or, again, it reduces the British premier-capitalists’ venerable, instrumentalist, flexible and strong divide-and-conquer strategic tradition to one of its tactical components–  marketing co-optative, abstract liberal principles. Marx elsewhere (Capital V 1, Part VIII, Chapter 26; Rheinische Zeitung and New York Tribune reporting and analysis) recognized that slavery, colonialism, genocide, and extractivism also express substantial capitalist interests quite at odds with a constitutionalist posture.

Manet & Bourgeois Revolt

“Manet” (Bourdieu, 2017) synopsis, with my own extended analysis.

Emerging from a bourgeois background, Manet was the primary exponent of France’s bourgeois symbolic revolution against the state-sponsored art academy just after the Crimean War peak of Napoleon III’s modernizing empire. Manet had all the cultural capital of his class background and state-sponsored training, and he used it to create more economically-efficient painting techniques and a subject matter that better fit a stronger businessmen’s interior decoration market.

Manet’s subject matter tended to to deviate from the imperial-rivalry signfications of classical subject matter that the Salon academy reproduced–particularly in Manet’s cheeky play with the symbolic boundaries of sexuality. A consumer public of “the (bourgeois) people” supported Manet’s rebellion, a symbolic blow for absolutist state-supported antistatism. After all, isn’t antistatist symbology the most radical revolution imaginable, from within the bourgeois interest?


As well as flat, contextless scenes of the new urban life, Manet painted a couple scenes from the collapse of that French Empire, including the Execution of Emperor Maximilian (when Mexico defeated Imperial France) and a sketch of the Barricade (the restoration of–the 3rd–French Republic).


But in Manet’s communication with his friend Zola, it is clear that Manet regretted the return of democracy, which he perceived as the ascendance of brutes–just as he had treated the French imperial state’s art academy functionally as a contrasting background wall for the display of his work, and morally as a vehicle of conformist oppression. Manet and bourgeois aesthetics flourished in the pure and defiant urban bourgeois interstice that inegalitarian late-absolutist imperialism created.

It was clear that Manet’s symbolic revolution, “which interprets nature with a gentle brutality” (Zola) was the product of the final absolutists’ modernization campaigns, and its particular  beneficiary, the urban bourgeois world those reforms established in a few European metropoles.


The rarified, charming, naughty, ingratiating, and playful way of life that finally found footing and new expression was the product of an imperial, late absolutist–including  Napoleon III, Bismarck, the dying Austrian and Ottoman Empires, the continuing Anglo-led repression of Russian and Egyptian development–reaction against and management of democratic Enlightenment, an orchestration to take the Enlightenment’s ideas and implement them, with economic liberalization but without democracy.


That island of urban French life, with its luminous, ginger cast of well-dressed bourgeois and naked servants, is what Manet valued. That is the worldly “peace” condition that the romantic antidemocratic bourgeoisie values, because it has created for them a little private topos of sexualized play and bourgeois decisionism, an affirming, “universal” collective experience of transitory symbolic structural subversion, complementing the enabling, institutionalized elite decisionism of (democracy-conditioned) conservativism, and substituting for the painful if also transitory universal decisionism of democratic revolution. Exclusive, ephemeral, nubile, tragic beauty is what romantics aestheticize.

The French symbolicists’ and the White Austrian managers’ precious conditions were the epitome of combustible. What built that European modernized-metropole bourgeois world, loved and represented by Manet and other French aesthete beneficiaries of late absolutist-imperialism, also must devolve from Crimean War unto the loss against Mexico and the Franco-Prussian War loss, then onto WWI and WWII, the rolling implosion/explosion of rearguard late absolutism.


…Leaving a gilded cherry, a bourgeois world poised to dominate, its expendable ally democracy having been discreetly managed away.

The Austrian emigres were court dregs, fueled by the Excellent urban experience, the bourgeois decisionism of that romantic metropole moment within an inegalitarian, rearguard, fast-decaying imperial mobilization, a mobilization that co-opted the ideas of the democratic Enlightenment it repressed, and then imploded in imperial war, before exploding into a thousand pointed shards finally in WWI.

The Austrian Whites blamed the socialists for the end, but the Red Vienna socialists came to build in the interwar period, long after the Austrian empire was collapsing and even after the empire died. That is what Atlantic Anglo-America’s capitalists imported upon us: The Austrian courtiers of inegalitarianism’s thievery, brutality, dishonesty, and failure. Bolstering the diffused institutions of slavery and the spatialized institutions of colonial conquest, inegalitarian romanticism fuses with inegalitarian pragmatism in the US.

Haven’t romantic bourgeois aesthetics institutionalized pre-1870s imperial absolutism’s urban bourgeois metropole ideal as the ruling mystification of capitalist order in the Anglosphere and Atlantic Europe?

The key to romantic-pragmatic inegalitarianism is never giving credit where credit is due. To keep up, and to transform into meritocratic ideology, the instrumentalist Burkean faith that the elite are the only excellence possible in this world, while the vast servant class embodies all of humanity’s faults, we have to pretend that Napoleon III did not repress democracy and co-opt democrats’ ideas, but rather invented the modernizations wholecloth in the mid 19th century–and invented them in his free time on the side, while he stormed Europe and the world to subjugate and expropriate its wealth, for capitalist modernization.

Culturalist Analysis of the Social: Immigration Politics through a Cultural-determinist Lens

RE: The Jacobin article on Danish immigration politics by cultural scholars:

The justice distinction has to be whether and to what extent border controls and citizenship rights turn immigrants into a disadvantaged underclass, or continue to provide them enabling, if graduating positive rights. (As well: Does the analysis and policy distinguish between sovereign European transmigration and the (semi-)permanent immigrants displaced from their home? It should.)

Like usual, there’s no appreciable analysis of this central distinction in the Jacobin article. Just an assumption that if we aren’t centering the justice of the exception (eg. capitalists, migrants, etc.), we are committing injustice. It takes a real conservative to believe that the justice of the average (structurally) has to exclude the justice of the left-tail exception.

‘Hostile attitudes toward multiculturalism are presented as legitimate concerns: “you are not a bad person because you don’t want to see your country being fundamentally transformed.”’ –Agustín & Jørgensen 2019

Was this written for Jacobin by a Laclau-Mouffe Gramscian or by a moonlighting Davos PR staff member? No one could tell, and that is a problem. Why reduce resistance to the absolutely-undeniable accretion of top-down transformation to nothing more than a “hostile attitude toward multiculturalism”? There is something truly, deeply, madly wrong today with our 100% elite-position/interest reduction of internationalism to cosmopolitanism.

Why is no one on the left today concerned about working class reproduction besides feminists and ecologists? Adam Smith was already concerned about this central capitalist problem in 1776. Alexandra Kollontai laid the issue out masterfully in 1915. Why are we directed–by leftists–to pour our charitable hearts like a blessing of syrup over capitalist reproduction, this time via population disruption and mobilization? Are immigrants traumatized? Yes! So are the sobbing crime victims that cops parade into city councils when they’re lobbying for more Nightwatchman state budget. Yes, the treatment of immigrants is a crisis! No, that does not mean that we need to line up behind capitalist justice framing and policy.

If the Danish government can figure out that Africa is biologically reproducing, then it can be pushed to figure out how to circulate wealth to solidaristically support working class reproduction in Africa. How did continental Europe get rich in the 20th century? In large part, the second-order capitalist societies fought wars against the primary Anglo-American capitalist core until the US shared some of the wealth under the Marshall Plan. We know Anglo-America won’t do it without getting fire-bombed, but what if Europe circulated wealth without having to go war with Africa? And if Africa was brought into the core capitalist economy, that would significantly undermine biological reproduction incentives.

To stay relevant, Social Democrats should distinguish themselves from the Right by always including international grants and cross-borders working class organization and capacity-building with citizenship rights policies. (Though that would put them afoul of Anglo-American police states running down democracies to protect global capitalists.)

To stay relevant, Social Democrats should distinguish themselves from the Right by making an emphatic distinction between education for democratic development (educating for dispositions to exchange information, ideas, and grievances, remaking democracy anew, per Dewey 1916) and cheap, ugly symbolic theater victimizing immigrants (dumbshit handshake and head scarf politics and policies).

I have never met an African immigrant who wouldn’t prefer to return to and live in Africa if non-elite social reproduction were not being destroyed there by our governments, economists, militaries, and bosses. African migrants just want to be in the calmer eye of the storm. We are not doing anyone* working class any favors with the Open Border smallholder/worker physical-mobilization policy agenda, because it’s an easement attached to the agenda of a concentrated if rivalristic ownership of the whole world. Whether branded or de facto, Open Borders have accompanied the decimation of positive citizenship rights, and in capitalism, where Anglo-American states primarily protect the asset-backed citizenship of global capitalists, there are both structural and political reasons for that.

I can grant that, perhaps, there is some non-linear probability that (let’s face it) forcibly pushing smallholder and propertyless populations around, and killing off positive citizenship rights and the non-managerial labor aristocracy in core nationalist communities (All the better to expropriate/privatize their private and public assets, my dear!) could hypothetically accompany the restoration of working class internationalism–or rather, submission to cosmopolitanism, per cultural Pollyannaism–and even mystically produce a socially-rational revolution. But why is it that concrete internationalism is never the Open Borders advocates’ focus? Are they playing some kind of 16th-dimension chess? Or do they not know what game they are playing into? Or are they already-coopted tools? My money is on international Democrat Party policy coordination and consulting. The Dem Party strategy model is that while today, the nearly-rightsless but plucky funnel of immigrant population will toil in shit jobs, providing labor for a competitive small business economy and cheap consumer services to otherwise-redundant native workers, tomorrow the nearly-rightsless but plucky diverse population of smallholders and their hyper-exploited workers will prioritize immigrant identity and physical-mobility freedom, loyally voting for the immigration-positive liberal parties that chiefly manage the polity and imperial warfare for global monopoly finance, tech, and supporting capitalist interests.

Founded on conservative European philosophy centering the justice of the exception (tho wrapped in a Gramsci martyr flag), culturalist interpretations of state border politics magnify political symbolism, fail to contextualize politics, fail to distinguish conservative, liberal and egaliberte fundamentals, misidentify immigrants and migrant interests with capitalist interests, occlude internationalism behind cosmopolitanism, lean heavily on manipulative moralism, and misplace egaliberte solidarity.

* Note: Though it was disruptive of Mexican workers’ home communities, the American business class and its state were arguably doing Mexican migrants a solid to push and pull them into returning to California, which was part of their own society’s territory. On the other hand, it was not much of a favor to send them to work as slaves in Texan prisons.


Video from Davos, at The Guardian. And a theme song for Davos from Jarvis Cocker.

Observers and interests frrom JJ Rousseau to Adam Smith (1776) to Thomas Dewey (1915) to the socialist feminists to policymakers to commercial advertisers have noticed that newcomers, whether youth or immigrants, remake a society. As Dewey pointed out, how we incorporate newcomers determines whether we can even create or sustain substantial democracy.
Recognizing that democracy requires newcomer socialization into dispositions for democratic development, for example, the US and other liberal Anglo countries have long stipulated political conditions on migration, including prohibiting anticapitalist immigration. The US heavily subsidized casino-capitalist Cubans, including mafia, influentially remaking American politics, helping steer the US in the 20th century back to a more properly Anglo JS Mill version of liberalism allowing the US state to prioritize protection of the private property and negative rights of a global cosmopolitan citizenry.
“Nearly a billion dollars (of taxpayper money) was made available under the (US’s) Cuban Refugee Program to the first generation of Cuban immigrants. This was done in order to demonstrate the superiority of the capitalist system amidst the tremendous ideological offensive mounted by Moscow under the Khrushchev Administration.”
While Undesirable Cuban immigrants were incarcerated in Gitmo, “Cubans arriving in the United States have enjoyed unique and virtually unlimited rights to immediate or rapid residency, Green Card work permits, and a broad package of benefits, regardless of their legal status.” The Border has always been Open. Open Borders is not the issue for radical democrats.
(From Richard Dello Buono’s review of Eckstein’s Dem Party-sponsored “The Immigrant Divide: How Cuban-Americans Changed the US and Their Homeland,” where Eckstein forwards the Dem Party argument for recolonizing Cuba to a “moderate” Cuban-American audience).

Leadership Cultures

Managerial theory shifts over time. From a Sociological perspective, however, I would like to know, How does cultural difference produce managerial conflicts?

Here I start with the research assumption that managerial culture may combine with individual psychology to produce variations in managerial approaches, but that these variations tend to cluster within cultural communities. That is, there is more variation across cultures than amongst individuals within cultures.

As a sociologist, I would hypothesize that there are significant differences in managerial style across different groups, or cultures, of people, and that these would fall along cultural differences associated with gender and regional socialization.

And from a political sociology perspective, I would extend the research question: How might such cultural conflicts inform some interpretations of Anglo-American electoral politics, in a context in which managerialism is a central organizational form of life, particularly work?

Case Study: Regional and gendered managerial culture clashes in a Midwestern recreational vehicle manufacturing business

A Midwestern US recreational vehicle manufacturing business, we’ll call it Kisyinewmistatim, is an unusual business. It was founded by county business leaders in the late 1950s to provide economic stabilization in a low-amenity region of the US that serves as a source of agricultural land rents to finance, and consequently bleeds wealth and population. In the 21st century, Kisyinewmistatim has been charged by its Board of Directors to convert its mainframe to Microsoft Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) business systems management software, a massive undertaking.

Why convert to the ERP system? The current mainframe system is built around the considerable human intelligence of the workers who put the rec vehicles together, and the fixed capital that goes into production is managed around that intelligence core. This leaves too much fixed capital unemployed or even depreciating, where the current industrial norms are just-in-time factor supply. With the ERP systems coordination software, ideally, a) the intelligence required to run the system can be extracted like rents from the workers to the Microsoft software, and in so doing, b) the fixed capital, or non-human factors of production can be cost-optimized, and the variable capital, or the human intelligence of the workers, can be converted from a central pivot of the enterprise to a flexible marginal role, thereby allowing a shift to higher profits and greater returns to shareholders.

After a $30M initial failure, the company spends another $13M to try again.

To manage the second attempt at the conversion, a statuesque female project manager is brought in from the outside, and from a more-affluent, more liberal, more urban nearby state. She manages the integration for over a year. Along the way in this difficult conversion, as you might imagine, she comes to clash with two executive directors at Kisyinewmistatim.

The first clash is with the executive director of shop floor rec vehicle assembly. He is a man from a slaver state, Arkansas. He flat refuses to communicate or cooperate with the project manager, simply screaming at and berating her and talking her down to others. The male manager from the slaver region explicitly accuses the conversion project manager of being insufficiently “hard,” that is, insufficiently male and authoritarian to cooperate with.

The second is the project manager’s boss, a male IT executive with an explosive temper. He is in a cultural clash with the shop floor exec director. The two execs spend a lot of time performatively, publicly declaring their compatibility; but they spend even more time clashing and not cooperating in meetings. Neither the shop floor exec or her IT boss will listen to the Project Manager. While their regional cultures of management differ, they share the managerial conviction that such a conversion project requires simple top-down fiat command, rather than coordination and listening and responding to feedback and information from lower-rank workers.

How is the Project Manager to survive this situation? Working with people who will cooperate her, she manages the conversion of almost all the systems to the new Microsoft software system. There is one particularly-tricky switch-over that will require a few extra months to work out. But her boss refuses. He screams at her, gives her a raise, and demotes her. The last conversion piece will still require a few extra months to work out, as it is a structural issue.

The Project Manager assesses that for the new Microsoft system to work will still require shop floor workers who understand how to build recreational vehicles to use their knowledge to cobble gaps in the system together. As other studies have shown, where the product must function in the physical world, such as with automobiles, marketing cannot hide that managerial-surveillance software systems cannot replace the role of worker intelligence in making (cf Scarry 1985). Only where the product has non-physical qualities, such as in education, can marketing suffice to hide the limits of capitalist machines’ capacity to contribute to making.

The managerial culture question before us is: What do the silent expectations inscribed by culture mean for the interpretation of competent management, as well as individuals’ propensity to communicate and cooperate?

In the Kisyinewmistatim example above, we can see that both gender and regional origin supplied the content of the executive management actors’ understanding of competent management, as well as their propensity to communicate and cooperate. Their masculine and inegalitarian cultural constructions of managerialism include:
1) The manager should be male.
2) The manager should declare orders, using a concussive male voice.
3) Where the orders cannot be satisfied by lower-ranking workers, those workers are to be constructed as embodiments of failure. The workers bear non-ideal conditions.
4) The manager does not listen to lower-ranking workers about conditions impacting work goals.
5) Top managers publicly affirm each other.

Yet, we know from the voluminous managerial literature, these are not the central decisions and skills that managers should be exercising to ensure organization goals are achieved. Rather, TBC…

Political Sociology extension:

How might such cultural conflicts inform some interpretations of Anglo-American electoral politics, in a context in which managerialism is a central organizational form of life, particularly work?

Now let’s consider managerialism as a habitus that proliferates in regions that manage global production and reproduction systems. For people for whom managerialism is a normal mode of coordination, what constitutes leadership? My hypothesis is that leadership is conceived in managerial terms.

Therefore, in an election in a managerialist economy (such as a financialized economy), political leaders may be imagined and evaluated by the criteria associated with different managerial cultures.

Thus, we may understand interpretrations of Clinton/Biden/Democrat Party v. Trump/Republican Party leadership aptitude and performance, for example, as arguments for and against contrasting managerial cultures.


Yet is it appropriate to reduce capitalist countries’ political executive to a managerial role? How valid is the construction of political executives as managers, and governance as managerial style or culture?


For consideration on intersections between the managerial interpretation of politics and the militarized interpretation of politics: Berlet, C. & Lyons, M.N. 1998. “Repression and ideology: Reflections on the legacy of discredited centrist/extremist theory.”

Confidence Game

‎”The confidence we experience as we make a judgment is not a reasoned evaluation of the probability that it is right. Confidence is a feeling, one determined mostly by the coherence of the story and by the ease with which it comes to mind, even when the evidence for the story is sparse and unreliable. An individual who expresses high confidence probably has a good story, which may or may not be true…(Y)ou should not take assertive and confident people at their own evaluation unless you have independent reason to believe that they know what they are talking about” Daniel Kahneman, “Don’t Blink!“, October 2011.

Debt as Quantified + Moralistic Class War

My quick Graeber 2011 review:

Unless you really haven’t considered debt critically before, the chapters to focus in on are: 1 “On the Experience of Moral Confusion,” 6 “Games with Sex and Death” and 7 “Honor and Degradation”.

In the first chapter, Graeber exposes debt as a tactic of class warfare that imposes an asymmetrical morality upon the working class. That is to say, if you are working class and the banks encourage you to  take advantage of liquidity–say, to purchase a home or privatized education–you are entering into something other than a rational contract in which you pay over time for immediate access to a large sum of money. You are entering into a faustian moral system where the capitalist lender is obliged to hide the risks and costs from the working class borrower, and the borrower must pay for not just her superficial loan, plus interest, but the financial capitalists’ risks as well.

As long as they are effectively not taxed, there is no accounting of the obligations of the financial capitalists to society; but if financial capitalists lose money, the capitalist state makes the working class pick up their tab, with interest–owed to the financial capitalists. In our contemporary Western debt society, working class people have to pay not just their own private debts to capital, but also the state-socialized debts of the financial capitalists. This transfer is conceived as a sort of protection money for financial capitalists’ rule, which political-economic elites and their retainers define as absolutely necessary and beneficent.

What happens–economically and politically–when financial capital transfers its risks and costs to the working class–does not have to bear the risks and costs of its own dissimulating, profit-seeking bets?

‎”If all loans, no matter how idiotic, were still retrievable–if there were no bankruptcy laws, for instance–the results would be disastrous. What reason would lenders have not to make a stupid loan?” Graeber 2011: 3.

When working class people (are forced by the state to) pay back misleading loans–such as bubble mortgages, and education loans where elite hoarding of productivity gains is hidden–they are in effect encouraging capital to pursue bad-faith lending. They are being forced to build and support kleptocracy and oligarchy.

Chapter 6 & Chapter 7 explore how debt is produced by and supports a violence that rips people out of their social context and isolates them.

“Up in our country we are human!…Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs” (from Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Eskimo)

The individualizing collective action of Masters (appropriating ‘surplus’ social power): How individual autonomy is forged for some through the violent, dehumanizing isolation of others

Essentially, Masters (elites) engage in a violent kind of collective action that produces what we know as  ‘individualism.’

Consider that what is unique (incommensurable, unsubstitutable, ergo valuable beyond quantification and commodification) about people, a social species, is their unique location and functions in a social network, their relationships to others.

Through their relations with others, people have both a unique (social) value and deep (social) dimension to act (together, collectively, dialectically) as agents. (This is thinking about people in society like how we can think about the relationships in an ecosystem.) If you are systematically recognized as having value beyond commodification then you are seen as constitutive of the social order. In an egalitarian society, you are recognized as fully human; in an inegalitarian society, you are recognized as ambiguously human and super-human. People will support you and protect you.

“In a human economy, each person is unique, and of incomparable value, because each is a unique nexus of relations with others” (Graeber 2011: 158).

Quantification Requires Violence

“Human economies” are built to recognize people’s socially-embedded value, whereas inhumane economies are built to exploit this. With collective support, Masters violently separate individuals in other collectivities (eg. women, people of color, etc.) from their social networks, imposing an interchangeable, unidimensional quality upon these Slaves.

“To make a human being an object of exchange…requires first of all ripping her from her context; that is, tearing her away from that web of relations that makes her the unique conflux of relations that she is…This requires a certain violence” (Graeber 2011: 159).

“One becomes a slave in situations where one would otherwise have died” (Graeber 2011: 169). 

The isolated, dimension-less Slaves are now both dehumanized and exchangeable (commodified, made into tools, undead servants of their murderers). Their social network is severed; their only (or main) social tie and path of action is as Slaves of their Master.

So that others can maintain or elaborate their social ties, some people are sacrificed. Once people are ripped from their social context, their qualities can be reduced to quantities. Their commodity value can be calculated.

When people are exchangeable, tradable, they are subject to the logic of debt. Women given in marriage is the start. Slavery is the logical end-point (Graeber 2011: 163). Credit and debt, the  quantification or tally of morality–social contribution and extraction, as established by the most powerful people in society, is born upon systematic, violent dehumanization.

It has been burglars, marauding soldiers and debt collectors who have been the first to see the world in terms of “uniform bits of currency, with no history, valuable precisely for their lack of history, because they can be accepted anywhere, no questions asked

…Any system that reduces the world to numbers can only be held in place by weapons” (Graeber 2011: 386).

Today we see Masters as Individuals, Slaves as Zombies

“The king and slave are mirror images, in that unlike normal human beings who are defined by their commitments to others, they are defined only by relations of power. They are as close to perfectly isolated, alienated beings as one can possibly become” (Graeber 2011: 209).

In our civilization, we compulsively define ourselves as master and slave because that is how we can imagine ourselves as completely isolated beings, commodities, rational actors, individuals. The lineage can be seen: Romans conceived of liberty as the brute power of use and abuse (not as the ability to form mutual relationships with others), just as the liberal philosophers bizarrely imagined the origins of society “in some collection of thirty- or forty-year-old males who seem to have sprung from the earth fully formed, then have to decide whether to kill each other or begin to swap beaver pelts” (Graeber 2011: 209-210).

Masters accrue and exchange Slaves in order to appropriate ‘surplus’ social power. This kind of surplus is zero-sum. With an army of Slaves beholden to act as their agents, Masters can achieve a sort of super-agency approaching autonomy. With this ‘autonomy’ cleared out within the complex of human society by wielding Slaves, Masters are able to function approximately as independent, utility-maximizing ‘individuals’ within the matrix of society. What we recognize as individuals are people whose augmented social power is violently appropriated from dehumanized people, who themselves are separated from their own social networks and forced to act as agents of the Master. Individualism as we know it in our civilization is Master-slave individualism, where the ‘surplus’ social power he accumulates by stripping others of their own social networks and tying them to himself allows the Master ‘freedom’ to act relatively autonomously from the broad collective–autonomously enough to coordinate with a small collective of Masters to determine production, distribution, infrastructure, institutions, politics, policies and culture (The Slaves execute the directives).

Clarification: Master-slave relations are rampant in our civilization. Modern debt peonage in the labor-as-commodity society enables lifelong wage slavery as well as classical slavery. Even though Master-slave individualism is not true surplus accumulation but simple zero-sum appropriation, capitalism supplies Masters with the power (social support, legitimized violence, legal monopoly over the means of production) to enslave (proletarianize, commodify labor) others. Wage earners and the unemployed are essentially lifelong indentured servants in capitalism.

“An ancient Greek would certainly have seen the distinction between a slave and an indebted wage laborer as, at best, a legalistic nicety” (Graeber 2011: 211).

Likewise, Master-slave ‘individualism’ (constantly secured through collective action) is necessary to the hierarchal operation of capitalism.

Heroic societies provide one example of how people are dehumanized to serve as debt tender. Militarized people (men) manufacture accounts of honor, and then use power to steal “surplus honor” from other men in the militaristic, macho, high-inequality cultural economy of honor and degradation larding ostensibly quantitative debt politics.

In order to enslave women (or anyone) for this “heroic” economy, women need to be stripped of their social networks and unique social location–made commensurable, quality-less, exchangeable like things. Humans must be dehumanized.

Honor and dignity thereby become men’s power to protect/spare their family’s dehumanized females from slavery and prostitution, by enslaving other men’s women.

“What is a debt anyway? A debt is just the perversion of a promise. It is a promise corrupted by both math and violence” (Graeber 2011: 391).

“As it turns out, we don’t ‘all’ have to pay our debts. Only some of us do” (Graeber 2011: 391).

Debt is a quantified assessment of extraction from the social order. Masters determine debt. Whatever the Masters (eg. Goldman Sachs) do is socially recognized as an invaluable contribution (credit) to the social order, and whatever the alienated Slaves (eg. single mothers) contribute to society will not be recognized as a contribution, but as an extraction, which the Masters will have quantified. In high-inequality societies, slaves’ satisfaction of even their own basic human requirements are regarded as extractions from society, placing Slaves in interminable debt to the social order’s creditors, Masters.

“By turning human sociality itself into debts, (militarized finance) transforms the very foundations of our being–since what else are we, ultimately, except the sum of the relations we have with others–into matters of fault, sin, and crime, and making the world into a place of iniquity that can only be overcome by completing some great cosmic transaction that will annihilate everything” (Graeber 2011: 387).

This debt culture can be further explored by linking it to the social epidemiology literature on the production of health-depleting chronic stress in high-inequality social relations. That is, it is easy to see how the militaristic debt culture of stealing and hoarding honor induces chronic, debilitating stress.

(This debt book isn’t all fun and joy. Graeber can lay down a ladleful of anarcho/anthro- dogma overstatements–eg. “There is no such thing as societies. Life is a bowl of moral cherries!” Sigh. Hey, what about these interlocked sets of institutions, culture boy? “Property relations mean nothing! Communism = everyday sharing.” Sigh.–lavishly adorned with faintly-amusing/boring anthropological cocktail party anecdotes.)

Themes from Graeber’s Debt to discuss further:

1) Debt as tactic: Quantifying the social obligations of workers to owners (via debt) imbues society with moral claims about what different strata of people contribute to or take from society. Debt is the class-based violence of moralistic quantification.

“By turning human sociality itself into debts (quantified promises), (financial-military violence and coercion systems) transform the very foundations of our being–since what else are we, ultimately, except the sum of the relations we have with others–into matters of fault, sin, and crime, and making the world into a place of iniquity…

Just as no one has the right to tell us our true value, no one has the right to tell us what we truly owe” Graeber 2011: 387.

2) The possibility of a debtor’s revolt:

Problem: The class violence of debt is broadly sanctified by its moral code. That is to say, quantification via debt is a political tactic that bears a moral code supportive of exploitation.

To promote an alternative morality to debt, you need socialism, in which people are organized to recognize both unquantified working class value and class war. In other words, recognition of class war and recognition that working class people have unquantifiable value is socialism. It helps people to think and to act, to know that they’re not nor have they ever been alone.

Paraphrase of Varoufakis, Halevi and Theokarakis 2011: 18:
The discipline of economics does not so much enjoy scientific victories, as it obtains political victories. In much the same way, debt is not so much about impressive achievements in quantification (accounting, or even gambling), as about impressive achievements in class war.

Wiesbrot’s “What Everyone Should Know About the Debt Crisis.”

“Iceland’s Loud No (to debt),” in Le Monde Diplomatique.