Limits of the Gentrification Narrative

Does a fear of gentrification mean that we should not fight for making public places, streets, and parks better? No. This knowledge only highlights the importance of community members’ involvement in tackling neighborhood change. This knowledge also emphasizes the importance of creating places that benefit everyone – places that connect existing residents, instead of dividing, alienating, or displacing them, and places that enhance the existing character of a neighborhood, instead of erasing it.” –Kahne, 2015, “Does Placemaking Cause Gentrification?,”

While this planning article struggles with the overextension of the “gentrification” master narrative, it hints at the geographical limits of this theory’s applicability beyond global metropoles, economically-exclusive places where developers targeting a smallholder managerial class serving a global millionaire and billionaire class have uprooted and erased well-connected, flourishing, and socially-mobile working class communities like Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and neighbourhoods in Vancouver, Toronto, London UK, and San Francisco.

Consider that the problem with gentrification is not just the middle working-class purchase of some small amount of livable private space from the racialized poor, and the accompanying addition of a couple of coffeehouses (as can slowly happen on a couple of streets in Winnipeg). The critical concept emerges to describe the uprooting of a diverse and thriving community of smallholders from capacity-enhancing urban public amenities that they themselves have built and fought for over time. Planners’ solution to the latter problem is institutionalized community consultation, connected to theory for democratic development. It’s clear that Winnipeg has long repressed planning capacity, including community consultation capacity, in favor of monopoly developer control, and this continues to be the norm. However, that is another, older, hinterlands problem.

Institutionalized planning incapacity and general democratic underdevelopment as a colonial legacy continually refreshed by weak newcomer citizenship should not be reduced to the metropole phenomenon of gentrification, because popular gentrification-critique morality stigmatizes and suggests reducing non-poverty smallholder collective action capacity in order to amplify the evident “voice” of the poor, such as represented in poverty advocates’ recent romantic accounts by Bain Financial Corporation (the Dollar Store owner, among other investment asset holdings). Bain Financial’s capacity to serve as a “patron” and “voice” of the racialized poor is not threatened in Winnipeg. This is because Winnipeg’s anti-democratic institutions are strong, and Bain Financial is, like other market institutions supposedly native to and culturally owned by the poor (at least in antidemocratic neoclassical economic “consumer sovereignty” theory), an anti-democratic market institution. Its poverty “advocacy” agenda consists strictly in profiteering from and reproducing poverty, as complement to its privatization portfolio.

Theoretical entrepreneurship suggesting that any income-increasing class diversification of a neighbourhood, or even any isolated instance of community-consultation failure, is the gentrification problem empties gentrification of its critical specificity, and worse, in Winnipeg, contributes to the traditional problems of democratic, public collective-action incapacitation and planning and amenity poverty.

Unlike global metropoles, Winnipeg is not a town where the problem is the new economic-inequality-driven, private-property exclusion of the collectively-rich, privately-less-affluent from their own legacy of rich city shared public amenities. Winnipeg is a railroad population center in an extractivist region that is amenity-poor because it has a long-time, settler-colonial, cross-class democratic collective-action deficit (particularly relative to the power of regional developers). Winnipeg’s urban race problems are continually reproduced by the cultural norm reducing democratic development to consumer sovereignty. That reduction denies and evades the salient problem of building democratic collective-action capacity across colonial, settler, and newcomer conflicts of interest.

Urban geography has found that the neighborhoods with the proven capacity to build their own (not Bain Financial Corporation’s) institutions strengthening their social and political capital, are rarely homogeneous poverty neighbourhoods. Not charity or poverty advocacy, but class diversity with strong communication and high solidarity and collective-action capacity can strengthen and develop neighbourhoods, and permit stronger social mobility. Contra the gentrification critique, the problem in hinterlands is how to form coalitions across class, citizenship status, and racial difference that can organize for the new institution of humanist amenities that do not reproduce human stunting (as distinct from millionaire/billionaire thwarting). What do we need to organize that can improve the life quality and life chances of the regional coalition of smallholders?



Law & Political Economy

The enduring entanglement of modern property law with this original “feudal calculus” is a thread running throughout Pistor’s book. Most importantly, it informs her skepticism about the alignment that is commonly assumed in liberal grand narratives among progress, property rights, and the rule of law (understood in the sense of the universal applicability of general rules, such that no one class received preferential treatment by the state).

There have been revolutionary moments, Pistor concedes, in which property owners did line up behind the demand for general rights—the American and French Revolutions being cases in point. But once their property was established, owners became, like their feudal predecessors, defenders of privilege. They have advocated not universal binding rules, but what Max Weber called a “modern particularism,” finding ways around the law when it suited their interests.” —Tooze reviews Pistor (2019).

The Usual Suspects: The University of Chicago, Ronald Coase, and Aaron Director established the school of Law and Economics in the 1960s. Its purpose was to diffuse the functionalist liberal grand narrative on capitalist law, in which capitalist law is mythologized as harmonizing interests throughout society by creating rules that maximize efficiency, productivity, and economic growth. This obfuscatory economist-managed myth factory helped distribute resources and power globally, but within the inegalitarian rules of feudal privilege that efface the citizenship and interests of smallholders and life on Earth.

Responding to the 20th-21st century expropriation explosion and democratic dissipation, Pistor is part of a new school, Law & Political Economy, that clarifies that global Anglo law, based in New York and London, actually marries exceptionalist feudal restrictions on [immobile] land property alienability with increasing volumes of extremely-mobile exclusive private property claims [only obliquely upon–but governing the disposition of– tangible assets], so that states enforcing this elite, privately-manufactured law have come to unequally, inequitably, exceptionally enforce the asset claims of large, global capital owners against the interests and welfare of the rest of societies.

Note the gendered leadership of the Law & Econ v. Law & Political-Economy networks. Together patriarchs may imagine their protection racket as benevolent. Women are experientially informed about the central, pervasive, destructive role of expropriation in capitalism.



Bhattacharya, Tithi. 2017. Social Reproduction Theory. Pluto.

Choudry, Aziz & Adrian A. Smith, eds. 2016. Unfree Labour? Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada. PM Press.

Ghodsee, Kristin. 2018. Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism.

Graeber, David. 2006. “Turning Modes of Production Inside Out: Or, Why Capitalism is a Transformation of Slavery.” Critique of Anthropology 26 (1): 61-85.

Kapczynski, Amy.

Kalecki, Michal. 1971. Selected Essays on the Dynamics of the Capitalist Economy 1933-1970. Cambridge University Press.

Kato, Daniel. 2015. Liberalizing lynching: Building a new racialized state. Oxford University Press.

Law & Political Economy blog.

Lawrence, Andrew G. 2014. Employer and Worker Collective Action. Cambridge University Press.

Marx, Karl. 1867. Part VIII, “Primitive Accumulation,” Capital V. I.

Moore, Jason. 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life. Verso.

Orren, Karen. 1991. Belated Feudalism: Labor, the Law, and Liberal Development in the United States. Cambridge University Press.

Pistor, Katharine. 2019. The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality. Princeton University Press.



Antienlightenment & “the Venerable Arsenal of Catholic Theology”: Themes and Weaknesses

McMahon, Darrin M. 2002. Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-enlightenment and the Making of Modernity. Oxford University Press.

Hylton, Forrest. 2019. Left Business Observer interview, December 5.

Forrest Hylton describes 2019 upheavals in Latin America, including the unusual mystery of  the Brasilian middle class supporting conservative elites to stop middle class expansion and supports.

I suggest that Latin American politics are illuminated by (investigation into imperial power interventions and) Darrin McMahon’s analysis (2002) of the conservative Catholic French Ultra Royalists and the ideological legacy they have bequeathed the West.

Experientially, as an educated working-class American with some background at a Latin Americanist university and traveling in Latin America, I have generally found Latin American elites to be impossibly belligerent–savage–in interaction. They have so much passion, interest at stake. They rely on extraordinary patronage. Though Western commercial-state communications professionals work to convince working-class northerners that we share values and interests in common with Latin American elites, that comms strategy is only plausible so long as the Northern educated working class stays within the All-Inclusive and never actually meets a Latin American elite. It is a case where it is quite possible that Latin American elites and anyone with some democratic socialization do not share any common concept of what it is to be human. Here’s why.

As Corey Robin has observed (2011), conservatives are ideological opportunists surrounding a non-negotiable core commitment to inequality. Their interests (passions) are inflamed: Conservatives cannot imagine a world in which they thrive if others are allowed to develop like humans. Starting and staying with the assumption that hell is other people, conservatives are committed to the enslavement of humanity. Hence, distributed semi-sovereign human development is verboten, an abjected unthought in the conservative tradition.

(Side note on theoretical hybridity: Conservative-social democratic hybrid psychology centaur Svend Brinkmann reduces human development to a variety of managerialism, and then lays out a nice case for asserting boundaries on HR excesses in order to permit (not semi-sovereign human development but) distributed “moral integrity.”)

Correcting T.H. Marshall’s (1949) ideal-type argument naturalizing the advent of social citizenship rights, Albert O. Hirschman (1991) reminded us that conservatives push back, influencing knowledge and social developments in reaction to democratic institutional progress. For example, McMahon points out that although they lost to democracy in their time, French Ultra Royalists threw themselves upon the printing press, churning out blizzards of right-wing text (McMahon 192, 199), deeply influencing French (and beyond) common sense, politics, sociology, and philosophy.

Hirschman analyzed the three tactics conservatives use to defend their inequality pole: Arguments accusing democracy of perversity, futility, and jeopardy. But McMahon’s research leads him to insist that beyond the instrumentalist deployment of these Anti-enlightenment discursive tactics, religion is also an essential tool for conservatives in defending their core principle, inequality. The ancient, philosophically-elaborated, legally-codified, imperial-warlord support institution that is Roman Catholicism is necessary to sacralize inequality, and to demonize equality, universal human development. Roman Catholic tradition is necessary to laden the thought of shared sovereignty and distributed human development with irrational fear (Robin 2004). Christian religion also provides a competing alternative to the socio-materialist, commons, and democratic Enlightenment concept of human development within shared sovereignty.  Conservatives tell us, You’ll get change when you die, and you’ll like it. Or not.

I am interested in analyses of conservatism because I want to aid working-class, colonized, racialized, and feminized people’s understanding of how to incorporate knowledge for democratic development, and how to set boundaries on knowledge that denies working-class people’s development of their own human capacities. The problem with philosophy, social theory, and the social sciences is not that they derived from the Enlightenment effort to build human science knowledge–knowledge beyond authority and habit–but that they became infused with Antienlightenment thought, and so dissipated. Science was reduced to scientism, and conservative philosophy stepped in. This needs to be disentangled and clarified. For example, meritocratic ideology in the context of capitalism is a variant of antihuman aristocratic ideology. Meritocratic ideology’s capacity to permit human development is severely limited. There’s no need for antidemocratic social science, except as an instrumental, disposable conservative tactic.

According to McMahon’s analysis of French Catholic conservatism, these are the themes that the Ultra-Royalists‘ voluminous literature (McMahon 192, 199) bequeathed to Western thought, particularly Postmodernism (McMahon 201-202):

  • Animosity toward the Enlightenment.
  • The critique of Enlightenment as about little more than cold rationalism.
  • Philosophes were depicted as abstract speculators, and as intolerant and fanatical, a “Dry Terror” like their tyrannical “Wet Terror” offspring, the Jacobins.
  • Locating the cause of the Terror not in the clash between Enlightenment and Counterenlightenment, but as the sole responsibility of the Enlightenment (McMahon 201). Philosophes were depicted as mob fluffers.
  • A Pandora’s Box, Enlightenment caused an expansive package of related social ills: the decline of faith, Breakup of the family, Moral turpitude, Separation of church and state, Political upheaval, Tolerance, free speech, civil marriage and divorce, moral and economic laissez faire, democracy, and natural rights.
  • The Enlightenment as the sign and source of modernity’s ills: rationalism, intolerance, the Holocaust, antisemitism, totalitarianism, racism, environmental destruction, imperialism, misogyny (201-202).
  • Philosophes created both capitalist individualism and international pacifism.
  • Enlightenment is on the evil side of the world-epic drama between Christian Civilization and counter-civilization. Per Gustave Gautherot and up through Samuel Huntington et al., counter-civilization extends from previous opponents and rivals of major European imperial powers to Enlightenment to communism to Islam.
  • The Enlightenment was a “conspiracy against the social order in a clear line of descent from the philosophe bugbear of the eighteenth century through the Freemason, Jewish, liberal, and socialist pariahs of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (McMahon 194, citing Johannes Rogalla von Bieberstein’s analysis of conservative conspiracism).
  • Enlightenment thought was antisocial, in that it advocated for the interests and extra-religious pleasure of nonelites. The social is a steep, immobile hierarchy; thus, the “interests” of nonelites would be nested under the interests of elites. But their natural subordination means that nonelites do not have their own interests, though as Homo Vir, Passionate Man, they can be recognized as related to proper, elite humans.
  • In addition to the hierarchical social, the primacy of history and human fallibility all mean that collective action for democratic social change is not natural or possible.
  • Happiness is bestowed exclusively by submission to religious authority, particularly for the servile classes.
  • Individual rights deplete organic (True, patriarchal) community, family.
  • Restore religion to politics. Religion is identical with both morals and culture.
  • A belief in the power of the individual Mind to make human history. Some men are essentially demigods; their existence transcends the material world. The conservative conceptualization of the human is bipolar. Corresponding to the apotheosis of some men, most people are subhuman, dirtbags. As every Latin American elite knows, the people are either to be tapped (1), or ushered to their “change” (death, 0). Like an HR lady clinging to her salary and self-concept as a People Person, the church manages nonelites, human resources, through their binary states.

Extrapolating McMahon’s analysis of French Catholic conservatism, here is the weakness of conservatism in contests against rival paradigmatic communities:

  1. The conservative conception of the “mob” is too alienated to maintain a social network under the pressure of a rival. Conservatives conceive of the people as fatally dehumanized, crippled, stunted herd animals to be corralled by the fearsome, shock ‘n’ awe institution of religion. This conceptual reduction results in conservatives failing to build a strong base to their pyramid, to support them when a rival social order is organizing. It results in conservative overconfidence in religion as a social control institution. And it results in conservatives failing to recognize that rivals may rebuild the human collective action and solidarity capacities of the people, diverting those people from the conservative institutions of social control. Note: At this point in history, with the help of slavers’ racialized ideology and institutions, it looks like American conservatives have polished their “mob”-control game. Also, the Democratic Party has not been an alternative to the Republican Party–They both rest on variants of aristocratic ideology.
  2. Like other historical victors, Ultra-Royalist conservatives did not recognize the limits of their victories. In particular, Ultra-Royalists did not recognize that their pro-monarchy allies were pragmatic, not as idealist as themselves. After some democratic changes were institutionalized by the Republic, when monarchy was restored, even French pro-monarchy allies failed to care enough to work with conservatives to crush democratic institutions and culture, and install an inegalitarian utopia in their place (McMahon 192).
  3. Catholic conservatives have had their own international network, based in Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Quebec, Poland, Hungary, Martinique, and Latin America (McMahon 195). This network is not identical with France’s allies. France’s international allies, even monarchs, were not necessarily Catholic conservative. Sweden was one of France’s most steadfast allies. Its monarch used Swedish troops and took down the Holy Roman Empire.
  4. It’s probably a good temporary strategy to maintain one core principle, and otherwise be super instrumentalist, as conservatives are. But under serious pressure from rivals (not, for example, the Democratic party, or ambient liberalism), all the hypocrisy can pile up and block the view. Sometimes all the (Leo) Straussian exoteric posturing can become so obfuscatory that it loses its audience. Under the fast-changing conditions of heightened class warfare, conservatives drown out their own voice, leaving everyone to notice that they’re wearing the emperor’s new clothes.
    1. One among many examples from the Ultra-Royalists is that when the king revoked their speech privilege, they embraced freedom of speech, which they had just previously been repudiating savagely. As mounted such expedient deviations from previous, furiously-held “principles,” conservatives lost discursive power. “They glorified power, hierarchy, and deference yet were quick to break ranks when their particular interests clashed” (McMahon 191). They began to appear “incoherent.” Conservatives did not see their crowd fading until too late, because they took their exceptionalist privilege too seriously, and failed to recognize other, lesser humans as necessary adherents to their social network. Cosseted by Catholicism and other conservative traditions, conservatives can care too little what others think.
    2. However, this conservative vulnerability at the margins tends to be optimistically overgeneralized by lazy liberals. Under normal conditions, conservatives are correct that few non-comms pros care how hypocritical they are. Hence, Trump and the modern Republican Party. Unfortunately for liberal party tacticians, conservatives disintegrate not when they are hypocritical (Exceptionalism is the privilege of the boss, so exercising hypocrisy only affirms conservatism.), but only when they become incoherent. Before that happens, they have a big, familiar arsenal to unload. And it’s comfortingly encoded in all sorts of institutions, from Catholic doctrine, to Evangelical Christian doctrine, to American law.
    3. Still, conservative incoherence can happen in class warfare, because conservatives cannot publicly name their central principle, inequality, and maintain sufficient social support. Meanwhile, they enjoy themselves, getting off on surfing the risk of exposure.
  5. The religious backing, the sacralization of conservatives’ interest, inequality, encourages conservative savagery in inequality’s defense. Savagery reduces their degrees of credibility and tactical freedom when conservatives excessively, instrumentally switch tactics. (“Why are these jackasses moral authorities again?”)
  6. As well, when you’re trying to sell predatory obfuscation as “enchantment” (See McMahon 197), the savagery undercuts the brand. This is why Romanticism, attuned to the suffering of the hi-lo coalition of the marginal, is friable.
  7. Since they cannot really consolidate publicly around their fundamental platform of elevating themselves by stepping on everyone else, conservatives can be divided along secondary “principles” and clashing advantage-securing strategies, undercutting their coalition. Crucially, dividing conservatives requires previous success circulating a captivating egaliberte justice telos, as was accomplished in the Enlightenment.
    1. The French Right’s internal disintegration was caused by revolutionaries manipulating an ongoing history of conflict among the king, the nobility, and a clergy vacillating between France and the Vatican.
    2. Likewise, in Sweden, when GIVA was ready to lead the nobility slyly into British-style capitalism, the elite was unmanageably divided–including along gendered networks.  For many reasons, the nobility no longer trusted the king. Moreover, and crucially, elements of the Swedish nobility, including female aristocrats, had subscribed to some Enlightenment ideas. Elites could not coalesce; Swedish democrats were able to organize for political power instead.
    3. Legion are the modern (20th-21st c. neoliberal era) examples of how conservatives cannot be substantively divided where there is no egaliberte justice telos to capture any elites.
  8. Discursive determinism is an idealistic right-wing projection (McMahon: 200). However, discursive essentialism can also keep your enemies on life support. When conservatives narrated the Enlightenment as sin committed by individual Minds, they cast memorial statues to Enlightenment contributors. Now any CBC radio program can run an evening feature on Diderot.
  9. In short, there are plenty of ways for organized democrats to skin a conservative.
    1. The reason why the liberal parties like the US Dems fail to dominate the conservative parties in the modern era is because the liberal parties are not equipped to oppose the conservatives. This is a result of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce tacticians’ (Mises & Hayek’s) great political insight: Just remind the capitalists that they are also aristocrats, with all the predatory privileges these power-elite classes may claim, and their liberal servants will be pulled into conservatism’s wake.

However, the French conservatives were modern, used all the technology, published the discourse, helped create the Terror, and their thoughts weigh heavy on our thought today. They didn’t really lose the long game, any more than the American slavers lost.

The Enlightenment philosophers strove to build a global community seeking philosophically-informed, comparative, empirical knowledge with which to suggest, for democratic consideration, the varieties of ways that humans can live together. The Enlightenment didn’t create all the problems. Conservatives are very much with us today, doing what they need to do to us to make their utopia.

Next step: Find articles on Scholastic influence on American constitutional law developments after 1986 (Reagan’s appointment of Scalia to the Supreme Court).

Susan J. Stabile, “Catholic Legal Theory,” Journal of Catholic Legal Studies 44, no.
2 (2005): 421-432.

Stabile doesn’t lend insight into what I’m looking for– How Scholastic legal education imbues neoliberal constitutional thought in the US. She clearly mashes Catholic and Enlightenment concepts (development, metaphysical specification of the good society, positive freedom) in arguing for the importance of Catholic morality in legal formation for cultural change. Where science advances knowledge (not linearly) over time, idealism merely disguises its metaphysics with borrowed language.

In Stabile’s effort to sell the Catholic tradition as an important corrective to “secular” law and society, with a smattering of some general consensus points most people can agree with (The need for “curbing excessive individualism where that interferes with the common good” (426); the tacit importation of private privilege into Rule of Law, as it is bereft of metaphysical specification), you can still see a number of persistent issues with the Roman Catholic paradigm that make it an unsatisfactory corrective to capitalist law. After all, it’s the unsatisfactory, imperial feudal institution from whence unsatisfactory, imperial capitalist institutions developed.

According Stabile, Catholicism is all about, and introduces the following three novelty principles into American law:

1) the principle of the dignity of each individual. This dignity is guaranteed by the extent to which the individual signifies the Catholic God, is “in God’s image” in this idealist paradigm. Thus, Catholicism has traditionally supported not egaliberte, as Stabile disingenuously intimates in asserting that all humans are made in God’s image, but an allocation of dignity based on a Great Chain of Being. If humans are all in God’s image, some humans are more so, some are less so, with consequences for dignity distribution. This isn’t about recognizing difference; it’s about reproducing inequality.

Stabile specifies that human dignity in the Catholic tradition means that Catholic authority, and not life-giving women or selves in socio-material context, governs all individual decisions involving reproduction and  human life length. While life chances and life quality are governed by the allocation of rank and obligation, the supplemental Catholic algorithm determines that length of individual existences will be optimized within that governing framework. Since perinatal life is in our big-cranium mammalian species on Earth an extension of women’s lives, “dignity” requires Catholic institutional management of women.

Perhaps hinting at one of the reasons for its capitalist replacement, Catholic obligations are heavily, permanently enforced on some kinds of individuals. For Catholics, it is not a priority to enforce any collective responsibility to create conditions supporting human longevity, and the Catholic tradition is not going to expend as much effort fighting pollution, war, exploitation and expropriation as they are going to expend micromanaging the ladies. In the first place, targeting institutional and systemic threats to human longevity would require scientific knowledge, which, as we shall see, is not a kind of knowledge Catholicism recognizes. Rather, it is individuals’ (women’s) obligation to the community to make the Catholic life-length optimization algorithm work.

When did “universalist” Catholicism master the trick of smuggling sociological inequality within universalist abstractions? Long enough ago to be very swift and sure in hot-potatoing the critique upon its rivals?

Each individual has 2) obligations within a non-exclusive, mystified community. Because community must be mystified (Stabile: 427), the rank and obligations that any particular individual or group must fulfill are worrisomely underspecified in Stabile’s persuasion essay, see discussion under principle 1, human dignity, above. It must be that the allocation of rank and obligations are to be managed in part by the institution of the Roman Catholic church, both because of its monopoly on Truth and because mystified relations (community) require expert management.

Rank and obligations can also be, and have been established and allocated via economics and politics, including war. Catholicism traditionally performs a supplementary function in managing and enforcing individual obligations to the community. It seems evident that Catholicism’s rigid focus on women’s obligations to the community is overly determined by the atavistic manpower and tax revenue (marketable crop) requirements of feudal warlords, which interest and associated morality shifts somewhat under capitalist conditions.

Similarly, 3) freedom must be distributed according to Catholic “truth.” Again, Catholic authorities must be the institution required to distribute freedom across any community, which Stabile terms “Authentic Freedom,” because Catholic authorities have monopoly access to Truth.

Stabile seems to be simply suggesting legal principles which require reattaching the Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, to the state.

Throughout, Stabile’s bete noir is “secularism,” where the issues cited are clearly rooted in capitalism, eg. It is capitalism that fosters sociopathic individualism, Homo Economicus. Perhaps this conflation is motivated by the tradition of Catholic opposition to Enlightenment, as well as the venerable Catholic tradition of supplementing power elites, see the history of fascism. Without sufficient capacity to even correctly (or, acknowledging the Liberation Theology offshoot, reliably) identify a global, motivating, mobilizing, governance institution like capitalism, the fundamental institution allocating rank and obligation, Catholicism must be little help in dealing with the central social problem Stabile identifies: The widespread diminishment of human welfare, integrity, and development where the common good is dismissed, deprioritized, and distorted.

The relation between the individual and the common good is a central concern of much secular philosophy. Reducing secularism to capitalist problems obfuscates (not only Catholicism’s Aristotelian supplement but also) non-imperial, secular, non-mystifying, sociomaterialist traditions–such as informed the Enlightenment philosophes–investigating and weighing how to best permit social humans’ development, integrity, and welfare. These sociomaterialist community traditions are well known to imperial Roman Catholicism, which has long attacked them as rivals and enemies. As secularism is reduced to capitalist culture, and the varieties of sociomaterialist philosophy and praxis are excluded, then Stabile’s case for catholicizing law relies on an additional, unspoken assumption: To optimize collective and individual human life, humans need to be governed by mystification. That is an interested assumption. It also belies Catholicism’s incompatibility with Rule of Law, which telos requires transparency improvements. Stabile’s is not a good-faith argument, as suggested by her argument’s deployment of opaque, institutional-brand “truth.”

Is the Roman Catholic tradition, with its specialization in mystification, actually adept at centering the human, as Stabile claims (430), or is its real forte obfuscatory shock-and-awe population management as a supplement to warlord rule? Why don’t we ask the surviving legions of systematically-molested altar boys? At the end of her article, Stabile tries to make a relativist argument for including Catholicism in law–arguing that Catholicism’s vision of the common good is adequately specified and defended (430), for example, where Catholic rhetoric implies that simply advising maturing youth to ignore their sexuality is identical to the common good of no youth sex. In so doing, Stabile demonstrates that Catholic Truth/faith is  hopelessly mired in parochial idealism: Assuming that everyone can “know” that ignorance and denial in the mind = nonsexual behaviour in the sociomaterial world, where this is an authority “knowledge” that has been scientifically demonstrated invalid and would only be evident and reasonable to a committed dogmatist.

As well, Stabile’s closing example demonstrates that Catholic Truth prohibits (or drastically deprioritizes) curiosity, empirical investigation into the context-embedded efficacy and validity of that institution, policy, or practice (sex education or instruction in abstinence) putatively optimizing human welfare. How compatible with legal discovery is that religious commitment to dogma? On its margins, nervous Roman Catholic monks may have once unleashed the Renaissance; but Roman Catholicism’s anti-Enlightenment prohibition against expanded and normalized empirical investigation and curiosity, its prohibition against methodical (designed to deploy human capacities and adjust for human limitations), collective self-correction–science, casts in deep doubt whether the Catholic tradition can adequately specify the institutional support for human dignity, community, and freedom-to.

The Catholic tradition cannot fill in capitalist law’s holes. It can only dig them deeper, witness the modern US Supreme Court. Why should this be surprising? Capitalists to a great extent emerged from the wealth of aristocracy. Capitalist exploitation rests upon an ocean of expropriation, the source of wealth familiar to all feudalists. What the Catholic institution is designed to do is supplement expropriation with human resources management. But is the feudalist institution Catholicism a better population manager than capitalist HR ladies? It is! It’s got sturm und drang, rituals, amazing buildings, lovely candles, songs. And it’s an HR department run by guys!…which has its pluses and minuses. But resourceful capitalism has more population-management departments than corporate HR and religious institutions.

Excessively rigid, authoritarian Catholic interpretations (“truth”) of superficially-consensus humane and pro-social principles sure are old, elaborate, and opaque to most; but mystification cannot provide appreciable corrective upon existing capitalist epistemological problems impinging a collective good that permits individual human development–epistemological problems such as are evident in scientistic communities like conservative economics, which also excessively serves power elites, limits collective learning, and prohibits Kuhnian paradigmatic adjustment (Varoufakis 2011). If a tradition cannot offer improvements–observable in outcomes–in coordinating individual development and the collective good, then it’s not what’s needed to address (not “secularism”‘s shortcomings but) capitalism’s failings.

For compelling insight into how conservative Evangelical Protestantism works, see Adam Kotsko’s “The Evangelical Mind.” The important distinction is that Evangelical Protestantism violently dispenses with Christian Good Works as a framework disciplining community members. For Evangelicals, Good Works, or acts of benevolence consign non-Evangelicals to Hell. Committing evil upon people and other life outside of the Evangelical community is sanctified as proof of the individual’s hermetically-sealed, mutually-chosen relationship with the Divine. In the Evangelical view, sabotaging an atheist or bombing a Muslim neighbourhood is what demonstrates God’s favor and gets individual Evangelicals into Heaven.

Whereas Weberians once imagined Evangelical Protestantism as a path to capitalist affluence, we can now recognize Evangelical Protestantism as a framework fit for a militarized society of soldiers and guards.

Understanding this solves a mystery. I had a roommate, raised Calvinist, with a half-sister recovering from terrible self-esteem, likely due a lot to her businessman step-father’s abuse. While we were roommates for a couple of years in grad school, the half sister would travel to visit us, along with her children. To get out of the house, as a teenager the half-sister had gotten repeatedly knocked up by a criminal, drug-addict ne’er-do-well. They had joined a suburban Evangelical church. While the Calvinist-background young woman raised four tiny children, kept home, and stayed fit, her ne’er-do-well partner stole, got caught, had affairs, beat her in front of the children, beat the children, and continually relapsed into very hard drugs. Through it, their church supported her partner, the young man. When, after many years, the young woman finally drew a line– her family had been too beseiged, she was separating from the thug, the church and its congregation shunned…the young woman and her children.

I couldn’t understand it at the time; but that’s because I didn’t understand Evangelical Protestantism. Likely, the young woman, raised Calvinist (a fairly f’d-up religion itself, see Weber), didn’t adequately understand contemporary Evangelical Protestantism either. In the Evangelical view, the young man was repeatedly proving his close relationship with God. By laboring diligently to create a non-traumatizing household life, including for the children, the young woman was, in the Evangelical faith, only demonstrating that she was hell-bound. The Evangelical Church sided with its hand-grenade “God,” such as it is.




Varoufakis, Yanis. 2011. “Chapter 9. A Most Peculiar Failure: The curious mechanism by which neoclassicism’s theoretical failures have been reinforcing its dominance since 1950,” pp. in Modern Political Economics.



Roaming Rights Now!

Over the last couple of years there have been books and bills introduced to establish Roaming Right in Anglo-American jurisdictions. Roaming Rights were denied in the colonies on the grounds that indigenous people had to be cleared from the land to make way for colonial extraction. As contested as they were and are, Roaming Rights were established for indigenous populations in treaties between colonial and indigenous governments, however.

The racist, colonial denial of universal Roaming Right in Anglo-American law produces an unjust conflation between private land required for living, such as a house, a yard, and a garden, and mass-acreage land privately owned, for example in land speculation, for the accumulation of social power over other citizens, rival rentier capitalists, and global markets. In Marxist terms, this (im)moral conflation reflects the power-blind liberal conflation of capitalist use value–profit–with general use values, which legitimates sovereign-consumer and consumer-market choice arguments, private monopoly and collusion, corporate deregulation, inequality, and general capitalist Best of All Possible Worlds assumption/argumentation. Under this ruling and codified conceptual conflation, even homes have been used in apartheid settler societies not for shelter (use value), a necessary minimal condition of health, enjoyment and development, but as assets (capital) permitting Whites and global economic victors to claim intergenerational wealth over, power over, and capacity to exclude Blacks and smallholders.

This conceptual blindness is the vehicle through which inequality produces inegalitarianism, despite liberalism’s formal subscription to the former and proscription of the latter. While it brings liberalism to coalesce with conservatism, liberalism’s formal separation of inequality and inegalitarianism keeps liberalism able to co-opt the exhausted portions of its egalitarian opposition, and better able to maintain law; in this way, while it’s less immediately appealing than conservative exceptionalism, liberalism can ultimately outcompete raw conservatism, devoted to inequality, inegalitarianism, and exceptionalism. Or, liberalism and conservatism together create a system-stabilizing oscillation of strategies that pragmatists and true-believers alike can insert themselves into.

Because of this lack of conceptual distinction, for a long time, the incapacity to recognize a public interest in cross-population, sustainable use of land and water supported an inegalitarian elite-settler coalition dedicated to absolute, exclusive private property in liberal societies. This institutionalized blindness to public interest, this inegalitarianism can be observed every day in financial apartheid advertisements for gated rural and suburban property and Poor Door urban real estate property, in excluding curtains and punitive air travel policies corralling most travelers, and in the enduring public goods and services poverty of historical slavery counties. It sustains a socialized inability to distinguish depletion activities on land and water from sustainable activities. This apartheid-society conceptual incapacity was useful for establishing colonies as premier global sites of unfettered resource extraction and unfree labor exploitation and expropriation.

Restoring Collective-action Capacity and Freedom in Rural Tributaries

In the latter-day context of global monopoly capitalism, with its institutionalized wealth cores and tributary peripheries, these conceptual incapacities, codified in law, strongly undermine the freedom and reproductive capacity of non-elite, smallholder settlers. It is another case where in the multi-generational run, non-elite settlers would have been better off in coalition with peasantified indigenous people and enslaved workers than serving as grunts for elite colonial interests, under the hope that their own patrimony would be protected, not by a politically- and socially-constructed status such as citizenship, but by a magical, mythical identity conferred only at elite convenience–White Ownership.

To start off with, as discussed above, smallholders’ interests–in securing living space and life enjoyment in balance with others–are not reducible to or stably, largely compatible with mass-property owning rentier-capitalists’ interests in mining wealth for the exclusive, advantageous accumulation of social power and control over other citizens, over rival rentier capitalists, and over global markets. Whiteness politics are the result of a naive, excessive belief in the munificence and durability of economic elites’ instrumentalist marketing campaigns. But as the recent mass primitive accumulation of New Zealand, the Canadian West, and particularly the US West demonstrate, even Christian Texan billionaires–raised as Masters of Whiteness sacralization and politics–will not maintain White coalition in all those places where non-Whites have already been cleared from the land (Turkewitz 2019). If you cannot count on even Evangelical Texas oil-extractionist billionaire patriarchs for White protection, do you think it’s a good social contract option for you to buy into?

As a mystical moral exclusion, a promise of inclusion in an exclusive coalition with ruthless, teeth-baring elites, the White political construction was always designed to be land-owning elites’ paw of control over a traumatized, fearful population, for elites’ own political benefit, if variably distributing lesser resources to a malleable “White” “police” force. The broad Whiteness elite-“police” coalition is easily scrapped–in England, but just as well in the militarized, surveillance-embedded settler colonies–in favor of the narrower elite-police employer relationship in Nightwatchman societies. Today’s capital-intensive, tech-addled Nightwatchman policing relationship with exclusive, absolute, mass private property severely curtails non-elite freedom and enjoyment–from snowmobiling to fishing to hunting, to cross country skiing, mushroom gathering, forest bathing, walking, clean-water swimming, stargazing, fresh air, and so on–outside of capitalism’s expensive urban metropole commodity market.

Roaming Right & Freedom of Movement, Right of the “Starving” Man in an Excluding, Privatized World Economy

In Europe, Roaming Rights were codified in law in the mid-20th century (In England, they were codified in liberal law in 2001). They distinguish the exclusionary space needed for living–the yard, garden, house, barn, garage–from the larger, decommodified space required for people, the public, to both modestly supplement private life and enjoy sustainable use of the political-territory’s land: hiking, fishing, swimming, boating, horse watering, berry gathering, and camping rights, etc. Roaming Rights assume that people are living, reproducing, developing Earthlings, and therefore the public needs to traverse–move freely–and enjoy life in a social, balancing, non-depleting manner. This assumption is not shared by property right law, built for perpetual conquering (See the influential, founding formulations of property right and its underlying assumptions, forwarded by liberal-conservative theorists including Hobbes, Grotius, and Burke’s later reconciliation with capitalist liberalism, etc.). Roaming Right corrects property right and its antihuman excesses.

Organizing for Roaming Rights is important in the settler colonies today because inequality has grown to the point where settlers are financially excluded from global rentier capitalism’s metropoles, while at the same time they are losing access to the dispersed resources required to live and enjoy life in the tributary regions. In this context, tributary settler-indigenous coalition is vital. After all, and all pretty mystifications aside, how are indigenous people made? Indigenous people are not another, animal-like species or colorful otherworldly visitation, as political discourse has predominantly constructed them. Whatever their history and culture, the indigenous have been repeatedly constructed, and will be made out of the raw material of people again, by imperialists prohibiting indigenous people’s free movement and access to the necessities and enjoyment of life outside of inaccessible, commodified, commercial cities. Race is network boundary construction, and it’s not been as tight or class-distinguishing a boundary as wealth accumulators prefer. Today’s FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate industry) and surveillance and military tech do the exact same function, tighter.

Every capitalist elite is afraid of working class settlers and smallholders recognizing that they can be made indigenous or enslaved. To some extent this is an honest, liberal fear, because many smallholding settlers have, with but a little elite threat/encouragement, moved from that sociological, historical realization to “Better you than me” imperial warfare against indigenized people, the enslaved, and descendents thereof (See Wilson 1976).

But that honest fear has always been in coalition with the much more self-interested elite fear that other smallholding settlers will coalesce politically with the indigenized, the enslaved, and their descendants. By suppressing non-elite organic intellectuals, we have hardly come to terms with this liberal-conservative elite coalition, the imperial “civilized” bloc, and its ravaging effects.

Instead, apartheid society is fed a nonstop stream of conservative and liberal high and low cultural enforcement, cementing us apart along the difference-justice telos: Whites must know only their unjust, isolated historical place. Reified, stylized, Black positionality, Black Exceptionalism will carry difference justice (as that is reduced to liberal Dem Party political rentier strategy). In the UK, this quasi-historical (permitting recognition of heritage, but prohibiting recognition of ongoing social construction, social reproduction) cultural pseudo-speciation is further reinforced through regional class distinctions.

The Primitive Accumulation of the US West in the 21st Century

From Turkewitz 2019: “In the last decade, private land in the United States has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few. Today, just 100 families own about 42 million acres across the country, a 65,000-square-mile expanse, according to the Land Report, a magazine that tracks large purchases. Researchers at the magazine have found that the amount of land owned by those 100 families has jumped 50 percent since 2007.”

The fracking-lord Wilks brothers “who now own some 700,000 acres across several states, have become a symbol of the out-of-touch owner. In Idaho, as their property has expanded, the brothers have shuttered trails and hired armed guards to patrol their acres, blocking and stymying access not only to their private property, but also to some publicly owned areas…The Wilks brothers see what they are doing as a duty. God had given them much, Justin said. In return, he said, “we feel that we have a responsibility to the land.”

“Gates with “private property” signs were going up across the region. In some places, the Wilkses’ road closings were legal. In other cases, it wasn’t clear. Road law is a tangled knot, and Boise County had little money to grapple with it in court. So the gates stayed up.

…The Wilks family hired a lobbyist to push for a law that would stiffen penalties for trespass…

The problem, said Mr. Horting, “is not the fact that they own the property. It’s that they’ve cut off public roads.”

“We’re being bullied,” he added. “We can’t compete and they know it” (Turkewitz 2019).

As well, financial institutions started dispensing with land titling a few years ago, so in the post-2007 property grab, claims on property are going to fall to might rather than right. It’s a new mass primitive accumulation offensive.

Climate Crisis, Unproductive Capital, & Elite Rentier Strategy

While they let their Republican henchmen lull the peasantry with squeals of “No climate crisis” for decades, billionaire rentier capitalists shifted quietly into land-capturing overdrive.

“Brokers say the new arrivals are driven in part by a desire to invest in natural assets while they are still abundant, particularly amid a fear of economic, political and climate volatility.

‘There is a tremendous underground, not-so-subtle awareness from people who realize that resources are getting scarcer and scarcer,’ said Bernard Uechtritz, a real estate adviser” (Turkewitz 2019).

The Persistent Role of Moralism in Expropriation

Moving into extractive fracking from a Texas religious franchise, the Wilks Bros provide a strong example of how extractivism and expropriation is buttressed by moralism.

While buying political and legal cover, they continually assert that their antisocial land speculation offensive is mandated by God, sacralizing their self-interested conflation of smallholder living space with their own, exclusionary mass capture of land.

Expropriative, Gilded-Age Restoration: Separating Out Global Rentier Capitalists’ Interests from Smallholder Interests


The Urbanite’s Interest in Roaming Right

Why would an urbanite care about Roaming Right? After all, urbanites are precisely the people who have forfeited Roaming Right in favor of obtaining all their life reproduction needs and enjoyment through the concentrated commodity market of the city, and by proximity to self-interested elite infrastructure. As Mike Davis and Cedric Johnson (2019) clarify, the cosmopolitan eschews the public. Relatedly, the condition of inequality-restoration urbanity, the engine of global monopoly capitalism, is the denial of capitalism’s reproductive dependence upon its sea of expropriation. A city is built on legalized, overlapping claims on future wealth creation, but the ingredients to that wealth creation are not exclusively to be found in the city.

Urban intellectuals and social workers recognize that denial extremely partially, as “gentrification.” Those who cannot live on 100% commodified life, the poor, are removed out of sight from the metropole. Yet at the same time, within and across borders, the tributary countryside is enclosed by global billionaires, and the people in that periphery are shoved to the smallholding margins, left without wealth, without access to fully-commodified life (which affordability, which wage-consumption urban economy depends on rural decommodifications, cheap inputs), or access to non-commodified life reproduction or enjoyment. They are expelled, set marching, set reeling. We admire how they’ve chosen us when they alight amongst us to serve us. Or we demand to speak to the manager. As in past Primitive Accumulation offensives, itinerancy is criminalized, and imperial militarization and an international for-profit carceral industry rages like a climate-crisis Firenado.

In this context, wouldn’t it be more natural, an efficient division of political labor, for urbanites to focus on getting Democrats (or Liberals or NDP) elected to office? Meanwhile urbanites can wait for deprived, low-density rural populations to organize their own solution to their desperate lives. After all, in those moments when those rural folks were organized and slightly-patronized by big owners (See Wilson 1976), they should have seen the limits of the inequality coalition…like wage-earning urbanites do? Something seems to be impeding organization. Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s that massive surveillance, policing, and carceral apparatus (Johnson 2019).

Cities depend on tributaries for most of the raw materials of life bought on the urban market. As well, they depend on using the countryside as an urban waste sink. A pervasive lack of recognition of the non-autonomy of the city, urban commodity fetishism, including imagining the enjoyments–museums, libraries, bars and restaurants, dance venues, art galleries, theatres, orchestras, ballet troupes, poetry nights, etc.–as the sui generis private-collective property of the city, the lack of  conceptualization of how the cheap raw-material market goods come to appear in the city and how wastes disappear from the city, leads to pervasive political mis-analysis.

If cosmopolitans around the world want to stop being ruled by Donald Trump and like politicians, if they want to enjoy the free expression of their cosmopolitan merit, they need to use their geographic concentration as an organization asset to break down the marginalization, the peasantification of the countryside domestic and international, the remnant alignment between rural -tributary smallholders and global rentier capitalists–particularly in an unfree time in which those rentier capitalists are aggressively excluding rural settlers from enjoyable rural life and yet inequality, including tight metropole police exclusion of indigents, prohibits mass rural-urban mobility.

museum display

Artwork by Fernando Garcia-Dory & Amy Franceschini

As beholden as their enjoyment and their identities are to FIRE (Finance Insurance Real Estate capital) patronage and cheap commodity inputs and waste sinks, urbanites need to organize, to reconstruct a smallholder Red-Green alliance traversing the urban-rural divide, and taming private property right, as Swedes did at the turn of the Twentieth Century to establish an effective, semi-independent social democracy. Roaming Right is a great coalition vehicle for such a democratic realignment and legal revolution. City people should use their structurally-superior communication and organization capacity to reach out and help rural people–across race and gender–to secure–but not mine–the non-commodified world they need to live and enjoy themselves, through universal Roaming Right. Recognizing that the past half century of rural expulsions transcends national boundaries, Red-green political coalition could be the “close to home” foundation of internationalist capacity, rather than mere consumption cosmopolitanism.


You Are What You Enjoy: Identity, Alienation, & Inegalitarianism in Capitalism





Greens of British Columbia. 2017. “Weaver introduces Right to Roam Act.”

Ilgunas, Ken. 2018. This land is our land: How we lost the right to roam and how to take it. Plume Press.

Johnson, Cedric. 2019. “Black political life and the Blue Lives Matter Presidency.” Jacobin, February 17.

Turkewitz, J. 2019. “Who gets to own the West?The New York Times, June 22.

Wikipedia. “Freedom to Roam.”

Wilson, William Julius. 1976. “Class conflict and segregation in the Postbellum South.” Pacific Sociological Review 19 (4): 431-446.

Elements of Stoicism

Stoicism as a materialist philosophy in reaction to materialist  has the following elements:

1) The charismatic male father-substitute proselytizer-guru.

a) Aphorism and self-help register aim at converting a popular audience.

b) Contemporary version: Male academic psychologist: Jordan Peterson, Svend Brinkmann.

2) Establishing human limitations, but not shared human capacities.

a) Stoicism is less oriented to scientific knowledge, remaining a knowledge of Great Men, although Great Men challengers to established, idealism-protected power.

3) Rejection of idealism, marketing, moralistic marketing.

a) In refuting their sped-up treadmill work discourse, Svend Brinkmann aims to supplant the moral authority of marketeering management. He emphasizes that we need to consider what we lose in valorizing continuous adaptation and work speed up, qua “self-improvement.”

4) Stoicism can blend with Platonism, eg in Nietzsche.

a) Brinkmann does not historicize managerial morality of continuous work speed-up–It’s not a moralistic strategy of labour control he’s critiquing, and he’s not suggesting the possibility of an alternative path of change. Rather, his goal is to save ethics, qua fealty to social contract, by the Stoic strategy of recognizing only human limitations, and categorically denying that humans share the capacity for development. In doing so, he attempts to organize a psychological “slave revolt,” refusal of the worker/slave-corroding moral-rhetorical strategy of the neoliberalizing Masters.

While the Stoicist rhetorical strategy is overblown, its organizing ambition is modest. Stoicists will let you understand yourself as enthralled and sub-humanized. They will not demand you organize into a collective with the capacity to intervene in the world in opposition to dominant economic, marketing, managerial, military, and idealist networks’ interventions. Stoicism is a step. It’s not an endgame. But as a step toward making slavery less miserable, it carries with it some conceptual Trojan Horses. Epicureans seek to dismantle Stoicism’s Trojan Horses.

The Stoicist rhetorical strategy is not just a check on marketing-strong idealism. It does not correspond with reality. It will be an alarming move to American pragmatists in the Deweyan tradition, as well as to developmental biologists, social epidemiologists, and epigenetic post-cartesians. As Dewey argued in Democracy and Education (1916), humans can be understood as having two complementary development capacities or strengths, the child strength of plasticity (responsiveness to environment) and the adult strength of efficient praxis (theoretical frameworks that efficiently permit interventions in the world).

If neoliberal idealism and skepticism have operated to turn workers into slaves by reconceptualizing us all as perpetual children, the essence of malleable, Stoicism doesn’t help us remember that we also have adult human capacities for intervening in the world in a democratic and (real) pro-life way (by which I mean Earth life-affine, not patriarchical control over women, as the term was brand co-opted by conservatives).

Stoicism may function as an intermediary, indirect conceptual reorganization where a dominant network is geared for destroying direct challengers, but the cost is that Stoicism preserves anti-realism and patriarchy, and these remain levers for tyrannical power to strategically reassert itself against a mystified, dehumanized, and internally-divided working/enslaved class.

b) Historically, while Epicureanism started out as a rejection of idealistic Platonism, it became the main opponent of Stoicism, as per the above critique model. Epicurean materialism uniquely asserts the human capacities basis for normative shared sovereignty.

5) ipsum lorem

Conservative wheelhouse: Assuming the impossibility of mutual recognition

David Graeber summarizes Hegel’s account of human desire for recognition in the Master-slave dialectic as a prime example of conservative theory’s assumption of the impossibility of mutual recognition. Most philosophers and many social theorists playing in the conservative wheelhouse proceed to theorize recognition upon the assumption of highly-unequal, slavery relations as normal, universal human relations. “But it’s one thing to say that the quest for mutual recognition is necessarily going to be tricky, full of pitfalls, with a constant danger of descending into attempts to dominate or even obliterate the other,” Graeber cautions. “It’s another thing to assume from the start that mutual recognition is impossible.”

“As Majeed Yar has pointed out (2001) this assumption has come to dominate almost all subsequent Western thinking on the subject: especially, since Sartre refigured recognition as ‘the gaze’ that, he argued, necessarily pins down, squashes, and objectifies the Other.

As in so much Western theory, when social relations are not simply ignored, they are assumed to be inherently competitive. Todorov notes (2000) that much of this is the result of starting one’s examples with a collection of adult males” (Graeber 2015).

Philosophy rejects collectivist, knowledge-building science, rigorous, collectively-regulated empirical methods to discern the range of –not just probability but also– possibility, including by identifying trends, averages, standard deviations and other summaries of main dynamics in a select place and time, as well as variations within that milieu and in main dynamics across space and time, identifying via theory, correlation, time-order, and comparison together their contributing factors, to systematically refine and correct these descriptive and explanatory frameworks collectively. In science, empirical disconfirmation of theory is maintained as part of the knowledge ideal–thus, the pursuit of scientific knowledge employs a diverse collectivism; one study is not science, nor is uniformity stable in this kind of collectivism (per Kuhn 1962).

Science constructs probable descriptions of what tends to exist or not, how–under specified relations or conditions, within a comparative understanding of the constellation of possibility in complex, often reflexive life relations. Philosophy’s desultory knowledge method, by contrast, tends to rather rely on a few, fetishized “expertly”-chosen cases (Olympe de Gouges!) exclusively confirming elite interests (Social rationality = death!). Philosophy celebrates the exception.

Not theory exactly, but due to its method, in particular philosophy’s (including theory primarily based on philosophy) long-term characteristic problem tends to be importing, as its bed of assumptions, the wisdom of the ruling social segment–classically, property-owning man between the ages of 20 and 50. While we have arrived at a point in global capitalism where such perspective can be readily denounced, the discrediting move tends to issue from within the desultory, antidemocratic-elitist philosophical knowledge project itself, and in the conservative effort to maintain manufactured scarcity across global integration, it tends to be directed at waged workers and science, or rather, commercial scientism qua science tout court. Weber saw doom in the shift from princely state managers to working-class state bureaucracies. Bruno Latour has made a career and academic institute based on showing that white-coated technicians working in commercial labs are irrational. Foucault reified opportunistic, scientistic Psychology as his reduction of science, even while admiring conservative economics. Philosopher GA Cohen argued that in the communist utopia the affront to philosophy that is social science would die, as it contributes nothing to knowledge besides demystification of labor and commodities. With these expert Great Man philosopher selections of cases “demonstrating” that Enlightenment scientific method offers no advantages to knowledge issued by Great Men serving warlords, and many disadvantages (a lack of independent genius, per Nietzsche), philosophers–particularly the French school by way of the German-Catholic idealist philosophy tradition–protect and advance the reputation of philosophical contributions to knowledge, based upon an elitist assumption bed–particularly elite distributions of misanthropy and anthrophilia, elite assumptions about the distribution of sovereignty and rationality, and elites’ recognition failures, in addition to assuming that humanity is reducible to young, elite male experience, including autism and unbound competitiveness. These elitist assumptions provide the foundation for arriving at the philosophy and theory objective, the foregone conservative-wheelhouse conclusion that non-elite human development and democracy are impossible. It is a venerable, neat political ecology.

(For a prime example, see the neo-Hobbesian, French (cum German idealist)-school philosophy of Justin Smith, as his recent contribution to this tradition offers a crystallization of this ancient, antidemocratic Atlantic elite project.)

Elitist Idealism v. Democratic Materialism

Graeber discusses Catholic Europe’s Medieval psychology theory, which started with the proto-Cartesian premise of a human soul divorced from an object world, where a kind of intermediary mucus or film, a “pneuma,” was posited to represent that world like a script or teevee show to the temporarily-embarrassed (separated from Heaven) soul of man. Desiring to apprehend and embrace that world–for example with the human body– was pathological, in Catholic Medieval thought. In its ethics, the externally-imposed passion must be self-managed, via a priest-like, contemplatory orientation to the imagined pneuma.

This baroque and improbable idealist theory set up a few conceptualizations useful for inegalitarian organization in feudalism: 1) Humans are conceived as utterly alien to Earth. This alienation will be useful, from a warlord perspective, in isolating people and extracting and exploiting. 2) As shared sovereignty within human relations is impossible, desire is reduced to unrequited sexual tension. The male adolescent experience is reconceived as the universal human condition, and we all pretend priests don’t molest children. 3) Ethics: The proper business of man is not to organize and engage in collective action with other people, since slavery relations are universal and we cannot share sovereignty. It is to sit alone on the couch and absorb the Pnetflix…er, pneuma, a normative individualism sanctified as a relationship between a man and his imaginary lord. Man is a teenage monk.

Graeber’s genealogy identifies an historical shift from understanding individualist, imaginative desire as erotic, in Medieval Catholic Europe, to understanding it as consumption, eating food, a universal, individualist act of private property destruction and incorporation in global capitalism.

“The ultimate proof that one has (absolute) sovereign power over another human being is one’s ability to have them executed. In a similar fashion, one might argue, the ultimate proof of possession, of one’s personal dominium over a thing, is one’s ability to destroy it—and indeed this remains one of the key legal ways of defining dominium, as a property right, to this day. But there’s an obvious problem here. If one does destroy the object, one may have definitively proved that one owns it; but as a result, one does not own it any more.”

In either the conservative Catholic tradition or the liberal capitalist tradition, desire is propelled, and an inegalitarian social order is perpetuated, by the logical impossibility of an isolated individual simultaneously having a cake (or bang, or slave) and eating it too. These are logical proofs of the impossibility of absolute sovereignty distributed across human individuals. What ho, we’re not gods. The infantile passion imposed by the gulf separating man from consumerist utopia in capitalism is conceived as the proper focus of individualist man. (This is why psychologists classify philosophers as neurotics.) Man’s passion is imposed upon man from outside, above. It is solitary man’s duty to self-manage the imposed passion, and not to judge, decide, and act collectively, not assess and allocate resources to wants and needs over time and across life, as per materialist philosophy. Selecting illustrative cases, philosophers and economists pump out denunciations of such shared, socially-rational use of full human capacity, while conservative Catholic legal authorities forbid it in favor of elite rationality.

Note by contrast what democratic Enlightenment’s scientific approach to knowledge does with the reality that humans are not gods: It devises social knowledge-acquiring methods that both deploy our human capacities and compensate for our human limitations. Not Genius-boy philosophy, tho, based as it is upon a misanthropy that instrumentally excludes the exceptional.

Ideas before Organization

In Graeber’s theory, the origin of capitalism is Medieval Catholic Europe’s individualist idealism, the conceptual requirement for consequent capitalist individualist practice.

“The shift from a conception desire modeled on erotic love to one based on the desire for food (“consumption”) was clearly a shift in the direction of popular discourse; at the same time, though, one might say the innovative aspect of modern, consumeristic theories of desire is to combine the popular materialist emphasis on consumption with the notion of the ephemeral, ungraspable image as the driving force of maximization of production.”

“The idea of human beings as creatures tainted by original sin, and therefore, cursed with infinite wants, who therefore were in an almost natural state of competition with each other, was already fully developed in authors like St. Augustine, and therefore a part of Christian doctrine throughout the Middle Ages… the notion of the maximizing individual existed in theory long before it emerged in practice.” Still in Catholic European Medieval society, “almost any increase in popular wealth was immediately diverted into communal feasts, parades, and collective indulgences. One of the processes that made capitalism possible then was the privatization of desire.”

Distinguishing Making (Unalienated Work and Social Reproduction) from Consumption

Graeber calls for scholarly specification of what we identify and analyze as consumption, limiting consumption to those activities that involve incorporation and destruction (eg. burning fossil fuels) driven by capitalist possessive-individualist desire. He argues that expanding the concept of consumption to encompass all of human life beyond the manufacture of commodities renders absurd moral narratives. “When ‘creative consumption’ is at its most creative, it’s not consumption; when it’s most obviously a form of consumption, it is not creative.” In inflating the concept of consumption to conform with a marketeer’s desiderata, scholars are rendered sub-critical, ridden by the historical, hegemonic metaphor, not scholarly. Scholars of integrity–as opposed to court philosophers–have to be able to distinguish between activities that are really semi-sovereign, unalienated, and creative making (in Scarry’s 1985 sense), and those that are not.

This distinction, however, requires of conservatives and liberals a perhaps-impossible conceptual shift to recognition of non-elites as humans, with a human range of capacities and limitation, capable of human development and making. It forces a conceptual shift in our understanding of sovereignty–not to dispense with the notion, but to shift it from a God-like absolute ideal, jealously monopolized over a dominion, to an alloyed and socially-distributed attribute, fit for a social life on Earth.

By classifying all non-productive activities as consumption, commodified acts of ceremonial destruction making way for more production, we deny all human making (imagination and realization to address a suffering) beyond the capitalist class. Consumption scholars “are categorizing all non-alienated forms of production as consumption, which has the incredibly reactionary political effect of treating almost all every form of unalienated experience we do engage in as somehow a gift granted us by the captains of industry.” Graeber calls for us to replace the (pseudo-) “Marxist” (capitalist) opposition between production and consumption with another understanding of human activity–effectively Marxist social reproduction, what Anthropologists conceive more idealistically as “the sphere of the production of human beings, not just as labor power but as persons, internalized nexes of meaningful social relations.” Human creative activity essential to capitalist value accumulation, because mostly uncommodified and so expropriated.

(Graeber, an anarchist, sometimes is a little sketchy on Marxist theory, or at least prone to viewing the Frankfurt School as a logical extension of Marx, rather than an historical-psychological extension from the Holocaust. Note that while Marxists do analyze consumption as one of several forms of capitalist alienation–commodity fetishism, the Marxist “sphere” distinction is between the sphere of production and the sphere of circulation (not a “sphere of consumption”), and that contrasting-spheres conceptualization serves in Marxist theory to explain capitalist incentive, anxiety to secure the surplus, profit.)

“Insofar as social life is and always has been mainly about the mutual construction of human beings, the ideology of consumption has been endlessly effective in helping us forget this. Most of all it does so by suggesting that: a)human desire is essentially as a matter of a relation between individuals and phantasms; b)our primarily relation with other individuals, then, becomes an endless struggle to establish their sovereignty, or autonomy, by incorporating and destroying aspects of the world around them; (MF: So idealist capitalist phagocytotic desire compels us to revoke others’ sovereignty absolutely.) c) this logic ultimately becomes the basis for ways of imagining the very possibility of relations with other people (the (Sartrean) problem of “the Other”); d) materially, it becomes the basis for imagining society as a gigantic engine of production and destruction in which the only significant human activity is either manufacturing things, or engaging in acts of ceremonial destruction so as to make way for more: a vision which in fact sidelines most (social reproduction) things that real people actually do, and insofar as it is translated into actual economic behavior, is obviously unsustainable.”

“Even as anthropologists and other social theorists directly challenge this view of the world, the (overly-broad,) unreflective use and indeed propagation of terms like ‘consumption’ ends up completely undercutting their efforts and reproducing exactly the tacit ideological logic we would wish to undercut” (Graeber 2015: 30).

…That is if consumption theorists wish to undercut the Catholic-capitalist logic. But it’s not clear that anyone playing in the wheelhouse of conservatism wants to undercut conservatism’s logic. Perhaps all they aspire to do is wittily, pseudo-critically, conservative-ethically coordinate and regulate pneumatic contemplation, prescribe the self-management of the delegated passion, wonder at the creativity–a munificence bestowed by capitalist lords upon the multitudinous bellies, and assert the fatal impossibility of mutual recognition, shared sovereignty,  non-elite development, and democracy.

See also: Post on Star Wars: An Ethics Discourse on Who Made Me?


KEVIN KRUSE wrote One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America

I have to post this because I always get Kruse confused with Thomas Sugrue, and I forget the title of this book.

Years ago, back before Evil Annamaria Tremonti killed off her good twin sister Good Annamaria Tremonti, The Current interviewed Kruse about this book.

The carceral core

the carceral state 21st c

From Bauman, Valerie. 2018. “Incarceration vs. education: America spends more on its prison system than it does on public schools,” The Daily Mail, 25 October.

We all contribute to society

The anti-BI (Basic Income) argument is that a social wage will a) inadequately replace the welfare state (‘turn everyone into a shopper’), b) will alienate workers from each other, c) is a new capitulation to capitalist control over the surplus, d) would be expensive. Even though BI doesn’t require much institutional capacity, (d) is an issue, given Anglo-American (inter alia) states don’t tax capital and redistribute wealth domestically anymore. Excepting (d), these objections assert an incredible novelty. I mean unbelievable.

Also, BI antagonists argue, against Marx (per Scarry 1985), that work under capitalist conditions is all making, not unmaking, so needs to be the ideal. For example, not unlike both Adam Smith and slavers, BI opponents argue that any form of work compulsion is psychologically beneficial and imparts executive skills development to workers. Such a “Protestant Ethic” framework failure to differentiate developmental making from stunting unmaking in work conditions (All work is a “calling” in the Anglo-American Protestant Ethic, though some “callings” are more aligned with God than others, as we can tell by income.) is an analytical misstep without much valid empirical evidence for it, but with grave social, economic, and political consequences.

Looking at the MB (Dauphin) BI experiment, as studied by economist Dr. Evelyn Forget, I remain unconvinced that anyone should be against Basic Income. It is not revolution, and it does not semi-decommodify humans as social democracy does, but it accomplishes one crucial decommodifying innovation that restores the substantive idea of democracy: It institutionalizes the idea that everyone within a territory contributes to society; it commits the state to recognizing territorial citizenship. In our long era of neoliberalization, this is a radical step. In our long era of neoliberalization, we have totally abandoned and lost track of any conceptualization of substantive territorial citizenship in favor of substantive, global capitalist class citizenship and a marginal remainder of thin, fragile, extensive territorial citizenship, heavily constrained by the carceral state and market.

Moreover, in transferring money directly to citizens, BI could reduce the development of a disciplinary, rentier surveillance and management “social work” bureaucracy, the central anxiety of twentieth century conservative and liberal champions of liberty. (Though conservatives also effectively organized to remove social workers’ capacity to form sovereign coalitions with clients and the public for liberatory social change. At least BI would not feed the easy moral-economy accommodation romantic post-structuralists made under conservative organizers’ hegemony.) The downside is that, instead of redirecting labour to social work, BI would continue to permit the publicly-funded persistence of the even-more disciplinary, multi-layered, public-private guard, police, and military corps, a leviathan rentier layer no conservative economist seems to object to.

From B-I, anything could be done, just as anything could be done from the current sorry state. Shouldn’t we be fighting for territorial citizenship rights and institutions? Shouldn’t we be strategizing how to collectivize B-I?

Junk Jobs

“(W)e used BLS stats (US) to estimate the extent to which the
structure of the labour force is shifting towards the modern equivalent of ‘lumpenproletariat’ or more contingent and least-paid occupations. Our estimates indicate that its modern equivalent in the US could account for as much as 40%-45% of the labour force; around half of incremental growth and low productivity occupations constitute ~70% of employment.

The same trend is evident in most other developed economies. Indeed these estimates understate the real impact due to lower benefits attached to these occupations; inability to secure jobs in line with qualifications or erosion of job and income stability.

Investors might argue that this is just a reflection of an accelerated shift towards services and that new higher value jobs will eventually emerge. We agree but as societies in the 19th century discovered, eventually could be a very long time.

What are the investment implications? As discussed in our prior notes, we believe investors are entering a world where the pendulum is swinging rapidly in favour of the state, as a multiplier of demand, provider of capital and setter of prices. We also believe that we are entering the age of de-globalization.”

Macquarie Research, “What caught my eye” V. 61.

See also: Citibank’s Plutonomy Report (2005).