Toward understanding: metaphysics of capitalism

Although many capitalists say they have no metaphysics, they do. To say they have none, they must employ a language so of course there must be employed a grammar; grammar is the ordering of words in order to communicate. This double order, the order in words for communication and the sequential order of words that communicate, (which, above and beyond the emergent (Greek: physis) that it addresses, is in the first instance metaphysical) fixes grammar in its rationality, and thus makes logic possible. Logic as a lawful order of thought, we’ve constructed from the material that is grammar, to build a house wherein metaphysics dwells; but at no stage in the construction is the structure ever empty. The metaphysics within us drives thought in the construction of this House, but this does not mean that metaphysics had no where to abide prior to the construction. In the moment of self reflection, when human consciousness discovers its own existence as a thinking being, an ill-defined space opens up between this consciousness and the material sensations of the body; our nature does not like a vacuum, so into this space pours our thought as metaphysics.

The simplest form of metaphysics was discovered by Fichte in the 18th century (we begin with the ‘self’ – everything is ‘other’ to it); but he believed that he had found both the beginning and the end of metaphysics and this was simply not true. It is not even clear that all metaphysics must be given from this basis. By asserting that it does Fichte laid the groundwork for a metaphysics of appropriation which fits in nicely with developments in modern capitalism and modern technology which are both driven not only by the desire to consume, but also the desire to consume in the act of production which thus generates a production of new desire.

Well, but let us not hammer Fichte over the head with this; he meant well. And the 18th-century was prone to metaphysical reductionism, because having lost faith in a god of the vast and seemingly empty universe, thinkers of the time believed they could find god in the atom [of course all they really found was the atomic bomb]. Regardless of its questionable social legacy, this reduction did provide us with an opportunity to discover a minimum standard for what ever thought process could pass for a human being.

The minimum requirement for metaphysics is recognition of a self-reflective consciousness and the material universe all around it, which thus generates a relationship between a reified ” self ” and a poorly defined ” other “. Although since Fichte, many respectable, even admirable, thinkers have attempted to construct whole sciences or “systems of philosophy” on this basis, this can’t be done. The very terms ” self ” and ” other ” are so generalized as to be nearly content-less. The effort to build a science or a philosophy using these terms as foundation inevitably meets disaster near its point of origin, the effort to define the terms properly in order to find an essential or necessary relationship between the two; these efforts thus frequently exhaust themselves in the process of developing such definitions, and remain unable to provide the more complex strategies of inquiry we rightfully expect from such a science or philosophy. [The theory of psychoanalysis Jacques Lacan attempted to construct is a perfect example of this, but there are many others.]

At any rate, as one might expect, capitalist metaphysics always begin and end in the fixed relationships between the self and everything “other”. the capitalist always assumes a self; that indeed, is the only entity that the capitalist holds to be of any value; the capitalist’s life thus becomes one long seemingly endless assertion of self value. Well, but what about all these things around this self? They are just that and nothing more, they are merely things, often lacking any real definition beyond usefulness to this self in its self assertion of self value.

[This lack of proper definition, in the capitalist’s sense of self as much as in his/her comprehension of the existence of other entities, allows the generation, within a given barbaric culture, of a myriad desires. For instance, sadism and masochism are intolerable to a civilized intellect, at least as ethical conceptions, but simply other possible enjoyments to some capitalists. And it is not surprising that other capitalists, minds fixed on the enforcement of primitive tribal taboos, perceive the concepts of sadism and masochism – and even the sadomasochists themselves – as just other “things“ requiring destruction.]

Let us consider the manner in which the capitalist projects the self onto the other “things” of the material universe (usually as some form of appropriation). Let “S” represent the capitalist Self. Let “T” represent any entity not the Self (a “thing”). The capitalist views the universe as mere collection of things, but all these things fall into a handful of decisive categories of being, which are defined in the variant response the capitalist makes toward each thing.

These categories can be noted (however loosely) as the following:

T1= any thing that can be consumed by S; in the consumption, the thing’s value (qua consumable T1) is reduced (to that of any of the categories below) and that of the Self enhanced.
T2= any thing that cannot be consumed, but can be used to produce or acquire any T1; e.g., wood, hammer and nails, construction company employees.
T3= any thing that cannot be consumed by S and cannot be used by S to produce or acquire a T1, but it can be destroyed – and it almost certainly will be, usually as a performance of some sort of entertainment, e.g., the animals killed during hunting, or the dignity of a female during rape. The entertainment (the process regarded as an event, and thus as idea, and thus as an entity) thus becomes produced as a T1 or T2, but the entity destroyed remains itself a T3.
T4= any thing not a T1 or a T2, which cannot be destroyed, although it can be incorporated as a function of an entertainment, e.g., the sun one lies under while catching a snooze on a beach, or the snow one skies down, or the landscape one paints one uses as model while pretending to paint a “work of art”.
T5= any thing not a T1 or a T2 and it ought to be destroyed, e.g., supposedly threatening books, other forms of life either threatening or “useless“, even human beings of different color skin, different religions, etc.

[It must be noted that any given entity T can fit into more than one of these categories; for instance an oxen could be made to pull a plow, killed during some target practice as entertainment, and then its corpse devoured.]

Some remarks concerning this metaphysics: first note that once the self is determined or assumed as predetermined as the ultimate value of this metaphysics, the telos of its teleology which is to find any entity T end to categorize it according to the above principles so as to use it or destroy it – once this has become assumed or determined, the self effectively vanishes into the process of accumulating or enjoying its own value; otherwise it remains poorly defined since it is not a category but assumed to be the source of all categories. The self thus becomes identified with the process: ” I am the destruction of this thing “, ” I am this thing devoured and made flesh “, ” I am the source of this person’s life, livelihood, death “.

Secondly, beyond the duration, and transformations, of any teleological process, this metaphysics lacks any real temporality. We can see this especially in that the metaphysics does not implicate any process of birth, maturation, or death; except of course as applied to the life span of other human beings, which of course are always recognized as entities rather than as partnering selves. [For instance a child is born; that is the only means of producing such a toy to play with in leisure hours.]

Third, the capitalist finds it impossible to see the universe any different way. This has several implications. First the capitalist always interprets the language of others in the cynical manner as being pure rhetoric, pure propaganda, mere falsehoods uttered in a vain attempt to acquire wealth and its enjoyment (vain, because the capitalist always assumes success for its self, and thus disappointment for any possible competitors). It thus becomes pointless to attempt to reason with capitalists. Secondly, since the capitalist discounts the sincerity of those who propose alternative metaphysics, it is very easy for the capitalist to imagine that this metaphysics is no metaphysics; which is why capitalists always claim that they have overcome metaphysics, of course they have ‘ended’ metaphysics, metaphysics is an unnecessary waste of time; as far as they’re concerned their metaphysics is not metaphysics, it is fact. So for instance women are assumed to be born for the purpose of being seduced, child-productive (the necessary commodification of an “other”), or simply raped (even female capitalists seem to believe this, which is rather disheartening); apples exist to be eaten; oil exists to be refined into fuel, to be burned in an internal combustion engine. Third, since the metaphysics is atemporal, there can be no meaningful history, no meaningful sense that something came before, or that such will come after; the universe exists only within the life span of the capitalist, and the capitalist assumes that he/she will never die, since death, as Heidegger pointed out, is the final horizon of all human temporality; but the capitalist has no human temporality in his or her consciousness. Death is what happens to someone else. And from this also we can see that the capitalist assumes the self will never change; once it comes into consciousness it is in consciousness for all time. At least that’s the assumption.

The metaphysics of capitalism are actually easy to conceive. However, the grammar by which such metaphysics receive articulation, is another problem altogether. The depth of this problem is revealed in the rather surprising discovery one makes in review of the literature of modernity, that contrary to all oppositional expectations capitalists are by no means inarticulate concerning their basic metaphysical assumptions. On the contrary, the basic assumptions grounding their enthymemes are well defined. They simply deny their own intelligibility, and harken instead to the inchoate and fundamentally suspicious nature of their constituency – or, more precisely, the consumers of their rhetoric.

Now, let us understand that a civilization, to be civilized, to attain or develop into the condition of civilization, must have a written culture, or, more precisely, a culture of writing. Written texts must be adopted as the primary means of focusing thought, communicating thought, passing the thought of one generation onto the next and beyond, in order to focus and preserve the fundamental idea of the culture as itself as a whole. The Western Roman Empire did not fall because the barbarians sacked the city, it fell when a generation of writing intellectuals [by then firmly committed to the Christian religion as a culture] simply stopped thinking of themselves as citizens of the Empire. [This is why historians have had such a difficult time remarking the precise date when it could be said that the Roman Empire fell. Traditionally they have sought the last moment when Rome was addressed in a written document as a viable reality; what they should be looking for are the texts of the first generation of writers who ceased to refer to Rome as anything other than a past event; or better, who ceased to refer to Rome at all.]

At any rate, such considerations, along with remarking the evidence of experience, in the repeated encounter with capitalists who seemed to be simply uneducated, civilized thinkers have long held that a proper education would prove, in and of itself, a cure for this problem. But such is not the case. First, capitalists are not necessarily uneducated or somehow poorly educated; they simply see no value in the education. And their consumers are suspicious of it; education creates cognitive dissonance, which too many see as a threat to their “way of life.”

More importantly: Rigid attacks on capitalism only produce a counter ideology; and oppositional ideologies become reified into commodities, feeding into capitalist claims of some grand “marketplace for ideas.”

Stalin claimed to have read Marx and Lenin. Robespierre was a tireless writer of the most vicious political theories imaginable. Antebellum slaveholders in the Southern United States were very fond of Shakespeare, and, of course, the Bible. Indeed, the Spanish Conquistadors were also very passionate about their Bibles, and would frequently read them above the corpses of the Native Americans they had just slaughtered. Murderous Mafiosi, in America as well as in Italy, have read the Catholic Mass at service. The Rabbis in the Netherlands who excommunicated Spinoza did so in a text of argumentation. The SS death camp guards are known to have read Goethe; indeed, many high-ranking members of the Nazi Party held doctorates, as did many of the members of the criminal Bush junta that invaded Iraq for oil and brought us the ‘desert storm’ of mid-east chaos we deal with now.

B.F. Skinner not only wrote fairly eloquently, but in doing so managed to persuade supposedly one of the most civilized universities in America, Harvard, to transform its entire Department of Psychology so as to devote it to a practice founded on a metaphysics addressing not only others but even the self as mere material to manipulate for the satisfaction of the most basic sub-rational animal needs. [Indeed, there are now so many ideologues professing one field or another in the Academy, one wonders if the modern university may have been always destined to become mere vocational school for skillful marketeers of dogma.]

According to all previous theories of education, at least those developed in the West, these phenomena should not have occurred. Something went wrong.


3 thoughts on “Toward understanding: metaphysics of capitalism

    • T2 is a category of pure use, the entity in this capacity has no other value.

      However, as I later noted, entities can be perceived in more than one category. A company boss who overworks employees just to get a job done is simply using them. If the boss is also of a personality that enjoys their suffering, then, yes, they thereby acquire entertainment value.


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