[-empyre-] On Currencies, Capitalism, and the Fed

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Fri Apr 10 09:51:40 EST 2009

Personally, I see neo-liberal bullshit just about everywhere (in
class, in my refrigerator, on my computer, in the fact that I have a
computer, in the job I have, in the jobs I have turned down, in
personal conversations, etc), but mostly in myself, as I try, often in
vain, to pursue an equally slippery but potentially pervasive concept
of "justice."  It is such a great term because, if you follow David
Harvey's timeline, you cannot deny its steady progress.  As someone
who had resisted "political economy" for many years, Harvey's work has
really changed my perspective.  (If you haven't read Harvey's work....
 it's absolutely worth it.  Mike Davis, too.)

Honestly, I think it is important for us to consider the tendency of
capitalism, which is really only a tool for the distribution of goods
and services, to insinuate itself into our lives in such a way that it
can appear natural and self-evidently good.

But more than anything, it makes me look at myself and my own
assumptions.  (And I don't know that any individual needs to be held
accountable for his or her strategy of getting by in a world with
capitalism any more than I should be held accountable...  or Empyre...
 or any individual.  Well, maybe Milton Friedman should be).  At
various points in my life, I have pursued various strategies, like
living off of dumpster food and swooping on uneaten meals at open air
restaurants, but even this, while it was a surprisingly satisfying
year, even then I realized that I was utterly dependent on the entire
economy of excess, and possibly even enhancing the ecology of
capitalism.  Now that I live in the country, I do other things, like
garden and purchase shares of food from various CSAs and farmers, but
even still I am utterly reliant on the larger ecology of capitalism to
get by.  Now that I don't live in a city, I have a car.  As a teacher,
I might even be a bigger part of the problem.  Students borrow money
to go to college, which shackles them to the economy in brutal ways.
No matter what "good" things I teach, I cannot control what or how
people will use the education I offer.  I teach about, among other
things, propaganda....  but whose to say I am not educating the next
generation of propagandists?

I think this is part of the nefarious nature of "neoliberalism"--it's
not a worthless concept--rather it tries to describe an insidious idea
of capitalism that elevates it to the point where it is imagined as
equivalent to human freedom, human rights, human dignity...  even to
the point where we blame nation-states for doing the dirty work for
transnational corporations, and, once again, as a political body,
voting against our nation-state, to do the dirty work for
transnational corporations.

Its very usefulness, however, makes it prone to uselessness.  As with
patriarchy (another great, but once overused term) it is tempting to
see it everywhere because it is everywhere.  Patriarchy CAN be present
in pro-porn discourses.  Patriarchy CAN be present in anti-porn
discourses.  Patriarchy CAN be present in the discourse which says
that women should embrace aggression to get what they want.
Patriarchy CAN be present in the discourse which says that women
should avoid aggression because it is masculine.  But you always run
the risk of producing an analysis which does not take into account the
variety of causes and resistances at play.

Where it gets dicey is when terms like "patriarchy" are used
strategically, rather than analytically.  If patriarchy is too
particularized, it runs the risk of being weakened as a concept.  The
criticism of neoliberalism is powerful, not because it manifests in
particular incidents (but this is significant, too), but because it
identifies the systemic adoption of a philosophical attitude that
masks the injustices of globalization and the reorganization of power.
 And, following Foucault's discussion of governmentality, it really
happens on the level of discourse...  woven into the fabric of
contemporary consciousness.

The problem is not to try to find ways to purify ourselves (although I
think it is a good idea for everyone, regardless of what happens, to
tread as lightly as possible on this planet and to share as much of
your good fortune with others as you can), the problem is to figure
out meaningful tactics to introduce alternative systems of value
beyond finance, systems of value which many people can agree upon, and
which will allow people to live and flourish in freedom, dignity, and
happiness (but, of course, we'd have to find satisfactory definitions
of "people," "flourish," "freedom," "dignity," and "happiness" [and to
find these definitions, we'd have to be able to define what is
"satisfactory" and who "we" are]).  And I suspect that the people who
most urgently need to assert values beyond neoliberalism (sweatshop
workers, refugees, migrant laborers, political prisoners, and the vast
and growing population of dispossessed people in this world), probably
would have an easier time coming to consensus than most academics.

Peace (and I'm not kidding),

On Thu, Apr 9, 2009 at 7:51 AM, joseph tabbi <jtabbi at gmail.com> wrote:
> Re. 'neo-liberal bullshit.' Nothing in the posts by Jeff Pierce
> supported a neo-liberal stance, that I could see. But Jeff is capable
> of defending himself. What I want to note is that I myself have
> sometimes been surprised when that epithet is thrown at me, by people
> who might imagine that, by choosing this term of abuse, they are
> somehow outside neo-liberalism.
> Once, while organizing a conference, my colleagues and I were accused
> of supporting the academic turn to 'neo-liberalism' because we did not
> offer to cover the cost of travel for all attendees and co-organizers.
> Another time, as editor of a literary journal, a scholar refused to
> send me, or have his publisher send, a book he had published with an
> academic press (that interested me and I was pretty sure I could find
> a reviewer for the book). The author wanted my journal to buy the
> book, or at least give a 'promise' that it would be reviewed. That's a
> promise I cannot give, knowing that not every reviewer comes through
> every time: most of the time, they do, but if I insisted - well, we
> don't pay for reviews so I'm in no position to insist, but to do so
> would be a breach of professional conduct, as I've internalized such.
> Small things, in the general run of a long career of conferencing,
> editing, writing, and publishing in various media, commercial and
> scholarly. But such misunderstandings on the scholarly front, I
> notice, are becoming more and more frequent. I recognize that what I
> understood at the start of my career (maybe half-consciously) as a
> scholarly gift economy, is now mostly gone. Younger authors tend to be
> much more savvy in negotiations, they have numerous granting
> organizations (as well as their tenure committees) to answer to, and
> they want guarantees. Few independent, self-motivated editors, unless
> they are backed by powerful institutions or generous grants, can
> afford such negotiations.
> As the scholarly gift economy contracts, the nature of scholarship too
> has changed - and this is where in my opinion the effects of
> neo-liberal ideology are felt. Scholars capitulate to this ideology
> when we artificially increase our productivity, and when our articles
> begin to be formulated in a certain predictable way, especially in the
> 'cultural studies' sphere that emerged along with economic
> neo-liberalism: "immerse yourself in current hot topic, add
> appropriate theoretical 'approach, publish in niche journal." This is
> "just-in-time" scholarship (in the words of John Durham Peters at
> www.electronicbookreview.com). Often such scholarship is brilliantly
> critical of neo-liberal ideology, but its mode of production
> nonetheless is consistent with the just-in-time delivery of goods
> under neo-liberal capitalism.
> In the creative sphere, where I used to get a relatively few number of
> publishers sending me books by authors they believed in, who they
> thought should be covered in a journal like The Electronic Book
> Review, now I get (relatively many) direct approaches from authors,
> who increasingly are taking on the promotion of their work. In
> electronic media, this seems not just to be 'increasing,' it is the
> norm.
> This self-promoting practice is a sign of a transformation, and I
> don't want to pre-judge what's happening here despite my own deep
> suspicion that creators cannot be entrepeneurs at the same time.
> There's a certain benefit, to the functional differentiation of
> spheres: let publishers publish, and let creators create (and confine
> the creators' negotiations to publishers, not to one another).
> But with electronic communications, attitudes are evolving and
> boundaries are being redrawn in spheres of activity that formerly
> strove to maintain a certain functoinal separation (even the spheres
> of 'art' and 'commerce.')
> Joseph
> On Wed, Apr 8, 2009 at 5:40 PM, Brian Holmes <brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr> wrote:
>> On Mon, Apr 6, 2009 at 10:26 PM, jeff pierce <zentrader at live.ca> wrote:
>>>> I'm so tired of hearing
>>>> about "centralized this" and "globalization that" as every time I hear it in
>>>> the media I get the feeling that they're just warming us up to what will
>>>> eventually be. Governments are too big to begin with, as they are a big part
>>>> of this problem. They can't handle their affairs on a national level, what
>>>> makes anybody think they can handle the affairs at a world level. The
>>>> thought alone makes me shiver. Where would you hide if you didn't like the
>>>> system that is in place?
>> Nowhere as far as I can tell. At this point (and for about the last ten
>> years) the same consensus rules the entire Western world. Asia and Latin
>> America are of course different, so try your luck. Maybe you will find a
>> place where entrepreneurs are allowed to commit climate change and
>> foster horrendous social inequality without any oversight. You might be
>> happy there, if you are rich and willing to have armed guards of course.
>>>> At one point between
>>>> October-December it was so hard to trade and carry any positions over the
>>>> weekend because we (traders) feared some type of government intervention
>>>> over the weekend which would cause the markets to move in totally random
>>>> ways. This is still very much a concern, but it hasn't been as bad as of
>>>> late.
>> This is really neoliberal bullshit. You think the markets are "free" for
>> your petty day-trading greed? That's foolish. The "big government" you
>> abhor (with the very terms that Reagan, Thatcher & Co. taught you to
>> use) has created the markets that you now complain they are regulating
>> in your disfavor. Under neoliberalism, Big Government and Big Business
>> are one and the same.
>>>> This is not a free market system.
>> Of course not. The free market system is historically a failure: it has
>> big crises and starts big wars. Is that what you would like to see now?
>> After Greenspan spent his entire tenure as Federal Reserve chief pumping
>> up the financial markets, only a fool would say this is a "free market."
>>  To even use such terms is embarrassing.
>>>> Who are the government to decide which
>>>> companies are bailed out and which ones aren't.
>> And who are you to decide what matters?????? When all that concerns you
>> is how much filthy money you earn?????? I would rather see companies
>> bailed out than entire populations left starving (I refer to companies
>> that actually employ people, not Goldman Sachs etc). I think that
>> regulating the economy is a responsibility of everyone to their fellow
>> human beings. It can be done decently, if people only devote a minimum
>> of care to this most important human task. The kind of government that
>> claimed to be there to get government off our backs has actually brought
>> us to the present situation. Those who use exactly the same language
>> apparently do not have the sensibility to be ashamed all on their
>> lonesome, so it is important to point out that they and the major
>> business interests who invented their ideology have been totally wrong.
>>  Last time I checked the
>>>> survival of the fittest in the business world was the model of choice. If a
>>>> company wasn't profitable, then they should fail. End of discussion. Don't
>>>> use taxpayers money, print unlawful amounts of money, and destroy the
>>>> currency in the process.
>> On this logic would you kill your friends when they don't have enough to
>> eat?
>> I could comment on the rest of this mail, but the whole thing is so
>> lamentable that I prefer not to. Over the past 30 years, the idea that
>> people should collectively make an effort to ensure that their fellows
>> do not die from "natural selection"  aka cutthroat competition has lost
>> a lot of ground, mainly because no one stands up for that simple idea.
>> Well, I do. There is a lot to criticize in governments of all kinds, but
>> to criticize the very existence of government is to buy into exactly the
>> plan that the big oligopolies have pushed through big government over
>> the last thirty years. This plan of so-called "de-regulation"  (or
>> really, re-regulation in favor of the rich) has brought the entire world
>> to the brink of disaster and all you people on the list are saying,
>> great conversation, etc. No, it's not a great conversation. It's
>> ignorance repeated and accepted as dogma. Wake up and think about the
>> world thirty years from now, and not thirty seconds from now when your
>> next trade is finished. On the thirty-second line of reasoning, we will
>> all be dead in thirty years, probably due to war over the gross
>> inequalities in the world, and not even to global warning which will be
>> slightly slower. It's not acceptable to go on maintaining in public that
>> your freedom as a small investor is a workable benchmark for the
>> functioning of the global economy. As a small investor you are a
>> privileged pawn, end of story. Telling about the disappointments of your
>> personal greed in public. I don't care to hear about it anymore.
>> Wake up and throw eggs, empyreans!
>> best, BH
>> _______________________________________________
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>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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