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RE: <nettime> irrelevant and useless digest [bc, rochkind]
Kermit Snelson on Thu, 6 Feb 2003 15:50:57 +0100 (CET)


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RE: <nettime> irrelevant and useless digest [bc, rochkind]


Jonathan Rochkind:

> Does opposition to the "Davos crowd" of transnational
> capitalist technocrats necessarily doom one to a commitment
> to "perpetual conflict"?

I'm not sure, actually.  More than proposing a theory or taking a side, my
post was intended to point out a pattern.  What causes the pattern?  I
haven't figured that out yet.

The pattern itself, however, is that nearly all of the well-developed
theoretical attacks on Davos-style technocracy and globalism developed so
far, both on the Left and on the Right, do indeed seem to be based on the
idea that social groups will never be able to take shape or co-exist
harmoniously on the basis of shared economic or other interests.  Also
ruled out is even the possibility of a peaceful consensus reached through
dialogue carried out in the spirit of mutual respect.  Habermas is treated
roughly in this company.

What "culturalism" proposes instead is a conception of "the political"
that is not about economics and other forms of shared interest, but rather
a never-ending struggle for personal and group identity on the terrain of
symbolic representation.  What one "is" is defined by a permanent struggle
for "rights" against what one "is not."  There is no common heritage of
all mankind in this view, and cultural assimilation is considered to be
the ultimate horror.

Culturalism revives and radicalizes beyond any historical precedent the
friend/ enemy distinction and the "rule of the stronger" defined as the
basis of all politics by the interlocutors of Socrates early in Plato's
_Republic_.  Recognition of interdependence and searches for a common
ground are systematically rejected in favor of "articulation" and
"antagonism" and "autonomy".  Any belief in reality or logic is merely
"scientism" or "positivism" or "essentialism" or "teleology", a hegemonic
discourse to be resisted at all costs because it is merely yet another
attempt at symbolic colonization.  Concepts and logic and reality have no
role in political life, culturalists say, except to be exposed and
ridiculed as the ruses of a conqueror.  The "new politics" is instead the
deployment of myths against symbols.  Regimes will be destroyed in words,
and brutal warriors like the Pentagon's boss Donald Rumsfeld will be
humiliated into oblivion by street theater.

> It's worth repeating that The Davos Crowd, their ideology to
> the contrary, is hardly preparing the world for perpetual
> peace in fact.

Maybe so, but all you're really saying in that statement is that you don't
believe Davos methods will achieve Davos goals.  And I don't think so,
either.  Some Davos participants themselves, I believe, are starting to
reconsider.  But the stated goal of the World Economic Forum is to bring
about world peace through free trade and the rule of law.  It is not to
kill and oppress people.

The basis of the Davos "economic" argument is that economic exchange is
always to the benefit of both parties, because otherwise it would not have
taken place.  This is precisely the point at which many "culturalists"
will beg to differ, arguing sometimes that "exchange" as we know it is
inherently hegemonic because the medium of exchange itself is tainted (via
usury), and sometimes that the entire idea of "exchange" should be ditched
in favor of a "gift" or "potlatch" economy.

Some point to the genuinely wretched record of free trade, privatization
and globalization in order to argue that nobody ever believed that stuff,
that it was always simply rhetoric fobbed off on the naive by cynical
predators. But I really doubt it.  Cynical opportunists have certainly
gone far in large, powerful corporations, but few have reached the very
top. Machiavelli is a fine guide to a career in middle management, but at
the very top you'll usually find idealists who genuinely believe in Cement
for a Better Tomorrow.  And while it's quite probable that Davos is
mistaken in their belief in the all-powerful potentialities of technology,
rule of law and free markets, I very much doubt that many of them advocate
this in bad faith.  As psychologically important it may be to believe that
one's enemies are evil and insane, it's probably not productive for
activists of any persuasion to indulge this urge.  Followers of Herbert
Marcuse's belief that tolerance is actually "repressive" will eventually
reap what they sow.

> Most importantly, Snelson leaves out any analysis of control
> and power dealing instead with abstract ideology

To the extent that I do not recognize that *everything* is about control
and power, that's quite true.  I do believe that there are huge provinces
from which "any analysis of control and power" and all other aspects of
"the political" should not only be left out, but excluded utterly.  I do
not believe, as does (say) Bruno Latour, that "science is politics by
other means" [1]. The discoveries of science, and with them the principles
of valid inference and deduction, are not political.  To say otherwise is
to leave us with no defense against that noxious realm of ideas in which
certain plants are "Aboriginal" and the democratic rule of law is "white"
and Einstein's theory of relativity is "Jewish."  We have too recently
emerged from the horrors brought about by such thinking to allow ourselves
unwittingly to return.

Kermit Snelson

Notes:
[1] Latour, Bruno, _The Pasteurization of France_, 1988, p.229

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