Philosophical article that criticizes the metaphysics of scarcity, widely used (as "unquestionable presupposition") to justify the status quo, repression, commodity exchange, state, exploitation - a true theodicy (an imaginary justification of the sufferings and evils of the world). It shows how both economics and ecology are variations of this same metaphysics, radicalized by the commodity fetishism that pervades subjectivity in modern, capitalist society. And there's an addendum that addresses the pre-capitalist gift.
A DISSECTION OF THE METAPHYSICS OF SCARCITY
Previously, we criticized the ideology of scarcity from the point of view of the transformation of everyday life 1 , that is, from the concrete perspective of social-historical praxis; however, some believe that, regardless of this, scarcity remains valid as an inherent characteristic of time and space, as a metaphysical foundation (they generally use the thermodynamic concept of "entropy" to substantiate this idea). Thus, they suppose that, in this entropic universe, competition for what is scarce guides every specific being - and likewise human beings and societies - making the social form of scarcity, private property (and hence class society, labor, state and capital), have an eternal, cosmic, immutable foundation. In this text, we will try to criticize this metaphysics from a specifically philosophical, physical and anthropological point of view.
ANAXIMANDER AND DEMOCRITUS
The first philosophical expression of the metaphysics of scarcity that we know was presented by Anaximander, who said that the birth of beings is debt, and that therefore life is paid with death:
“Whence things have their origin, there they must also pass away according to necessity; for they must pay penalty and be judged for their injustice, according to the ordinance of time.” (Fragment of Anaximander)
[Note: It is evident that this moralistic view of nature is a continuation of the Greek myths of Diké and Nemesis, goddesses who personify "justice", ineluctable retribution, inescapable debt, and who inexorably "give each one what it is due". As we will see, the metaphysics of scarcity continues to this day fundamentally religious, mythical or even animist.]
From Anaximander to us, most philosophies were based on some metaphysics of debt, exchange of equivalents, rewards and punishments. In modern times, the perhaps most respected representative (because of his scientific pretensions) of this metaphysics is entropism, an ideology that asserts that since entropy (hence death) is the general rule of the universe, each being is explained by being energetically subjected to a relationship of austerity and energetic debt that must be strictly balanced, compensated, paid in the future.
However, another current, subterranean in the history of philosophy, has also been expressed at least since ancient Greece: Democritus and the other materialists generally asserted that if we exist it is because we are gratuitous, superfluous, since there is no meaning prior to existence itself: we are the fruit of chance (Democritus' Diné, Lucretius' Clinamen) – and the necessity (and therefore time) is the consistency of each existing whereby it lasts, expresses and unfolds this gratuitousness of, within and beyond every singular being, that is, it is his freedom. 2
Thus, recognizing also that the "general rule of nature" is the decomposition, destruction, increase of entropy (e.g,, time, verified by death to which everything is sooner or later submitted, and space, where bodies do not occupy the same place, etc.; this first outline of the concept of entropy was already known by ancient materialists), materialists conclude, contrary to what Anaximander thought, that this means that each specific being that emerges and endures in this universe is based on gratuity, waste, superfluity, dissipation.
This statement becomes clear in light of how materialists explain the world: all the time, in the universe, countless events or compositions (in this case, the atomists thought of the combinations between the atoms) happen simultaneously, but since the overwhelming majority of these compositions find no consistency, they do not persist, decompose and dissipate rapidly. For this reason, it is unlikely and exquisite that something singular exists beyond virtually instantaneous decomposition. The improbability of emergence and existence of the precise things we perceive lasting and developing around us, as well as ourselves, is even greater, it is practically infinite. That is why every singular being that rises and last in the universe is free, without debt, without guilt because it has no singular meaning pre-written in the "general law of nature," which is dissipative destruction. That is, it is through gratuitousness, superfluity that we exist, act and create. There is no debt to some transcendental law of general scarcity because, in fact, what is general is not scarcity but rather destructive abundance, dissipative superfluity, "general law" which is accountable for destruction, the inevitable end, but not for generation or duration, nor for the development of beings (as Lucretius and Epicurus said, in practice, "death is nothing for us"). 3
[Note: It is not difficult to see that when modern science is stripped of the interpretations that give it a bias of scarcity it shows that it is not the accounting austerity of the exchange of equivalents, but rather the waste and the dissipation is the foundation of each specific being that arises and persists.
A basic example is the thermodynamic flow of the sun, planet Earth and living beings 4 : the sun dissipates an immensely titanic amount of energy in all directions in the form of particles and electromagnetic waves (a part is visible light). Almost all of this is dissipated towards the space vacuum. A tiny (but still colossal) part of this wasted energy of the sun dissipates by chance on earth. The Earth also dispels this energy in all directions, while a part is wasted on the bacteria and plants that make photosynthesis. Bacteria and plants also dissipate abundantly "for nothing", and part of this dissipation is wasted on other bacteria, insects, and herbivores that devour them superfluously. The latter are wasted on the predators, who also eagerly devour one another, in a blatantly notorious waste of energy. And part of the dissipation of all these beings, in turn, is wasted on humans, who also waste this energy "for nothing", gratuity creating their relationships, society, industry, knowledge, art, language, cities, imagination, ingenuity, etc.
Although in the explanatory model of the old materialists there is still no such thermodynamic view, it is largely compatible. The sun, like everything else (including us), is seen as a composition of atoms that emerged randomly at a given moment, and that is continually disintegrating, dissipating atoms in all directions until it dies (its light is the result of this disintegration). However, if we want to stop the waste (accumulating, "conserving"), the result is that the sun would die faster, or even instantaneously in an explosion, and would not have time for "its nature", its rich qualitative potentialities, express to the maximum.]
However, this global vision is not and is not intended to be "comforting". It provides no ethical principle nor any model for a better society. Since the "general law of nature" is destructive abundance, dissipative waste, then the idea of "natural order" (or "natural balance"), an idea that presupposes the belief in some kind of "invisible hand", is an unfortunate invention of human imagination. It simply does not exist in nature.
THE CREDO OF THE "INVISIBLE HAND" (OR "NATURAL ORDER", "NATURAL BALANCE"): MORALISM AND THEODICY
The fact is that nature is a ceaseless blind and indifferent disequilibrium, a set of forces completely insensitive to the suffering, murder, torture, abundance, scarcity, and to the very life of all living beings. In addition to the history of endless catastrophes of the geology and atmosphere of planet earth, as well as of the planets, asteroids, suns and comets, it is enough to observe the notorious destructive superfluity of the food chain. More than 99.99% of living beings live by hurting and/or devouring other living beings, to the point that not even the most harmless beings in the food chain, such as plants, are "peaceful" but poisonous to others (translating: assassins, it is from the poisons of plants that comes all his medicinal properties that we use thanks to our science, empiricism and technique), spiny (translating: torturers), voracious monsters for many other naive little beings who nose in them (such as fungi and bacteria attacked by the plant's immune system), etc. Not to mention the endless blind competition of beings for niches that extinguished 99.99% of species that have existed on earth since the emergence of life. Even one of the most basic molecules necessary to our present life on earth, oxygen, a poisonous gas for the first living beings, was introduced "artificially" into the atmosphere (formerly mostly CO2) by the first beings to make photosynthesis (probably cyanobacteria) , leading to a colossal mass extinction.
On the other hand, precisely because destructive waste is the general rule of nature, every singular being that exists and persists necessarily guides itself, on the contrary, by constructive, creative, affirmative waste, whereby it affirms its existence. 5 However, insofar as each of these singular affirmative abundances expresses itself in an indifferent and blind common medium, the result of its expressions tends to turn against them, that is to say, in these blind circumstances the collateral effect of the affirmation of each tends to decompose and deny the affirmation of the others, and hence each denies oneself through the others. If, to express themselves, constructive expressions continue to affirm these blind and indifferent circumstances, they intensify the conditions which compel them to stop expressing the dynamism of their wealth, to contain the abundance of their relations with others, to be dull, to accumulate, to compete, to deprive oneself and, finally, to engage in the superfluous destruction of oneself.
The metaphysics of scarcity, however, naturalizes these circumstances, sanctifies this blind state of affairs, to the point of extracting from it a whole "moral of scarcity" that seeks to justify and glorify suffering, exhaustion, torture and death as "negative feedback" objectively necessary to the "holistic" conservation, preservation and regulation of nature and society. The worship of the "invisible hand" is a true theodicy, an authentic religion.
It is not from any "general rule of nature", nor from any "holism", but only from the singular affirmative abundances that the human species (whose singularity is that its individuals are capable of desiring , thinking, communicating, and acting) can develop an ethics and therefore a project of transformation of both social relations and their natural conditions. Since we are superfluous, then any idea of debt or guilt, justifications, theodicy, as well as any remuneration for any kind of equivalence of "value" is completely arbitrary, for there is no transcendent being "to give each one his share". On the contrary, if the singulars are superfluous it is precisely because they are justified by themselves, by their simple existence, composition and expression.
Consequently, for humans, the issue is to transform circumstances so that human capacities and needs can be affirmed as valid on their own, and no as instruments, means and objects of judgment and retribution according to a greater or lesser obedience to a predetermined purpose (value, market, private property, state, religion, identity, family, nationality, gender, etc.). Freedom is the irrecompensable necessity of each singular because they and their expressions are worth themselves, are ends in themselves. Therefore, freedom is: "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." 6
[Note: This contrasts with the misconception that freedom is free will. Free will is nothing more than choice of elements in pre-established circumstances, accepting these circumstances as immutable. This freedom is illusory since the imposition of free will, of free choice, is the basis of every relationship of domination: the only way for the dominant class to place itself as dominant is to have the power to recompense - with prizes or reprimands - the greater or lesser submission of the dominated, which is only possible if they give the dominated the pseudo-freedom to choose between two or more predetermined, prefabricated, pre-arranged things, paths or actions by the dominators. Only in this way can they judge who is more or less obedient (by judging "free will" or "deliberation", "effort", "merit" of each), recompensating each one to intensify the circumstances of competition that lead the exploited to continue or even increase their subjection. Free will always implies submission to the pre-established conditions of choice. Genuine freedom, on the contrary, only begins with the transformation of circumstances, of conditions of existence. That is, freedom presupposes that these conditions cease to be private property (thus abolishing the power of the dominators) and become the common conditions of the free practical expression of freely associated individuals without frontiers (communism).]
COMMODITY FETISHISM, SCIENCE AND SCIENTISM IN THE IDEOLOGY OF SCARCITY.
Certainly, the beings already arisen inevitably begin to disintegrate, to dissipate until they disappear (entropy). But, we have seen that this is not the whole picture. There is also activity, action: this superfluous dissipation can generate (or cannot) other equally superfluous singular beings (inside and/or outside itself and/or between and/or beyond), just as those beings that had already arisen were also generated by the superfluous dissipation of other beings that came together in it and composed it. Everything we know, do, experience, and ourselves, resides in this part of the picture and not in the "status quo in danger" part. The present ideology of scarcity with scientific pretensions is short-sighted, because it deals exclusively with the dimension of sterile dissipation of already existing beings, only seeing preexisting forms, and generalizing this in the vision of an austere universe regulated by the exchange of equivalents, in a competition for scarcity that rewards or represses according to a pre-established, transcendent pattern.
This myopia is based on what? Or rather, epistemologically, in what material situation, activity and becoming cannot appear, remaining hidden? This is only imaginable in a material circumstance whereby each singular becoming or activity is separated and isolated from others, from their specific relations, and unified under a same general preexisting form.
It is precisely the capitalist society: the multiple singular activities take the form of "labor", in which each becoming is deprived (private property) of its relations to be incessantly referred to the comparison with others (competition) according to a same pre-established general standard of abstract quantitative equivalence: value, commodity exchange, money, state. It is a society where, deprived of the material conditions of activity, human productive activity is only permitted if it serves the expanded reproduction of dead labour, of capital, of profit; where the products of simultaneous human activities covering the whole world appear to humans not as expressions of their associated activity on a global scale but, on the contrary, as if the resulting products were endowed with an independent existence, as private property, enterprise, commodity, capital and state, in short, as world market. Deprived of their conditions of existence, human beings become impotent as human beings, and to survive they are forced to alienate (sell) their capacities to act and to think to those who own the private property of these conditions; so, human capacities are attributed to things, to private property, to the owner class (the capitalists, i.e. the private and state businessmen). Human beings find their capacities as attributes not of themselves but rather of money, of private property, of enterprise and of the state, personified as the alien, private and hostile power (the capital) in the ruling class. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. 8
So, in an environment where every becoming is incessantly referred to the expanded reproduction of dead labour, the singular beings do not appear socially, publicly, as activities, but rather as vestiges, results, products, commodities, instruments, "services", "works".
And those who do science are also in that environment. No one has "supernatural" access to nature (if one asserts this, one is religious, not a scientist) because even scientists are natural beings. They examine nature as it appears to them, and as they make it appear through tools, methodologies, and experiments. Some aspects of what appears to them are highlighted to the detriment of others for the simple reason that what can appear to them inherently crosses their social relations: a scientist can be a wage worker (instead of making science in free association with others around the world who also desire and make science as an end in itself, as free activity), their instruments, components and inputs are bought (instead of have freely been determined by their activity in association with others who in the world wish to produce them), and also the determination and choice of their objects of study express human needs and capacities formed and developed in specific social relations.
Thus, for example, the concepts of "work" and "energy" were separated from the other concepts of physics and coined with these proper names (becoming even the central concepts of the natural sciences) at the very moment of the industrial revolution (18th-19th centuries), when capital (which then became productive, industrial) posed the question of extracting the maximum "useful" work from the natural and human forces, with the aim of maximizing the difference between the costs of production and the selling prices of its products, i.e. profits. It was from the problem of the "weight lifted up to a certain height" in the use (by mining enterprises) of the first steam engines to lift buckets of water from flooded mines that in 1826 Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis introduced the concept of "work" and its proper name. And "energy" was introduced in 1807 by Thomas Young. Before that, the central concepts of physics were those of "moment of inertia" and "force" (as in force of gravity, electric force, magnetic force, etc.) 9 .
This does not mean, of course, that science "went wrong" in the nineteenth century and does not mean that these new concepts are "false", but rather that scientists scrutinize the world with their rigorous methodology from the circumstances where they encounter themselves, from the problems and perspectives which these circumstances pose. Thus, every science that has developed since the nineteenth century on the basis of the concepts of "energy" and "work" (in particular "energy conservation") has actually been increasingly unparalleled in be able to accurately explain the preceding conditions for any event. However, it is myopic for events as such because they are taken as already existing forms, already known, not as becomings or activities. The reason for this is that in capitalist society, as we have seen, human and nonhuman beings do not appear socially, publicly, as activities, as acts, as becomings, but rather as vestiges, results, products, commodities, instruments, "services", "works"; then any objective scientific analysis of beings in this environment (capitalist society) finds them only as beings deprived of and subservient to their previous conditions of existence which accumulate as dead labour, private property, capital.
However, unlike scientists who remain strictly objective, the followers of the metaphysics of scarcity find these scientific concepts, which objectively express what can be apprehended of nature from the human needs and capacities developed in today's society, and appropriate them in order to compose a scientist religion that naturalizes, justifies and exalts (self-)repression, maximum coercion to work, intensification of competition, asceticism, exclusivism and banishment. All in the name of preserving a "status quo" which supposedly was the meritorious fruit of an arduous, hardworking, "complex", "balanced" and suffered past whose criticism and questioning, in their opinion, will "to throw everything to lose".
APPLIED IDEOLOGY OF SCARCITY: ECONOMY AND ECOLOGY
The history of contortionism of the word and concept of "economy" is very curious. It came to us from ancient Greece through theology.
Initially, in Greece, oikonomia was what was called the command or the administration (nomos, in Greek) by the father/lord (despotes, kyrios) over the slaves/servants of his property (oikos). This property was at once residential, agricultural and slaver. While outside oikonomia, in the polis, the relationship between slave owners was called politika, in which the lords considered themselves equal to each other (isonomia, isegoria, isokratia), in contrast, in the slaver property, in the oikos, the family (oikogéneia) was constituted, composed by those on whom the despotes had power of life and death: the slaves and the servants, including his wife and children. This was the first meaning of the word. 10
Soon after, when Christianity prevailed (3rd-15th centuries) in the regions around the Mediterranean Sea and then throughout Europe, the world and humanity came to be seen as a domestic property (oikos) commanded (nomos) by god (providence, lord, kyrios). God's rule over the world, the execution by men of God's command through the power of the church, of kings and feudal lords, theodicy (justification of sufferings and evil), genesis, plan of salvation and judgment of humanity in the apocalypse, all these things had a name: economy, economy of salvation, divine economy. And this was the second meaning. 11
Then, at the time of mercantilism (15th-18th centuries), when capitalists began to impose themselves and to transform the whole world (colonization of almost all the continents, etc.) through the mercantilist states (which were the first states in the modern meaning of the term, the meaning of being a distinct entity before the castes, before "civil society") which they financed in order to impose by the force of arms the commerce and the monopoly of commercial routes in all planet, the categories of the religious thought, including "economy" began to be secularized. In this period, "economy" was what was called the government administration of mercantilist states, absolute monarchies believed to be founded by "divine right" or by the blessings of the pope. This was the third meaning. 12
Finally, the fourth and final meaning: in the industrial revolution, at the end of the eighteenth century, when capital took the production (previously, production was precapitalist, and only the trade of the products was capitalist), thus arising industrial capital (thanks to the imposition of wage labor, only possible through the systematic separation of peasants and artisans from their old means of production, forming the proletariat), the categories of Christian religious thought were fully transcribed into a "secular objectivist religion", where a curious "invisible hand", by indirect and mysterious ways, supposedly rules for the better the greater the sufferings, sacrifices, and exhaustions of human beings deprived of means of production (proletarians) in the desperate competition for surviving by selling the only thing they still have, that is, by selling to themselves in the labor market to the private owners of these means (capitalists), in exchange for wage. This mysterious entity (the economy) supposedly promotes greater prosperity the more the proletarians wrangle for obedience and for sacrificing themselves to the owner class.
Thus, the word "economy", from the slave-owning cradle and its adult theocratic garb, finally resulted in the designation of a type of religious entity no longer identified as religious, but rather as "the absolute truth" as such, "the reality as it is in fact and to which it is ought to bow". It is a kind of neo-animism. 13 Economy, in short, is the fetishism of the commodity, which arose with the domination of capital over society on a world scale. This domination is characterized by the dictatorship of production for sake of production that is wage labor, in which, as we have seen, the products of human activities appear to humans not as results of their associated activity, but rather as an independent, autonomous force, as if they were produced, moved and distributed through their own mysterious logic: "price system", "supply and demand", "invisible hand", "creative destruction", "aggregate demand", and so on.
On the other hand, if the economy is a theodicy, justifying sufferings, sacrifices and evils in the name of something imaginary which by mysterious ways supposedly promotes the general good, ecology is no less worse.
The modern ecological movement is based on concepts of "cybernetics", "holism" and "systems theory" (all variants of the metaphysics of scarcity) in order to politically reestablish "natural equilibrium", "sustainability", the "homeostasis" of the holistic organism which nature is supposed to be as a whole. Such a homeostatic process encompasses all beings, who establish in their interactions "negative feedbacks" (deaths, scarcity and catastrophes) responsible for maintaining the system's sustainability over time by counterbalancing "positive feedbacks" (e.g. reproduction unbridled of a species) that would otherwise accumulate leading to the collapse of the system. The error of human beings, according to them, was to interfere in the holistic process of nature, which is so complex that it is impossible for it to be understood by humans (whose activity always presupposes an inherently "reductionist" knowledge), so that when they interfere, the result is always catastrophic.
However, we have already seen that nature is, in fact, incessant disequilibrium, a set of blind and indifferent forces, and the idea of a "natural order" is nothing more than an invention of the human imagination. If humanity agree to put into practice the ecological fiction of an independent "natural order", we will have to indulge in these blind, violent and indifferent processes, to naturalize them and to agree to act in the same way. When this is done, the death and suffering of each is seen as an acceptable practice (like "negative feedback" necessary to "homeostasis") in order to make the whole, the holistic system, be sustainable. It is a theodicy that is mythological enough to almost be a re-creation of the sacrificial rites of "restoration of the cosmic order" of ancient paganism. But, just as all mythology and religion, it does not exist in nature, it is a specifically human delusion. No other living being acts through an "extraterrestrial imaginary perception" (holistic) of itself in the world, indifferent to its own suffering and death, in the name of a demented imagination in its mind.
[Note: Even more disturbing is the history of ecology 14 . The word and the concept of "ecology" were introduced by Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), who preached that nature is a unified and balanced organism (oikos), and that human society must be reorganized according to the logic of nature (hence, gathering oikos and logos, he coined the word ecology). Anti-enlightenment, nationalist and eugenist, he was the first to use the theory of evolution of species to propose a hierarchical classification of human races. According to him, "politics is applied biology". His ecological theory, through the esoteric and spiritualist Thule Society, where he participated, was directly linked to the origins of Nazi ideology. Nazi ideology asserted, also based on the theories of the competition of liberal economist Herbert Spencer (social Darwinism) and the racist mysticism of Madame Blavatsky (theosophy), that the organic balance of the primordial natural order (at the same time biological, divine and mystical) arises from the unrestrained competition of each (each person, each nation, each race) for occupying niches in the "natural order". The first government that placed ecology as its main goal was the Nazi, creating the first natural reserves, animal protection laws and even attempting to rely on organic agriculture, and extermination camps.]
Of course, criticizing ecology does not mean defending the destruction of the environment. What we say is that since there is no "superior" reference point (as the mythological/theological fantasy of a providence called "nature", "Gaia") outside the needs and capabilities of human beings to decide their lives and actions themselves, then the question about not destroying the natural environment where we live can only be raised and taken by those involved, from what they consider (by knowledge, science, ethics, technic ...) necessary to do and capable to do. Simply because, to act, we only have our own capabilities and needs, with the ideas, science and practices we create from them, and with which we think and act with some success or not.
humanaesfera, February 2017
POST SCRIPTUM: A CURIOSITY: SEIKILOS EPITAPH
The Seikilos epitaph is the oldest surviving complete musical composition. The song, the melody of which is recorded, alongside its lyrics, was found engraved on a tombstone. The epitaph has been dated variously from around 200 BC to around AD 100.
In this link you can listen to the song.
While you live, shine
have no grief at all
life exists only for a short while
and time demands an end.
The tombstone has an inscription on it: "I am a tombstone, an image. Seikilos placed me here as a long-lasting sign of deathless remembrance."
The lyrics can be interpreted as expressing the idea of life as gratuitous, delicate, fragile and joyful, while time, which will destroy everything blindly (entropy), confirms the superfluous and irrecompensable abundance of life.
ADDENDUM: THE ILLUSION OF THE PRECAPITALIST "GIFT"
To know the past helps us to know that neither capitalist society, nor commodity exchange, nor nuclear family, nor the state is eternal, and that humanity has lived for a longer time in another way. However, some examine the past believing that before capitalist society we lived "naturally" (according to a so-called "natural order") while now we live "artificially". One of the favorite and most exalted themes by those who think this way is the "gift" or "exchange of gifts" (whose best known example is the potlatch), a mode of distribution of products that contrasts with the generalized exchange of commodities that characterizes capitalist society. They go so far as to regard the precapitalist "gift" as the "natural" model for a future society. They believe that "gift" expresses abundance in a supposedly natural social order they want to re-establish, but, as we shall see, in fact it was a mere system of alliances through debt. Here, we briefly want to show that the precapitalist conditions which made the "gift" to make sense are not only without return, but are also absolutely undesirable today.
First of all, as Mauss and Malinowski have shown, the "gift" of tribal societies was a system of indebted coercion, and often a system of brutal domination of some clans over others. 15
In tribal societies where clans were not hierarchized, the "gift" consisted of coercive ties resulting from distrust between tribes always on the verge of war between them (according to Pierre Clastres, it was this state of general war that prevented the emergence of the state, i.e. the emergence of castes 16 ). The "gift" was the rite of an inverted war, where each side, always extremely distrustful, had to prove its trust in the other clan through the competition of giving more in the future than it received of gifts. The fact of not returning immediately what is received is seen as proof that the other clan was not distrusted, and that the bonds between them will be maintained. But if any side, for any reason, was seen as having a hurry to return or if he returned with less (or even if he thought in advance that the other would think any of these things), this was considered definitive proof of distrust, of breaking ties. And then war is declared. The war was fundamental because if not war is declared, then it forms a relation in which one clan is lowered before another (caste relation). Without war in tribal societies, the gift becomes an "infinite" debt of one clan (which gives less) to another (which gives more), and this will be paid as caste subjection, causing the state to arise (“state” in the precapitalist meaning of a caste dominating others). In anthropology, this is the most classical case of all "gifts", the potlatch, practiced by a society divided into castes in North America. 17
What is evident is that the tribal gift does not seem to serve as a model for us today. The very possibility of "gift" presupposes tribal collective property over objects produced by it privately in relation to another tribal collective property of other objects produced privately in relation to it and vice versa. It presupposes, therefore, the exchange between private properties (precapitalist properties, but in fact collectively private reciprocally), which is a "gift" (alliances through debt) while it is not war and which becomes a market (for example, barter) during the declared war, when each side demanded an immediate return of goods "with an equivalent fair value", because then they did not trust each other at all.
Today, the means of production are materially common on a world scale (nothing, either physically or intellectually, is produced privately), and consequently in the current perspective of a libertarian (ie communist) world, the enjoyment of the productive forces can neither be a "gift" nor an exchange of commodities, but rather an autonomous and gratuitous self-realization brought about by free access to the productive forces common for all, which are the globally interconnected conditions of existence (means of production).
But let us return to precapitalist societies to get a better idea of the concrete conditions where they lived and reproduced their social relations. For every tribe, all other humans were beasts, nonhumans or false humans (and were named in this way), against whom, as we have seen, they were in a state of constant or latent war. In order to mark membership in this supposed tribe of "true humans" (each saw himself as such), who are the strongest and highest, each new generation was subjected to rites of passage as a trial of the "merit" of belonging to their clan to the exclusion of all humanity. These rites literally wrote the marks of belonging in the flesh and soul: mutilations, humiliations, various proofs of resistance to pain, proof that one is not "loose" by assassinating enemies without hesitation, acquiring scars of war, etc. Of course, the new generations were forced to submit because there was no way to meet their needs outside the tribe, unless they desired the solitude of inclement nature, vulnerable to enemy tribes and beasts. And if they came together to create another independent tribe, they would be forced to recreate the same probations of rites of passage and the same violence toward the other tribes. For this does not depend only on the will, but rather on the material conditions of existence, that is, on the human capacity to transform nature, circumstances, to changing, with existing productive forces, the concrete conditions of human relations. The conditions where they find themselves materially compels them to adopt all these coercions, grouping themselves into the social form of tribes.
As we have explained before about the environment when we criticize ecology, criticizing the conditions of existence of precapitalist societies does not mean that we argue that the tribes which still exist today should not exist, nor that those who are attracted to their way of life should "repress themselves". In fact, these tribes, whether we like it or not, are no longer in those old conditions (except, perhaps, some very rare and isolated tribes in South America and Papua New Guinea). And their myths and rites are recreated and modified every generation according to the conditions where they meet and reproduce themselves, whose conditions are today the capitalist society. It is understandable that in this society (capitalist) where the condition for survival is one to submit to the infernal competition of private property with private property, the human beings of these remaining tribes also seek a private property in order to ensure their survival to the exclusion of all humans competing for survival. So they usually tries to make of his past a sign of property to be protected by the state (or, as it happens in some places of Mexico, by his own militias). But, this is certainly not libertarian at all, it has nothing to do with overcoming capitalist society because it is a mere addition of an other private property to the generalized competition that conditions it.
Only if we transform our conditions of existence (which presupposes abolishing the deprivation of these conditions, the private property, on a world scale) in order to overcome the conditions of existence of capitalist society, human beings can emancipate and transform themselves freely, going beyond the constraint of having to assume pre-established roles, functions and identities (ethnicity, race, gender, nation, employment, family, culture, class, etc.), associating themselves according to their desires to freely satisfy their needs and abilities.
humanaesfera, February 2017
- 1 cf. Private property, scarcity and democracy and Against the metaphysics of scarcity, for the practical copiousness.
- 2On all these things: the fragments of the pre-Socratics; On the Nature of Things by Lucretius; The Birth of Physics [La Naissance de la physique dans le texte de Lucrèce] by Michel Serres. And on an interesting analysis of the fragment of Anaximander we have quoted, see The Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, by F. Nietzche, in whose view Heraclitus of Ephesus was the first to break with this indebted view of existence.
- 3cf. The Birth of Physics [La Naissance de la physique dans le texte de Lucrèce] by Michel Serres
- 4This example is presented in the text The notion of expenditure by Georges Bataille. See also: Post-scriptum: contra a ecologia. 5) Georgescu-Roegen e o decrescimento económico, by João Bernardo
- 5cf. Ethics, by Baruch Spinoza and the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze and Guattari.
- 6cf. Private property, scarcity and democracy, also Against rewards and punishments (against meritocracy, against coercion), and with a practical perspective: Against strategy and Strike and free production
- 7cf. Autonomy and daily life - Spinoza and Kant's imperative: "Treat others and yourself as ends, never as means".
- 8cf. German Ideology by Marx and Engels, Capital by Marx and Grundrisse by Marx.
- 9Previously, in an uncompromising, provisional and very rudimentary way, we try to develop from a practical-everyday point of view a physics that can help to understand the activity, the becoming, the arising. In this physics, the concepts of "inertia" and "force" are immanently understood, in the idea of "triggering of qualitatively heterogeneous inertias" by which events, arising, becomings take place. In summary, disproportionate (qualitatively heterogeneous) inertias interact tangentially (“triggering”) exhibiting forces and, thus exhibiting events, new beings, while the concepts of "energy," "energy exchange", "energy conservation", and "work" are secondary because they are intellectual estimates of what has already come about. This rudimentary attempt can be found in the texts: Uma arkhé Acidental?, Conceito qualitativo de energia, força e inércia e O engatilhamento das inércias está na raiz da força?
- 10cf. The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government by Giorgio Agamben.
- 11idem. It is noteworthy that Carl Linnaeus (known as the "father of modern taxonomy") still used the word "economy" in this Christian theological sense. His book Oeconomia naturae [Nature's Economy], published in 1749, argues that nature is the execution of God's command, and that catastrophes, competition and suffering among living beings fulfill the purposes of providence (the idea of that "God writes right by crooked lines") by compensating and balancing births with death, effecting the divine natural order.
- 12See the entry "Economy" of the Encyclopedia of 1755 (entry written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau).
- 13cf. Capitalism as Religion by Walter Benjamin.
- 14cf. Natureza e nazismo, by João Bernardo; and Post-scriptum: contra a ecologia, o lugar comum dos nossos dias, by João Bernardo.
- 15cf. The Gift by Marcel Mauss; Argonauts of the Western Pacific by Bronisław Malinowski; The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi.
- 16cf. Society Against the State by Pierre Clastres.
- 17A curiosity about the precapitalist "gift" is the story that gave rise to the expression "white elephant". In Siam, the white elephants were very rare, and the care required was so costly that only a mighty king could afford them. That is why they were seen as the greatest sign of wealth and power, which at that time meant wasteful opulence, gift, beneficence. If a king who wanted to overthrow a less powerful ally rather than declare war on him, he presented him with a white elephant. If the ally, to take care of the elephant, loses his wealth, he is ruined and loses power. However, if he, in order not to lose his wealth, does not care for the white elephant, this is seen as serious "disrespect" for the present given, and then the king, claiming to have "reason on his side", can declare war and destroy the former ally. The Trojan horse is another illustration of the importance of the "gift" in precapitalist societies.