From Simple Beginnings a Jungle, Research Time, 30/01/2018

I at first didn’t intend to follow yesterday’s post. I’m still not, really. I’m picking up a thread from a photo caption of all things, spinning it into a new point.

It’s a tricky thing, talking about Karl Marx. In a way, I pity the writers of Deleuze’s Philosophical Legacy, and anyone else who specializes in academic Deleuze scholarship.

I mean, I pity all academics who devote their entire creative lives to the scholarship and interpretation of one or a small few number of historical authors. Do we need more commentary, or do we need more inspiration? Need we separate the two so radically at all?

The entire process looks immensely well-ordered, a perfect balance
among so many complex parts and processes. Of course, the most
perfect balances are also the easiest to disrupt. One shift too far, one
change at just the wrong place and time – the entire system flies to
pieces through the same energy that kept it all together.
You probably know where I fall on that question.

Marx wanted to stand Hegelianism on its feet – put the conceptual and analytic frameworks of thinking to work. His exploration of the dynamics of England’s industrial-imperialist economy literally invented a new kind of science – empirical philosophy.

Scientific research on social and economic relationships, understood according to Hegel’s frameworks of thought. Identify the true contradiction among all the forces that constitute a society, analyze how those irreconcilably-opposed forces could bring their conflict to the highest intensity.

It turned out that the problem wasn’t how you orient your Hegelianism – it was with the whole theoretical toolbox. Social structures and systems* are assembled in very complex, contingent ways.

* Or pretty much any structure or system in the world, but let’s just talk about the social ones for now.

They fall apart from chaotic processes too – one little change interacts with everything else going on, as if it were some Rube Goldberg machine that builds itself as it collapses to pieces and brings down the whole house around it.

So you understand how societies transform not by looking for high-intensity contradictions – that’s more like understanding how societies explode, if anything. Societies transform much more frequently, and much more subtly. Though even the most subtle transformations can eventually constitute entirely different worlds.

What was one revolutionary transformation that happened from Marx’s time to ours (or at least to Deleuze’s)? Labour differentiated. In England’s 1870s economy, working people were miners and factory workers. That’s it. Dirty, scruffy men who live horrible, soot-covered, ash-breathing lives before dying of lung disease. Plus all the slave labour around the colonies who did all the same stuff, but in the sun dying of heatstroke.

I suppose you could say that every technology is as convoluted as a
Rube Goldberg machine, and maybe just as unnecessary. What would
that gain you, though?
I ask that as a serious question.
Now, we have a ton of different working jobs. The factory workers, the miners, yes. But also the retail workers, the taxi and rideshare drivers, medical trades, waiters and bartenders, communications contractors, paid-by-the-post bloggers.

The key with the current labour system, so goes this essay on Marx and Deleuze, is that none of these different groups see much in common with each other. Few of them really have much in their identities and lives in common – other than worrying about their finances.

But the class consciousness that was so easy when Mordorish factory workers made up the bulk of working people? That’s long gone. Why? Because things changed. Economic and technological conditions diversified the number of ways you could get stuck as an underpaid wage slave.

And I’m just talking about the mostly-financialized Western economies. Leave aside the extra complexity of a globalized world whose parity is improving daily.

The world need not have changed in such a way. Maybe it only did so because all the communist revolutions across Europe between the two World Wars were put down, and because Stalin took the only successful such revolution into totalitarianism.

But that’s what happened. The capitalist territories survived the catastrophe of the two world wars, and developed computer technology that diversified their economies. Class solidarity evaporated because there was no longer enough in the identities of the different working people to say they could even be in the same community.

Take a 24-year-old punk rocker girl working at Dollarama for minimum wage. A 50-year-old lifelong steelworker who’s lost his health insurance. An overstressed 32-year-old ad copy writer who might make $4000 one month, then $400 the next (and maybe the next too). What do they have in common?

You can give them lots of good answers. What are the chances they’d believe it?

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