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By popular demand, here's part 3 of discussion of Debord.
Does PEL have the cred to discuss neo-Marxism? Do we just not GET IT, what with our bourgeois outlooks that always split the difference between extremes and so espouse moderation? Are we perhaps too blinded by the spectacle to even see it?
Well, Mark and Seth use this extra hour to ask some leftist podcasters what they think of Debord and of our treatment of his ideas in Ep #170. We are joined by Douglas Lain of the Zero Squared (formerly Diet Soap) podcast, Brett O'Shea of the Revolutionary Left Radio podcast, and C. Derick Varn (who appeared on our semiotics episode) of the Symptomatic Redness podcast.
End song: "Open Your Eyes (Wake Up)" from another damn-the-system guy, PEL audio editor Tyler Hislop. Hear him interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #24.
Punyesh Kumar says
I was very excited when I saw “Second Opinions”, I thought maybe you had Seth Benzell on, or perhaps someone else of similar persuasion.
But no, more Marxism. Sigh..
Mark Linsenmayer says
Debord’s is a cultural critique. Why would an economist be the on point person to respond to it? The whole range of “why are you even considering these neo-Marxists when their economic proposals are totally unworkable and fail to recognize all the good that capitalism has brought us” gut reactions are entirely beside the point. Debord could be entirely right in his cultural critique (he’s not) while still completely failing to give a viable alternative to capitalism (which he doesn’t).
You’ll be happy to know that we have Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations on our schedule, and that we’ve also been in talks with a listener (who has commented recently on this blog) who worked for the Cato institute to talk about Herbert Spencer. And we are definitely up to doing a similar “second thoughts” thing in the future with a bunch of libertarians or conservatives if we read something appropriate and if we can find enough listeners of our show that fall into those categories, i.e. Both have the relevant political bent and yet are also podcasters or writers or other public voices.
Punyesh Kumar says
I might’ve sounded snarkier than I perhaps intended. I don’t have any problems with Marxist cultural critiques in principal, it’s just the usual lack of a sensible positive account gets a bit old, especially if one is not sympathetic to the view. Which is why I thought that you might’ve brought on an economist to look at Debord’s positive account.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to the episodes your mentioned. I’d also recommend “The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism Before Its Triumph ” by Albert O. Hirschman as perhaps a much more moderate take on capitalism and culture.
given yer interest in work and all you might like the thinking around luxury communism and accelerationism:
Does Seth Benzell possess knowledge of Guy Debord?
James Gallagher says
Regarding political involvement, I feel totally disengaged because I don’t see any effective avenues. The two main parties were abysmally dissapointing, the republicans for offering up an Insane Clown Posse to choose from and the democrats for cheating Bernie. I feel like. both parties are coopted by Wall Street. The few lefty groups I’ve looked at seem too small, splintered and fringy. Confronted with a Trump presidency I feel like I should do something concrete. From the podcasts it sounds like you all are also frustrated. What to do? Any suggestions?
Debord & Co. seems to have been more of a lasting influence in the art realms and some related ideas in urbanism/planning.
grist for the mill: https://monoskop.org/images/1/13/Bourdieu_Pierre_On_Television.pdf
thanks Seth for saving this from yet another endless digression into what Marx said/meant, who is or isn’t Marxist etc and thanks to Doug to getting a bit into commodities and DIY/alienation, CDV for
abstractification/media-tion, and the like.
was hoping for a bit more of an inquiry into whether the Spectacle is a useful frame for our
networked/plat-formed times or not, is the Panopticon, or do we need something new?
or not the since he came up
if the PELers are considering taking on some philosophy of technology Andrew Feenberg might be a good bridge from this line of thought to that one and I bet @mckenziewark (see his work at public seminar dot org would be a willing guest to talk about his takes on gaming, hacktivism (writ large), e-commons, and the like and he also has a good book on the situationists.
Evan Hadkins says
A fun fact for Seth, from Australia.
During the Red Scare here during the 50’s and 60’s it was quite hard for anyone Left, or certainly any communist to be employed by the government.
One solution was to go into the arts.
The other was to go into private empolyment. And the Left, and commies, being good with words . . . yes, the Advertising industry in Australia had more than its fair share of Lefties and commies. Remarkable but true.
The Rebel Sell (short video 4;48)
Joseph Heath: The Myth of the Rebel Consumer (short video 3:56)
the myth of “conscious capitalism”
These three discussions of Debord have been so good there is nothing I could really contribute, but on a bit of a tangent on the mention of a possible connection with Buddhism and mention of the future episode discussion. There seemed to be an implied sense that Buddhist thought is something of this detached solitary thing etc..
Because Buddhism was mostly first introduced as a philosophy it had a bit of the detached intelectual aspect that modern western philosophy often has. And more recently the interest in meditation and mindfulness as a secular or clinical practice it makes it seem much more of a solitary thing, but Buddhism is really much more like Greek philosophies of Stoicism, Cynicism, Epicureanism, Phyrronism etc
Also because of translation choices such as of bodaishin from Japanese in zen as “great awakened mind” when it means “great awakened heart” or bodhicitta it seems for example “zen/cha’n” doesn’t emphasize compassion but many who know of Thich Nhat Hanh of the zen tradition should think differently. The basis of Buddhism is “Buddha, dharma, sangha” and the bodhisattva ideal/path. ( bodhisattva is the Sanskrit term for anyone who, motivated by great compassion, bodhicitta, which is a wish and a compassionate mind/heart to attain awakening for the benefit of all sentient beings )
In zen this is the four great vows and exemplified in
The Tenth Oxherding picture after #9. Reaching the Source is
#10. Return to Society
Barefooted and naked of breast,
I mingle with the people of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden,
and I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me, the dead trees
In the Upaddha Sutta Ananda asks the Buddha if friendship and companionship is half of the spiritual life to which he replied no Ananda friendship, companionship and camaraderie is the whole of the spiritual life.
An Ethics of Care (Part 2 of 15)
‘How should I live?’ You know, it sounds sort of bewilderingly large, but that is the question that almost all of us are faced with every day. And one of the things that, for me, distinguished the Buddha from a whole lot of very important Western thinkers, he’s not saying that you have to sort of reform a whole society in order to achieve happiness. He’s sort of posing a kind of challenge to individuals: How can you arrive at contentment or happiness, and also, thereby, create conditions for happiness of other people around you?”
“I think it’s unsustainable. And that’s why we are heading towards and we already have, we already live in such a sort of violent times. So I’m completely unpersuaded by the notion that the systems we have are working. The fact of power obscures the failures, but the fact that you have to use violence all the time, you know, really points to the failure of these systems in many ways.”
Pankaj Mishra An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World.
“The poor man’s son, whom heaven, in its anger, has visited with ambition, admires the condition of the rich. Through the whole of his life, he pursues the idea of a certain, artificial and elegant repose, which he may never arrive at, for which he sacrifices a real tranquility that is at all times in his power, and which, if in the extremity of old age, he should at last attain to it, he will find to be in no respect preferable to that humble security and contentment, which he had abandoned for it.”
“Power and riches appear then to be what they are, enormous machines contrived to produce a few trifling conveniences to the body. They keep off the summer shower, not the winter storm, but leave him always as much and sometimes more exposed than before to anxiety, to fear and to sorrow, to diseases, to danger and to death.”
Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments of 1759
TMHS 240: Happiness Vs. Pleasure And The Hacking Of The American Mind – With Dr. Robert Lustig
Overall I liked the discussion, however the glossing over and Butchering of Stirner’ philosophy was unfortunate and is typical of Marxists of the Tankie persuasion.
Later Marx is heavily indebted to Stirner’ philosophy and there are a few points to be clarified.
1) Stirner didn’t believe everything was a spook. He believed that the contemporary unfolding of philosophy from both the Idealist and Materialist perspective shared the same foundational problem that materialism hadn’t overcome and had in fact carried on from German Idealism. Namely, the real and immediate concrete experience/relations that people have with each other were being overshadowed by the belief that what was real was ‘Absolute Spirit”, “Man”, “Society” and “Humanity”, and for Stirner these systems of belief were used by individuals to control their activities and attribute them to something outside of themselves.
2) Stirner follows Hegel to a point insofar as he acknowledges that one doesn’t start with a self and can only come to terms with this through various collisions with material manifestations of Force. He, however, departs from Hegel where Hegel attributes this an unfolding teleological specter which contains its own determining factors independent of the individual actors at play (Geist; the absolute and so on).
In a similar vain he is criticizing the pre-Marx materialist philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach in saying that all he did was bring God from the heavens or the immaterial realm to the material one in the form of “Man”.
In this sense Stirner foreshadows Heidegger in emphasizing the getting-lost-in-the-momentness of existence which characterizes peoples relations. However, he seems to appropriate from Fichte when he combines this with the acting subject determining who they are and acting on these premises.
Throughout Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum (generally translated as the ego and his own, although it was just translated anew by Wolfi Landstreicher as The Unique and His Property), there exists this default communist tendency. However, unlike both Hegel and Marx, Stirner doesn’t distinguish between the repression of capitalism and the state.
Stirner gives an account of the progression of state-hood about a third of the way through the text and he also explicitly takes a shot at capitalism too. He was very anti-capitalist and his use of the term property hasn’t anything to do with possessing private property within which others are under his , my or your control.
3) He acknowledges the existence of The Proletariat independent of the perceptual interpretation of what this means, or its potential spook-hood. He attributes a structural imbalance to capitalism which enforces the existence of a class of people which end up being workers which are pitted against themselves and their own creative activity through the capitalist mode of production. However, unlike Marx, he doesn’t believe that freedom-from lies in creating party like structures which can be used to overthrow the state and then eventually whither away. For him the state has a much longer his-story of being used as a mechanism of control and coercion and that it typically comes into being as soon as a collection of people unify around a set of fixed principles and then start trying to expand outwards with little to no flexibility.
It is very unfortunate that Stirner isn’t more widely read outside of small pockets of individualist-anarchists and the post-left and I believe this is what has made misrepresenting and misunderstanding him so easy.
Another problem, much like any other philosopher who wrote in a language other than English, and in an epoch wholly unfamiliar to ‘us’ now, is the use of language and what it signified then as opposed to what it signifies now.
There is no real connection between Stirner and the likes of Rand or Rothbard; the latter are products of neoliberal mythology which Stirner would have been against as well.
There are a few good Stirnerian authors out there and one of my preferred is Saul Newman. He’s written extensively on Stirner, Marx, Lacan, Foucault and Deleuze.
Another author who wrote a pretty good paper on Stirner is Alejandro de Acosta.
Furthermore, there is a theorist who calls himself Dr Bones from Florida who writes extensively on how one can fuse communist theory and Stirner together.
Oh, and there is an essay of aphorisms written by a collective of stirnerite-Marxist theorists called The Right to Be Greedy.
The crew should do an episode on Stirner, Seth better be there though.
Mark Linsenmayer says
We were just discussing that! It’s not going to happen right away, though.
This is great news! My only worry is how you will handle drawing the cartoon version of him when the only known image of him is a doodle…
Daniel Hoffman says
I am so glad that Seth is still here.. Rorty infuriated me when I heard him speak. He didn’t just touch a nerve. It was root canal. I did, eventually, realize that it was I who had been wrong and not Richard Rorty.
I was concerned for a bit there that we might not hear from Seth. Mark rocks for doing Spinoza because Seth could never resist that.
I read “The Society of the Spectacle” years ago and it now maps well onto my views of the memetic part of ourselves, which is something like what others call, “the socially constructed self.” But I feel that something needed to be said about this discussion, in particular..
My biggest complaint about the economic theories of the libertarian/republicans is that they are merchantilists and not capitalists. The reason we went off of the gold standard was the problem of deflation. In a merchantilist’ zero sum game, my gains are someone else’s losses and vice-versa.
It is ironic that the Marxists made the same accounting error in this conversation. When republicans speak of “throwing money at the problem” they speak as if a dollar spent is a dollar lost forever. Your guests said that it was an unfair deal for the capitalist to give, or pay, less for an item than the worker earned producing it and that this unfairness was part of the system because you could not make any profits otherwise. This is not accurate.
The velocity of currency or “velocity of money” theory lies at the heart of capitalism. One person’s spending is another person’s income and that income gives the seller money to spend, which creates a third person’s income. A dollar spent is another dollar to spend, and so on. It is most certainly not money “thrown at a problem”.
That is what I learned in economics 102. By this effect, money given to the less affluent is more stimulatory to the economy than money given to the affluent, because the latter don’t spend money as fast as they earn it. Unfortunately, contrary to the evidence, the received view is that it will create inflation if poor people have more money and it is better to give it to the rich so that they may hire the poor to get this benefit. Of course this is ad-hoc because the implicit goal is always more money for the rich. The wealthy are terrified of inflation because it devalues their assets.
Those of us who advocate for social justice need to make the case against the reigning merchantilist zero-sum theories and advocate for actual capitalism which asserts that, in a 70% consumer economy, velocity of money means that a dollar spent on the poor winds up giving ten to the wealthy. Trickle down really is a trickle, Demand side economics would create a flood upwards, contstrained by certain limits which are in flux because of accelerationg productivity.
Communists have to get away from the zero-sum error. That’s Ayn Rand’s view.
Evan Hadkins says
For those interested in economics Steve Keen is attempting to come up with a decent theory. He has lots of stuff on youtube. It is based on Minsky, who didn’t presume equilibrium (as the usual model does. His critique of the conventional model is Debunking Economics.) Declaration of interest: he’s an Australian and so am I (though he works overseas now).
Daniel 2 says
I just downloaded, “Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis” after looking him up, per your recommendation. It’s a struggle to know how to spend my efforts. I don’t want to give in to a sense of helplessness. Nor do I want to burn out. It’s a hard balance to strike.
Evan Hadkins says
It sure is. For me it means doing what I can as part of larger organisations and campaigns – bearing in mind that the means to a joyful society shouldn’t burn us out. Buying from co-op’s where we can and such is something.
Leftist here just wanting to point out that there’s a huge difference between the writings of Marx (effectively just Das Capital) and the critical theory analysis used in History and Literature called “Marxism”.
Capital is predeominantly a classical economic text. The explicit parts you can pull out are surplus value, the notion of class structure in society (at all, this is the foundational work), and the inevitable crises of capitalism. All of those things are extensions Marx makes on classical economic writers like Smith and Ricardo – there’s no existential or cultural criticism in that text.
Marxism is a highly variable cluster of analytic “tools” that are presumably based on the idea that class drives everything.
There are reasons to disparage both – but conflating them isn’t good philosophy.
So for example at 28:50 or so there is the statement that Marx says that relationships of dominance (not paying people what they’re worth) are exploitation that is hidden through mediating the relationship with something symbolic.
That’s an interesting reading but it’s an ahistorical one. Marx isn’t talking about how the people are decieved, he’s making the argument that labour is fundamentally subordinate to capital. Again, one needs to look back to Smith and Ricardo re: iron law of wages and the Industrial Revolutionary context. The point about labour being exploited isn’t that workers are tricked – it is that they have no choice. The exploitation of labour (extraction of suprlus value) occurs because if someone has no other choice but to sell their labour in order to make a living, you can drive them down to the bare minimum required to survive and have them work as long as possible. The labourer doesn’t have any other option but to take the “deal.”
Marx’s issue with “money” isn’t the more recent notion of “money is a fake thing” but rather that someone with Capital can exploit labour as described in the paragraph above. You have M dollars and want to produce product. Pay workers to produce product only as little as possible and take the rest as profit. You just turned M into M’ dollars, you are now wealthier. What did you actually “do” in terms of effort? Nothing. That’s Marx’s issue.
Tod Foley says
DeBord didn’t say “the working class” because he recognized enough of the new electronic economy to see that that term would no longer apply. He knows that they are no longer that class: or even *a* class. I believe that the councils he speaks of are not “workers councils,” but rather “general assemblies”. Thus the emphasis on students, but then through them to families and communities. The reins they must seize go beyond the mere machinery of production, reaching out into all aspects of the culture.
Bruno Della Motta says
Some guy (I can’t remember who, but I think was the “I’m commier than thou” guy) said Lukács first name was Gregory, but it was actually Georg (Gregory is not even Hungarian; the equivalent is Gergely).