Post-Industrial Society

I have recently come across this relic of a relic, Daniel Bell’s Coming of Post-Industrial Society, which reflects orthodox Marxian social theory’s foregrounding of industrial capitalism back onto itself. If orthodox Marxists were correct and if the driving impetus behind capitalism is industrialization, then post-industrial society, if it is even capitalism at all, is something that requires an entirely different analytical frame, perhaps information or financialization or technology or artificial intelligence.

But the original premise is mistaken. Industry should not be mistaken for the factories and assembly lines, which migrated elsewhere (China, Mexico, Singapore, and Thailand) in the 1970s. Industry should instead be understood as an expression of ΔQ/ΔL, where a change in quantity is increasing more quickly than the change in labor; where, in other words, labor (and/or capital) is industrious. This is how all neoclassical economic theorists, including Marx, understood industry. Factories and assembly lines are but one expression of industry. But so too are organizational efficiencies, informational efficiencies, technological efficiencies, and so on.

But this means that, beginning with Bell, theorists of post-industrial society, insofar as they take the false premise of industrial society as their point of departure, reproduce the theoretical morphology of that premise. It is a relic of a relic.

Class as Agency

If the conditions of production, or the productivity of labour, remain constant, the same amount of social labour-time must be expended on the reproduction of a quarter of wheat, both before and after the change in price. This situation is not dependent either on the will of the wheat producer or on that of the owners of the other commodities. The magnitude of the value of a commodity therefore expresses a necessary relation to social labour-time which is inherent in the process by which its value is created. With the transformation of relation appears as the exchange-ratio between a single commodity and the money commodity which exists outside it. This relation, however, may express both the magnitude of value of the commodity and the greater or lesser quantity of money for which it can be sold under the given circumstances. The possibility, therefore, of a quantitative incongruity between price and magnitude of value, i.e. the possibility that the price may diverge from the magnitude of value, is inherent in the price-form itself. This is not a defect, but, on the contrary, it makes this form the adequate one for a mode of production whose laws can only assert themselves as blindly operating averages between constant irregularities.

Marx, Capital, I.1.3 §1

The apparent inconsistency in Marx’s mature social theory between, on the one hand, class analysis, and, on the other, value analysis, is clarified when Marx brings the two together explicitly in his discussion of value. In value theory, value is held to arise out of aggregate social labor-time across a market, so that, for example, the value of a laborer in one common market is subject not to her specific time spent producing a specific product, but to the average time spent by members of the shared labor market at a specific wage. Because we purchase canned pears from packaged in Thailand, the total cost of producing the same pears in the US cannot be greater than the total cost of producing those pears domestically. Neither the worker, nor the investor, is has mastery over the market. “This situation is not dependent either on the will of the wheat producer or on that of the owners of the other commodities. The magnitude of the value of a commodity therefore expresses a necessary relation to social labour-time which is inherent in the process by which its value is created.” From this vantage point, the investors or “owners” are as little in charge of value as the workers or “producers.”

When viewed across markets, this also means that the value of each commodity is independent of from its immediate conditions of production. “With the transformation of relation appears as the exchange-ratio between a single commodity and the money commodity which exists outside it. This relation, however, may express both the magnitude of value of the commodity and the greater or lesser quantity of money for which it can be sold under the given circumstances. The possibility, therefore, of a quantitative incongruity between price and magnitude of value, i.e. the possibility that the price may diverge from the magnitude of value, is inherent in the price-form itself.” Insofar as money is itself a commodity whose value is relative to the aggregate value of all commodities within a market, an investor might — and often does — misjudge the costs of production, which, as Marx notes, are out of her hands. The value form is subject to market-wide conditions. So, too, is the price form. With this difference: consider if Walgreen’s purchases Vitamin-C wholesale when the market is at its peak, estimating that it can sell these at a relatively high retail price; but when Covid-19 strikes, not only can Walgreen’s no longer clear its inventory at that price, but the Vitamin-C producer, who relied upon booming sales, now cannot sell her product to outlets.

Oskar Lange, Branko Horvat, and a host of other Comintern “market socialism” advocates took the absence of planning to be the cause for this “quantitative incongruity between price and magnitude of value.” But that is not at all what Marx — or, indeed, what any neoclassical economist — argued. The incongruity is “inherent in the price-form itself.” “Market socialism” is an oxymoron not because markets are inconsistent with socialism, but because markets are necessarily capitalism. That is to say, once publics establish the prices of commodities publicly, deliberately, rationally, they no longer function as markets because, and insofar as, relative abstract value is an essential feature of the market. “This is not a defect, but, on the contrary, it makes this form the adequate one for a mode of production whose laws can only assert themselves as blindly operating averages between constant irregularities.

What deserves special mention here is that investors are just as incapable of controlling this process as workers or producers.

This is not to suggest either than markets should not be deliberately, publicly, mediated or that, politically, it would not, in theory, be feasible for publics to so regulate markets. It is to suggest, however, that the magic worked by markets cannot be won through planning. Either we operate under the assumption of ΔQ/ΔL, call it what you like, call it “market socialism,” it is still capitalist; or, we scrap ΔQ/ΔL and we elect to mediate social relations in some other manner. But, in a market economy, the owner enjoys as much agency as the worker, which is to say very little.

Stalin’s Science

So stellt sich der Lichteindruck eines Dings auf den Sehnerv nicht als subjektiver Reiz des Sehnervs selbst, sondern als gegenständliche Form eines Dings außerhalb des Auges dar. Aber beim Sehen wird wirklich Licht von einem Ding, dem äußeren Gegenstand, auf ein andres Ding, das Auge, geworfen.

Has anyone else been struck by how terribly awful this analogy is for Marx’s purposes? Was it edited out of later versions, or added in? I cannot tell, but it is definitely not there in the Otto Rühle edition.

Marx appears to be suggesting that there is a direct relationship between objects and eyes, without any social or psychological mediation; and that the active role played by social actors in seeing is akin to the active role aggregate duration plays in the determination of value. That is to say, he appears to be suggesting that, just as aggregate value distorts the objective values of commodities, so . . . in a world governed by (Stalinist) science, objective seeing is realized?

The analogy does not even support Marx’s argument, which is why it was edited out of the Rühle edition?


Use value and value

“The emphasis is on the appearance that pushes a certain type of satisfaction into the foreground. This appearance is the same as the one that unites both aspects of the commodity and masks the structural gap between use-value and exchange-value.”

— The Capitalist Unconscious: Marx and Lacan by Samo Tomsic

This ignores the more than apparent unity and tension immanent to the commodity:

To say that these mutually independent and antithetical processes form an internal unity is to also that their internal unity moves forward through external antitheses. These two processes lack internal independence because they complement each other. Hence, if the assertion of their external independence proceeds to a certain critical point, their unity violently makes itself felt by producing — a crisis. There is an antithesis, immanent in the commodity, between use-value and value, between private labour which must simultaneously manifest itself as directly social labour, and a particular concrete kind of labour which simultaneously counts as merely abstract universal labour, between the conversion of things into persons and the conversion of persons into things; the antithetical phases of the metamorphosis of the commodity are the developed forms of motion of this immanent contradiction. These forms therefore imply the possibility of crises, though no more than the possibility. For the development of this possibility into a reality a whole series of conditions is required, which do not yet even exist from the standpoint of the simple circulation of commodities (Capital I.I.3 §2 (a)).

The two-fold character of the commodity for Marx is not a feature of human ontology but of a specific form of production; not in other words a distortion of an otherwise sound process but the product of that process itself.

Hysteria and the Commodity Form

“The hysteric is, indeed, Freud’s proletarian.”

— The Capitalist Unconscious: Marx and Lacan by Samo Tomsic

Hysteria is enveloped in the same mystery as the proletariat because it might erupt at any moment. But just as the young Marx mistook this possibility as emancipatory, so Freud mistook hysteria as a psychological symptom of a social pathology. In a paper I presented to the Social Theory Workshop at Chicago, I invited the workshop to explore both the formal and analytical similarities Max Weber found between the charismatic religious warrior and religious hysteria, which Weber believed was amplified by women priests (G u G, 6). Weber projected onto ancient warrior religion the two-fold form of the commodity not only in India, the principle object of Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, Kapital 6, but also in ancient Judea, Greece, and China. In each case, the sublime was felt to threaten the rigid structures by which Weber felt it was bound. Explicitly Weber settled upon this analytical form following his discovery of Heinrich Rickert’s Grenzen in 1903. But, since it is so pervasive among scholars (see for example Edmund Burke’s Beautiful and Sublime written well before Kant’s Analytik) from the mid-18th century forward, a purely intellectual genealogy misses its broader and deeper social grounding in the two-fold commodity form itself. Hysteria is, from this vantage point (like the charismatic religious warrior) an expression of the abstract value form of the commodity, which both Freud and Weber transhistoricized and universalized as a quasi-medical ontologically fundamental condition. Unlike Freud and Weber, however, by 1867 Marx had come to recognize the social and historical specificity of the proletariat. So, yes, the hysteric is Freud’s proletariat. But Freud had not yet, and would never come to recognize the hysteric’s production and productive role composing the commodity.

Misreading the Proletariat

“Unconscious labour and abstract labour both lack concrete personification and embodiment, since their materiality consists in labour-power, which the discursive apparatus isolates in the living body and which the signifier or value represents independently from the relation to the signified. Because of this lack of concrete embodiment, Marx and Freud produced two ‘fetishisations’, that is, they forced two social personifications of abstract and unconscious labour. Marx could only invent the social symptom by fetishising the proletariat and the industrial reserve army as the point where the contradictions of the capitalist structure become empirical. This, of course, entails the misunderstanding that Marx’s critique descends from the realm of metaphysical abstractions to the concrete analysis of social conditions and to concrete men and women. The fetishisation in question maybe repeats the very same operation as commodity fetishism, but it articulates something that one might call Marx’s hypothesis: the individual who is affected by capitalism is the same as the one who constitutes the subject of value. This clearly inverts the fetishist hypothesis, according to which the subject of capitalism is capital itself. The sameness of the industrial proletariat and of the subject of value implies that the industrial labourer, in a given historic moment, the industrial revolution, embodies the split in the subject of labour and the alienation introduced by the capitalist organisation of production. Their hypothetical sameness does not contradict the fact that the subject of value designates the radical alienation of the individual that embodies it.”

— The Capitalist Unconscious: Marx and Lacan by Samo Tomsic

If, as Tomšič claims, Marx fetishizes the industrial proletariat, then he reproduces the distinction he is eager to overcome. But, the truth is nearly the opposite. In its Freudian-Lacanian form, focus is placed on the subject and subject formation as human subject. Restoring integrity to that subject is central to that project. This meant, for the young Marx, discovering how the capitalist social formation distorted and displaced species being. In this case, the industrial proletariat, the self-creating subject that creates its own value, can only become this subject by recovering the value alienated from it by the ruling capitalist class. But, by 1858 Marx was already uncomfortable with this approach. Marx recognized that its subject remained the subject of capitalism even should capitalism be superseded. That is to say, Marx realized that the industrial proletariat, since it was among capitalism’s most illustrious products, cannot also be the subject of a non-capitalist social formation. In capital, Marx dispenses with the fetish for which Tomšič faults him, identifying the subject of capitalism instead with the abstract value form of capital. At best Marx displays agnosticism over whether or what the subject of a non-capitalist social formation would be. Positively stated, Marx identifies the industrial proletariat as a commodity — an individuated or particularized form of appearance of the abstract value form of the commodity and that abstract form of value — that lends itself to being fetishized: it displays a power that has no body; its body is not equal to the value invested in it. Which is to say, the mature Marx criticizes the young Marx’s fetishizing of the industrial proletariat. Moreover, in that critique, Marx also implicitly finds fault with anthropologies, such as Freud’s, that take the two-fold character of the human being to be ontologically fundamental rather than, as Marx feels, an expression of their commodification. But the human being emancipated from commodification is neither a use-value and value recombined (Marx’s definition of the commodity) nor a use-value without value. Rather would the human beings emancipated from capitalism be shaped by other social forms, generating their own pathologies, and, perhaps, like subjects prior to the emergence of capitalism, still tormented by their contingent relationships to themselves, to others, and to the world.

Process Theology, Harari, and the Benedictine Practice

I do not believe that I have ever blogged on Process Theology. But two things are rattling around in my head. The first is my love affair with Noah Yuval Harari. (Don’t tell his husband.) With many more caveats than I can mention here, I agree generally with his take that it is “lying” that empowers us to aggregate in groups larger than fifty; or, more generously, it is “telling universal stories” that empowers us to forge agreement among groups larger than fifty. One of those stories is the Babylonian/Abrahamic story told in my broader faith community of Judaism/Christianity/Islam.

The second thing rattling around in my head is my, as of January 1, Benedictine practice, where I pray the hours, introducing me in a very intense way to the (among other writings) Psalms. The Psalms are terribly disturbing. Read them and you will discover what I mean. But, they are also so transparently a formative actor in the communities taking shape — both hill and plains people — in the Fertile Crescent. Yahweh/Allah is so clearly a Sky God. And, yet, Yahweh/Allah is also so clearly forged among communities planting and harvesting and, although not as often as we think, also at war.

What captures my attention is how terribly brutal the Psalms are and how ready they are to attribute brutality to my God. But, hear me out, if you ally yourself to a Sky God — to a God responsible for everything that happens — then there is simply no escaping the brutality of this God. The alternative is some version of Zoroastrianism or Manicheanism; which, I admit, are sometimes attractive. But, in that case, I would have to give up the Book of Common Prayer and the Hymns. Although I am a Jew brought up a Unitarian, I am not about to abandon the BCP or the 1982 Hymnal (until, of course, both are re-written). My point is this: the world is in fact brutal. War is real. Terrible things happen. And they happen for a reason (though, I would argue, these have absolutely nothing to do with “God”).

But, let us suppose that one of the things we are trying to grasp in the stories we tell is how the real world works. Not a fictitious world where everyone is nice and kind and moral (except for the bad people); but the real world where Sapiens tell stories here that are not told there and where here and there are not the same, where stories conflict, and where we are really trying hard to make sense of the whole thing. Like I said, war is real. Famine is real. We live in a world where wars and famine happen. We live in a world where what we do promote (or mitigate) wars and famine. So, what story do we tell about these terrible things? Do we observe the Benedictine Hours and keep our heads down? Do we knowingly, wisely, admit that we are pawns of the algorithm and retreat to our meditation rooms? (I actually practice both of these solutions.)

What does it feel like to try to put it all together in a story?

I think Whitehead’s Process Philosophy is a story. My problem with this story is that it is unidirectional and ultimately positive. It suggests — Hegel-like — that we are improving, that the universe is improving, that we are proceeding as normal. “Carry On.”

But I actually think this is mistaken. I have watched “the gap” and it has not served me well. The world of conflict actually appears to me more real. I like the Psalms better, they speak to me more clearly, they tell the truth more accurately, than Whitehead or Pannenberg. These stories are complex. We all try to hue to the line. We fail. We tell an alternate story. And so the Process account doesn’t make sense to me.

And, yet. My heartthrob reassures me that the world, the universe, really is orderly, although not necessarily on my behalf. I, of course, have a unique commitment to Sapiens. But, I am also led to believe that I am not the King Sapiens. And I am led to believe that Sapiens will pass and the universe will perdure. So I read the Psalms in this ambivalent place. Not Process. Not Talmudic. Not Benedictine.

Vantage Point of Critique/1 of 3

We cannot jump over our shadow, so it is said. But then where is — is there? — the rock that is higher than I?

The advantage GWF Hegel enjoyed was that he was already embedded in a social form that enjoyed a directional dynamic. He could therefore theorize a spirit that stood at the source of this stream.

We now know that this source was, both to Hegel and to us, terribly recent. For a species that emerged 2.4M years ago 1324 is less than the blink of an eye. Hardly a vantage point of critique.

So, the question is: does this exceedingly narrow vantage point actually offer us a window through which to see something else; a path to somewhere that is not here?

The conceit of orthodox Marxists is that the events of 1324 mark the center of history; that once time and labor are coordinated in Ghent by the abbot of St-Pierre in the workhouse constructed in the parish of Saint John, viola, all of history resolves into private property, class struggle, and the universal subject-object of history from whose vantage point we can finally, at long last, see the end.

Let us assume instead that we are fully, completely, without remainder, members of that social formation constituted in 1324. We are within the hall of mirrors. This is the time-space envelope whose floor and ceiling and walls we regularly and accurately measure, into which we launch projectiles with infallible accuracy. We have mastered this envelope. Viola.

The way through, in this case, always leads back. We are Truman Burbank, albeit in a world much more hellish than his. But — and this is the crucial point — there is no orchestrator outside the bubble. There is no “outside” to the bubble. But this does not mean that cracks do not appear. Cracks are everywhere. But they are always cracks within the bubble. So the question is: is there any determinate pattern to the cracks?

Orthodox Marxists would like there to be an objective material base that rubs uncomfortably against the fictitious commodified canopy. But no, that is not actually how it happens. It is fiction all the way down. It is fiction — thankfully — even when Kingdom comes. So, how does it happen?

Let me suggest that the distinction between value and its surface forms of appearance become visible to us in times of crisis. But let me also notice that this distinction does not convey its own interpretive framework. And, so, we, everyone — but we too — ask: what is contained in this breach? This difference? This interval?

There is nothing obvious or inevitable or necessary in this breach. It is a suggestion, a hint, an intimation: that what we thought was there differs from what might be there. In this difference — in noticing this difference — is the revelation that I do not know.

So, yes. Of course. this is the beginning of GFW Hegel’s Phenomenology. But it is also the beginning of the transformation. I do not know. That is to say, what seems transparent inside the bubble is not true. How do I know that? Why do I know that? What does it mean? What should I do?

But GWF Hegel could not see it. Because it means that the answer does not lie outside, above, beyond.

For concerning the righteousness that is by the law, Moses writes: “The man who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or, ‘Who will descend into the Abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: that if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with your heart you believe and are justified, and with your mouth you confess and are saved.

Romans 10:5-10

No. The first century is not ours. This is only by analogy. I only mean to suggest that we are not being asked or invited to jump over our shadow.

We are instead being asked to attend to the determinate contradiction directly before us — not in history, not in time, not in humanity. The one that is right here. Not in heaven. Not beneath. Just right here.

What is your value? What is the value of the things you desire? Are they valued accurately?

From whence their value? Where does objectivity lie?

What do these things mean?

What role do you play in their meaning? What meaning do they play in your meaning?

Where is the vantage point of your critique?

Christian Materiality/2

Some of you will have known me long enough to remember the dissertation chapters in which I was eager to show how the the Reformation was largely a product of new temporal horizons generated by the coordination of productive human activity and abstract time. While everyone now concedes that the signal event was the instructions the abbot of St-Pierre gave the fullers to install a clock in the workhouse in the parish of St John (in 1324), clocks and clock time began to slowly change the late medieval landscape immediately upon their arrival two centuries earlier. Initially, of course, they simply replaced the sundials, water clocks, candles, and ropes cloistered brothers and sisters had for centuries used to measure the intervals between times of prayer. Eventually, however, Europeans adopted a dual time regime: one that reflected that actual movements of tides, seasons, migrations, and ecclesiastical rhythms and another that measured abstract, scientific, celestial time.

My dissertation, finished in 1998, went on to argue that Max Weber had turned the actual world on its head; that it was the changed practices, experience, and sensibilities of common, mostly illiterate, peasants, tradespeople, and merchants who came to feel their world divided into innert, dead, bodies on the one hand, and lively, living, spirits on the other; or, to use language more familiar to Marxian historians, abstract immaterial value, on the one hand, and its material forms of appearance, on the other. What this meant, I argued, was that Weber and the discipline that he came to dominate, including the Marxian social theory that (partially) embraced his theory, had taken Protestant Theology and Protestant piety as a trigger to capitalism rather than, as I argued, among capitalism’s most illustrious products.

As I have pointed out elsewhere — although I did not yet fully grasp it in 1998 — there is good reason to believe that Marx, too, at least by 1867, recognized the adequacy of Protestant spirituality and experience and the capitalist social formation:

For a society of commodity producers, whose general social relation of production consists in the fact that they treat their products as commodities, hence as values, and in this material form bring their individual, private labours into re lation with each other as homogeneous human labour, Christianity with its religious cult of man in the abstract, more particularly in its bourgeois development, i.e. in Protestantism, Deism, etc., is the most fitting form of religion.

Marx, Capital, Volume One, Commodities and Money.

Part of my delight with Carline Walker Bynum’s Christian Materiality is obviously that it helps validate a thesis I have long entertained. But this suggests merely intellectual sparring, which is part, but not all of it. I give nothing away to say that Professor Bynum, in her conclusion, relates the materiality of late Medieval Christianity not simply to the incarnation, which is where I have long seated it, but to creation. There is, Bynum says, not simply a tension, but a paradox in the absolute, immaterial, all-powerful, in whom there is no shadow of turning, being expressed in, revealing God’s self in, Creation, material, less than all-powerful, from which shadow of turning acquires its very meaning. It is convenient to fall back upon a via negativa, and to argue that God is revealed in Creation by what Creation is not. However anyone who would read Genesis 1-6 in this light or the preamble to John’s gospel would surely find themselves tongue-tied to defend this position.

Professor Bynum finishes her work with both her and her reader’s tongues tied. She does not resolve, does not attempt to resolve, perhaps does not wish to resolve, the paradox.

If not exactly a solution, there is a path that leads to one suggested in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in which, it seems clear, Paul places the Stoic assumptions of Romans 1-3 under the rubric of the Cross. What if Cross is prior? Or, in Professor Bynum’s language, what if materiality enjoys priority?

What if the problem is not fitting time into eternity, but eternity into time? And what if the solution to this problem is that time, temporality, limitation has always been the divine imperative that has been seeking to redeem the human quest for eternity? Or, in a more positive light, what if eternity is grasped as a temporality?

I would really like it if others who have read this book — and not only Christians — would chime in. It is a terribly interesting study. And with huge implications for faith and political practice.

Die Verwandlung

Naturally, having read Benjamin’s Illuminations last week, I had to read Kafka’s Metamorphosis this week. An appropriate read during a pandemic, but not for reasons that you might imagine. Consider, for example, how the Samsas, following their initial shock, barely take notice of Gregore, who, to be sure, occupies nearly all of their waking hours and one entire bedroom, but whose meaning they nearly completely ignore. Or consider how his departure brings the Samsas not so much, again, to consider their condition, but to think about relocating and marrying off their daughter Greta.

Much like the Samsas, we — if not the world, certainly the world’s policy makers — are biding our time “until this is all over,” until Gregore departs, until we develop a vaccine or cheap daily test or whatever; not unlike the Samsas, wouldn’t you say? There is, in any case, no thought (except among experts) that somehow we brought this upon ourselves; that we should wake up and pay attention; that perhaps the disappearance of all other large mammals during the anthropocene, or climate change, or the mass industrial production of food for a population swelling for no particular reason, and any number of other catastrophic signals — such as the fact that our brother and son has become a large grotesque vermin — might cause us a moment’s pause to reflect.

Instead, I think I will throw a pan onto the floor, or an apple. Or perhaps I will lock the door; unless, of course, Gregore requires food. Ok. I’ll feed “him,” “it,” “whatever.”

In fact, what is so shocking about Die Verwandlung is how terribly normal is the world Kafka portrays. Even Gregore himself does not really shed his deferential, obsequious, self-effacing salesman persona. He changes only insofar, but no further, than his new condition requires.

Only Greta undergoes a true Verwandlung in any meaningful sense; though, interestingly enough, she is for the most part voiceless, in spite of — because of? — her enchanting connection to the universe, music, the violin, etc. It is a voice that goes unheard, until it is heard, which, of course, leads to Gregore’s departure and to her immanent departure, to be a man’s wife.

In this sense, Die Verwandlung is the preeminent bourgeois novella, a slice of Americana during periods of crisis, during the interminable crisis that has characterized the post-war epoch. That Kafka so keenly saw this in 1917 is nothing short of astonishing. What would happen if fascists actually did come to dominate most of Europe, authoritarian dictators much of Asia, atomic and fire bombs devastated densely populated cities, and six million Jews were systematically murdered? Surely that would change everything. Surely that would give rise to eine Verwandlung. Right?