Mysterious Complementarity between Capitalism and Arsenalism
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 10 Feb 2020
Metaphors Crucial to Sustainability and the Crisis of the Times
10 Feb 2020 – The discourse between those in favour of capitalism and those critical of it is now a characteristic of those concerned with social progress in general. The criticism of alternatives variously proposed could be said to follow a similar pattern. Both “sides” are comfortable with their understanding of the appropriateness of their own perspective and the dangerously misinformed inefficacy of the other — readily extended to framing what is opposed as fundamentally “evil”.
The difficulty is that capitalism is effectively the dominant system which “works” to a degree. It is faced with a variety of forms of protest at its failure to address the conditions experienced by many, other than through an array of promises. These are not recognized as coming to fruition in the manner claimed or assumed. Both the assertion that it works, and any claims regarding its failure, are themselves vigorously disputed. The pattern could be said to be sterile and unproductive, except possibly as a curiously painful collective learning exercise — whose benefits are yet to be recognized.
The difficulty for those claiming to offer progressive alternatives is that they are only too characteristically unable to “get their act together” and to demonstrate on a larger scale the appropriateness of their proposal(s). This assertion is of course vigorously denied — although the failure is only too readily blamed as the fault of capitalism and its nefarious supporters. Progressives are skilled at attributing blame to others and at avoiding any recognition that there may be inherent inadequacies to their manner of operating collectively — again despite vigorous claims to the contrary.
The discrepancy is perhaps exemplified in the contrast between the World Economic Forum and the World Social Forum. The former could be understood as the exemplary nexus of capitalist thinking and its efforts to promote itself as the unquestionable key to global progress (Cas Mudde, The High Priests of Plutocracy all meet at Davos, The Guardian, 25 January 2020). The World Social Forum could be understood as exemplifying the effort of progressives to articulate alternatives. Unfortunately the former exemplifies the advantages of the capitalist style of “getting an act together”, whereas the latter has progressively proven to be a demonstration of inability to do so according to any alternative model. Ironically the coherence of the latter, with the diversity of advocates represented, is primarily provided by a consensus regarding the inadequacies of the former.
Arguably there is little capacity to view these contrasting modalities as reflecting a very human system — riven as it is by a pattern of “differences”, despite expressed appreciation of “diversity”. The more subtle insights of complexity theory, chaos theory, and related disciplines, have as yet proven to be totally inadequate to the challenge. That situation is now compounded by the appropriation of these skill sets by the capitalist modality, as demonstrated by the manipulation of public opinion to undermine the ideal of democratic processes — and by the ever increasing lack of popular confidence in them. More ironic, to the extent that capitalism is framed as “evil” (as noted below), is the sense in which it might itself be understood as a “wicked problem“, as this is defined by the policy sciences.
Greater insight could possibly be derived from exploring such human dynamics through other frameworks — as a psychodrama, a tragic opera, or otherwise, as illustrated separately (All Blacks of Davos vs All Greens of Porto Alegre: reframing global strategic discord through polyphony? 2007; A Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? 2006).
A quite different approach is explored here regarding the nature of any “bridge” between the radically contrasting modalities of capitalism and its proposed alternatives — with each framing the other as a misleadingly distracting impediment — if not dangerously irrelevant — therefore necessitating its eradication. The latter approach could even be explored as problematic in its own right (Eradication as the Strategic Final Solution of the 21st Century? 2014). Is the elimination of capitalism really to be framed as a magical silver bullet? The question calling for exploration is how to get beyond systemic dependence on having an “other” to blame in the event of the inadequacy of the preferred strategy (Collective Mea Culpa? You Must be Joking! Them is to blame, Not us! 2015).
It is assumed here that a viable approach would highlight realities shared by the contrasting modalities but which are in some strange manner both deprecated and appreciated by them. Both deprecation and appreciation are then to be seen as cutting though the conventions of the political correctness that both claim to uphold. In a sense this issue is what is curiously “unsaid” in the discourse of both “capitalists” and “progressives”, as discussed separately (Global Strategic Implications of the “Unsaid”, 2003)? What is the distinctive feature of the “under the table” discourse practiced by both?
Succinctly stated, the argument here is that the discourse focused on “capitalism” — or on opposition to it — implies a strange relation to what might be termed “arsenalism”. Etymologically capitalism is an exercise “of the head” — skillfully neglecting what can be recognized metaphorically as other features and processes of human physiology which may suffer from its excesses. It could however be considered supremely ironic the extent to which these “other” processes feature in the language and preoccupation of both capitalists and progressives — covertly, if not overtly. The fact that “arsenalism” is of dubious origin, and a questionable neologism, is arguably indicative of the potential validity of an approach relevant to any reframing of the currently sterile discourse between capitalists and progressives.
The potential relevance is more obvious in the curious relation between “capital” and “arsenal” — given the overt nature of the former and the secretive nature of the latter. Potentially more curiously relevant is the association to much-valued game-playing offered by “arsenal”, given its iconic relation to both football and armaments.
A major emphasis here, in the clarification of “arsenalism”, is the neglected systemic insights which might be derived from the conventional use of profanity at all levels of society — most notably at the highest levels of government. At the time of writing this is usefully illustrated by the declaration of the arch-capitalist, President Trump, that the efforts to impeach him had all been “bullshit” (as noted below). Is there something fundamental to be learnt from this style of communication — despite the tendency to frame it as the very absence of style? Why do those worthy of the most respect have recourse to that style, and why do others — similarly worthy — deprecate such usage, even when their initiatives are ineffective?
From a systemic perspective, few would challenge the need to process human waste. It is clearly ridiculous to endeavour to prevent its daily production. Are the efforts to completely prohibit profanity to be considered equally ridiculous — when what is required is attention to appropriate “sanitation systems” through which it can be intelligently processed? However, rather than the “conceptual sanitation” described by a reviewer as the focus of the seminal philosophical study by Harry Frankfurt (On Bullshit, 2005), the concern here is with the unconscious systemic insights profanity may embody. Are there vital learnings to be derived from the necessary attitudes and skills of the psychosocial analogue of sanitary engineering — distinct from the knee-jerk distaste for its preoccupation?
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