On Neo-Darwinism and Presidential Politics

Rich people, I would guess, like to own things, but they demonstrate a remarkable tendency not to own themselves or own up to their own behavior. Mitt Romney’s sojourn to Europe and Israel only brings this point home to me. According to the Washington Post:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney angered Palestinian leaders on Monday when he suggested here that the Israeli economy has outpaced that of the Palestinian territories in part because of advantages of “culture.” 

Romney pointed to a 2-to-1 disparity in per capita income between Israel and the Palestinian territories as proof of Israel’s culturally based “economic vitality.” In fact the disparity is more on the order of 30-to-1 according to a World Bank report, the same report that points to Israeli occupation and armed conflict (not culture) as the main impediments to economic growth in the territories.

A couple of character flaws in the Republican candidate appear to be in evidence here. First, Romney seems unable or unwilling Continue reading



I’m currently re-reading (and re-reading) the new English translation of Vilém Flusser’s Vampyroteuthis Infernalis for the journal American Book Review. (The one under review, published by Atropos, comes from the original Portuguese manuscript. There is another translation from the first publication in German to be released shortly by University of Minnesota Press.) I have too much to say about this book – literally, too much to say… I will be re-reading it and writing on it and re-writing for years to come. Since this is a blog post and not Vol. IX of the Encyclopoedia Flusserica, I will limit myself to a small passage that nicked my frontal lobe as I read it. Perhaps this will prove to be a method for future posts: that which nicks or tickles the frontal lobe. Akin to the Morelliana from the other side of Rayuela, but all the more ticklish for appearing on a blog as nearly-unread ephemera.

Flusser’s book is the culmination of his life-long speculative theorizations on intersubjectivity. His immediate goal is to understand the uncanny deep-sea vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis), but not as a object available for dissection, analysis and categorization by the scientist. Rather, Flusser speculates, in quasi-fictional fashion, that Vampyroteuthes could be historical subjects replete with their own reflection, epistemology, sociology, philosophy and art. Human investigation into Vampyroteuthis would then take the form of an intersubjective dialogue instead of the human scientist’s monologue about a non-human object.

Objectivity in this sense is anything but objective, but rather Continue reading

I am the 99.000037%

I’ve written fairly extensively about the parasitic relation of global capital to the modern nation-state. (Check here for more.) Essentially I’ve maintained that the primary political-economic form of the globalized world is the multinational corporation and not the nation-state. But this does not signal the death of the nation-state, just a reorganization of its functionalities. Corporations only require “so much” of sovereignty (in order to guarantee money supply, contracts, infrastructure), but tend to flee from assuming sovereignty as much as possible. Instead, global actors have effectively outsourced sovereignty to the nation-state, feeding on the nation’s sovereignty like a parasite to a host.

Lawrence Lessig offers proof of how this parasitism occurs as a matter of everyday practice, in his recent post at The Atlantic:

A tiny number of Americans — .26 percent — give more than $200 to a congressional campaign. .05 percent give the maximum amount to any congressional candidate. .01 percent give more than $10,000 in any election cycle. And .000063 percent — 196 Americans — have given more than 80 percent of the super-PAC money spent in the presidential elections so far.

The result of this system of campaign finance, Lessig goes on to argue, are quite a bit worse than mere bribery:

These few don’t exercise their power directly. None can simply buy a congressman, or dictate the results they want. But because they are the source of the funds that fuel elections, their influence operates as a filter on which policies are likely to survive. It is as if America ran two elections every cycle, one a money election and one a voting election. To get to the second, you need to win the first. But to win the first, you must keep that tiniest fraction of the one percent happy. Just a couple thousand of them banding together is enough to assure that any reform gets stopped.

So here we have it, the creation of a double (and duplicitous) sovereign order, a layering of political economic forms as if they were strata of sedimentary rock. From below, the sovereign right of a people in a democratic republic to elect their own representatives. And pressing from above, with several billion tons of pressure, 163 global oligarchs who get to decide not only which policy gets made, but more importantly, decide which policies can never be made. This is the “sovereign decision” thrown backwards: The global sovereign is he who decides on exceptions of action on the part of the state.

Even more outstanding is how such non-decision is communicated. The rights of the national citizen are based in “natural” language: the ability to express public opinion and public will. The non-rights of the corporation are expressed, not in language, but through EFT:  Electronic Fund Transfer, transferred over global informational networks from one back account to another.

To a certain extent, the Citizens United decision has granted the campaign-finance EFT a quasi-linguistic status of “free speech.” Corporations are now given the unfettered capacity to express (by which I mean, purchase) their political will… just as long as their expressions (by which I mean, paid television advertisements) do not enter directly into the campaigns of candidates. Citizens United permits unlimited campaign contributions, which allows campaign donors to select for all intents and purposes which candidates can run and which policies candidates promise to enact, but only as long as unlimited campaign contributions are not directly affiliated with an actual campaign. Accordingly, the global elite does not make any decisions in Congress, nor does it truly bribe any elected official or judge, but rather “filters” the set of decisions to be made by the government so as to mitigate any real regulation of global economic actors by the state. Indirection yes! and direction no!

Rights and non-rights in the United States are therefore afforded separate and unequal space in the political-economic arena. On one hand, the legitimate law of the land provides citizens the sovereign right to vote. On the other, the oligarchy/plutocracy, which has no “legitimate” or sovereign constitution, ensures that policies and actions cannot be taken by the legitimately sovereign state. And this expression of the oligarchy is curiously aphasic, no words or utterance, just EFT. “Expressive aphasia,” poetic and paradoxical. Consonant aphasia: The People speak, but the Corporations break. Anagrammatical aphasia: The People vote, while the Corporations veto.

Such is the parastical politics or political parasitism – or even better, the paralitics – of global non-right. Yo soy el 99.000037!

Theory of the Brigand

I’ve spent the past few days reading for the upcoming Aspen Institute Wye Faculty Seminar on “Citizenship in the American and Global Polity.” The readings are a grab-bag of sorts, a diverse set covering the philosophical underpinnings of U.S.-American republicanism (small “r”).  I have no idea what to expect from the seminar, but I can say that it’s been a trip (a pleasant trip) to re-read Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Rousseau, Tocqueville, Jefferson… and actually understand what they’re saying.

It’s remarkable to me that just about the entirety of philosophical history – and especially the history of political theory – is the attempt to answer the simplest of questions:  Who is a friend and who is an enemy? If friend, then every one is obligated to treat every other as one would oneself (the Golden Rule, of course, but also that which Hobbes equates with jus naturale or “natural right”). If enemy, then one is obligated to defend and dominate through force. Here the term “force” includes both physical force (violence), and invisible, conceptual, moral/ethical force (contract). All of this is so axiomatic that we hardly think of these basic matters at all even in the midst of thinking excessively about them all the time. Certainly I have little to add to the discussion beyond what was said 200 years ago, or 2000.  Except for one observation:  That last clause I mentioned, the “invisible and conceptual” ties entrusting the mistrust between enemies, which we could call “contractual force” for lack of a better term, is the bugbear of all philosophy, the God-particle and dark-matter of all critical thought.

Contracts are not established between friends; since friends should, at least theoretically, treat one another as oneself (i.e., treat one-other as one-self), there would be no need to formalize the exchange of property, goods, rights, etc. as a matter of law. The exchange will always be equal in kind. Contracts are only necessitated by mistrust, and mistrust only exists between enemies. Contractual force is that which impels parties under the contract to affirm the letter of the contract through action; since contracts are, after all, speech-acts, contractual force is that which moves speech-actors to make their speech-acts “felicitous” (and not “infelicitous”) as a matter of habitual action.

The State exists not only to regulate contracts, but to regulate them by means of compulsion: to compel adherence to the terms of the contract both between subjects under the State domestically, and between States internationally. But the power of the State to do so is not derived from contractual force itself. The State only has the power to compel, but contractual force is the power to impel. The State can therefore pass laws that compel subjects to suffer consequences for making contracts infelicitous; the State can compel violence, and by all accounts, the sovereignty of the State is predicated on the legal ability to compel violence. Indeed, a State is said to be a “failed State” when it has been so debilitated that all it can do is demand respect of its authority through compulsive violence. This is a long way of saying “anarchy” or “civil war.” It says nothing, however, of contractual force. And here is the bugbear: the State exists to manage contractual force, it exists but for contractual force, but it has no power to compel felicity or infelicity. The State is a compulsive institution that has no power over the impulses of those it subjects.

This last statement holds true for any State, I suspect, even in a globalized age in which the power of the State is being systematically undermined by commercial interests. As I’ve written elsewhere global commercial interests do not wish to obliterate the State. Quite to the contrary, they wish a strong State in some regards – at least strong enough to compel adherence to contracts and compel proper valuation of currencies. And in every other single matter they seek the total deference of the State with respect to globalized impulses. Globalization, the parasite, needs the State to compel contract law, and then to give free reign to every other impulse of global actors (exone). This parasitism, in turn, produces non-subjectivity of two sorts. The global corporation, for instance, wishes to act as a subject of the State only when this subject-position proves profitable, and then seeks to flee subjectivity and sovereign dominion at all other times. The global corporation is a subject “on-shore” when it feels it is in its interest, and it flees “off-shore” as soon as the mood fits. As a practical example, JP Morgan and Barclay’s demand socialized insurance (“bail outs”) when their bad practices threaten to undo the national economy, when they convince the State that as a matter of national security the global banks must be preserved (i.e., when the infelicity of contractual force threatens to undermine the security of the State’s compulsive force). But JP Morgan and Barclay’s balk any time the State compels adherence to any regulatory law that would limit harmful impulses. In the former case, these global financial actors act as national subjects; in the latter, they act as non-subjects. They act as national subjects when they require State protection of contractual force, and in the U.S. they may even elect Presidents to do so under the tenets of Citizens United; and they go into exile whenever the State compels action they find unpleasant. But within the constant flow between positions of subjectivity and non-subjectivity, let us not forget one thing: that the corporation’s shape-shifting flow from “on-shore” and “off-shore” serves to dispossess most denizens of any given territory of their property, of their right. The dispossessed majority therefore becomes a “no-subject” (introne), a no-subject who could be protected by a State but isn’t.

All of which brings me back to my readings, and Rousseau in particular.  In my reading packet, I came across this nugget of wisdom:

The foreigner, whether king, individual, or people, who robs, kills or detains the subjects, without declaring war on the prince, is not an enemy, but a brigand.

It matters not what Rousseau intended to mean by this, so much as he provides the perfect definition of the “non-subject.” The State ought to protect the rights and property of its subjects, and in warfare it may legitimately kill the (foreign) enemy to do so. But what of mercenaries who are subjects of the State, but nonetheless hire themselves out “off-shore” to “rob, kill, detain the subjects, without declaring war on the prince”? That is, what if we considered a “friend” who contracted himself out an “enemy,” without however there being a declaration of enmity? The lack of the declaration (speech-act!) is vital here. In warfare, the State does not seek to destroy individual foreigners, but rather seeks to protect itself from a foreign State. Without a declaration of war (and let us remember that no one declares war anymore) the State cannot kill the mercenary legitimately, and certainly not as a traitor, because on one hand there is no official enemy to be killed, such that, on the other hand, the State could only kill one of its own subjects, that is, sentence one of its own friends to death. Consequently, there can be no proper sovereign decision in the case of the brigand, neither the decision to let live nor the decision to let die. The mercenary, furthermore, is defined by the contract: A common soldier becomes a brigand once he is hired by a foreign power. The brigand (a non-subject) is a commercial agent who confounds the practice of State sovereignty so that he may dispossess residents living in the State of their right. Through the act of dispossession, any one who might otherwise have been a subject-citizen of the State (and hence protected amicably under it) is transformed into a mere denizen, a no-subject free only to be further dispossessed.

Forget the theory of the partisan. We need a Theory of the Brigand!!