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Tag: Capitalism

Is critique of capitalism regarding sustainability a viable strategy?

TSElosophers meeting on 28.2.2024. Participants: Albrecht Becker, Behnam Pourahmadi, Erkki Lassila, Kari Lukka, Mia Salo, Milla Unkila, Otto Rosendahl


Bigoni, M., & Mohammed, S. (2023). Critique is unsustainable: A polemic. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 102555.

Husillos, J. (2023). Is critique sustainable? A commentary on Bigoni and Mohammed. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 102603.

Tweedie, J. (2023). If critique is unsustainable, what is Left? A commentary on Bigoni and Mohammed. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 102597.


The target for our discussion was a recent debate in Critical Perspectives on Accounting, commenced by the polemic piece by Michele Bigoni & Sideeq Mohammed. They present a clear, strongly formulated argument as for how capitalism has the capacity to accommodate all critique as part of its own agenda of seeking profits and constant economic growth, thereby running an indefinite exploitation of all production factors. Hence critique concerning, for instance, ecological sustainability will eventually be always ineffective. Bigoni & Mohammed argue their reasoning is based on the works of Marx and Deleuze & Guattari. In the same issue of Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Javier Husillos and Jonny Tweedie comment on the piece by Bigoni & Mohammed, making the set of readings an exciting set as a whole.


TSElosophers developed a most lively and many-sided discussion based on this debate forum. Even though we had certain issues regarding each of the three pieces, we generally very much welcomed this kind of strongly formulated texts, focusing on the extremely serious issues that the Anthropocene has caused on the life on planet Earth. While the three pieces were formally framed in the context of critical accounting research, we took all of them as bearing relevance regarding critical social studies research overall.

As for Bigoni & Mohammed, one of the most significant worries relates to their peculiar reading of Marx. For Bigoni & Mohammed, capitalism presents the ‘galvanized’ end state of affairs, while for Marx this was only an intermediate condition, to be eventually followed by communism. Another issue related to the question whether the economic arrangement, be that capitalism or communism or whatever, really is the root cause for our serious troubles relating to sustainability. The 20th century counter model of capitalism, ‘communism’ or rather ‘actually existing socialism’, has also led to serious, ruthless exploitation of all production factors, not least nature. TSElosophers controversially discussed if the root cause rather is an inherent way of human life, especially our strong tendency for opportunism, making it difficult to find effective routes for the needed major turnaround that would be urgently needed.

Regarding the piece by Javier Husillos, it was a pity it was nearly completely decoupled from the key messages of Bigoni & Mohammed. Husillos only contests (on the second page) whether capitalism really is such a perfectly functioning (in its own terms) ‘machine’ after all. Otherwise, Husillos turns his piece to commenting how the disadvantaged and indigenous people play too little role in critical accounting research and suggest some ways out through a set of questions. This is a most fair concern as such, but confuses the discussion kicked off by Bigoni & Mohammed: The theme was supposed to be primarily ecological sustainability, not social sustainability. In addition, we may wonder whether it is more like a romantic dream that the disadvantaged parties would have better knowledge or attitudes regarding sustainability than the privileged ones. This may be the case, but where is the evidence?

Turning to the commentary by Jonny Tweedie, TSElosophers found it going to the very point of the debate as kicked off by Bigoni & Mohammed. Like Husillos, Tweedie asks whether we should take the working of capitalism like this ’perfect machine’, as argued by Bigoni & Mohammed. But Tweedie goes further, suggesting that capitalism should not be viewed as the only option, but rather a contingent thing, a condition with history. Things could be otherwise and so they have also been for long time periods in the past. In this way, Tweedie seems to be able to suggest a way out from the gloomiest dead-end which Bigoni & Mohammed depicted for the project of critical research. However, we may wonder whether it is realistic to assume the capitalist condition may, or will be, transformed to something else that were much more sustainable. At least, there is very little grounding for believing communism would be of help. What would be the economic arrangement that could form the major turnaround that would now be urgently needed? And eventually, is the root cause, after all, any economic arrangement at all?

Another theme of discussion pertained to the level of hope dashed or inspired by the articles. Where Bigoni & Mohammed viewed the capitalist machine almost predeterminedly invincible, thus promoting certain hopelessness, Tweedie’s point about the constructed nature of social systems leaves an opening. This, however, leads to the dilemma of instigating the required system level change within the timeframe of our planetary systems still upholding our current societies. It seems that in order to promote the necessary change, we need to both work within the current capitalist system, harnessing its mechanisms where possible, while at the same time acknowledging the fundamental problems of the system and working towards creating something new. If, like Bigoni & Mohammed pointed out, the majority of sustainable business research focuses on transitional changes within the system, maybe we can view that as a necessary way of buying us more time in which the critical research led, or at least inspired, efforts of transforming the overall game have time to mature.

Dystopia or reality?

TSElosophers meeting 18 November 2019. Toni Ahlqvist, Elina Järvinen, Kari Lukka, Otto Rosendahl, Morgan Shaw, Ekaterina Panina, Milla Wirén

Psychopolitics – Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power (2017), Buyng-Chul Han


The overarching theme of “psychopolitics” in Han’s book pivots around the changes in the nature of power geared towards upholding the neoliberal regime of capitalism: the new (primarily digital) technologies have transformed the traditionally disciplinary power of ‘should’ into an internalized and thus invisible soft power of ‘can’. This builds on a few trajectories, each of which Han touches in its own fragment: people are made to believe that they are ‘projects’ that need constant improvement; the access to behavioral data granted by omnipresent digital technologies enables manipulating people psychologically in ways that benefit neoliberal capitalism; this manipulation plays on emotions, exploits the embedded faith in the need of self-improvement, and draws from the urge of being ‘Liked’ in sharing one’s life in the gamified realm of digital social life, to name just a few of the trajectories. The label “psychopolitics” builds on the Foucauldian notion of biopolitics, with Han making the argument that compared to the times of Foucault, contemporary technologies do not stop at controlling the physical aspects of human life, but are insidious to the point of penetrating the realm of the psyche as well.

The book has more width than its relatively few pages would at a first glance suggest. As a result, Han seems to be content with throwing out numerous ideas, and tracing the contours of some connections, without digging deeply into any of the resulting openings or bothering with the waterproofing of the underlying building blocks which he utilizes in making propositions. The book’s resulting shape divided the TSElosophers, leading to one of the most polarized discussions in the history of our little group. Some of us appreciated the ideas and connections that were offered without missing more solid underpinnings, whereas others doubted whether any substantial ideas or connections could be put together from such flimsy building blocks.

From the viewpoint of the proponents of the book, this emerging picture of our current society is realistic: digitalization is a mighty tool for neoliberal powers that have reaped the benefits of capitalism in its diverse, ever-evolving forms throughout the ages, especially as it becomes a means of disguising manipulative and exploitative power in the invisibility cloak of ‘freedom’. This controlling mechanism of ‘freedom’ differs from genuine freedom, because it is built on an embedded, but externally imposed, imperative of making people believe and want something they then are given license to ‘freely’ pursue. This reading of Han understands capitalism as a systemic feature of most modern societies of today, as a part of which most of us simply are and act – both rich and poor – most often not really paying much attention to this fact at all. The way out, as suggested by Han, is to draw from the power of what he calls “idiotism”, namely the ability to not conform to the environmental expectations even at the risk of looking like the ‘god’s fool’ or ‘king’s jester’ – stupid from the viewpoint of the flock – which would allow one agency that can function ‘outside-of-the-box’. These thoughts resonated with the ones of us liking the book, especially as they crystallized some of the notions they have themselves been recently working with.

Opponents of Han’s approach among the group criticized the thinness of Psychopolitics as a work of scholarship, challenged its seeming negation of individual and collective agency, and questioned whether Han’s suggested “idiotism” abnegates social responsibility and possibilities for cooperation in ways that just echo individualist tendencies of neoliberalism rather than confront them.

Despite briefly raising points that explicitly reference Marx, Hegel, Kant, Foucault and Deleuze, Han’s treatment of these thinkers’ ideas often seems cursory, and in some instances suggests questionable readings of important points. At the same time, unacknowledged traces of Critical Theory haunt some aspects of the book’s discussion of freedom, ultimately leaving its conceptual role rather ambiguous. What Han ends up assembling, therefore, came across to some of the TSElosophers as a precarious stack of often underdeveloped and ill-fitting pieces. While sometimes interesting in themselves, for them they fail to cohere into a solid foundation for taking prior philosophical work in a new direction.

However, Han is far more successful in the depiction of a frightening dystopia in which the forces of capitalism oversee an omnipresent and yet imperceptible psychological influence operation that harnesses populations to its (unfortunately largely unarticulated) ends. Under the regime Han describes, digital confession and zealous work on the self as a project lures all of capitalism’s congregants to ‘freely’ align themselves with its subliminally implanted agenda. The extensive catalog of superlatives Han employs (“utter”, “total”, “complete”) conjures this effort not as a development still in progress but as an unassailable finished edifice and thus a perfect exercise of power. However, questions linger: who is actively writing the software behind this apparatus, and what are they aiming to accomplish with it? While Han’s ‘collective psychogram’ may be an emergent and impersonal phenomenon, the building and maintenance of the systems of surveillance, inducement, and monetization that operationalize it – in the view of the opponents of the book – cannot be as disembodied and without strategic purpose as he would have them appear. Capitalism is, in the end, the work of capitalists no matter how quiet, frictionless, and automatic the systems they create to carry out this effort out may become.

This begs the question (which worry also united the proponents and opponents of the book), then, Is ‘psychopolitics’ a ‘politics’ at all? Can there be a politics that seems to assume the total negation of most forms of individual and collective agency? Is Han to be taken literally in his assertions that the conditions of psychological influence he describes makes any form of opposition, whether understood as class struggle or political resistance, completely impossible? Some in this group hold that this trap is less inescapable than Han makes out.

Han himself suggests one opportunity for escape: the embrace of “idiotism”. To be an idiot has historically been to be both holy and afflicted, enduring a sanctified suffering at the margins of society. An idiot is someone from whom almost any form of behavior is tolerated, and from whom next to nothing is expected or required. They are therefore ‘sub-optimal’, even superfluous, to the orderly workings of economic and political systems. When induced to ‘Like’, Han seems to suggest that an ‘idiot’ can, like Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, evade the issue by simply stating “I would prefer not to,” becoming a puzzle that the wielders of Big Data will be entirely uninterested in solving.

But where does that leave us, especially as an ‘us’ that is more than a collection of self-optimizing ‘I’s? Is becoming irritants to the silent and effortless processes of capitalism, eventually banned from its hyper-efficient workings, but left free to make our cryptic pronouncements at the margins where we seek to preserve or rehabilitate our souls, really the best we can hope for? This is a question we hope the TSElosophers will return to in future discussions.

Imagining realities beyond progress

TSElosophers meeting 7.6.2019. Joonas Uotinen, Kari Lukka, Milla Wirén, Otto Rosendahl

Tsing, A. (2012). The Mushroom at the End of the World. On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Chapter 1: Arts of Noticing (s. 17-26).


The book tells an atypical story about commercial mushroom trade. Typically, economically-oriented stories focus on the modernity’s requirement of progress. Modernity perceives everything as resources for economic growth and humans as “different from the rest of the world, because we look forward (p. 21)”. Consequently, the ones unable to compete economically and secure their future tend to be categorized as less valuable. For example, the boom of Oregon lumber trade in early 20th Century was followed by the closures and relocations of lumber mills in late 20th Century. The progress that reached Oregon’s forests eventually moved to more efficient sites.

However, the author emphasizes that this was not the end of commercial activities in Oregon forests. The forests re-grew and became home to commercial mushroom picking, which connected to the strong East Asian demand for matsutake mushrooms. Commercial mushroom picking demonstrates supply chain practices of collaborative survival. It is a trade practiced mainly by “drop-outs”, but the tales of collaborative survival are not exceptional. For example, the author posits that similar supply chains developed in Greece after the recent financial crisis. Also, the intensifying environmental crisis is likely lead to more supply chains that rely on collaborative survival.

The reader is invited to feed their imagination by describing the hidden realities beyond progress. The stories of “drop-outs” are generally told only in relation to progress, e.g. the lay-outs in Oregon lumber mills were widely publicized. However, there is a stark difference in the supply chain structures between stable communities of healthy wage workers and open-ended gatherings of vulnerable foragers, including war veterans, refugees and undocumented immigrants.

The phenomena of collaborative survival is approached with an assemblage approach. Assemblage refers to an open-ended gathering that circumvents “sometimes fixed and bounded connotations of ecological ‘community’ (p.22).” The author emphasizes that her idea of assemblage is polyphonic, which refers to pre-harmonic music building on the intertwinement of the independent melody lines: each melody has stand-alone beauty. (In contrast, in post-polyphonic music the sounding whole has inherent hierarchies: there is the primary melody line, supported by the harmonic elements.) Hence, polyphonic assemblages revolve around circular and seasonal rhythms created by multiple actors that represent multiple species. Although polyphonic assemblages do not assume linearity of time or teleology of progress, improvement happens when emergent qualities transform gatherings into happenings with long-term impact.

Our discussion

Inspired by the article, TSElosophers discussed about overcoming some excesses of modernism. Firstly, we want to clarify that modern mindset is hardly the worst option as modern capitalism has supplanted totalitarian and unfair societal orders. However, this issue is complex since modern capitalism can also become combined with totalitarianism. Secondly, modernity’s requirement on progress promotes action based on external goals – e.g. career, money, appearances – rather than the intrinsic good in the activity, such as serving a greater ethical purpose. However, we see possibilities for learning intrinsically purposeful collaboration even in modern society. For example, people mastering horseback riding find out the inadequacy of giving the correct signals on the right direction and speed. Instead, one needs to create a connection with the other; to become aware of the horse’s mood and its needs.

Finally, the modernity’s demand for growth remains unsustainable. Increasing consumption neutralizes the effect of efficiency-increasing technological innovations. Also, the ignorance of other ways of living cause trouble for tribal cultures. For example, Ecuador’s government recently decided to drill oil in the ancient lands of the Waorani tribe (a decision later foiled by a court ruling). Instead of myopic approach on economic growth, we could emphasize ethical, spiritual, social, environmental or other forms of growth. Tribal cultures that are governed relatively fairly and sustainably, and the supply chains with collaborative survival, can inspire us in the pursuit for more holistic forms of growth.

The market of behavioral control and other implications of datafication

TSElosophers meeting 22.2.2019 Albrecht Becker, Elina Järvinen, Kai Kimppa, Kari Lukka, Morgan Shaw, Ekaterina Panina, Otto Rosendahl, Milla Wirén

S. Zuboff (2015) Big other: surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization, Journal of Information Technology

Quick summary

Shoshana Zuboff draws the contours of the emerging phenomenon she dubs surveillance capitalism. Its building blocks are datafication and extraction and analysis of that data, ultimately transforming the everyday lived human reality into behavior, which can be through Big Data and algorithmic analysis harvested and capitalized. She walks the reader through a set of quotes by Hal Varian from Google, to highlight how the digital technology becomes Big Other amplifying the reach of capitalism to yet another level.

Key points:

  • Big data originates from five sources: human-digital interactions, sensor technology, surveillance systems, digital transactions and extant databases
  • Extracting data from human actions is one-directional – individuals are harvested for their data in exchange for nighnothing
  • Laws and regulations lag behind because a) they are slower in realizing than the technological affordances and b) reaping the benefits of surveillance capitalism is so lucrative to firms that paying fines can be considered mere investments
  • Big Other creates markets for behavioral control: on the one side there are the producers (like Google) who extract and analyze data to derive behavioral predictions and nudging possibilities, and on the other side the advertisers who buy these to impact their customers
  • Reliance on smart contracts does not increase trust, but destroys the need for trust, as trust is based on voluntary choice

Our discussion

The overall sentiment towards the article was that it addresses and captures a genuinely powerful and worrying phenomenon, which, if left unchecked, will lead to quite a dystopian future. Some of us feared the dystopia more than others. Firstly, it was pointed out that the imperfections of technology will likely hinder the efficiency of Big Other and therefore the behavioral predictions of Zuboff are still far from overarchingly accurate (however it was retorted that the technology does not need to be perfect, just strong enough to wreak havoc). Secondly, some of the insights discuss such technological affordances still quite nascent as done deals (like the use of smart contracts in automatically shutting down a car driven ‘wrong’). Thirdly, some of the arguments rely on such research results which have subsequently been found unconvincing: for example, teenagers are not unaware of the privacy loss, and their continued use is not reflective of ignorance, but of wittingly made strategic choices of transforming privacy into currency.

Those of us who saw the article as foreboding a dystopian future (if not already present), the most difficult question was to define what then would be better? For whom, from what perspective, and why? If my hunger was satisfied before I even acknowledged it (or if my kids were automatically provided food whenever necessary without me needing to bother cooking it), why would it be so terrible? If I were given whatever I needed and wanted in exchange for being a data source, would it really be that unbearable? The answer to this seemed to boil down to the question of free will, our values and preferences about the nature and quality of life.

One of the traditionally considered basic human rights is liberty, and marketizing behavior threatens that, because it is grounded on a set of choices I cannot make for myself: Firstly, I am used as a data source without my (at least witting or informed) consent, and secondly, my behavior is deducted and monetized from this data without my consent. There may be limited options for opting out (the free will can be used in choosing what to do with the food magically appearing by my door), but there are none to predictively choose to not to opt in. However, we also noted that as the convenience level of life increases through involuntary participation in surveillance capitalism as the source of data and target of need satisfaction, the mere abstract notion of free will is not enough to make people-turned-consumers rebel against the emerging system, driven by the agents in the behavior markets. When life is just made easier, why bother?

We also discussed the power of politics. While technology always moves faster than legislation, what kind of power does the political system have in regulating the developmental trajectories, and on what is that power based on? This also led us to discussing the loci of political power; whether it will still be wielded by nation-states, or something else? Here one of us quipped that “at least so far it is the nations that still have the guns”, inferring that the states still possess a level of ultimate power over companies. Additionally, the different political choices made in the US, Europe and China were also discussed: Where the Europeans worry about the human rights (such as privacy and to an extent freedom) and legislate accordingly, the Chinese opt for technological prowess which mandates nonchalance in regards to these. The ensuing trade-offs will play out in the long run.

The fate of trust was also pondered. Zuboff states that automatic fulfillment of contracts leads to disappearance of trust, which is grounded on the choice to trust or not. It was pointed out that maybe the trust is not removed but retargeted: Instead of trust being a choice between the contracting parties, the trust could be directed towards the automated system taking care of transgressions. This was countered by noting that this would be the case only in such cases where one could freely choose to be a part of such a system, choose to trust a system, whereas the whole point of Zuboff’s article is the fact that we are given no such choice in the surveillance capitalism. If we cannot choose to not belong in a system, trust becomes irrelevant. Instead there will be an unwitting confidence to the surveillance system that involves coercion – with very low odds on awareness of, and action against, this coercion.

As is typical for TSElosophers, the discussion flowed intensively and in many directions, some merely loosely connected to the discussion in the article. We again worried about the environmental future of the globe, however also noted that ultimately we humans cannot destroy the globe and life in entirety, only human life and the currently evolved species – give it a few million years and the globe with new sets of life will have bounced back. However, the justification of worrying about, for instance, the quickly declining biodiversity was warranted by the ethical point of view that we humans – while having the powers due our un-ecological life-style – have no right to damage life on our lonely planet to the extent that is now happening.

All in all, the article triggered interesting thoughts and invigorating discussion, and as such, it is a warmly recommended read to anyone interested in gaining one possible comprehensive interpretation of the impact of the current technological advances on the society.

When paying ones’ debt is wrong

TSElosophers meeting 13.11. 2018. Ekaterina Panina, Joonas Uotinen,  Kari Lukka, Milla Wiren, Otto Rosendahl

Debt – The First 5000 Years (chapter 2), David Graeber 2011


The central theme of the book (chapter) we read this time relates to the two stories about how money came about. The more prevalent story tells us that first there was barter, then money and finally debt, whereas Graeber insists that the reverse order is historically more accurate. This led to the following themes discussed at length and depth in the meeting:

  • What is the key point the author wishes to make with the book? We deduced that his main statement is that paying ones’ debt is not always the most moral choice, as there can be circumstances where this commonsensical notion actually causes more harm than good.
  • How can the boundaries between when it is, and when it isn’t “right” to pay debts be drawn?
  • The benefits of debt: debt as an investment implies a faith in a better future.
  • The necessity of this faith in the future – do we need the sentiment of going forward, towards “more”, or is this linear notion of time one root cause of the environmental problems we are facing (considering the finite nature of our planet)?


In the book, concerned about the power of debt to cause inhuman, immoral consequences to debtors (including examples of daughters being sent to prostitution, or people dying in thousands in developing countries as IMF and other creditors have demanded their debts to be repaid) Graeber asks whether it really is so that debts always need to be paid back?

To this end, he trails the historical development of credit. In chapter 2, he reviews the history of money and debt told today in economics’ textbooks. This story goes that first there was barter; then currency or money was developed to ease the economic exchange of stuff; and, later on, credit developed. By juxtaposing the story with anthropological evidence, he concludes that the now common narrative in economics is wrong. Actually, the opposite is true: the order would actually be that credit developed first, and from it, money. Barter in turn has never been a wider-scale social practice.

He claims that only by introduction of money and interest rates did credit become decoupled from considerations of the needs and situations of all involved: what started out as a simple trust-based I-owe-you that helped people to rely on each other in circumstances where someone had a surplus at anothers’ time of need and vice versa, became an industry in itself. The focus shifted to numbers that do not heed the real life circumstances: when trust between the debtor and debtee was removed and interest rates introduced, debt took on a life of its own. He argues that our confusion of debt as a moral duty is just that – a confusion, and that not all debts need necessarily to be paid back.

On the way, he also argues that it was the economics’ story of development of money, and credit that allowed markets and monetary credit to be artificially disentangled from other social institutions and phenomena. This is because the story makes the development of currency and ensuing monetary credit seem like natural, good solutions to practical problems involved in barter, that all of humanity would have done earlier. This would have entailed the understanding that these institutions are natural, somehow, they need to be maintained by police force and law, and that they can be detached from considerations of other aspects of life and morality. This would, in turn, make these institutions further inhumane supporting the idea that debts need to be paid back unconditionally.

The chapter and the book elicited discussion on several tangential topics. We discussed that credit seems to have positive aspects to it. We considered that Graeber did not give a balanced handling to the issue of debt. He concentrated on the immorality in debt relationships,  although monetary debt may also lead to beneficial outcomes. For example, it (1) enables transition of wealth from where it is in excess to where it is scarce; and (2) it enables people to initiate projects that would otherwise be beyond their reach financially. However, Thomas Piketty’s finding in his book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (2014) that returns on capital grow faster than returns on labor seems to pose the question that is the function (1) illusionary?

We hypothesized that the transition from a cyclic experience of time to a linear time likely relates to the appearance of monetized, interest-growing credit. There was controversy over what came first: the need to enhance future or monetized, interest-growing credit. It might also be that before monetized credit people got from neighbors what they needed as a kind of a gift and when their neighbors were in need they would reciprocally give what the neighbors needed – and only with the appearance of monetized credit would also the idea of enhancing future, and of linear, progressive time, appear. However, never mind the order, the notions of linear time and the “better” tomorrow seem to be linked.

Graeber’s book inspired us to discuss the relation between markets and well-being. From the anthropological evidence and discussion on alternative distribution and production mechanisms, arose the topic of what are the limits of markets to yield well-being. As Graeber observes, more intimate, familial, “warm” relationships between people do involve exchange of services and goods; but not through money.
Indeed, an effort to “balance the accounts” in such a case so that no
“imbalance” anymore exists between “credits” and “debits” be they monetary or not, seems to be a violation of such a relationship, a sign of a will to terminate such a relationship. He gives an example of a father who asked his son to pay back all the costs associated with the son’s upbringing resulting in the son, after paying the debt back, never to contact the father again. Anthropologically, barter, where one seeks to maximize one’s own benefit without regard to the other, seems to only happen between people who are neutral, possibly hostile towards each other. It, then, seems that salable commodities can never replace such relationships and introduction of money to such exchange violates and destroys such relationships that likely are crucial for human well-being. This notion sheds a different light to for example
contemporary attempts to commodify well-being into salable services: by replacing social relationships with money, also the main component of value in such services, namely the exact social relationships, disappear.

We also discussed ecological sustainability and its relation to interest-growing credit. Is endless growth necessary? Why, when we
see that the human impact on some of the boundaries of our planet are already threatening our existence? But if we lose the faith in the always better tomorrow in aligning collective action to pursue that better tomorrow, how can we replace that as an enabler of collective action? We need to find alternative coordination mechanisms for our societies.

All in all, while the book appeared somewhat confusing and possibly one-sided, it seems to raise worthy issues. After all, as the other side of the debate is amply occupied, this voice of dissent is welcome. We
liked how Graeber exposed the often hidden assumption by which our institutions of private ownership, markets, and interest-growing credit would be the natural consequence of human development towards better, and questions that assumption: there are many other ways of organizing societies and the merits of each may need reassessment. Also, we enjoyed the questioning of the moral supremacy of paying
ones’ debt as it indeed seems that there are cases when paying back the debt is not the “right” thing to do, no matter how counter-intuitive that for a contemporary member of the current socio-economic system may seem.

Improving, or just escaping, the capitalistic machine

TSElosophers meeting on 11.06.2018, Otto Rosendahl, Kari Lukka, Joel Hietanen

”Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1983). Anti-oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P. Chapters 1 (The Desiring-machines) and 4 (Introduction to Schizoanalysis).”

“Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia” (Deleuze & Guattari 1977) is a book that needs to be understood in its historical context. Lyotard, Baudrillard and Irigaray had just published books that strongly challenged scientifically rationalistic foundations. Guattari was a creative psychologist, who felt that psychoanalytical tradition of that time was too constraining. Deleuze was the philosopher who wrote down and refined Guattari’s abstractions. Their co-operation produced one of the most complex scholarly best-sellers of all times.

The book starts with building a distinctive and peculiar non-humanistic ontology in order to criticize psychoanalytical practices of their time. A paradigmatic role is given to the unconscious production of “desiring-machines” – a notion that lies at the heart of the book. All desiring-machines are a fleeting part of the universal schizophrenic flow, which they occasionally arrest with neurosis and perversions. Neuroses refer to holding on to one form and perversions to creating a multitude of forms, for example DNA reproduction or DNA mutations.

D&G present capitalism as a (phenomenological) social machine that feeds the desiring-machines and continuously increases their schizophrenic, neurotic and perverse productions. Capitalism differs from territorial and despotic machines, because it runs with an abstract code, i.e. money, which compels increasing desire-production as its requirements develop more flexibly. For example, capitalism provides ample opportunities for thrilling, enjoyable or comforting schizophrenic escapes with experiential consumption, impulsive shopping and social media. Especially social media provides easy and gratifying targets for both neurotic interventions and perverse interpretations, often against the public displays of schizophrenic production. Consider the public outrage that resulted from a Facebook picture of a 12-year old American girl standing victoriously beside a giraffe she had hunted down.

D&G’s method is aimed against preconscious interests of social machines, which repress desiring-machines to celibacy. Celibate joys and sorrows are very real, but neurotically determined by success in producing intensifying quantities in alignment with the social code. An uncommon celibate alternative for quantity production is schizoid thinking: artificial balancing of joys and sorrows (authors suggest Kant as an example). However, D&G’s ontology highlight that even abandoning the “miraculating” social machine does not lead to a discovery of a true miracle machines. Rather, it leads to the production of intensifying abstractions and feelings. Many pitfalls for production disorders wait there as well, such as paranoiac, borderline and histrionic. The last is exemplified by Nietzsche who thought “everything is part of I”, in contrast to D&G’s ontology that posits conscious subject as an insignificant by-product of desiring-machines.

One of the beginning statements that “desiring-machines work only when they break down, and by continually breaking down” (p. 8) slowly starts to make sense. The book is refreshingly outspoken by assigning us all with varying level of mental disorders (whether one is successful or unsuccessful in the production of quantities) and thereby succeeds in alleviating the (phenomenological) external neurotic pressures. For example, Freud’s psychoanalysis was commonly used in the 70’s as a celibacy-inducing mechanism that narrated all problems with childhood and the aim of the treatments were to get people back to producing intensifying quantities. In contrast, Guattari encouraged his patients – a word he detested – to play different games, which let them some detachment from preconscious interests, and attach to and be guided by their unconscious desire-production.

We discussed whether D&G are for or against capitalism. They outline that capitalism compellingly moves towards cosmic death (note: our interpretation to “body without objects”) with intensification of abstract quantities. However, they elaborate few details how to avoid it. Perhaps human consciousness may/should strive, although its ability to do so is strongly questioned, to steer production from the deleterious effects of producing intensive quantities towards well-selected production of intensifying feelings and abstractions. Perhaps consciousness is not able to do better than listen music on the deck chairs of Titanic, because the ice berg cannot be avoided. Accelerationists even argue that why try to turn the ship instead of colliding to ice berg directly.

We concluded that the early parts of the book are more descriptive, but that it gains more normative overtones for the schizophrenic escape with the presentation of their method: schizoanalysis. However, later Deleuze and Guattari clarified that they do not want to speak about schizoanalysis in order not to promote schizophrenic escapes. Hopefully, the combination of desiring machine production could help to create and upkeep influential virtuous abstractions – that are sometimes aligned with and sometimes against the prevailing social machine. For example, the clairvoyance brought by a schizophrenic escape, the neurosis that demands the righteous hero to continue and the perversion that saves the day.

Ps. Just to give a clue of the writing style, here is a relatively clearly written excerpt: “A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on the analyst’s couch. […] He [the schizophrenic] does not live nature as nature, but as a process of production. There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together. Producing-machines, desiring-machines everywhere, schizophrenic machines, all of species life: the self and the non-self, outside and inside, no longer have any meaning whatsoever (p.6).”

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