Category Archives: Philosophy

Proofs and Calibrations: An Interview with Élie Ayache

Swans, by Divine-Anarchy

Only Élie Ayache could take something as tedious as plugging variables into a formula and turn it into something charming. The costs of entry to his corpus are high—readers must be familiar with avant-garde Continental philosophy plus actively interested in the materiality of options markets. Nevertheless, Ayache earns a place alongside such thinkers as Bataille, Klossowski, Baudrillard, Deleuze/Guattari, and Lyotard, who smash the concepts of political economy into brick walls to see what remains intact—the concepts or the wall. And yet, The Blank Swan is so much more. The syntax of options (‘optionetics’, to pilfer a lovely phrase) lies entirely outside the purview of post-Marxist ‘critical’ theory that has grown crusty at best, procrustean at worst. “Cantor’s transfinite seems to be materially operative in our derivatives world,” notes Ayache (après Meillassoux), as derivatives create new intensive ‘surfaces’ on which yet more exotic derivatives can be written. The market is therefore untotalizable, im-probable (beyond the very category of probability); it is not meaningful to speak of ‘capitalism’ as such.

As with Nietzsche or Niels Bohr, to write ‘about’ Ayache places the preposition in conflict with itself. “The market proposes a way of thinking of the future that is no longer mediated by knowledge” (2006: 34). One tries to find a position from which to describe, or critique, but finds the ground pulled out from underneath: “The market never starts. You are immediately in the middle of it or you are nowhere.” (Local, 12:27–12:44). Philosophical ‘depth’ has no meaning for the surface of the market, in which “the infinite is often the best approximation of the finite” (2007: 262). Thus the following interview is not an introduction to Ayache’s work, but outlines some less obvious aspects that help to illuminate the whole.

In one of your essays you said that Meillassoux referred to your notion of the market as an ‘arché-market’, but it’s not clear to me how it’s analogous to the arché-fossil. Could you explain the link?

If I understand Meillassoux well, arché-fossil is what provides evidence to science that dates back to days when thought and as a matter of fact life didn’t exist and when givenness of being to thought didn’t exist; so arché-fossil is the the light reaching from the outermost recesses of the universe or the fact that decaying isotopes can help science to establish contact with periods of time that predate thought, etc. Arché-market is something different. In conversation with Meillassoux, I once pointed to him that the ‘market’ wasn’t limited to my eyes to the financial market or even to the market in the sense of exchange of goods against prices. Rather, the market was a new logic or a new category of thought, a medium that conducts contingency ‘instantaneously’ without the apparatus of possibility and probability. Ideally, I wanted to convince him that my ‘market’ is the register where his whole factual (i.e. non metaphysical) speculation should be conducted. He then advised me to no longer call this category by the name of ‘market’ but, in order to avoid confusion, by the more venerable ‘arché-market’. For one thing, a contingent event can make the ‘market’ disappear; however, the arché-market as higher category and register cannot disappear as it is the very medium of contingency.

How does your philosophical position account for the fact that relativistic effects cause minute differences in the ‘same’ price in different regions of the world, noticeable only on the nanosecond scale in HFT? This strikes me as a crucial issue for your own theory, especially since you focus on the market as ‘surface’, whereas relativistic arbitrage would imply ‘ruptures’ in this surface.

HFT is not really my cup of tea. It is a necessary and unavoidable development of the technology and this is all that I have to say. Financial theory holds that prices should verify arbitrage instantaneously and I can only welcome a technology that now applies this ideal requirement of financial theory. Doubtless financial theory understands ‘instantaneous’ arbitrage in pre-relativistic terms and doubtless there must be interesting extensions of arbitrage to relativistic physics, and doubtless the HFT technology may be hitting on that limit. However, all this is of no interest to me; the market is not equal to HFT. Sadly, HFT is distracting the attention of thinkers and of philosophers away from the hard problem of the market, which is the real metaphysical and ontological problem that derivatives pose. Surely HFT is attracting money and investment from the banks and surely the sociology of finance should look into it. However those banks are (in my opinion) investing in HFT because they have abandoned the thought of derivatives. The hard problem of the market is the smile problem. To solve the smile problem you need something else than probability; you need a new metaphysics. This is what I am trying to develop both technologically in my company (ITO 33) and philosophically in my personal research and writing. The smile problem is simply that statistics and the corresponding paradigm have to be replaced by the prices of contingent claims. The smile problem is that we imply volatility from the option instant prices and not from the historical series of prices of the underlying. Why this is essential and not accidental, why this is a crucial problem and not just an ‘approximation’ or a temporary defect of the theory/technology, is a question that I am still amazed that neither the bankers nor the quants nor the philosophers of probability have started to tackle. And why are derivatives so important? Because the definition of the market to me is the place where underlying and derivative trade on the same level and floor. Why a surface? Because of this identity of levels and absence of depth or hierarchy between underlying and derivative. There are no possibilities and states of the world underlying the prices of the underlying and consequently evaluating the derivatives. All there is is the surface of prices of derivatives and derivatives on derivatives. While derivatives can certainly be traded by HFT as proxys of the underlying, the problem which they pose really, or the smile problem, is a very ‘slow’ problem in the sense that it requires calibration and recalibration to all the prices of all derivatives written on that underlying at once. To repeat, time and time series are not the proper dimension here. Place and writing is.

What is your opinion of Taleb’s latest book Antifragile?

I think Antifragile is a very clever concept. Taleb is trying to generalize convexity (of options) to life and beyond the strictly financial realm. But with this he is becoming less and less of a dynamic trader and more and more a fan of static hedging (take care of your losses and your profits will take care of themselves). By contrast, I advocate dynamic hedging and the dynamic trading of derivatives. There is a constant battle between convexity and time decay (the cost of convexity) which Taleb seems to (want to) ignore. This battle is what the dynamic market is all about. My work is to try to generalize the matter or the category of the market beyond the financial realm.

How did you discover philosophy? When did you become interested in writing?

At the age of six, on my way to school, I once wondered whether the pedestrian crossing the street in front of me would have accomplished the same act and crossed the street if, for some reason that day, say because of illness, I had not gone to school. Then I realized that I wouldn’t have been there in the first place to even notice the pedestrian and even conceive of his being.

When I found myself stuck in a military camp in Lebanon in 1982 with nothing really interesting to do and wasn’t allowed to travel to France to study. I then discovered how writing was there and had nothing to do with time.

Like many readers, I have a hard time getting my bearings in Part III of your book, despite your insistence that it’s the most important part. You claim that the virtual cannot be theorized, only narrated, which is understandable (and reminiscent of Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy), but your writing often reads more like a Hegelian bildungsroman than like Deleuze. Could you perhaps spell out what you’re trying to do in Part III? Why did you choose Barton Fink, of all films?

Barton Fink is the key to my philosophy. From possibility (Barton Fink in his room) to the total of possibilities (Karl Mundt) to the writing surface (the liberation of Barton Fink at the end). Also notice that he ends up writing the same play as in the beginning of the movie, in true Menard fashion.

Part III: The book is the arché-arché-market

Most of your essays over the past few years have been revisions to The Blank Swan. Have you thought of writing another book, perhaps a sequel of sorts? (Or does your book place under erasure any attempt at doing so?) If so, what sort of problems and material would you want it to address?

I am currently completing a book. More strictly critical of financial theory. More metaphysical. Better. Harder.

“There is no economic world.”

There is no economic world. There is only an abstract economic description. It is wrong to think that the task of economics is to find out how the economy is. Economics concerns what we can say about the economy…

This thesis (adapted from Niels Bohr, the father of quantum theory[1]) is, to anyone not thoroughly debauched by philosophy, clearly nonsensical—the sort of postmodern tripe that embodies everything wrong with ‘theory’. Yet, it is quite the opposite. François Laruelle argues that any notion of ‘world’—as a priori/mnemotechnic cognitive mapping—is a product of philosophical thinking; in fact, he often uses the words ‘philosophy’ and ‘world’ interchangeably. Therefore, if the corpus of economics has a ‘world’, this implies that any worthwhile statements it makes are translatable into philosophy, which thus becomes privileged as a meta-discourse in relation to the ‘regional knowledge’ of economics. Such a role has been traditionally claimed by Marxism, as well as obliquely by disciplines such as psychoanalysis, whose proponents believe that they can have knowledge of the economy by imposing their concepts a priori upon whatever data is at hand (regardless of whether said theorist knows minutiae such as the difference between stocks and bonds…). To subvert this hierarchy—to argue that economics is properly non-philosophical, thus eliminating all grounds for the use of postmodern tripe—the thesis that ‘there is no economic world’ becomes essential. This paper presents a unified theory of economics and philosophy, arguing that economics consists of nonknowledge rather than knowledge (episteme/technē), that economics operates through unwriting or deconceptualizing the material of the other social sciences, and that economic models should not be viewed as attempts to represent the world, but as a radically non-Bayesian method of framing events in their contingency.

§1. World versus ‘World’

There is a famous story involving the British analytic philosopher A.J. Ayer and the French continental philosophers Georges Bataille and Georges Ambrosino, in a midnight conversation in January 1951 (Bataille, 2001: 111-3). Ayer introduced the simple proposition that “the sun existed before man,” which as a scientific realist he saw no reason to doubt. Ambrosino, a physician steeped in French phenomenology, insisted that “certainly the sun had not existed before the world.” Bataille, on the other hand, was agnostic. As he wrote afterwards (111):

This is a proposition that indicates the perfect non-sense that a reasonable proposition can assume. A common meaning must have a meaning within all meaning when one asserts any proposition that in principle implies a subject & an object. In the proposition: there was the sun and there were no humans, there is a subject without an object.

The easy way out of this dilemma (or as Bataille put it, this “abyss between French philosophers and English philosophers”) is to say that while Ayer was talking about the sun (as a well-defined scientific object composed of various elements, etc.), Ambrosino and Bataille were talking about ‘the sun’ (as ideal representation of the Real).[2] While Ambrosino had taken a purely idealist position, Bataille’s stance is much more interesting: he had, in fact, hit upon a problem that would later become known as the ‘arché-fossil’. This idea would be central to Quentin Meillassoux’s attempt to philosophize in a way that avoids what he calls ‘correlationism’—that is, the idea that “we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other” (2008: 5), with ‘thinking’ and ‘being’ meant in the sense of ‘models’ and ‘objects’. In more visual terms, Meillassoux is searching for a way of doing philosophy that doesn’t just involve the imposition of a ‘grid’ of concepts (or ‘syntax’) upon the mass of data comprising the world—as has been the norm in philosophy since Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.[3] An arché-fossil is any sort of scientific object or datum describing the state of the universe prior to the existence of subjects (e.g. humans) that could experience it—or, recalling the above anecdote: the arché-fossil describes the state of the world prior to ‘the world’. After introducing this concept, Meillassoux goes on to outline the ‘mechanics’ of why this idea is so immediately absurd to philosophers in the phenomenological tradition. The existence of ‘ancestral’ data implies (15):

  • that being is not co-extensive with manifestation, since events have occurred in the past which were not manifest to anyone;
  • that what is preceded in time the manifestation of what is;
  • that manifestation itself emerged in time and space, and that consequently manifestation is not the givenness of a world, but rather an intra-worldly occurrence;
  • that this event can, moreover, be dated;
  • that thought is in a position to think manifestation’s emergence in being, as well as a being or a time anterior to manifestation;
  • that the fossil-matter is the givenness in the present of a being that is anterior to givenness; that is to say, that an arché-fossil manifests an entity’s anteriority vis-à-vis manifestation.

DCP_0086 by Phillip Stearns

The notion of the arché-fossil underscores the tension between the world and ‘the world’. From the perspective of ‘the world’ there is either ‘world’ or ‘non-world’, whose boundary is set by the existence of an experiencing subject. Yet, by carbon-dating a meteorite (for example), it is possible to state that the ‘non-world’ and the world existed simultaneously (or: co-extensively), and moreover, that the evidence for this is given to us within ‘the world’. Philosophically, this is clearly unacceptable. Yet, it sheds some light upon an old Daoist koan:

庄子:“如果把天下就藏在天下,就不会被丢失,这是一般事物的通理”

“Hide the world in the world and the world will never be lost—this is the eternal truth.” ~Zhuangzi[4]

Zhuangzi is the same person who, upon waking up from a dream that he was a butterfly, wondered if he was actually a butterfly dreaming that he was a man. The anecdote is no doubt as popular as it is because of its stark opposition of ‘world’ (dream) and world (reality). A dream, after all, proceeds according to an internal logic where any sort of (arché-)hints that it is a dream, e.g. words on a page changing the second time you look at them, just don’t count. The most absurd events may occur in the most bizarre of settings, but any sense of contingency (the idea that it could be otherwise) is lost. If we take the lack of contingency in dreams as a principle, however, the very fact that Zhuangzi can ask whether he’s a butterfly or a man proves he isn’t dreaming! Zhuangzi’s query creates a partition—with ‘dream’ and ‘non-dream’ as the only members of the state space—and is thus self-defeating: nonknowledge is in fact the most useful kind of knowledge he can have. So in order to avoid a performative contradiction, Zhuangzi must accept that the principle can’t be psychologically necessary. This gives rise to a fundamental contingency, where in order to make a convincing case that he is a butterfly, Zhuangzi has to argue that the current laws of psychology (and perhaps even of nature) would have to be able to be other than they are—the same position as Meillassoux!

For Meillassoux, this division of world and ‘world’ is the problem, and ought to be gotten rid of; Zhuangzi’s stance is similar, though his method eliminates this opposition in an entirely different way—which is the same as that of economics. Anyone accustomed to think in philosophical terms may be inclined, on reading the following sections, to suppose that the argument rests on a tacit assumption of this dyad. If such a supposition is found helpful, there is no harm in the reader’s adopting it as a temporary working hypothesis. In fact, however, no such division is made.

§2. Econo-fiction

To verify the claim ‘oil prices are manipulated by the USA’, a political scientist could (in theory) physically go to each stage of the oil production/distribution process, from oil wells to spot or futures markets, to various nodes along logistical networks, to gas stations, etc. In the above claim, ‘oil price’ is well-defined as a variable; moreover, its role as subject of the sentence makes the former claim ‘economic’ in its genre. (Cf. the political statement ‘the USA manipulates oil prices’, with its focus on agency.) ‘USA’ is of course vague, but suffices for the problem at hand. The verb ‘to manipulate’ reifies (in this context), but is in principle observable. Our political scientist could measure the ‘value added’ in each stage as it is expressed in price, then perform an (unavoidably qualitative) analysis of how fluctuations in the magnitude of this value-added (with respect to production costs, etc.) can be causally traced to the USA. In this context, economic methods would not per se be needed, only mercantile arithmetic. Economics is often thought of as simply an armchair version our poor political scientist’s task (implying that an ideal model is one that is just as complex as the real world). Yet, in the above statement economics acknowledges not the subject, verb, or object, but the preposition ‘by’: in a sort of econo-fiction, it shows the numerical properties that make ‘manipulation’ possible.

Economics can be defined as the science of non-discursive social relations, with a broad definition of ‘discourse’ such that one could equally say ‘non-conceptual’.[5] In fact, economics takes place through a process of deconceptualizing the findings of business, finance, and politics. As soon as you think you can understand an economic notion (e.g. an algebraic relation) intuitively and talk about it lucidly, economists develop a way to formalize it (via econometrics and so on) so as to make it entirely untranslatable into normal language. John von Neumann once remarked: “in mathematics you don’t understand things. You just get used to them.” This is exactly what Bohr was saying! By continually deconceptualizing its former results economics systematically prevents itself from creating a ‘world’. As in Roland Barthes’ famous formulation, the task of economics is to inexpress the expressible.[6]

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Exogeneity – Economics and Nonknowledge

2009_07_07, by Tas Vicze

An economic fact is structured as follows: “consumers in the sample place a premium on liquidity β = 0.73.” This serves its task in economic models and allows economists to draw conclusions that are correct for all practical purposes. But in everyday life such a number is meaningless. The reason for this is that this number cuts across all discourse, all affect, and the social conditions that engender it, rendering these causalities exogenous to the non-conceptual statements of economics. As such, an economic fact’s epistemological scope is not sufficiently expressed by the all-too-philosophical categories of episteme (‘know-what’) and technē (‘know-how’)—though obviously these cannot help but play a significant part—but can be better characterized as a form of nonknowledge. This use of the term ‘nonknowledge’ is, however, not reducible to the Confucian dictum “To know what you know and to know what you do not know, this is knowledge”—which merely redoubles epistemology on itself in a transcendental begging of the question. To know what we don’t know would require that we know what we don’t know we don’t know, ad infinitum. The nonknowledge of economics is, as it were, the last instance of the Confucian limit statement. This nonknowledge takes place in a single number, which unifies (without being unitary) and commensurates (without commensurability) disparate orders of causality. The purpose of such a number is, borrowing a phrase from Roland Barthes (a far better political economist than Althusser ever was), to inexpress the expressible. Exogeneity is the reason why economics must necessarily be (in)expressed by numbers, not words—as well as why philosophy, mired in discourse, is unable to speak of economics.

In its disjunction from Knowledge proper, economics is non-paranoiac precisely to the extent that it is okay not to know. This has in the past led to accusations that economics is a form of religion, by analogy with the latter’s suppression of questions via dogmatism. This is not internal to economics, however, but rather takes place in its traversal (and subsequent travesty) in(to) discourse, where causality is truncated and contingency forgotten. Economics deals in facticity without fact (Heidegger), which as such remains open, ‘closable’ in the last instance only. The clause “for all practical purposes” helps to underscore its (non-)answerality, its indecisionality between practice and theory. Yet, economics tra(ns)verses into discourse precisely by supplying this ‘last instance’—by endogenizing it, as best illustrated by Milton Friedman and the money supply. Philosophy cannot handle exogeneity. Its own limit statement is that economics become a Theory of Everything.

2009_06_30 by Tas Vicze

A concept is a model. This implies that the only form of ‘concept’ in economics is an economic theory itself, in its entirety. This goes unnoticed because the first idea associated with economics in the public mind is “supply and demand”—this despite the fact that real economists never use these terms in practice. An introductory course in economics (many people’s only exposure to the discipline) teaches students to play around with such concepts as supply and demand, interest rates, and so on. Philosophy ‘of’ economics likewise proceeds by attaching to an economic ‘object’ such as ‘labour’, then trying to relate it to other concepts. But those few who take an intermediate economics course find that they are being taught the same information, but without concepts. ‘Objects’ are replaced with exogenous variables, or rates of change x/y (read: “derivative of x with respect to y”). An economic model is an elaborate tautology, in the extended Wittgensteinian sense of the term where pq is a tautology, since the concept of p is contained in the concept of q. Its conclusions arise from the syzygy (roughly, coalignment) of its variables along with its presuppositions (made for the sake of simplification). In an elaborate process of synergy, this syzygy creates a concept that may be imposed at will. Conclusions (prescriptive and descriptive) seem obvious to an economist but are not so to a layperson, and philosophy students pontificate about neoliberalism while econometrics students are incapable even of articulating what they don’t understand in class. Yet, it’s precisely this para-conceptual syzygy that constitutes all that is valuable in economics. What separates a good model from a bad one is that in the latter, a specific presupposition may be shown to do all the ‘work’ in providing the model’s conclusion.

Semantically, all of the interesting statements of economics take place within the preposition of a philosophical statement. As Laruelle writes, “The identity of the with (the One with the One, God with God), is the true ‘mystical’ content of philosophy, its ‘black box’.” The armchair philosopher is forced to engage in an amphibological attempt to render (pseudo-)exogeneity as endogenous, forced to autopositionally posit black boxes in the form of virtus dormitiva (Molière). Philosophy creates names for the Real, and by these purports to have explained it. Conversely, an economic variable is a name that does not name (Lao Tzu: 名可名,非常名), but non-conceptually gestures toward radical ( absolute) exogeneity.

**Thanks to Tas Vicze for the artwork; you can view the rest of his portfolio here.

Laruelle’s “Fragments of an Anti-Guattari”

[This may be cited as Laruelle, F.; Wolfe, C. (trans.). (1993). “Fragments of an Anti-Guattari.” Long News in the Short Century 4, pp. 158-164. Retrieved from linguisticcapital.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/laruelles-fragments-of-an-anti-guattari.

The following is reproduced with permission. A pdf version is available here.]

1.1   It was the Post-Modern times
        Unlimited becoming-cinema
        Image-debris in a state of fixed surview
        Thinkers were then producing the Real
        A bachelor philosopher a bachelor analyst
        A dyad of bachelors was inventing
        The reversibility of desire and the concept
        The “D-G” desiring-machine
        Consider the following diagram

laruelle AG diagram

1.2    About-face inversion of the Greek horizon
        Great Desirers they went down to the Heraclitus stream
        Bathed once-for-two in the same flux
        Foreswearing the One-logos of the hospital-schizos – The Sensible
        In the Collective-logos of schizo-processes – The Senseless
               “The right to madness, superhuman right of the human”
               “Take into consideration desire in its entirety”
               “A thousand Oedipuses do not make one incest”
               “The Same is the Desired and the Desiring—by one machine more or less”
               “The stream is the self-production of the stream”

“Heraclitus! Heraclitus!
Only one ‘flash’ can set fire to a thousand plateaus”

“Emblem of necessity
Supreme constellation of Desire
Eternal Yes of Desire
Forever I shall be your Yes”

         Thus they spoke of the eternal and cunning speeches
         Tautologies linking past and future
         New theory of indiscernables – the concept as bridge

1.3    Transcendental cartographers of the thousand eternities of Being
         To the proximity constellations Mythos and Logos
         Their extinction has not yet reached us -
         They have added shining-obscure
         The so-called “Chaos” constellation
         A stream of neighbouring stars
         “Chaosmos”, “Chaosmosis”, “Chaology”, “chaosmology”
         And the most recent “Ecology-of-Chaos” also known as “Echaology”

         – Its birth has not yet been announced

1.4    A philosopher – an analyst up to one auto-position
         An analyst – a philosopher up to one unconscious
         Reversible up to an “up to an X”
         Naming their common non-sense “Desire”
         The archaic originary One-Two of “desiring Desire”
         Oh mythology which never ceases to bring back
         The D(i)eux [D(y)ei] of grammar

1.5    We have loved these transcendental tautologies
         Stretched out like a temple over our heads
         Worlding World/nullifying Nothingness/speaking Speech/desiring Desire
         Merry-go-round spun around by a Leibnizian ritournelle

“The philosopher, turning, so to speak, the general system of these tautologies that he deems suitable to be produced to manifest his thought, from side to side and in all ways, and looking over all the facets of this ‘fourfold’ in all possible ways, since there is no relation which escapes his omniscience; the result of each view of this system, as seen from a certain place up to a turn, is a philosophy which expresses this total, if the philosopher deems it suitable to render the thought effective and to produce this philosophy.” From which 12 founding statements [follow]: “take into consideration
                the nullifying world
                the speaking world
                the desiring world
                the worldifying nothingness
                the speaking nothingness
                the desiring nothingness
                the worldifying speech
                the nullifying speech
                the desiring speech
                the worldifying desire
                the nullifying desire
                the speaking desire … in its entirety
        For 12 new philosophers among the thousand
        Coming up from the bottom of the Future

.

2.1   I call “One (of) desire” desire as One rather than One as desire

        Consider the One (of) desire

(up to a point, more or less, up to a being more or less, not
   approximating “as close as X”, not on the basis of any
      desire, before it disjoins itself into desired and desiring,
          and blends in the concept and the unconscious)

        … What is called thinking?

2.2   I call “Desiring desire” the doublet which opens analysis
        and the difference which implodes it in super-analysis

Either it desires itself
Inverts reverts itself into super-analysis
Big with a thousand desired-desiring amphibologies

Either it ceases in the One (of) desire to desire itself
Emerges to its own manifestation
As three states (of) desire
Categories of a non-analysis

           – The One (of) desire
                       – or the Desired-without-desire
                               – the order of the real
           – The Being (of) desire
                       – or the Desirings which are [the] multitude
                                                                                of desire-thinking
                               – the order of the symbolic
           – The Entity (of) desire
                       – or desiring Desire
                               – the order of the imaginary

2.3   I call “One (of) desire” or Desired the Enjoyed (of) jouissance

The One (of) jouissance rather than the jouissance of the One
That which in desire is enjoyed from both ends
That to which desire does not give its share
That part of desire which appears to desire alone
Its absolutely un-desirable and just so desired phenomenon

The Enjoyed suspended in its own immanence
What begins and completes itself with no circle
Begins there without departing from it
Completes itself there without return

Deserted without desire
Too simple the desert is not rare

Desired, absolute past of desire
Enjoyed, absolute past of enjoyment
As the Lived
Precedes the living the Affected
Affection the Enjoyed
Jouissance
Solitude of closed eyes before
The confinement of solitude

Reduced form enjoyment spark of desire
The Ir-reduced of the Enjoyed, the intense Extinguished of the Desired
Are a mystical razor
An ante-essential rather than supra-essential state

2.4   If as Desirings it is still possible to say of desire that it desires
        Being (of) desire
        It is suspended in-
        Desired
        The Desirings remain

I call Desirings the multitude (of) axioms
Inhabitants
Of the void beyond the Desired
On this side of the desire-Entity

Think in-Desired
Make Being void of desire
Prepare the dwelling of the Desirings

Of the Desired the axiom is never stated
Unless it is also the cause of the axiom
And insofar as it is

The axiomatics of Desirings adds nothing to the Desired
Just itself to itself
The axiom seen-in-full

Consider the fluxion of desired-desiring connections
Its suspension like a photograph
Reveals to the unclear side of the stream
A strict identity between the source and the mouth
The frozen flux of an eidetic Heraclitus
Frozen-in-One like a sky of eternal axioms

Desired is the non-moved and the non-moving
Desirings are the mobile or the flying moved once each time
Desire-desiring is the moved motor

.

The One (of) desire gathers without division all possible (undividable)
The Being (of) desire gathers without division all possible division
Being is particular – oh Desirings
Particle is the partition with nothing to part
A partition from one end to another
Without mixing with the Desired as is
The undiscernable molecule
of desiring Desire

Desire receives thinking not from thinking itself
From the grace of the One (of) desire and then thinking
Thinking receives desire not from desire itself
From the grace of the in-Desired and then of desire

.

Translated by Charles Wolfe

.

Author’s notes

“Desired”: past participle of ‘desire’, which I make into a noun.

“in-Desired”: en rather than dans, indicating an interiority or a radical inherence/immanence.

Sensés”-Senseless: translation of Heraclitean terms.

“Fourfold”: Heideggerian term (Cf. “The Thing”).

Jouissance”/“Enjoyment”: Lacanian term. I extract from it the past participle Joui (Enjoyed) which I make into a noun.

“Reduced”-“spark”: mystical terms. (Cf. Meister Eckhart).

“Ir-reduced”: not opposed to “Reduced”; cf. “irreducible”.

“Extinct”/“Extinguished”: past participle of ‘extinguish’, which I make into a noun.

“razor”: Cf. Ockham’s razor.

“ante-essential”: cf. the mystical term ‘supra-essential’; before Essence (=Being), above or beyond Essence (=Being).

.


: Editor’s notes:

I have emended the second term in §1.3’s antepenultimate line. It originally read ‘Chaosmose’, while Laruelle doubtless means ‘Chaosmosis’, the title of one of Guattari’s books. Cf. the French osmose, which translates to the English ‘osmosis’.

In §1.4, ‘self-position’ has been changed to ‘auto-position’, in keeping with standard translations of Laruelle.

“Nullifying nothingness” (1.5) refers to Heidegger’s statement “The nothing nothings.” Laruelle clearly has in mind the meaning ‘nothinging nothingness’, which unfortunately does not parse well into English.                                                                     — G.J.

Prelude to a Non-Standard Economics

{I recently received the following question on my tumblr blog:

Hi. You seem to have a better understanding of economics than most of the people here on tumblr, an understanding of how misrepresentations of how economics works can lead to misrepresentations of the actions/attitudes we should take to solve the problems of our current economic system.

Admittedly, I sympathize with the leftist and Marxist sentiments espoused by those on tumblr and with authors such as the one you just ridiculed, but that’s mostly due to my cursory understanding of economics and the fact that when one has such sentiments, leftism and Marxism are the first theoretical positions one comes across. I think you agree that capitalism leads to Huge Problems, but could you shed some light on what you take to be the proper route of critique?

The following is my answer. I’m cross-posting it here because due to midterms it will probably take me quite some time to write a full post fleshing out all my arguments.}

I’m working on a lengthy blog post in response, but it’ll unavoidably be very dull and tedious, and I don’t want to act like I expect people to read it. The question of an alternative to Marxism is one I’ve been puzzling over for several years now, and what I’ve found is that the question is inherently problematic, and needs to first be deconstructed before the practical result it hopes for can be provided. The main problem is the necessarily philosophical nature of the answer it expects: I’m supposed to provide a philosophical theory of economics which can reconcile its different schools of thought and which somehow fits within the Continental tradition. But I don’t think that this can be done. Yahya Madra, for example—a very intelligent guy—has for some years been trying to apply Lacanian psychoanalysis (plus Derrida and D&G) to economics, but hasn’t been able to come up with anything substantial. So the following will first talk about philosophy’s inability to meaningfully speak about economics, then point toward how philosophy caricatures economics in order to speak about it at all, and finally offer some rules of thumb for getting beyond such caricatures.

Laruelle writes in Mystique non-philosophique that “The identity of the with (the One with the One, God with God), is the true ‘mystical’ content of philosophy, its ‘black box’.” (His examples are stupid, but you get the point.) My claim is simply that the statements comprising marginalist economic theory are not conceptual per se, but rather, they operate within the prepositions of a philosophical sentence (in, with, by, to, from, etc.): that is, within the black box of philosophy. As such, economic statements are constitutively inaccessible to philosophy as a discourse. All philosophy can do is to latch ahold of an ‘object’ used in economics (e.g. labor, utility, commodity-form) and try to relate it to other philosophical concepts—but from the point of view of economics, this is just to just to create an alternate model, one which can say nothing about the model it’s ostensibly ‘critiquing’ unless it can hold up to economics’ standards of operativity. (For more on the latter, see below, paragraph five.)

In short, economics is a form of antiphilosophy. This should be clear even historically, since marginalism (contemporary orthodox economics, the kind that uses calculus to measure ‘marginal’ increments between abstract ‘units’ of things such as ‘utility’ or ‘marginal propensity to save’) was designed specifically to circumvent the problems (e.g. exploitation) that Marx raised. For example, due to marginalism’s theory that value is determined solely by the intersection of supply and demand, this implies that all wages are at their proper value—thus eliminating the possibility of exploitation a priori. Likewise, dispensing with the inverse relation of profits and wages undermines the foundation of anyone who would argue that class struggle constitutes a fundamental component of the business sphere.

963-14, by les brumes

Of course, the results of economic theory are apparently susceptible to critique. But are they? I can attest from long, frustrated experience that to write about economics (without writing in economics) is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible—unless you resort to some form of pre-packaged philosophical discourse (or journalistic tripe). The main quasi-conceptual ‘discourses’ about economics are Marxism and Austrianism, and I argue that this dyad is symptomatic of the structure of philosophy, particularly when viewed through Laruelle’s concept of philosophical decision. Put in way-oversimplified terms, the Decisional structure is when philosophies invent a third term of ‘immanent transcendence’ to mediate between two objects, one of which is transcendent, the other immanent. In economics, however, the economy is both transcendent and immanent, thus screwing up this neat little pattern and forcing certain reductionisms on the part of each theory. There’s not much of substance that one can say without getting immensely technical (since it’s not just a cut-and-dried case of each theory favoring one over the other), except that when you compare Mises’ and Marx’s conceptualizations of the economy in terms of immanence and transcendence, there are distinct differences, and once these are straightened out (which I haven’t yet had the chance to do rigorously), it will help us to analyze these discourses as forms of thought, as well as to pinpoint why they have become as entrenched as they have in political discourse.

The main point of the latter paragraph is that we need a unified theory of philosophy and economics, of how the two ‘work’ in relation to one another. But to make this accessible to people who aren’t economists is very difficult. Let me be clear here that the problem is not just one of technical knowledge, but also that economists (even moronic econ undergrads like myself) are trained to view theories in terms of their operativity: all economic statements must be capable of being converted into mathematics, and of being used in a mathematical model of an economy. (Continental Philosophers, on the other hand, have no demarcation criteria to distinguish sense from nonsense, and they’re trained to take even the most whacked-in-the-head ideas seriously.) This is the main reason why the paper on “Darwin metaeconomics” is so self-evidently stupid to any economist. He takes freshman-level economic theory and dresses it up with grandiose (but completely vacuous) concepts in order to ‘prove’ a thesis (which he presupposes from the start, giving no evidence whatsoever) that any crackpot or art student at Occupy might make. There are plenty of respectable studies corroborating the idea of Wall Street corruption, centralization of power, and so on, but there’s an unwritten rule in economics that the more one’s conclusions go against mainstream ideas, the more rigorous your study must be—and for the pragmatic purposes of saving one’s resources for important matters and of weeding out crackpots, this is a reasonable rule to have.

Even the notion of a ‘critique’ of capitalism is very problematic, and Lyotard goes into better detail about this than I could in his Libidinal Economy. But since economics is the science of non-discursive social relations, and philosophy is discursive, to begin to critique capitalism from a philosophical starting point is, to a large extent, to determine one’s conclusions from the outset. Much philosophical hostility toward neoliberalism can be attributed to the latter’s inability to be thought philosophically. (And this besides the obvious bad faith of being a Humanities student.) What I don’t want to advise you is to read more about economics—this is the most banal thing in the world to say. Not that it wouldn’t help, but it’s ridiculous to expect that of someone who has no professional interest in the field (and I include due diligence in this clause), especially since laypeople will just gravitate toward books that confirm their preconceived notions anyway. But if you’re a philosopher and are curious about the economy, I recommend that you look at it through antiphilosophy, e.g. McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy, Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class (only the first few chapters though; as soon as he starts talking about racial theories, stop reading), or Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy. They aren’t perfect, but they aren’t autopositional in the same way as typical philosophical texts are. This is to a large extent because they don’t rely on concepts: implicit in every concept is a choice to emphasize some aspects of a thing over others. This is what I take Foucault to have meant when he called Anti-Oedipus “a book of ethics.” Hume’s Law holds absolutely—but only when we confine our purview to sensations and intuitions. In his radical empiricism, Hume denied that ‘other aspects’ of phenomena existed besides those which we immediately perceive; this is why (in its own terms) his argument is valid, but doesn’t hold in real life. So economic models do contain implicit values both positively (prioritizing things like efficiency) and negatively (the aspects of things they ignore).

a place only i can go - AnnCT 07.2012

So let’s get a bit more concrete. One of the things that Tumblr Marxists love to do is to attribute all the evils of the world to “capitalism.” Taking after Marx, they attribute a primacy of the economic sphere over the political sphere (even if they spend all the rest of their time insisting that culture is more important than economics). Yet, people like Chomsky make an excellent case for the primacy of the political sphere over the economic sphere, and thus can meaningfully argue that we’ve never had capitalism. Then again, every single economic argument Chomsky makes that isn’t either trivial or repeated verbatim from his friends (e.g. Ha-Joon Chang) is not only wrong, but really stupid. Much as I love Chomsky, he just has no understanding of economics whatsoever—yet, he’s absolutely brilliant when it comes to politics, and he’s a rigorous empiricist. And of course, Marx is hardly infallible either, despite being a genius. So I think that to think about the question of primacy in terms of being correct or incorrect is to look at matters the wrong way. Rather, the disparate discursive structures of philosophy and economics force any philosophical critique of the latter to be in the form of a model of one’s own; most people just don’t think of it that way. So the real question is what our conceptual model lets us say that other’s can’t (and perhaps more importantly, what our model can’t say that others can).

Hopefully the above doesn’t just seem like unnecessarily abstruse nitpicking about your question. It would be nice if I could just drop a weltanschauung in your lap, but that’s not how economics (or non-economics) works. That said, here are some rules of thumb that I’ve found helpful:

  1. Try to view the concepts you use in their contingency as models.This is the basic idea of what Laruelle calls ‘cloning’, where (political) philosophies are made into material, and one’s focus becomes how the form of an argument determines its conclusions. The conclusions of all models are tautologies, derivable from their premises (the aspects of the world they focus on), and what separates a good model from a bad model is the extent to which it relies on ad hoc provisions and ‘deus ex machina’-like axioms that lie dormant for a while, then tie everything together in the last minute. What studying economics lets you do is see how ‘economic facts’ (e.g. statistics) are constructed—and this, again, is the meaningful content of economics that takes place within the black box of philosophy. So since philosophy has no way to explicitly speak of its tautologous (or: autopositional) nature, it becomes doubly important to make the effort to interpret issues through more than one theory, jumping from one view to the other the way one does with a duckrabbit.
  2. Avoid thinking in terms of linear causality. In the social world, X rarely ever causes Y on its own: rather, multiple lines of causation converge together thanks to certain conditions, occasionally leading to positive feedback loops and other nonlinear behaviour. This is George Soros’s big insight, as well as that of Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point. A corollary of this is that we should separate the goal we have in mind (e.g. support the working class) from the means of reaching it. It’s not that everyone who isn’t a communist wants to fuck over the working class: people like Milton Friedman just argue that Leftist measures like unions are counterproductive. It’s easy to treat political issues emotionally, e.g. that it isn’t ‘fair’ to give corporations tax breaks. But even a liberal like Robert Reich can agree with Milton Friedman (though for different reasons) that corporate income tax should be abolished. This is why I think that it’s useful to distinguish between the ‘letter’ of a partisan position (the typical goals it advocates) and its ‘spirit’ (the emotions and values it evokes to support its position). Iain Murray’s book The Really Inconvenient Truths uses original and data-focused arguments to back up conservative prescriptions traditionally supported by appealing to religion and other arbitrary value judgements. I haven’t come across any books supporting the letter of Leftism but not its spirit, but think that this would be an excellent technique to avoid falling back on stale tropes.
  3. Accept that philosophy is limited in its applicability. Philosophy’s inability to accept its non-transferability to certain domains is what Laruelle calls the “principe de la suffisance philosophique,” which may be translated as ‘principle of sufficient philosophy’ or ‘principle of philosophical arrogance’. As the Austrian economists argue quite well, markets are able to take account of tacit knowledge and inarticulable desires in a way that discourse (and central planning) just can’t. To a large extent, accepting that many social structures have evolved as they have for a reason (cf. Taleb, 2012: 212) is enough to start sympathizing—at least a little bit—with conservatives. If you believe that biosemiotics has no effect on your behaviour, dye a bowl of oatmeal with blue or black food coloring and then explain to me why it’s the bourgeoisie’s fault that you’re filled with an overpowering sense of aversion as you try to eat it. Not that these social structures are all desirable, but unless one holds a naïve base-superstructure theory, any practical efforts for social change have to keep these in mind, and try to find a way to reroute them.
  4. Make a point of avoiding paranoia. What I mean by paranoia in the context of social theories is when behind appearances is postulated some sort of absolute agency that controls everything (what Lacan calls the Other of the Other). This tendency is common among intellectuals, and I’ll give some examples. In Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine, once you remove the presupposition of malicious agency by the USA, her argument degenerates into the claim that regime changes tend to happen during economic crises—which is quite trivial. Likewise, Chomsky’s lecture on Colombia (entitled “An American Addiction”) degenerates into vacuous conspiracy theory once the reader takes into account that coca ≠ cocaine. Coca is, of course, a staple agricultural product in South America precisely because of all its useful applications, and Chomsky attributes its pervasiveness solely to the malevolent interests of the Colombian government (backed, of course, by the USA). This is NOT to say that the USA doesn’t use its hegemonic power for the sake of coercion, or that theories of a paranoiac form are always invalid. After all, people like Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald show over and over the naïveté of denying that the USA behaves in many respects like an Empire. What I am saying is that one’s personal pathologies influence the type of data one seeks out, and also that by indulging one’s pathologies one is apt to make shitty arguments. Moreover, any social theory should allow for the possibility of contingent events influencing an outcome—and Marxism rarely does. This is why things like falsification criteria and scientific method are so important—they’re constructed specifically to avoid all-too-human tendencies of adopting pet theories, or of convincing yourself that you’re valiantly fighting the capitalist beast.
Sargam Griffin - The Economy, 2010

Sargam Griffin – The Economy (2010)

So if I had to sum up all of the above into one little catch-phrase, it would be this: it is absurd to expect one kind of economic policy to hold for all countries and situations; instead, policies should be chosen on the basis of each country’s unique situation. This isn’t a crazy thing to suggest. There are some scenarios where the tenets of neoclassical theory just doesn’t hold, just as there are others (e.g. stagflation) where those of Keynesianism don’t hold; conversely, there are scenarios where communal business practices work very efficiently. As I’ve argued before, this perverse desire (reinforced by party politics) to impose one policy everywhere can be thought of as the ‘principle of sufficient economics’. Economics since Keynes has focused on developing a general economics—instead we need to develop a Riemannian economics. This is what I think a non-standard economics inspired by Sraffa can do.

Peter Lichtenstein, in fact, presents a very interesting Sraffian model of a pluralist domestic economy. It does become problematic when you consider its relation to global finance, plus how zero-growth would make it into a zero-sum game between capitalists and communes, and this is something I need to think more about. But it should be obvious that austerity is not generally applicable—if all countries cut consumption at once, the world would go into another Great Depression. So, much as I’m annoyed by Richard Wolff’s populist rhetoric, I’m fully in favor of his attempts to draw attention to scenarios in which communal business practices are more efficient than capitalistic ones. (And of course, we need not confine ourselves here to overly narrow definitions of ‘efficiency’ which, as Taleb [2012: 44-5] argues, leave much to be desired.) All that matters is what works best. But one should be suspicious of any political theory or policy that says it will only work when it is applied to the whole world at once. And if you object to the notion of economic pluralism by the Marxist fallacy of lumping together disparate economic policies under the heading of ‘capitalism’ or ‘neoliberalism’, then this is what happens.

Income Redistribution vs. Grade Redistribution: An Economic Sophism

This argument tends to crop up every once in a while. Young America’s Foundation, which is responsible for the above video, describes it thusly (emphasis in original):

[W]hen students at Carthage where asked if they would be willing to sign a petition to redistribute GPA points from the top 10% to the rest of the college, most of them said NO. One student said, “No, because I worked hard for my grades!”

Another said, “At Carthage, each student has an equal opportunity to get the GPA they desire.” And another, “I don‘t want my GPA being taken away from me if I had an ’A’.”

When the petitioners told students that oftentimes outside factors leave students at an unfair disadvantage, a student said, “No. I’m low-income and a minority, and I have a fairly decent GPA, so…” 

Fittingly, some not in the upper 10% welcomed the free points. “Why not? I’m down,” said one student with a low GPA  (eagerly signing the petition), but then the student’s friend standing next to him said, “It takes away from people working hard… and obviously it’s paid off with their higher GPA.” Later in the conversation, when the first student told his friend to sign the petition, the friend responded, “How about trying harder for a semester?”

The main purpose of the study is to point out the ‘hypocrisy’ of being in favor of income redistribution while refusing to redistribute one’s own grades. The fact is, however, that this entire argument is based on fallacious reasoning, or more specifically, a false analogy.

To make it easier for people living in countries that do not use the GPA system, let us stick with percentage points. Typically, grades are assigned a value between 0 and 100%. What this means is that if one’s percentage points were to be ‘redistributed’, this would detract from one’s final grade the exact amount of percentage points that were redistributed. This should be obvious. Let us think of the matter in utilitarian terms, with the assumption that each person assigns the same value to each percentage point. What this means is, that the top 10% lose utility in exactly the same proportion that the others gain that utility. This, however, goes against one’s natural sense of justice: why should one person be harmed so that other, undeserving, people gain? In economic terminology this sort of situation is known as Pareto optimality, which means that no one can gain without someone else losing.

Now let us imagine a slightly different, but still plausible scenario. Occasionally some schoolwork allows for bonus points, where if one scores over 100%, the extra percentage point(s) can be transferred to another paper. It is quite common for students to calculate exactly the grades they need on the remaining assignments and/or tests in their class in order to get the grade they want. So imagine that a student has amassed a very large number of bonus points—so many that even if she receives a zero on all of her subsequent assignments and tests, she will still receive a final grade of 100% in the course.

It is this latter case which corresponds to the acquisition of income in the real world, rather than the case presented in the video. It is no doubt the case that anyone with a net worth of a million dollars would be able to live a relatively comfortable life without working, provided they do not concern themselves with extravagances. Even if a disaster occurred, e.g. one’s house caught on fire, one would still be able to make up the loss without needing to fear for one’s future financial security. In the same way, if a student has exactly the amount of bonus points to guarantee that he will have a final grade of 100%, he will be indifferent about any more bonus points that he is given; he loses nothing by having his extra percentage points redistributed, so he has no reason to object to redistribution. To return to economic terminology, the state of our fictitious economy prior to redistribution is not Pareto optimal: because the redistribution of extra bonus points (above the aforementioned threshold) does not harm the high-grade student, other, low-grade students can be made better off without making the high-grade student worse off.

To drive home the point, the only way that the analogy expressed in the video would be applicable to real life would be if there were a maximum income, after which point taxation became 100% (with, perhaps, infrequent ‘bonuses’), which is obviously not the case.

Hence, the only relevant questions remaining to be asked about the data in our imaginary scenario are 1) whether the bonus points are the property of the top-grade student, to be used any way s/he wishes, as, e.g., in a scenario where bonus points can be spent on luxury goods; and 2) whether it is people’s own fault that they are unable to become wealthy, or whether society is ultimately to blame—i.e. to whose agency a given person’s poverty should be attributed. These, however, are at root metaphysical questions, the kind that philosophers have thought about for millenia, and for which no solution is likely forthcoming. So it would seem that much of the public debate about welfare revolves around different attempts of patching up various gaping holes in philosophy. Moreover, the particular type of attempt to which one gravitates is typically chosen without any conscious contemplation, but often more or less out of habit, i.e. by what views one has previously been exposed to.

Suffice it to say, then, that appeals to metaphysical concepts are insufficient to convince people of whether welfare is justified. In other words, the vast majority of public discourse on the topic of welfare can safely be thrown in the garbage without a second thought. If we hope to say anything meaningful at all about such issues, our best best would be to focus on empiricism, i.e. such questions as whether the value added by such measures (in terms of increased productivity, decreased need for health care, etc.) is sufficient to justify their cost.

On the Vacuousness of ‘Neoliberalism’ as a Political Category: A Dialogue

Marxist: You want to know why the economy is in such dire straits these days? It’s because of this damn neoliberalism that all the countries of the world are uncritically accepting!

Capitalist: Whoa, now. That’s a really broad statement. Let me try to see if I fully understand what you mean. So you think that stimulus is a neoliberal policy?

M: Absolutely. All the Fed is doing is making more financial gimmicks in an attempt to help a structurally broken economy.

C: Okay, that’s a legitimate point of view, I suppose. So given that the USA has to somehow pay off its deficit, you must be in agreement with the people who say that austerity is the way to go.

M: Absolutely not! If the government tried that, me and my friends would be up in arms! Austerity is neoliberalism in its worst form!

C: Hmm. Well to me it seems like those are two very different policies, but you’re lumping them together under the same category?

M: Yes.

C: Okay, then. Let’s try a different tack. What would you say isn’t neoliberalism? Is North Korea neoliberal?

M: Of course not.

C: So dictatorships like Ethiopia and Guinea aren’t neoliberal either?

M: No.

C: What about communist countries like China?

M: Yes. They are neoliberal, or at least they have been ever since Deng Xiaoping took over. Besides, China shouldn’t be considered communist anyway.

C: Why not?

M: Because it’s not what Marx actually intended communism to be! Full communism and actually-existing communism are two completely different things.

C: Okay then. Let’s accept your definition of ‘full communism’. Now, it seems to me that what you mean by ‘neoliberalism’ encompasses any sort of social arrangement that might call itself capitalist, even if on the surface of things, different neoliberal countries seem to have strong disagreements. Is that accurate?

M: Yes.

C: So we could just as well say that in your definition (and excluding dictatorships), neoliberalism is any point of view that isn’t communist.

M: I suppose so.

C: That seems to make sense. So why do you insist that neoliberalism, in all its various guises, is a bad thing?

M: Well that should be self-evident! It’s because of the inherent contradictions in the commodity-form, plus the exploitation of workers’ surplus value inherent in the act of a capitalist purchasing labor-power from the proletariat!

C: Hm. I was never taught these sorts of ideas in business school, so could you tell me who came up with them?

M: Karl Marx, of course! Just as Darwin discovered the laws inherent in organic development, Marx discovered the laws inherent in capitalism!

C: ‘Inherent’ is a strong word, you know. I assume you’re aware that there are other ways of thinking about economic phenomena that don’t involve these sort of concepts.

M: Yes. But they’re wrong. It takes a refined eye to notice these sorts of things, not the sort of thing a vulgar capitalist like you would understand. *sententious tone* There are more things in this world, my dear capitalist, than are dreamt of at your business school.

C: *quizzical expression* Fair enough. Now what should I do if I want to learn about this point of view?

M: Read Das Kapital, of course! It’s hard going at first, but once you read it through about four or five times, it will be obvious to you that this is the truth. But after that, if you still insist on debating with us, you’ll have to be familiar with the literature! I’ve seen plenty of cases like yours. At first the thousands of books and articles on Marxism may seem so rife with confusions and question-begging that out of despair you may be prepared to believe anything, but once you’ve made your way through the basic authors (Althusser, Balibar, Deleuze & Guattari, Hardt & Negri, Poulantzas, Castoriadis, Adorno & Horkheimer, Debord, Gramsci, Eagleton, Callinicos, Jameson, Lukács, Luxemburg, Marcuse, and Žižek), you should be all set to think critically about the world! (And of course, by thinking critically I mean denouncing all existing conditions!)

C: *ponders for a minute* I think I finally understand.

M: That’s the spirit!

C: Let me sum things up: neoliberalism is bad because of the contradictions inherent in capitalism, as shown by Marx, which can only be grasped by a Marxist point of view, since all other perspectives take neoliberalism for granted.

M: By Jove, you’ve got it!

C: So in other words, any relatively successful form of social organization except communism is bad because it isn’t communism, and it’s impossible to see the truth of this unless you’re a communist, since all other positions besides communism take neoliberalism (again, defined as everything that is not communism) for granted.

M: Eureka! You’re one of us now!

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