Ontological "Difference" and the Neo-Liberal War on the Social
Deconstruction and Deindustrialization
Year Published: 2001
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX7937
We have today legions of people with a smattering of knowledge turning out reams of books filled with buzz words that could be (and have been) produced by a computer program, and could be (and are) picked up in peer-group shop talk in a few months at the nearest humanities program or academic conference. Everyone these people don't like is trapped in a "gaze"; everyone "constitutes" their "identity" by "discourse"; to the fuddy-duddy "master narratives" that talk about such indelicate subjects as world accumulation these people counterpose "pastiche" and "bricolage", the very idea of being in any way systematic smacking of "totalitarianism"; it is blithely assumed that everyone except heterosexual white males now and for all time have been "subversives" (one wonders why we are still living under capitalism); a crippling relativism makes it somehow "imperial" to criticize public beheadings in Saudi Arabia or cliterodectomy practiced on five-year old girls in the Sudan.
What is truly appalling today in large swaths of the left and far-left in the West is the willful illiteracy in the critique of political economy. Perhaps even more appalling, and closely related, is the willful illiteracy, boredom and hostility where science and nature are concerned. It is certainly true that the "critique of political economy" can sometimes be almost as boring as political economy itself, better known today under its still more ideologically contemporary name of "economics". We recall Marx writing to Engels (in 1857!) saying that he hoped to have done with the "economic shit" within 1-2 years. I myself have studied "economic questions" for years, and have also spent years in recovery from thenovicained, ashes- in- the mouth feeling brought on by excessive exposure to the "dismal science", or even to its critique.
But this is something rather different than a certain "mood" of the past 35 years, a mood whose culmination to date is the "post-modern", "cultural studies" scene that has filled up bookstores with its nihilist punning , its "white males never did anything but rape, pillage and loot" theory of history, and its ignorant, revealing "everything and everyone is tainted" projections onto everything and everyone in some potted notion of the Western "tradition". This is the world view of demoralized upper middle-class people ensconced in fashionable universities, largely ignorant of the real history of the failure (to date) of the communist project for a higher organization of society, assuming that the historical and intellectual backwater engulfing them is the final product of human history.
All this can be critiqued and rejected on its own terms. It goes hand-in-hand with an ever-lingering "mood" which asserts that there was never anything historically progressive about capitalism, a mood so pervasive that it does not even bother to argue the case, since it rejects out of hand the idea of progress, linear, non-linear or otherwise, and therefore the question is foreclosed before it even comes up. Once the idea of an organization of society superior to capitalism is repudiated, capitalism itself appears to the post-modernists as unproblematic, just as it is to the rest of bourgeoisideology. While some post-modernists might stop short (though God knows why) of one French Heideggerian's call to "bring the inhuman into the commons" ("donner droit de cit(c) a l'inhumain"), their underlying world outlook easily moves toward the same repudiation of the tired word "humanism". This counterposition surfaced in the 1987-88 Heidegger and DeMan controversies in such formulations as "Is Nazism a Humanism?" ("Le Nazisme est-il un Humanisme"?) The argument was as follows. Humanism was the Western metaphysic of the "subject", culminating in Hegel and reshaped by Marx.Trapped in and constituted by the metaphysics of "presence", the reduction of everything to a "representation" (image), humanism was the ideology of the subjection-- the PoMos would of course write (subject)ion-- of the entire earth to "representation", in what Heidegger called the worldwide domination of "technological nihilism" (Nietzsche had already arrived at important anticipations of this analysis). For a certain, "post-1945" (!) Heidegger, Nazism had culminated this drive to "technological nihilism". (When he was a Nazi, up to 1945, Heidegger had gamely argued that liberal capitalism was the culmination of "technological nihilism".) The French Heideggerians thus argued that Nazism was a humanism in its drive to complete Western "technological nihilism", and that the apparently Nazi Heidegger, by attempting to "deconstruct" humanism, was thereby "subverting" Nazism. Meanwhile, of course, the opponents of Nazism, of whatever political stripe, were trapped in "humanism" and therefore trapped on Nazism's terrain, similarly facilitating the worldwide victory of "technological nihilism". One could presumably count an old humanist such as Rosa Luxemburg, (had she not been murdered in 1919 by proto-Nazis, abetted by Social Democrats) as someone else confusedly trapped in "technological nihilism", having died a bit too early to appreciate Heidegger as the real opponent of Nazism.