Re: Giovanni Arrighi "Tracking Global Turbulence" NLR Mar-Apr/03

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@T-ONLINE.DE)
Date: Wed Apr 30 2003 - 08:01:18 EDT

Cologne 30-Apr-2003

rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU schrieb Tue, 29 Apr 2003 10:03:27 -0700:

> Michael,
> It seems that we are condemned to speak past each other; I never
> did understand exactly why you believe the Cartesian legacy
> impoverished Marx's work.

Marx's thinking is immersed in metaphysics. One has to try to step back
from or climb out of metaphysics to gain an overview of what it is. That
is a long, slow, tedious process. Among other things, on overview allows
the fundamental concept of value in Marx's Critique of Political Economy
to be seen in another light and to be reassessed. The Cartesian casting
is also situated within the great historical arc of metaphysics.

> As for the new set of concerns:
> 1. digital technology raises many social and cultural questions
> and there is no question that it has led to productivity improvement;
> the question however was whether the assimilation of digital
> technology would raise the rate of productivity growth and whether
> its impact would be comparable to or exceed that of the
> electrication of the economy (as Paul David famously argued).
> Anecdotal evidence is not the best way to approach those
> questions.

I admit that I am not one for doing empirical analyses in the sense of
the social sciences. As a philosopher, I tend to concentrate more on the
simple questions surrounding the presuppositions which are made
beforehand. But that doesn't stop me, just for fun, from making personal
observations about how the way of living has changed over the last thirty
to forty years.

Often I am not so much interested in the content of a statement as in the
kind of thinking it typifies.

The digital casting of the world has been long in coming -- from the
ancient Greeks, in fact. As a former mathematician, I must confess to a
certain fascination about the power of binary code.

> 2. the pointing not only to the actual existence of psycho-technics
> but also to their real effects does not impose manichean divisions
> on the world. As pointed out by Schumpeter whose dynamic vision
> of the capitalist system seems more consonant with yours than
> Marx's, "the neoclassical economic vision of the consumer may
> lead one to believe falsely that new wants  arise spontaneously in
> consumers and then the productive apparatus swings through
> their pressure."

I agree that "pointing not only to the actual existence of
psycho-technics but also to their real effects does not impose manichean
divisions on the world." Not in itself. The Manichaeism comes into it
with omnipotency/impotency, perpetrator/victim, etc. dualisms. The point
is that there is an antidote to psycho-technics residing in those being
subjected to it. It's called wising-up (or enlightenment, for the more
philosopically inclined). Getting savvy about the way the world is is a
possibility of human freedom.

> " But as a rule the producer initiates economic change and
> consumers are educated by him if necessary. They are taught to
> want new things. At any rate, railroads did not emerge because
> consumers took the initiative in displaying an effective demand for
> their services in preference to the services of mail coaches. Nor
> did the consumer display any such initiative wish to have electric
> lamps or rayon stockings, or to travel by motorcar or airplane, or to
> listen to radios, or to chew gum. There is obviously no lack of
> realism in the proposition that the great majority of changes in
> commodities consumed have been forced by producers on
> consumers who, more often than not, have resisted the change
> and have had to be educated up by elaborate psychotechnics of
> advertising."
> Of course the very elitism which had Schumpeter locate dynamics
> in the mythic personality of the heroic entrepreneur shows here in
> his portrayal of the passive consumer. But as Nathan Rosenberg
> underlines there is indeed a successful assault here on the
> sanctum sanctorum of the neo classical citadel:  the commitments
> to the exogeneity of consumer preferences and the associated
> virtues of consumer sovereignty.

As you know, Schumpeter had a strong aversion against philosophy -- to
his own detriment. New technologies producing qualitatively new kinds of
commodities also open up new possibilities of living. Whether and how
precisely these new possibilities are taken up and lived depends also on
those to whom they are offered on the markets, i.e. the consumers. The
history of capitalism is littered also with the carcases of new kinds of
commodities which did not find consumer acceptance. The lesson from this
is that the psycho-technics of advertising can fail to persuade, i.e. can
fail to conjure up the right uplifting mood which induces consumers to

That said, it is uncanny that possibilities of human living offered by a
new technology (whether it be, say, transportation by rail or listening
to recorded music on little silver discs), once they are in the world,
can no longer be simply taken out of the world. There are also use-values
which are very persuasive in themselves once one sees the possibilities
they hold for human practices in everyday life. They are then seen to be

I strongly disagree, however, with the view that new technologies are
simply foisted by greedy capitalist enterprises on unwitting, manipulated

> 3. It does seem to me that you had misquoted Arrighi seemingly in
> order to set the stage for the expression of your disgust at the
> culture of contemporary Germany. At any rate, it does not seem to
> me that you explain why Asian central banks seem to be willing to
> make less of a return on their dollar assets  than American
> investors are making on their foreign investments.

I don't think I misquoted Arrighi's talk of "tribute". I quoted it to
object to the ill-fitting language of imperialism.

I admit I have no explanation for why "Asian central banks seem to be
willing to make less of a return on their dollar assets". But, in any
case, it does not depend on the exaction of any tribute. It happens
through markets.

My disgust about contemporary Germany is merely an example to point out
that economic and political hegemony of the US is complemented by the
weakness of other major capitalist countries. And my disgust is not just
my personal eccentricity. The malaise in Germany has come to the fore
with a vengeance recently in public discussion here. The diagnosis of
sclerosis is widespread. It's usually called "Verkrustung", and this word
has been spooking around the public discussion for year -- while the
standstill in the land continues.

> By the way, I do not to think that peace chains are an expression of
> the fundamental cultural sickness of any society, but then perhaps
> I am not as impressed by Ernst Junger as you are.

I can assure you that I am not at all impressed by Ernst Juenger, and
have written critical comments on his "Arbeiter" whose metaphysics is
flimsy and which has been rightly described as the "Bible of

The German peace-chain hand-holders live in a transcendent fantasyland
peopled by good people.

_-_-_-_-_-_-_-  artefact text and translation _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_- made by art  _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ _-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri May 02 2003 - 00:00:01 EDT