In my last post I posited that capitalist individualism may be seen as a sickness. I wouldn’t do my job as a deleuzian philosopher if I didn’t take the mission command to introduce new problems and dream up new concepts, new worlds even. Here is one idea that has been floating around in my head for some time. How to merge a libertarianism (verging on anarchism) with a sort of socialist framework. It may be that someone has proposed similar philosophies concerning the organisation of a good society, but if so I’ve missed them (if you know of such philosophies, please leave a comment and let me know). Anyway …
It’s very easy for proponents of capitalism, like investment bankers, property owners, corporate lobbyists, and those with old money to think that libertarianism is the answer. But what if we remix libertarianism?
One of the 20th century’s foremost libertarians, Robert Nozick, states that people should be allowed to have a fair start in life, and then what people do with their fair share should be entirely up to them; you get your fair piece of land, currency, money or whatever it is we feel should be distributed evenly to start with in order to get a fair start in life. Kind of like how you get a set amount of bills when you start a game of Monopoly. And then the division of money across the board will be spent in various ways and ultimately unevenly distributed, but through free choices. Of course in Monopoly, the dice – chance – also plays a central role. From a libertarian perspective there’s nothing wrong with us ending up with unevenness, given that the preconditions were fair. If enough people want to spend their money on football tickets, then it’s quite alright that it ends up in the pocket of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. That’s ok. If you want to give your money to someone or something, you should be able to. And if enough people want to make Zlatan Ibrahimovic end up with an exorbitant salary; let them. That’s a primary concern for libertarianism. Whereas taxation from this perspective is a kind of penalty, a kind of punishment, where the government take parts of your salary whether you like it or not. And if you don’t want to spend your money on infrastructure and building bridges, then it should be up to you to instead spend all of that money on a crazy new Art Deco-esque Church or Mosque (which no one ever visits because people with free choice may stay at home reading music and philosophy blogs instead). But you can do it. That is a central tenet of libertarianism.
However, there’s a valid objection against libertarianism, that doesn’t just come from outside the Nozickian ranks, but also from within: Children.
Today, children aren’t born into a world of equal shares. They aren’t presented with an equal share of the relevant currencies to make it in the world. After the first round of Monopoly, children aren’t born into a world where things are evenly distributed. The chess board isn’t reset all of a sudden. Instead, some people have advanced their position so much that children are not born into a world of any kind of equality. There may not even be a share left for them at all.
So one way of experimenting with the thought of libertarianism is a restart. I call this Control + Alt + Deleuze. A rebooting of the system. The premise is quite simply, really. You can spend your money (or relevant currencies and shares in material goods) whichever way you like. But you can’t indebt yourself. That is, you can’t have a debt to someone which remains when you are no longer there. Because what you do, if you restart, is that there is no inheritance. You can’t pass anything on. It’s kind of like that saying; can I bring my dog with me to heaven? Sorry, no.
If people can only ever gift what they actually have, it becomes both interesting and fair. They can still invest in things that could still churn out a type of capitalist system where money and commodities change hands freely, which is typically what libertarians say that they want to see and safeguard.
When people talk about justifying capitalism, it tends to always go along a line of reasoning like ‘why should we punish rich people for being successful?’ or ‘s/he has worked really hard, so s/he should get to keep whatever they earned’. If you work hard, it should pay off. The problem in the current system is that not only does it pay off if you work hard. It also pays off if your grandfather’s grandfather worked hard in the 17th century, leaving you old money. Now that’s usually not the argument you hear; that your family should be set for generation after generation because someone at some point worked hard, while other people have to be their maids and butlers. That’s usually not the argument in favour of capitalism. This is also what Thomas Piketty has shown, that ‘hard work’ isn’t favoured over old money, but that old money ‘wins’ more influence, thus poking a substantial hole in the myth that hard work (today) is the cornerstone of capitalism. Rather, the revenue stream from already accumulated assets is the winning hand in the card game. No one would deny that the work as a maid or a butler is hard. So, you work hard, but you’re still in submission.
With the Control+Alt+Deleuze principle, you control assets centrally, communally together. But distribute them in alternate way. And lastly, the flow of money is reduced to just one flow in a much larger system of flows, becomings and emergences – a Deleuzean perspective of immanense. William E Connolly writes brilliantly in his The Fragility of Things: Self-Organizing Processes, Neoliberal Fantasies and Democratic Activism (2013), on (or against) the notion that a capitalist market is self-organising in a way that other system doesn’t. Connolly notes how other force-fields and systems, from subhuman movements of cells and bacteria, to massive force-fields like the weather or various parts of the ecosystem, both display a degree of self-regulation but are also open to the influence of the systems that overlap with them, capitalist markets specifically and human agency generally being just two examples.
You can of course discuss how deleuzean this system should be. But the things is that one of Deleuze’s main points is difference. If people are given the same amounts of x:s and y:s to start with, things may turn out very different. Not only different from what we have today, where capital rules supreme. But also in the sense that new, parallel ways of acting in the world may emerge.
Not only because we are given a level playing field to begin with, but also because people will choose very different paths. Some people will choose to pool their resources in ways that might surprise us. We may come up with genuinely novel forms of organising a society, a local community, production of goods, production of ethics, and distribution of ethics. We just don’t know yet. Some people will inevitably buy cats for their whole fair share. Others will invest heavily in computers and gif-making software to immortalise the aforementioned cats. Others again will still choose to be something that closely resembles today’s investment bankers, while others will act in a myriad of ways in how they think and deal with the world. Chances are the enactment will happen on – to speak with Deleuze – a thousand plateaus. It would of course be interesting if everything is crystalized into a system that is a very close copy of what we have today; a capitalist system, with money accruing interest and the whole shebang (because it may turn out that enough people have a lack of imagination and creativity and thus fall into familiar tracks). But given that so many people are thoroughly unhappy with the current status quo, it seems a unlikely that capitalism would emerge victorious as the hegemonic winner.
Also interesting, marxist thinking about the worker being in control of the means of production, would have to be substantially revisited, in this vision, as everyone is the same amount of ‘worker’ (or non-worker) to begin with. Not least because in some respect there must be an understanding of a communal pool to which goods are returned (should there be anything left) when people die. I would wager that what we would have would be a generally increasing pool of abundance. Have a taste of that concept; the abundance pool.
When I wrote about ‘the sickness’ this rests on the assumption that human beings aren’t by nature rationally calculating egotists (as the liberal political subject is often described). I believe that such a political subject, such an individual, is an ideological production. Driven by the fear of relying on others, and feeling that this is not ok – being interdependent is somehow unfortunate and faulty – this subject emerges as a consequence of thinking of humans in cog-like terms (replaceable, work-function-oriented).
My old political philosophy professor Gunnar Falkemark one’s said something along the lines of ‘anarchism is the political ideology that has the most positive outlook on people – thinking that we will be just fine even if there is no law or violence to enforce it’. I fervently believe that there is enough good in people that they would willingly produce abundance, if their livelihood wasn’t threatened. That this is one step beyond citoyen (a basic income for all citizens), where people not only have to wait for a monthly pay check but could amass to monumentally good things in no time. It can still pay off hugely to work hard, but the hard work can in this case be of a much more varying and creative character, where I am anarchist enough to believe that with each generation there would be so much abundance produced that we would make the earth a better place, step by step. The beauty with this vision, however, is that we can’t guess even half of the kinds of of ‘better’ and what countless kinds of abundance would emerge, as the different kinds of abundances would most likely blow our minds.
Lastly, I believe this could also be a subsecular vision. I mentioned (just in passing) above that the production and distribution of ethics may also look differently with this system. What is palatable and deleuzean about this political vision, for me, is that it would allow you to schizo-jump between zones; different societies and nodes, that may even strike you as alternate worlds in all their glorious difference, if you can’t find a particular society with rigid or lose ethics enough for your taste that embody all your own inner differences (our inner schizophrenic that Deleuze and Guattari wants us to take out for a walk). Instead, you can embody your different sides (personalities, passions, drives, perversions maybe), in different physical sites (see Bard & Söderqvist). If I were to venture a guess, the syntheologians would see this an something like an embodied, physicalisation of the Internet, a network where everything exciting happens all the time, somewhere but available to you.