Somebody did damn recall on that Desrosieres book so I haven’t been able to finish it let alone make proper notes on it. Grr. It continues to be great. I’m gonna get it back.

Here’s the most recent thought provoking bit, which I’m summarizing and paraphrasing rather than quoting and citing because I’m in a hurry. The book describes how early on chance was largely identified with the will of a deity. As such, chance could in specific circumstances be appealed to resolve disputes, not only informally but by things like drawing lots in certain court proceedings. The idea here is that chance allows god to make the decision – a third party without preferences (at least, without objectionable preferences) between the disputing parties. This made me think about Adam Smith’s famous invisible hand, whereby individuals pursuing their private interests somehow adds up to a social condition that is in everyone’s interest, and that this works best if just allowed to operate without deliberate human interference – to do so would usurp god’s place, which rarely ends well for people. (Here too paraphrasing, and based on stuff I read like 15 years ago so not at all sure how close I am to the original text, gotta look into that eventually.) This in turn reminded me of Walter Benjamin’s fragement on capitalism as religion, which is mostly damn near incomprehensible and so annoying but has some thought provoking bits. (Also reminded me of some stuff on Schmitt and politics and/or theology hat I haven’t thought much about in a long while.)

It strikes me that despite a significant measure of social/political secularization of institutions there remains something which is basically religious in character or which shares aspects with religion – from talking with my friend Erik D recently I’m tempted to compare this to Marx on fetishism, though that’s probly a can of worms best avoided just now – in that there’s a sort of appeal to sorts of objects that determine our conditions (or, to put it another way, appeal to states of affairs within descriptions of which our conditions are determined) such that certain problems are potentially not political problems, probably not eliminable, and certainly not a matter of right and wrong. As usual I’m thinking here about workplace injuries and a sort of rhetorical shoulder-shrugging like “well, in a complicated society, some people are just gonna die at work, it’s really too bad for those people and their loved ones” which encourages additional shoulder-shrugging rather than other possible responses. It’s part of making accidents a problem rather than a wrong. You can’t fight fate, after all. I’m not totally sure on this but I think there’s a move that goes on in response to accident statistics in the late 19th or early 20th century, something like this: “We observe that in our society these events happen all the time. Therefore, these events will continue to happen all the time.” The assumption is that there won’t be significant changes eliminating those events, in this case workplace accidents. Assuming eliminability of accidents, the assertion of their ineliminability is an act that preserves the continued occurrence of eliminable accidents. This connects to some old, old posts that I haven’t thought about in a long while, about determinism and what are I think logical errors. I’m not sure about this but my hunch, influenced by a bit of Badiou I’ve read and a bit more Badiou I’ve heard people talking about, is that this is more a matter of starting points that are the result of decisions (or, at most, intellectual intuitions). Arguments about them mostly come after them, mostly serving to justify them, rather than being their source.

Getting somewhat back to the religiosity of capitalism bit for just a moment, I’m reminded of Marx’s comments in the section of Capital v1 where he compares primitive accumulation to original sin and where he mocks the old fable about grasshoppers and ants, arguing that these myths cover up the real history of expropriation, which was political and historically contingent, rather than natural and historically necessary.

Advertisements