Sunday, August 1, 2010

Eponymous 2

To put it simply, capitalism is a strange interbreeding of the War Machine and the State Apparatus that represents an alternative branch along the evolutionary path of their undying enmity.  It's a whole new species of organization altogether, though you can see how it's formed from the interaction of the same two forces.  (I would love to think about how these forms of organization are really like evolving animals, but that becomes an absurdly complicated question about something they call the machinic phylum).

One the one hand capitalism inherited a bit of the war machine DNA.  It's creative and productive.  It rolls over every barrier it confronts, whether this is technological, societal, or international.  The image of swash-buckling pirate finance that runs continually beyond the reach of governments is a common one.  Multinationals and markets get a bad rap because of the way they seem to be bigger than the system -- impersonal, uncontrollable, and unpredictable.  Think also of the way these companies seem to have no regard for the "meaning" of anything -- they are trying to take capital and turn it into more capital.  Full stop.  Don't bother them with a bunch of petty limits.

On the other hand, capitalism, as it is currently practiced, depends on some features of the state apparatus.  We set up markets as rule based games within an over-arching state system, hoping to capture the fruits of their competition for productive purposes while constraining their natural tendency to overrun any regulations as part of that very competition.  It may sounds paradoxical, but the market, if it were really freed in some deeper sense, would perhaps cease to take money as its sole objective.  If we place capitalism on the side of the war machine for a second, we can see how mafia capitalism, or state capitalism is very akin to the Nazi war machine taking over its state.  It's a mistake to think that this takeover, though motivate by a strictly monetary competitive logic, would stop with money.  In some sense, limiting markets to dealing in money is the way the state apparatus domesticates them.

I think now you can start to see how the original concepts get interlaced to the point where you're not sure which side to root for.  The state apparatus and the war machine seem to flip back and forth without either having the upper hand.  Everything has been over-coded into units of money, and yet this is a strangely open-end and flexible set of rules to mark off a new territory.  Do we cheer the destruction of the old forms of power, or have they simply changed shape and tightened the noose?  There is a real ambiguity in Deleuze when it comes to these questions -- he is clearly on the side of the creativity of the war machine; it's just not clear which side that is. 

But why call capitalism an axiomatic?

Well, the idea is that an axiomatic is meant to limit the acceptable statements, dividing them into true and false.  This at least was the dream of mathematicians like Hilbert when they proposed to reduce mathematics to this sort of system.  You have a few axioms, some rules of inference, and the thought was that with these you could crank through any possible mathematical statement someone made, and decide whether it followed from the axioms or not.  The axiomatic is meant to mark off the territory of truth.

Unfortunately (sorta) Godel famously made mincemeat of this desire.  Any useful axiomatic runs into all sorts of problems.  Some of the statements may turn out to be undecidable.  Others you know to be true will fall outside of the system.  You can incorporate these, or you can take away other axioms, but the problem of things slipping outside your perfect system will persist.  In addition, it turns out there's a whole branch of mathematics called Model Theory, that they invented when someone realized that even if you could formalize mathematics axiomatically, there might be several different number systems that all followed the same axioms.  The book makes this theory analogous to the way in which capitalist, communist, and totalitarian states all participate in one larger world market as distinct models of the axiom system.

So the basic idea is that reducing all questions to questions about money and efficient production is meant to order all the crazy desires our species comes up with.  And this reduction provides a whole new way of looking at things that does away with a lot of cloying moralistic control and opens up all kinds of new horizons (people pay to dress up their virtual poodles).  But it is still an attempt to reduce these desires to something we can manage and understand, and ultimately try to control.  Which is I suppose why they stick the explanation of the capitalist axiomatic under the chapter on the state apparatus. 

Sorry if this explanation borders on the insane.  I'm certain everyone knows where to find "Mark As Read".

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