The balance of power and the pull of extremes

I would like to discuss, as I have many times before, the importance of balance in the context of political action. It is a decisive tendency in contemporary politics to swing towards one extreme or another, without really breaking out of the broad-based ‘neoliberal’ paradigm in which we live. Any vote seems eventually to produce radical deregulation of the market, at local, national, or increasingly global scales. The unleashed market economy then wreaks havoc on old traditions, producing a never-ending cultural revolution in values and ideas. This tendency towards culture war may be referred to as ‘market Maoism’, although this has sometimes gone under the more recognisable name of ‘market Stalinism’. Indeed, the left-wing dictators Mao and Stalin both thought their arbitrary power ultimately trumped their ideological concerns, which were twisted in the name of accelerating the course of history to its ‘inevitable’ conclusion. It just so happened that, in these cases, the conclusion was complete failure and a grotesque enormity of human suffering along the way.

A candle in the dark.

Today we are seeing a somewhat Trotskyist division between the ‘dustbin of history’ and those who face the future with the certainty of dogmatic preachers. Conservatives are seen as relics of the past, but even they support the acceleration of our world towards the opposite of a Stalinist world government: a world market of totalitarian proportions. Indeed, I think these are hardly opposites: what we are seeing is the convergence of socialist methods and capitalistic ends. Capitalism learned something from socialism, which revitalised the modern state that ushered in capitalism in the first place (as Marx noticed in the under-read last part of Capital, Vol. I). This learning is now being put into practice.

Underneath the ideological fancy of ‘woke’ capitalism is a darker reality, the ‘death drive’ towards which capitalism accelerates with devastating speed. The market and the state are collapsing into one another, in service of a technological paradise which Silicon Valley is constructing, or dreaming. The nightmare to come is one where technology dictates normativity. What is right is simply what is possible, just as what was right before modernity was what was actual, or historical. The religion of the past is being replaced by the religion of the future. The market creates possibilities for profit which the state unlocks with the keys of power. This dangerous confusion is not stopping now, and looks set to continue apace for some time. Indeed, the recent case of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, a fraudulent medical tech company which survived off the back of Holmes’ style and finesse, and no shortage of misguided support from Reagan-era clientele, demonstrates the insubstantial nature of the world we are starting to embrace.

The crisis is almost complete, and it is seemingly unavoidable. We have seen it before. In the ‘roaring’ 1920s, the market consumed the state which collapsed upon the market’s demise from 1929, leading to the oblivion of democracy across central Europe in the 1930s and the present resumption of the world war which the last great trade globalisation around the turn of the twentieth century produced. Now, the turn of the millennium has unleashed a new terror, one which is both regional and global. It is the terror of an inhuman system careening out of all human control. Soon we will look for someone to blame, but we will find no-one but ourselves, as we watched the world burn, and forsook balance in favour of the extremes this system favours. To choose an alternative is to hope for a miracle, at the edge of reality, the close of fantasy, and the ends of the world. Maybe a miracle is just what we need. Whether we will be lucky in these unkind times is something only time can tell. But try to endure, we must. Time is not short, but our patience is. Perhaps, paradoxically, we must be patient as we run against the clock. We never know what lurks round the corner. We had best be ready. Just in case.

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