Thursday, May 11, 2006

Benign Self-interest

Consider a situation in which you are being chased by murderers--bigots who passionately dislike something about you--the color of your skin, the look of your nose, the nature of your faith, or whatever. As they zero in on you, you throw some money around as you flee, and each of them gets down to the 'serious' business of individually collecting the notes. As you escape, you may be impressed by your own good luck that the thugs have such benign self-interest.


Does capitalism provide the scaffolding for incubating civic ('external') peace? In re-directing self-interest towards the accumulation of capitol, this anecdote illustrates how direct conflict between individuals is avoided. Coming across this prefatory passage in Albert Hirschman's, The Passions and the Interests, I was struck by the charisma of this idea, particularly its historic appeal to an English society emerging out of a "confessional diaspora" (so to speak). The collapse of religious loyalty bonds had necessitated the emergence of a civic religion. The new civic religion was driven by one fear--public disorder. This fear could be ameliorated through a self-interest that sought its 'advantage' through shared linkages of dependency, manifesting in commerce. Essentially, expressing self-interest through capital accumulation neutralizes the passions. Conflict becomes redirected outside of bodies and into the sphere of economic exchange.

But how valid is the fear of the 'passions?' To what extent, was and is the sublimation of the ego a necessary recourse for civil peace?

Examining approaches that aim to redirect the apparatus of capitalism to the local level, we have to ask, what does this do for the ego? How is the ego being re-conceived by these attempts at turning economy to its roots (i.e. management of a household).

This tension between thinking of economic development as basic needs versus its capacity to produce higher yields beyond the domain of local sustainability is not without implications for the subjective dimension. Higher yields become indicative of a system of 'public good' that ameliorates the anxieties and 'passions' provoked by contestations of basic needs. In this sense, the fostering of economies that go beyond local sustainability come equipped with a built in narrative for civil order. In a 'fallenness tone,' individuals are given their economic rights & often national rights at the expense of their passions.

However, to what degree is the association of civility and 'higher yields' constructed? Do 'un-natural' transactions* dissolve an egoism only to uphold a sublimated individualism (a disunious individualism)?

Moreover, do Marxist or solidarity economies offer an appealing brand of individualism that can uphold civil peace?

After awhile, does not all self-interest become benign?

The difficulty is to try and uphold culturally authenticated modes of economy, but to ask whether or not economy is possible at the local level without relapsing into civil disorder. Notions of solidarity economy depend on a moralistic denial of competitive self-interest. But the categorical imperative of solidarity--for eye to eye interaction--is not iself possible without abiding by principles, which threaten the liberty of self-interest. To localize economy is to appeal to localized forms of reciprocity (based on kindness) rather than nationalized dependencies (based on self-interest).

*Aristotle: Natural transactions were related to the satisfaction of needs and yielded wealth that was limited in quantity by the purpose it served. Un-natural transactions aimed at monetary gain and the wealth they yielded was potentially without limits. He explained the un-natural wealth had no limits because it became an end in itself rather than a means to another end.

3 Comments:

Blogger LizS said...

interesting (scratching the head). but whither labor? capitalism / this scaffold of externalized self-interest shares a historical fuck-field with the violence of (often forced) labor and impoverishment, no? is it benign and external from this vantage point?

4:54 PM  
Blogger Lexa said...

the fuck-field is the unnarratable. and so benign self-interest is the emotionally intuited product (narratable) of such a rape.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Lexa said...

vantage points must all meet at the same space-time & hence it is impossible to talk of them without a traumatic coexistence.

12:15 PM  

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