"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Capitalism and the Technologies of Desire

I applaud Robert Jensen's spirited defense of the "narrow gate," in his recent article, Is Obama a Socialist? Reflection on the Degradation of Politics and the Ecosystem. His is one of many efforts to break through the constricted vision of twentieth century ideologies to embrace the many dimensions of liberation: economic, political, and even religious.

The demonization of "socialism" plays a central role in the capitalist strategy of consent that tells us much about why it has succeeded so spectacularly against its rivals. This communication strategy represents "socialism" as the repression of the unlimited ("free") indulgence of desire which corporations constantly encourage. This is represented symbolically by the "nanny" state, a potent image that embodies the repressive morality which it fears. The real content of the word "freedom" in modern political speech is "immediate satisfaction of desire", in particular the artificial desires that are stimulated to a fever pitch with the apparatus of modern marketing.

Capitalism enslaves the imagination through a highly-developed technology of desire. Capitalism captures and distorts human desire so that rather than serving the good of humanity or the glory of God, desire operates according to the golden rule of production for the market. This insight has major consequences for progressive counter-strategies.

Capitalism is successful because it creates a constant stream of new desires which demand immediate satisfaction. By redirecting desire into these carefully controlled channels, attention that might be directed to social concerns follows the groove of personal satisfaction and image. It works by convincing us that this system alone lets us participate in images of personal success. We participate in these images through the stimulation and immediate satisfaction of artificial desires, with all the infantile reasoning that this implies and encourages.

Religious mythology as represented by the "mega-church" phenomenon also plays a significant role. "Sinfulness" in the form of greed, sexual indulgence, selfishness, drugs, and corruption embodies the image of a "fallen" world that can only be magically redeemed. It becomes part of orthodox religious belief that the features of contemporary capitalism are the unalterable features of fallen humanity. Rather than believing that we are God's agents who can liberate ourselves through his gifts, as Jesus taught, we are forced into the belief that "Jesus" will magically liberate us through miraculous events. These beliefs reinforce the faith that capitalism can continue forever.

For instance, George Gilder says, "... man is not finite; the human mind is not bound in material brain...the energy crisis is essentially a religious disorder, a failure of faith. It can be overcome chiefly by worship; by a recognition that beyond the darkness and opacity of our material entrapment is a realm of redemptive spirit, reachable through that interplay of faith and fact which some call science, others poetry, but which is most luminously comprehended as forms of prayer." - George Gilder, The Spirit of Enterprise.

This is precisely the idolatry which enraptures the contemporary religious mind and cultivates the belief that the "creativity" of our economic system will always save us, no matter what "reality" may say. The fuel behind the fire that is devouring our planet is the constant stimulus of new desires which can only be satisfied by the organized productive capacity of globalized capital.

Resistance to climate change can't gain traction because it presents itself as a restriction on the satisfaction of infinite desire. The dynamic of capitalism is that we can become endlessly more through the multiplication of new technologies. Climate change activism opposes this irrationalism, and so can be easily characterized as dull, repressive, and totalitarian - in a word "socialist".

What Jensen and contemporary socialists call for is the liberation of desire from this bondage. Submission to this bondage is rapidly destroying its own ecological foundation, which is right now causing natural destruction that will take millennia to heal.

Capitalism creates a spiritual void and then fills it with an unending stream of artificial desire to quell the boredom and despair engendered by the thwarting of social development.

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