A not Unminor problem

Dace edace at flinthills.com
Thu Apr 13 17:57:30 PDT 2000

Peter K wrote:
>The author, David Sylvester, writes:
>>Yet we must also remember that finance theory describes not a state
>>of nature but a world of human activity, of beliefs and of
>>institutions. Markets, despite their thing-like character, their
>>global reach and their huge volumes, remain social constructs and
>>the feedback loops that constitute them are intricate, knotted and
>>far from completely understood.
Every living thing is a feedback loop. That doesn't mean that every feedback loop is alive, but I think in the case of the capitalist "market," we are dealing with something that is living. The question of life is whether the form of a feedback system was based on a pre-existent design-- like a piece of technology-- or if the system was largely self-created. What makes a living thing alive is that it emerges spontaneously and perpetuates itself through feedback. A bacterium is continually monitoring the effects of its actions and modifying them accordingly. It's like a line which is extended and drawn around to form a circle. If the loop occurs spontaneously, then the enclosed space it forms comprises a self. The first self was probably a strand of RNA and a feedback loop that enabled it to reproduce. Later the functions RNA were divided up between DNA and protein, the basis of the bacterium. After that came multicellularity and ultimately the social organisms, such as termites, ants, and bees. Primates later developed an extremely simplified form of social organism, and it was out of this development, five million years ago, that consciousness emerged. At first consciousness was merely a method of social advancement among competitive apes. An ape that could perceive mentality could surmise the contents of the mind of another ape, thereby gaining a reproductive advantage. But by half a million years ago, this process yielded something entirely original, a new form of life, a new kind of self. It was a feedback loop drawn entirely within mentality and therefore a self-created, self-perpetuating mind. Human consciousness is not merely mental perception but mental self-existence. Though we identify with our bodies, the actual human self is strictly mental. That's why we cease to exist when we go to sleep. The body is still there, but with consciousness in absentia, the individual simply skips whatever time is spent in (dreamless) sleep. In order for us to reproduce, it's not enough for our bodies to make little copies of themselves. If a baby is brought up outside the context of human society, it does not become human. It becomes an animal, incapable of language or mental reflection. To reproduce ourselves, we cultivate human mentality in our offspring. Thus human reproduction only *begins* at birth. But our self-contained mentality has produced innumerable self-contained mental systems, which thrive as long as human minds do. These are a second kind of human offspring. We do not give birth to them. We only conceive them, having no ability to embody them except in the dead matter of our technology. These "spiritual" children of ours can reproduce only by integrating themselves into the worldviews of living people.

The orignal human offspring is culture. A culture is a self-contained feedback system which forms around a particular society and is shared equally in the minds of all its participants. As we make the transition from simple society to civilization, we start conceiving many more "children," some healthy, some pathological. Patriarchy, property, and capitalism are the three great pathological feedback systems spawned by the human mind. The warrior, the aristocrat, and the capitalist are the three historical carriers of these pathologies, ensuring the maintenance of the material conditions that enable the "virus" to keep reproducing from generation to generation, from mind to mind, exactly the way culture and language do.

Doug wrote:
>In his new book, The Fragile Absolute, Slavoj Zizek writes (further
>excerpts to follow later today):
>>Here we encounter the Lacanian difference between reality and the >>Real:
'reality' is the social reality of the actual people involved
>>in interaction, and in the productive process; while the Real is the
>>inexorable 'abstract' spectral logic of Capital which determines
>>what goes on in social reality. This gap is palpable in the way the
>>modern economic situation of a country is considered to be good and
>>stable by international financial experts, even when the great
>>majority of its people have a lower standard of living than they did
>>before reality doesn't matter, what matters is the situation of
>>Capital.... And, again, is this not truer than ever today? Do not
>>phenomena usually described as those of 'virtual capitalism' (the
>>futures trade and similar abstract financial speculations) indicate
>>the reign of 'real abstraction' at its purest, much more radical
>>than it was in Marx's time? In short, the highest form of ideology
>>lies not in getting caught up in ideological spectrality, forgetting
>>about its foundations in real people and their relations, but
>>precisely in overlooking this Real of spectrality, and pretending to
>>address directly 'real people with their real worries'. Visitors to
>>the London Stock Exchange are given a free leaflet which explains to
>>them that the stock market is not about some mysterious
>>fluctuations, but about real people and their products - this is
>>ideology at its purest.
How do we embrace the accuracy of this assessment while rejecting its Platonic component? Truly, capitalism is not just about individuals pursuing self-interest. It's greater than any of us. Yet it did not descend pre-formed from some sort of "spectral" realm. It evolved within the self-contained environment of the human mind. It is something that our minds produced and which has become self-existent and now preys on us. We still perceive it as a set of abstractions, but in reality it has taken on a life of its own. The feedback loop which encloses the market into a self-perpetuating system is designed to adjust behavior according to only one indicator-- profit-generation. It neither knows nor cares how destructive its effects may be in the world. If we can't displace it, then it will continue following its program until it has killed its host, that is, the civilization that gave birth to it.


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