Mulling over a theory here… it’s totally mushy at this point, but it goes something like this:
For a certain subset of people, the power to name is the power to control.
Not literally, of course. But something like this really does seem to be part of the “delusional architecture,” to steal a phrase from abnormal psych, of Our Betters.
For instance, here. Morgan quotes economist Tyler Cowen:
If our domestic politics can’t handle changes in income distribution, maybe the problem isn’t that capitalism is fundamentally flawed but rather that our political institutions are inflexible.
In one sense, of course, he’s totally right — government interference accounts for way more “income inequality” than any inherent “defect” in capitalism. But on a deeper level, I’m starting to believe, the real problem is the belief that there’s such a thing as “capitalism” at all.
It’s a psychological tic — you can’t use a word that ends in “-ism” without thinking of a conscious agent. There’s no racism without racists, for example, or Buddhism without Buddhists. But here’s the problem: “racism” and “Buddhism” describe both actions and motivations. They’re value-laden by their nature. You can hire a white guy over a black guy without being racist, just as you can refuse to eat meat without being a Buddhist. Saying “Steve picked the white candidate instead of the black one” (or, “Steve ate the salad instead of the steak”) doesn’t necessarily imply anything about Steve’s beliefs or personality; saying “Steve’s a racist” or “Steve’s a Buddhist” does, by definition.
All that may seem like belaboring the obvious. But think about what it means for the word “capitalism.” It seems to presuppose that:
there are people out there who are properly described as “capitalists;”
these people are actively working for the benefit of something called “capital.”
Here again, maybe we’re belaboring the obvious… if you’ve read Marx recently. But, as anyone who has spent any time “arguing” with Our Betters knows, they don’t read their own bullshit. And that’s dangerous, because while Marx certainly meant it that way — you can’t read The Communist Manifesto without visions of Rich Uncle Pennybags dancing through your head — he was pretty obviously wrong. In fact, it’s blatantly self-contradictory — you can’t have a ruthless war of all against all and a Billionaire Boys’ Club rigging the system for their mutual benefit.
And that, my friends, should really be belaboring the obvious. But it’s not.
The reason it’s not, I’m starting to believe, is because the word “capitalism” gives those who use it a false sense of mastery. If you can label a phenomenon — if you can look at an event and go, “oh, that’s capitalism” — you have no incentive to look further.
How does this “capitalism” work, comrade? They don’t know, but they’re damn sure it’s wrong.
You see this everywhere in leftist discourse. The problem with energy markets, for example, is “deregulation,” just as the solution to Wall Street’s excesses is “regulation.” Which, to a cognitively normal person, suggests that the guy spouting off about “regulation” and “deregulation” has some specific statutes in mind.
Which laws do you want, comrade? They don’t know, but damn it, there oughtta be some.
And you can take it almost all the way down the line. We all know the horrors of Patriarchy, but let’s walk down the street together; you can point out all the actual patriarchs as we pass them. You want to end “corporate personhood,” but have no idea what could possibly replace it. Fine, ExxonMobil is no longer a “person”…. but then neither is the SEIU, the NFT, the Democratic Party, or Greenpeace, and now who’s going to save the whales’ pensions?
The point isn’t — or isn’t just– that Our Betters are woefully ignorant of all the stuff they so loudly, self-righteously support. It’s far deeper and more troublesome than that. Because here’s the thing: Their ignorance bothers them not a bit. I’ve never once gotten an answer to “which regulations do you want?” or “what happens when corporations aren’t persons?”, but five minutes after I ask it, I’m getting the same ol’ song and dance about “deregulation” or “ending corporate personhood.”
They don’t know, and they know they don’t know, and they don’t care.
The explanation for this, I’m starting to think, is that they feel the word is the thing. They think everyone’s as good at make-believe as they are, and since we all throw the words around, we’re somehow influencing reality. Naming it is controlling it. That’s why they think this rhymes-with-jackoff is really onto something with his blather about “frames” and “metaphors,” while the rest of us think it’s laughable. You know how to use the word “capitalism,” and so you somehow know what it is, in its nature, and if you change the word you change the thing.
In reality, of course, there’s no such thing as “capitalism.” People exchange stuff for other stuff, each person attempting to get the best possible deal to fulfill his needs. This has been true since we stopped swinging in trees, and probably before. To call that exchange “capitalism,” and the exchanged goods “capital,” is simply shorthand. And that’s all it is. Humans will be self-interestedly swapping stuff for other stuff until we’re back in the trees, and it doesn’t matter what word you use to describe the stuff or the exchange.
And, most importantly: You’re not better at swapping stuff, and your stuff is not superior, simply because you can hang fancy words on them.
But Our Betters are wired differently.
That’s what I’m starting to think, anyway. Thoughts?