Fear of falling

Quinlan Vos and his (ridiculously smart and well-read young) friends have been discussing Marx, the work-labor distinction, and Michael Albert’s postcapitalist economic plan, Parecon. Problem is, Quinlan shows, Parecon’s not really all that postcapitalist, as it envisions the continuation of waged labor, though under an assumed name, and of money as the general measure. This, as Quinlan says, is a complete abdication of everything implied by the slogan “From each according their ability, to each according to their needs.”

Albert’s preoccupation in his Parecon (short for “participatory economy”) schema is with hierarchy, as in destroying it in the workplace, in the form of the market, and in the economy as a whole, and instead implementing hierarchy-free collective management. This tenet guides, for instance, a recent article on his tours of Argentine factories that have been recuperated by workers, in which factories that hew closer to capitalist management structures are eyed more critically than those that don’t. In short, Albert’s is an anarchist economics.

Certainly the abolition of hierarchy is something to strive for, a necessary goal even, but fetishizing it is problematic, especially when you concede that you’re willing to countenance waged labor to expedite its arrival. Deleuze, in describing the univocity of being in Difference and Repetition, notes two different meanings of hierarchy. The second, the “good” one,

considers things and beings from the point of view of power: it is not a question of considering absolute degrees of power, but only of knowing whether a being eventually ‘leaps over’ or transcends it limits in going to the limit of what it can do, whatever its degree.

Here, Deleuze says,

‘to the limit’…no longer refers to what maintains the thing under a law, nor to what delimits or separates it from other things. On the contrary, it refers to that on the basis of which it is deployed and deploys all its power….This ontological measure is closer to the immeasurable state of things than to the first kind of measure; this ontological hierarchy is closer to the hubris and anarchy of beings than to the first hierarchy.

The first acceptation of hierarchy, on the other hand, is absolute, measuring “beings according to their limits, and according to their degree of proximity or distance from a principle.” This is the hierarchy of the total (totalizing and totalitarian) that brooks no difference. This is the notion of hierarchy that Albert objects to. It’s also the kind that, because he meets it with irony (to use a different Deleuzean concept), he ends up accepting. Deleuze calls irony “ascending towards the principles” of moral law, which means “challenging the law as secondary,” challenging its authenticity, protesting its illegitimacy and usurping of an “original power.” He contrasts this with humor, “descending towards the consequences,” where one “falsely submits” to the law, mocks it, and thereby is able to “taste pleasures it was supposed to forbid.”

Albert’s principled objections are always ascending, never descending. His focus on hierarchies elides the other weapons capital uses to ensure its domination. By railing against capital’s illegitimacy–and its suspension of some higher, presumably more communistic nature–he ends up missing the creative pleasures available in the act of falling.

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3 thoughts on “Fear of falling

  1. hi Eric,
    Ridiculously? How about distressingly? Depressingly! I find myself thinking “what right do you have to be so smart…?!”, which is really just the expression of regret, of feeling like I must have taken the slow train to many places that others clearly got to by monorail. Ah well. At least I’ve got … … damn.
    I hope you’re well.
    take care,
    Nate

  2. Thanks for the kind remarks. I’m not sure about Deleuze, that stuff sounds pretty interesting, but also very difficult (which is by no means a bad thing). I like what you quote. I shall be reading it pretty soon, it’s on my list.

  3. Nate,

    Yes. Depressingly I especially like. And here’s how I would complete your unfinished thought: a hot and smart wife and beautiful, smart, awesome kids. And I’m only 37!

    Quinlan,

    You’re welcome. It is very difficult, but eminently worth it, imho. If I might make a recommendation, I’d start with the books he did with Guattari, especially Anti-Oedipus. Difference and Repetition and some of his solo works might be more for those who are smitten with his more obviously political work, which I am completely.

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