Clash of Histories – A Prolegomenon

Capitalism and democracy have been pitched for many centuries to the resulting battle we have seen in the 21st Century. We have thought of this conflict in terms of absolute oppositions such as truth versus lies, righteousness versus evil, past versus future, efficiency versus waste, individualism versus collectivism. However, these conflicts were set in motion long before our contemporaneous vocabulary found such words for them. The mistake, the Error, is a result of absolutizing our modern idioms.

Let us take a step back to a time where Homo Sapiens did not exist. In evolution we find that species survive and go extinct dependent on adaptation to their environment. Their specific adaptation may come from mixtures of characteristics such as strength, speed, deception, thievery, or collectivity as in sheer numbers or cooperation. Homo Sapiens were not the strongest or the fastest, perhaps not even the smartest and wiliest, but survived in and through cooperation.

Jumping forward, Adam Smith tells us the virtue of capitalism is in selfishness. Selfishness produces the greatest value at the most competitive cost. It lures the reward of success and wealth toward individual dedication and accomplishment. Selfishness in this case has already been understood in Adam Smith’s time as a ready to hand, ‘practical’, notion of individualism. Philosophers understand the notion of individualism as a particular and evolved notion in history and language they call metaphysics.

However, embodied in this notion of rugged individualism, sheer force of a single person’s will, is the contrary idea of cooperation. After all, most individuals that succeed in capitalism do so with the help of others, of employees. As in pre-humanoid eras cooperation still underlies success but has been subjugated to the all encompassing and totalizing notion of selfishness.

Even later than Adam Smith, we have Hobbes’ idea of social contract theory. Individuals obey laws and customs from their own self-interest. The believe that if they obey societal norms others will be indebted to do the same. Individuals do not cooperate from a sense of altruism but from a sense of self preservation, selfishness.

Throughout the narratives of history cooperation has been subjugated to the merit of individualism and absolute self-concern. As Karl Marx was so keen to observe, the shift of value into the abstract notion of capital, prepares the way into alienation. I suggest alienation is not just from the means of production but also from the other. It sets the stage for the metaphysic of the individual to triumph over cooperation and collectivity. More insidiously, it makes the machinery of manipulation of ‘capital’, importance. Afterall, those that control the capital have the means of production to sway values. They can foster the idea that sheer force of will on the part of exceptional individuals can influence and determine their environment rather than be determined by it. In Donald Trump and the worldview that embodies him, democracy is a likely story which is written by the victors of the battle for the narrative of history to placate the ignorant masses.

Again, cooperation and collectivity have once again taken a back seat to the glamour and glitter of the capitalistic hero. The hero succeeds and secedes from less desirables to attain godhood not even by individual intelligence, athletic acuity, beauty, wisdom, compassion but from the mere accumulation of capital. In this, the metaphysic of the individual has been absolutely reduced to the abstraction of capital and who controls it.

Democracy has an essential counter movement from the notion of metaphysical individualism. Democracy has an essential dependence on cooperation and collectivity. Democracy, even as far back as the Greeks, has always had its flaws even as individualism has had. The Greeks had slaves. Women were not allowed to vote. It found ways of denying the ‘all’ it desired to embody. Enlightenment tried to address these flaws in the idea of education and critical thinking. However, it was washed over by, once again, the all-consuming concern for selfishness. From metaphysical individualism, Enlightenment became yet another tool for the elites to manipulate the environment. In this way, the all-consuming absoluteness of individualism was able to once again triumph over collectivity. Even more so, now with the ‘relativity of facts’ science has become just another face of elitism. I hope by now what has become apparent is that the black hole vortex of abstract individualism cannot be overturned as that will yet again prove its validity. As Popper may have told us in another context individualism has become unfalsifiable. Since individualism must always be the case, the only question is who can seemingly escape its universality by becoming the individual that determines all other individuals – the Super-Individual, the Ubersmensch.

The fantasy of godhood as the determiner of otherness, of who others are, is the prize of the heroic capitalist. The Resignation of our time is that we must dream ourselves to be on the way to self-determining will-to-power; the rugged capitalist which seemingly frees himself from the mortal bonds of being determined to breathe the god’s air of being the determiner. But alas, this emperor has no cloths. No one is a hermit that hermetically accomplishes ‘true’ elitism from the basket of wannabe elitist deplorables. Employees, inheritance and the lack of equal opportunity has always been behind the curtain of the great and powerful Oz.

Democracy was always meant from implication – from the very fact of environment as: cooperation, equality, compassion, adaptation. We will never fulfill this essential implication from brute force individualism. We will only succeed in our annihilation from lack of fitness for adaptation. The promise of democracy forgotten, subjugated, to the triumph of will will become our curse. We have no choice but to seek the, as yet, indeterminate consequences of cooperation, inclusion and equality of opportunity. We have exhausted the opiate of “me”-ness. It cannot work, it has never worked. We are work. Not the abstraction of will we think as ‘work’ – we are the workers, the cooperators, the obligators to the other OR we are nothing but extinct.