Snake Eating Its Tail: The Tao of Capitalism

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The Tao of Capitalism:

The capital that can be sold
is not the eternal Capital.
The exchange that can be exchanged
is not the eternal Currency.

The invisible hand is the eternally false.
Capital is the origin
of the commodified spectacle.

Enslaved to desire,
you believe the spectacle real.
Caught in desire,
you see only the self
reflected in images of Capital.

Yet the invisible hand and its unfathomableness
arise from the same source.
This source is called Capital.

Capital within capital.
The Gateway to all confusion.

 Of course my parody of the Tao Te Ching just underscores the irrationalism that underpins the rationality of Capital. We accept it because it is the hidden source of our desires, it presents a world of dreams that fulfill our wishes for the Good Life. Everyday we see in the media-scapes of TV and the Internet advertising, Hollywood, Sports stars, and other imaginaries the fake worlds of the nouveau riche and plutocrats who seem to live with such gusto and affirmation that we are led to believe this, too, can be ours – if only we will accept the Devil’s bargain, believe the promises of a better life, a better tomorrow that credit and capital offer. Just buy more of these lies and you’ll bring on the very prosperity of eternal Capital: thus speak the false ones on Wall-Street. Yet, daily we look around us and realize that there is only suffering, austerity, and the truth of a life lived without hope or even the possibility of hope.

The bookstands and internet Goodreads show forth apocalypse, YA Dystopias, and the mangled crime novels of a world gone mad as the only works that seem to be making headway in the capitalist markets. Our minds filled with the imaginary futures of chaos, war, bioshock, posthuman blues, and the demise of civilization in climate catastrophe, political tyranny, or social and cultural amnesia. This is our cultural mind in the First-World. Yet, we continue to support this dark world of Capital as if there were no alternative, while the media and academic/think-tank pundits continue to tell us that there is indeed no alternative; that this is the end, this is civilization without History that we all wanted so desperately, and that now we must support with every last cent of our hard won efforts in total taxation and austerity… our life-support systems hanging in the balance as if the salvation of Capital is the only redemption for the human species left.

On 3 February 2015 Joseph Stiglitz wrote : “Austerity had failed repeatedly from its early use under US president Herbert Hoover, which turned the stock-market crash into the Great Depression, to the IMF programs imposed on East Asia and Latin America in recent decades. And yet when Greece got into trouble it was tried again.” 1

The Serpent that ate its tail

The ouroboros – or snake or dragon eating its tail, often symbolizes self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things such as the [capitalism] which operate in cycles that begin anew as soon as they end. It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished. (Wiki) italics mine!

But is this true of capitalism: is it a force that cannot be extinguished? Zygmunt Bauman asked by an interviewer if Austerity imposed by First-World States was the mark of the Ouroboros stated that we are all headed into a final black hole of ruin from which even the fabled phoenix could not return out of its own ashes, because financial capitalism unlike industrial capitalism is based on credit flows rather than on product flows. Therefore, when those whose credit-crunch taxes (austerity: taxes and government spending cuts) supporting this bubble economy go there will be no F.D.R. Keynesian solution to step in and fix the mess: – no war machine economy to revitalize the world through a ramping up of industry; – industry has moved to the periphery, while financial capitalism swims in its own cesspool:

What the ouroboros metaphor (albeit obliquely) does imply, however, is that the demise/ collapse of capitalism is thinkable as an implosion rather than an explosion, let alone as destruction by an external blow (if such a blow did come, it could only play the role of a coup de grâce): capitalism will starve itself out of existence once the pool of available/ possible/ imaginable grazing grounds is exhausted. And according to the law of diminishing returns, known all too well to any cultivator of land and any miner, the effort to extract an extra morsel of useful/ usable/ profitable crop turns exorbitantly costly as the pool nears the point of exhaustion – rendering further cultivation or mining senseless and likely to be abandoned before it becomes impossible.

We know now – we have been indeed oversupplied with proof – that far from being a self-equilibrating system or being moved by the ‘invisible (but artful and astute) hand’ of the market, the capitalist economy produces massive instability which it is blatantly unable to tame and control while using only its own, so to speak, ‘natural predispositions’. To put it bluntly, it generates catastrophes which, by itself, it is unable to arrest, let alone to prevent, just as it is unable to put right the damage that such catastrophes perpetrate. The ability of ‘self-correction’ imputed to the capitalist economy by some of its court economists boils down to the periodical destruction of successful ‘bubbles’ (with outbursts of bankruptcies and mass unemployment) – and that at enormous cost to the lives and prospects of those supposed to be served by the benefits of capitalist endemic creativity …

Once lenders find out that there is a safety cushion in the form of the state rushing to help once the bluff of ‘life on credit’ is called and the lending– borrowing game has abruptly ended, then the sole thing that is likely to be ‘resuscitated’ is their willingness to speculate and take risks for the sake of immediate financial return, with little concern for the long-term consequences and sustainability of the game in the long run. The next bubble is bound to start growing. And let me add that what applies to the lenders applies as well, even if at an appropriately adjusted scale, to the borrowers with whom they are locked in a temptation– seduction loop. The object of credit transactions is not only the money lent and borrowed, but reinvigoration of ‘short-termist’ psychology and lifestyles. As it stretches to the point of bursting, the big bubble is surrounded by a multitude of personal or familial mini-bubbles bound to follow it to perdition.2

Of course this is all history since the creditors already discovered that governments are only all to willing to hand the financial institutions that put us into this mess the cash needed to continue their ‘short-term’ game of roulette with the lives of the planetary economy. While the citizens who live in austerity seem unable or unwilling to struggle against either the governments who impose such measures, or to change their own behavior by withdrawing their support of the credit-economy that builds these bubbles to begin with. We are our own worst enemies. While those outside the credit system and the old Governmental safety-nets of Welfare have slowly been broken and released to suffer in silence and terminal obsolescence: the old, the poor, the starved and sick: the excluded and expulsed who for capitalism no longer exist in the great accounting systems of financialization.

Now we are seeing the final stages of this End Game begin as these financiers begin to squeeze every last cent out of the tax-payer in a massive austerity that will bleed both the nations and the earth’s resources beyond recall. There will be no Keynes to step in, no safety-net for the financiers, no way out of this next time the bubble bursts. Only a final collapse into hell for all involved. And, from the distance of my isolated view it looks as if we’re going to sit back like Debord once said and watch the spectacle happening before our very eyes as if it were just a bad dream rather than the truth of our lives. No one can predict the next bubble burst but we know it is coming sooner or later, and that the next time there will be no bail-out only the interminable pain of total economic and planetary collapse of Financial Capitalism (that is – if the climate collapse doesn’t do us in first).

Addendum:

Was asked: What will replace the financial system?

Just depends how creative they get: that means how much more pain they can inflict upon the world to keep this shit going… obviously as Debord and others long ago pointed out the slaves are so apathetic and stupefied that unless they wake up from the spectacle and see it for what it is they will continue to be mesmerized by the plutocrats till it is too late to do anything about it. Then the end will truly have been reached…

Whatever it is want be pretty… it’s going to be hellish for a long long time… there really is no way out of this mess: we’re going to live it. It is our mess after all, we can’t just walk away or fly off to another planet. The only way out is if the capitalist continue to fool people again and create other fields to consume: other planets, other goals, the biotech revolution, other energy sources, etc. Capital only works as long as it has something to consume, and right now it’s living on its own final terminal delivery system: the taxes of its slaves across the First-World. But once they can no longer pay the taxes – unable to work, unable to live, unable to exit, etc. this form of capitalism, if it has not found another source for its consumptive needs, will spin into chaos and collapse leaving nothing behind but death, civil-war, and total destruction of environment and the civilization upon which it fed for all too long.

The sad thing is that unlike the conspiracy theorists who think someone or some group is behind all this: the critical theory knows that the plutocrats are themselves as stupid as the system they serve to their benefit, and that system is both impersonal and banal. No one controls it, it is truly just an irrational system of rules and regulations that has no inherent truth or controllers: an algorithmic cultural elite of cognitariat administrates this system of chaos on the edge of order that could at any moment unravel if they are not vigilant. Therefore paranoia is the order of the day with a Surveillance and Security Society enslaved to total control by economic dictatorship that hides its true purpose behind secrecy and subterfuge. A world where politics is only stage show, a theatre of cruelty and representation that even the politicians no longer believe in.

Deleuze and Guattari wanted to give Capital a final push, allow the mechanisms to accelerate beyond recall, let the schizophrenizing forces break-out and break-through the limits set by Financial Capital itself. A world beyond the limits that capitalist economists and theorists place in the stop-gaps to channel it from escape velocity. What lies on the other side? Freedom or the Abyss? No one has been there yet… Something like Dr. David Roden’s “disconnect thesis” in which whatever comes next will be so different from our cognitive cultural matrix that we will no longer be able to communicate in any rational form about it in our terms. A posthuman world that either regresses to the inhuman core, or metamorphosizes into some transhuman alterity beyond human recognition. Either way it will be like Dorthy  Wizard of Oz who exclaimed:

“Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

There will be no saviors. The myth of redemption on the Left and Right is a dead and mute issue. Either we do it ourselves or die: it’s that simple. We cannot expect either expert technologists nor radical left intelligentsia to redeem us from our present plight. Unless we ourselves withdraw support from this tax austerity across the globe as a community, free ourselves us this lie and its masters; or, we will pay the consequences of our inaction rather than action. Either way we are in for harsh days and years ahead… that is the bitter pill we must all swallow for having succumbed to the illusory world of capital.

False prophets hold out optimistic science fictional scenarios, while true prophets state it as it is: gloom doesn’t sale, happiness and illusions do. Yet, in our current economy even the doomsters of YA Dystopian or Critical Dystopian visions sale well in offering the pleasure-pain of jouissance to distract us from real change in our everyday lives. We love our futures raw and bloody, but only if they are mirrored in the illuminated scripts of a distant world beyond us. When they become all to real, become too near us then we blink, we fret, we panic and begin to scream out of temporal despair. Truth does not sale, lies do. Representations of doom sale, the real thing sits there on our shoulder like a frog croaking till its message finally spells our doom…

As you can see I don’t hold out much hope for people waking up to truth; yet, I fight on, trying with what little I am to struggle for just this. I still dream of a life beyond this strange delirium of capital and its minions, yet I have to be both critical and merciless toward those who continue to buy into its ideological and illusory spectacle. I, too, am a slave bound to a system that has already made its mark on me and my family. Leaving on the edge at 62 with health issues, bankrupt from hospital related bills and credit issues, etc. I, too, live on a minimal month to month stipend in the old social security system. Living below the poverty level of the national average. Yet, to me this internet gives me a chance to reach out and touch others. Whether this is doing any good? Who knows? I get little feedback and my numbers tell me nothing. A few comments here and there… But it keeps me going… is that much? Not really. But it is what keeps me going rather than reaching over and pulling the shot-gun out and finishing it. I sometimes think that there is a fine line between hope and suicide. I read of such depressives as David Foster Wallace and others and realize its a daily struggle to overcome such darkness in one’s self. “I continue” as Vonnegut once suggested… Or as Samuel Beckett relates: “Where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”

As I said in a previous post all we have is our despair, it is what drives us onward now; it is what gives us desires for a better life, a better world. Our despair is real, unlike the optimistic hype of Dysneyfied capitalism. While our minds are enraptured with the global imaginaire of Capital, our bodies like the pod people in the Matrix are slowly being drained of the liquid energy at the core of our being by the technocapitalist minions who breed us like tadpoles in a machinic phylum. We dream of travels in a hyperreality that allows us to live out Hollywood dreams in the cockpit of our isolated and drab lives, mimetically sealed in our failed semblance of freedom, toying with militia dreams of escape or immigrant illusions of migration into the fields of promise. All the while the illusive dream and promise is always just out of reach, elsewhere, riven of our actual bodily lives that are atomized and enslaved in the machinery of a global fetish system that continuously creates ever newer illusions for our fantasy lives.

We used to think the Internet would make us free, that we could touch the world, build a global village of minds and inhabit a planetary noosphere that would allow us to enter utopia. Now we know that it is the other way round, the internet of things has gone viral, it now infests and invades, colonizes every aspect of our lives in ways that are both invisible and ubiquitous. We are  the illusion as long as the illusion lasts. We’ve entered into our Avatars slipping quietly out of our real lives like cosmonauts of a forgotten moon mission. But it is not the virtual worlds we inhabit, rather the virtual worlds now inhabit us. Everything is virtual, nothing is real. This is the Infosphere of Capital at its grandest. Debord did not see this coming, he committed suicide before it ate him up. The cynical prophet of this age is still Jean Baudrillard, for who those of the Left love to hate. Yet, he still knows what they in all their Marxian dreams of escape do not know: there is no escape, we’ve built it now we must admit to ourselves the truth of our own construction set. Baudrillard saw the crisis in both psychoanalysis and Marxism for what it was, the last gasp of a critical theory based on a world that no longer exists: “rather than supporting one another, their respective crises must be telescoped and speeded up”: ex-terminated.3 At the end of J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World – an early work, his main anti-hero – after the long death of civilization as lived out on a small island, slowly drifts off into the deathly and techno-surreal landscapes, the ruins of capitalist civilization churning under his feet:

So he left the lagoon and entered the jungle again, within a few days was completely lost, following the lagoons southward through the increasing rain and heat, attacked by alligators and giant bats, a second Adam searching for the forgotten paradises of the reborn sun.4

But like all visions of hope he knew it was only another beautiful lie, none of us are second Adam’s and there never were any lost paradises of the reborn sun. Only our real lives in this strange earth we’ve torn to shreds in search of love, when love was always right here in the core of our inhuman heart.


1.  “A Greek Morality Tale”. Project Syndicate.
2. Zygmunt Bauman,  Living on Borrowed Time (2013-10-08 Wiley).
3. Jean Baudrillard. Symbolic Exchange and Death (Gallimard 1976)
4. Ballard, J. G. (2012-07-16). The Drowned World: A Novel (p. 198). Norton. Kindle Edition.

7 thoughts on “Snake Eating Its Tail: The Tao of Capitalism

  1. Any ideas about what will replace financial capitalism? I’m sure the mighty dinosaurs never thought they’d be replaced by lowly primates… Nietzsche prophesied that the reevaluation of all values would happen in the 21st century. Stay tuned…

    Like

    • Whatever it is want be pretty… it’s going to hell for a long long time… there really is no way out of this mess: we’re going to live it. The only way out is if they fool people again and create other fields to consume: other planets, other goals, the biotech revolution, other energy sources, etc. Capital only works as long as it has something to consume, and right now its living on its own final terminal delivery system: the taxes of its slaves. But once they can no longer pay the taxes – unable to work, unable to live, unable to exit, etc. this form of capitalism, if it has not found another source for its consumptive needs will spin into chaos and collapse.

      Just depends how creative they get: that means how much more pain they can inflict upon the world to keep this shit going… obviously as Debord and others long ago pointed out the slaves are so apathetic and stupefied that unless they wake up from the spectacle and see it for what it is they will continue to be mesmerized by the plutocrats till it is too late to do anything about it. Then the end will truly have been reached…

      The sad thing is that unlike the conspiracy theorists who think someone or some group is behind all this: the critical theory knows that the plutocrats are themselves as stupid as the system they serve to their benefit, and that system is both impersonal and banal. No one controls it, it is truly just an irrational system of rules and regulations that has no inherent truth or controllers: an algorithmic cultural elite of cognitariat administrates a system of chaos on the edge that could unravel at any moment. Deleuze and Guattari wanted to give that moment a push, allow the mechanisms to accelerate beyond recall, beyond the limits that theorists place in the stop-gaps to channel it from escape. What lies on the other side? Freedom or the Abyss? No one has been there yet…

      Like

  2. S.C;

    Interesting you mention ‘other planets’. I had a momentary diversion from the mundane the other day watching the photos of the ‘dwarf ‘ planet, Pluto, come in. When I was a kid, I got excited hearing Kennedy say we’d have a man on the moon by the end of the decade (aka 60’s). I was even more excited watching Armstrong and Aldrin hop around the moon. Thought we were in for more adventure; but, Nixon and the Viet Nam war debt ruined all that. My son — one of the millennial generation — never got to experience that excitement. Now the USA is counting on private contractors to carry supplies and eventually astronauts into space. Is Elon Musk our savior? :>) I don’t know if a manned mission to Mars is one of the answers to our current dreary scenario; but, we definitely need something to shake up and excite humanity. I hope the shake up just doesn’t come from continued boom and bust cycles. Uffda!

    Like

    • There will be no saviors. The myth of redemption on the Left and Right is a dead and mute issue. Either we do it ourselves or die: it’s that simple. We cannot expect either expert technologists nor radical left intelligentsia to redeem us from our present plight. Unless we ourselves withdraw support from this tax austerity across the globe as a community, free ourselves us this lie and its masters; or, we will pay the consequences of our inaction rather than action. Either way we are in for harsh days and years ahead… that is the bitter pill we must all swallow for having succumbed to the illusory world of capital.

      False prophets hold out optimistic science fictional scenarios, while true prophets state it as it is: gloom doesn’t sale, happiness and illusions do. Yet, in our current economy even the doomsters of YA Dystopian or Critical Dystopian visions sale well in offering the pleasure-pain of jouissance to distract us from real change in our everyday lives. We love our futures raw and bloody, but only if they are mirrored in the illuminated scripts of a distant world beyond us. When they become all to real, become too near us then we blink, we fret, we panic and begin to scream out of temporal despair. Truth does not sale, lies do. Representations of doom sale, the real thing sits there on our shoulder like a frog croaking till its message finally spells our doom…

      As you can see I don’t hold out much hope for people waking up to truth; yet, I fight on, trying with what little I am to struggle for just this. I still dream of a life beyond this strange delirium of capital and its minions, yet I have to be both critical and merciless toward those who continue to buy into its ideological and illusory spectacle. I, too, am a slave bound to a system that has already made its mark on me and my family. Leaving on the edge at 62 with health issues, bankrupt from hospital related bills and credit issues, etc. I, too, live on a minimal month to month stipend in the old social security system. Living below the poverty level of the national average. Yet, to me this internet gives me a chance to reach out and touch others. Whether this is doing any good? Who knows? I get little feedback and my numbers tell me nothing. A few comments here and there… But it keeps me going… is that much? Not really. But it is what keeps me going rather than reaching over and pulling the shot-gun out and finishing it. I sometimes think that there is a fine line between hope and suicide. I read of such depressives as David Foster Wallace and others and realize its a daily struggle to overcome such darkness in one’s self. I continue as Vonnegut once suggested… Or as Samule Beckkett relates: “Where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”

      Like

  3. Keep up the great work! Have to admit, when I was going through my crisis of faith, Nietzsche became my ‘John the Baptist’ showing me the way out of the wilderness. I started a personal project of self overcoming that continues to this day. Your excellent site has provided me with many other philosophers to study — especially the French thinkers!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Capital is parasitical entity, driving the mind, body and evolution of its host. Humans have always been co-evolving by their tools/ideologies (yes, even learning to read, alphabet rewires your brain), made themselves into tools of tools, most of the time, but nothing has taken them over quite like Capital. Next financial catastrophe is probably next episode in co-evolution.

    Capital (and human society) has evolved from 1848. Are thoughts from that time how to get rid of the parasite still valid ? There is much nostalgia on the Left, but Soviet revolution, social democracy and other relics don’t even seem like good human-immune reactions, more like successful parasite infiltrations.

    What is certain is that Capital is finally getting direct access to genetic code and epigenetics of its host, even base matter itself.

    So, has the the future been forecast at the end of the 70s, with Thatcher/Reagan playing star roles in the Alien ? Is the end of financial capitalism when the facehugger falls off and the Alien bursts out ?

    If we’re indeed living this script, there will be no gnosis and singularity, no apocalypse and relevations: Alien is pure death machine. It has no purpose but to transform the ship into itself (death) and die with it in the end.

    Like

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