The Violence of Capitalism

What saves us is efficiency-the devotion to efficiency.

—Marlow, in Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Life appears as a pause on the energy path; as a precarious stabilization and complication of solar decay. It is most basically comprehensible as the general solution to the problem of consumption.

—Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation

The belief that all things should act efficiently is at the core of both Fordist and post-Fordist forms of capitalism. Why should this be so? One could say that the concept of efficiency arose out of its opposite: inefficiency, as its negation. Most of modern economic theory grew out of this battle for efficiency and has been based on optimizing time, motion, and waste. One might say that the whole Progressive era of which we remain tied was bound by this pursuit of efficiency (perfection, growth, optimization) in the political, economic, social, and engineering (technics/technology) realms. Ultimately the central motif of modernity is the zeal for efficiency, and the desire to control a changing world, by bringing it into conformity with a vision of how the world does or should work.1 One might go further and Weberize it saying that modern global capitalism is the child of Christian perfectionism.

The terms “perfect” and “perfection” are drawn from the Greek teleios and teleiōsis, respectively. The root word, telos, means an “end” or “goal”. In contemporary translations, teleios and teleiōsis are often rendered as “mature” and “maturity”, respectively, so as not to imply infallibility or the absence of defects. Rather, in the Christian tradition, teleiōsis has referred to progressing towards spiritual wholeness or health. In the secular form that would enter into the concept of efficiency this movement from defect to wholeness or completion, would end in capital accumulation: profits, surplus, excess, etc. would take priority in engineering machines, assembly lines, and the mereology of the machinic or the techno-commercial sphere that in our moment is leading to total efficiency in digital economy and the autonomy of the machinic in robotics and AGI. The elimination of inefficiencies has led to the final struggle of eliminating the human from the equation. Capitalism perfected is a process in which humans are annihilated and expulsed as inefficient.

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Notes on the Theory of Forms: Plato, Aristotle, and…

Sometimes we need to spend time tracing down both the etymological and philosophical history of certain terms that have subtly ensconced themselves within our discourse. Our theoretical understanding of Forms is one such term. The Greek concept of form is represented by a number of words mainly having to do with vision: the sight or appearance of a thing. The main words, εἶδος (eidos) and ἰδέα (idea) come from the Indo-European root *weid-, “see”. Both words are already there in the works of Homer, the earliest Greek literature. Equally ancient is μορφή (morphē), “shape”, from an obscure root. The φαινόμενα (phainomena), “appearances”, from φαίνω (phainō), “shine”, Indo-European *bhā-, was a synonym.1

What’s interesting is that all these etymological derivations return us to perception, sight, vision, shape, shine, appearance. And that eidos and idea are rooted in seeing or sighting. Why should human perception of things come into play at all? Why is our study of natural processes always based on sight? Is the tyranny of all the eye what forces us to make such distinctions as form and content as if form (eidos, idea, etc.) is the active element and content (substance, matter, content, material, etc.) as passive?

We know that Plato was a realist of Ideas, that he formulated a theory of Forms or theory of Ideas which asserts that non-material abstract (but substantial) forms (or ideas) were the only real, and that the material world of change known to us through sensation was a shadow world of mimicry and play. For Plato the Forms are the only true objects of study, and they are the only source of all genuine knowledge. Most philosophers have disagreed with Plato’s assessment of Forms. Even Plato himself through his fictional young and older versions of Socrates plays with the dangerous notion of representationalism to account for the truth of universals and particulars, introducing the notions that particulars do not exist as such, that whatever they are, they “mime” the Forms, appearing to be particulars. This dualism of universals in particulars, appearance and reality is with us still.

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