All That Is Sacred is Profaned: A Pagan Introduction to Marxism
What exactly is capitalism? How did it arise from the severance of people and land? What was Marx on about, and is Marxism still relevant? In this five-week distance course, we’ll study the Marxist framework through a Pagan lens.
Designed and instructed by Rhyd Wildermuth, participants of All That Is Sacred Is Profaned will learn through videos, texts, and online conversations:
What Capitalism is, how it works, and how it came about through historical processes.
How Capitalism relates to slavery, colonization, and other forms of exploitation.
What is meant by class and class struggle, and why your boss needs you but you don’t need your boss.
How wages work, and why we are never paid what we’re “worth.”
Who Marx was, why his work still matters, and how Marxist materialism enhances Pagan thought.
How Race, Gender, Sexuality, and other oppression categories are understood through Marxism.
What the differences are between Autonomous Marxist thought and Totalitarian Communism.
This course is specifically designed for those with little background in Marxism or academic environments.
Course Length and Schedule: The course will last for five weeks, from 1 July, 2018 until 3 August, 2018
Time Commitment: Participants will be expected to devote a minimum of four hours each week (20 hours total) to the course. This expectation includes time devoted to reading course texts, viewing video lectures, and engaging in conversation with other participants.
Cost: $40 US per person. Subsidies are available for low-income participants.
Maximum participants: 25
Course Requirements: Participants need have no prior knowledge of Marxist theory nor experience in academic settings. Physical requirements include internet access, a computer or smartphone capable of accessing course materials and viewing videos, and each participant will need to create a login (free of cost) for Discord.
Course Materials: Each participant will be given a printable pdf that comprises the primary textbook for the course (written by Rhyd Wildermuth), as well as access to five ten-minute video lectures. In addition, a guide to using the private Discord server for participant discussions will also be provided.
Venue: Weekly course conversations will occur on a dedicated Discord server, where participants will engage in discussion with each other and the instructor, as well as be able to communicate directly with the instructor.
Cancellation/Refund policy: Full refunds of payment are possible up until the end of the first day of the course. After that, the course is 50% refundable until 7 July. No refunds can be given after this date.
Other policies: In the very unlikely event that a participant creates a hostile environment for other participants or the instructor, and if attempts to address the behavior do not correct the problem, the instructor reserves the right to end a participant’s participation. The above cancellation/refund policy will apply in such cases.
Enrollment process: To enroll, remit payment by purchasing the course access at this link by 29 June. On 30 June you will receive links to course material and the private Discord server. Links to video lectures will be provided weekly during the course.
Subsidized enrollment: If you would like to request one of the 5 reserved slots for subsidized enrollment, please send us an email at Distro@ABeautifulResistance.Com. You do not need to explain your income situation to us, only let us know how much you will be able to pay instead. (Please note: these slots are on a first-come, first-served basis).
About Académie Hérétique
Académie Hérétique (Heretic Academy) is a series of online course offerings from Gods&Radicals Press. Académie Hérétique‘s focus is on political theory, philosophy, esoteric and occult studies, history, and tactical skills for people with little to no academic background or previous knowledge of the subjects taught. Instructors are committed to accommodating varied learning backgrounds, styles, and abilities as much as possible.
Académie Hérétique courses are priced at the lowest rate possible that still enables us to fairly compensate our instructors for their labor, and subsidies are available for those who cannot afford them.
To stay updated on upcoming course options, please subscribe to the Gods&Radicals Press mailing list.
“There is nothing radical nor inherently leftist about atheism, and dismissing religion for political reasons is counterrevolutionary.”
From Alfred Peeler
Religion is the opiate of the people. This iconic statement expresses Marx’s structural understanding of religion: capitalism renders the working class and the poor needing both expression and antidote for their worldly ills. Often understood out of context, this statement is regularly used in the political Left’s dismissal of religious faith; a dismissal prevalent among liberal academic types, progressives and hard leftists alike.
Coupled with this conception of religion is a more dogmatic rejection represented by Bakunin’s argument: “If God is, [then] man is a slave.” There seems to be something incongruous between Leftist politics and belief in God.
Leftist atheism is nothing new. It’s as ubiquitous as it is uncontroversial, and I won’t comment on it any further. With leftist anti-theism – the position that leftist politics obligates one to atheism or to hostility toward religion – we have mad beef. There is nothing radical nor inherently leftist about atheism, and dismissing religion for political reasons is counterrevolutionary. It can also indicate a subtle racism that I’ll explain below.
To begin with, Leftist anti-theism enables the political Right in a number of ways. The Republican Party relies heavily on a religious voting bloc manufactured for it. White evangelicals vote overwhelmingly for Republicans – 81% for Donald Trump – and this affords the political Right energy in (re)defining what religion is in America.
There is a clear sense in which American Christianity resides under the auspices of the Right. It has become nearly synonymous with homophobia and the anti-choice movement, not because Jesus condemns homosexuality or abortion – he literally doesn’t mention either in any of the four Gospels – but because these issues serve the purpose of rallying an electorate behind the Republican Party and its benefactors.
The conflation among American Evangelicals of Christianity with American patriotism, and of American patriotism with American militarism, buffers this perversion of the Gospel. Incidentally, the Right’s American Christianity has come to blame the poor for their poverty, condemn the imprisoned to their cells, ostracize, oppress and murder our brothers and sisters who aren’t white cis-male heterosexuals, to leave the sick’s health to the whims of privatized markets, champion the purveyors of war, turn their backs on refugees, and view success in financialized terms. In addition to not vindicating the Right’s homophobic and anti-choice bearings, Jesus was very specific in his condemnation of virtually everything the Republican Party (and the Democratic Party for that matter) stands for.
But there is yet an even more insidious claim over religion at work here in that Leftist anti-theism enables the Right to designate the very nature of God. And that nature is hierarchical power itself.
God is conceived as an enumeration of omnis – omnipotence, etc. – sitting in judgement of his creation – yep, he’s definitely a man – and punishing his children when they stray from the path. Punishment and holy cliquishness are the defining characteristics of conservative Christianity even when it’s hidden on Sundays in the language of peace and charity, or when lip service is made to God’s loving personhood. Much how Trump represents what the American right has always been, the Westboro Baptist Church isn’t so much an aberration, but a visceral explication of what conservative Christianity is at its roots.
This is a cosmic hierarchy, with American conservative Christians being on the right side, and everyone else being on the business end, of unmitigated transcendent power.
This hierarchical conception undergirds Bakunin’s staunch anti-theism. We are God’s slaves and the master commands our focus be on a distant otherworldliness. For those who aren’t properly focused, there is only eternal fire. If Bakunin’s conception of God exhausts what’s on offer, then we should join him in joyous rejection of the deity. But of course it isn’t even Bakunin’s conception. He has been fed this conception – just like the rest of us – and by treating it and its ilk as valid theology we reinforce the Right’s conception of God. Our rejection is precisely our acceptance of the Right’s God.
Thankfully, hierarchical conceptions don’t exhaust theology. I would argue that God as hierarchy is decidedly rejected in the figure of Jesus. The weakness of God, as understood by radical theologians like John Caputo, remind us that Jesus’ life, works and Gospel were earthly, vulnerable and in solidarity with the oppressed. Caputo’s God, far from sitting atop an ultimate hierarchy, doesn’t even ‘’exist’’. Rather, God “insists’’; God’s ontological status is here literally understood as a constant call – from a place below our very Being – to the cosmic contingency of hierarchical power structures. God is an insistence to commune with every pariah and every victim of power’s oppression. Radical weakness translates into radical community and radical anti-hierarchy in Caputo’s theological conception of Sacred Anarchy.
Other radical theologians, like Jean Luc Marion, have argued that, among other things, our power conceptions of God are bits of idolatry. God functions as a mirror, from which reflects our own prejudices, linguistic habits and obsessions with power. In leaving religion to the Right, we enable its idolatrous perversion of the God of love to be used as a political weapon against the very people Jesus communed with: the oppressed. Power interprets all, including religion, in terms of power, and incorporates an existentially cosmic anti-hierarchy into its quest for domination. The world of the rich is not the world from which to pull a religious hermeneutics. James Cone, the American scholar of theology and Black Power, makes the point pithy in his dictum: “theology which doesn’t arise from the historical consciousness of the poor is ideology.”
Cone’s work on Black Theology, arguably the most important American theological work of the second half of the 20th Century, testifies to mainstream theology being White Theology. The white image of Christ is nothing if not a power grab. Leftist hostility toward religion, in a sense, lends validity to White Theology, if only to grant its status as the legitimate representative of Christianity and then reject it as false. Why, by way of anecdote, do we, progressives and leftists, think of American religion as the Fallwells and Robertsons, as the anti-choice and anti-marriage equality movements, as the fights against science and as the rampant Islamophobia and Nationalism threatening people and the world every day? Why don’t we think of Malcolm and Martin? Why don’t we think of the political activism embodied in the historical Black Church? Why don’t we think of the legacy inherited from the Central and South American traditions in Liberation Theology? It’s because we are white, and we let white religion define religion for us.
In contrast to accepting White Theology as religion and then rejecting it, Cone’s response is far more subversive. He stresses that “if Christ isn’t black, then the historical Jesus lied.” This statement, despite having relevance to the profound topic of relating the historical Jesus to the Christ figure, and despite scaring the hell out of all the right white people, emphasizes that the religion we’ve been fed is highly politicized. As is our rejection of it. Imagine, again by way of anecdotal explanation, a white leftist telling Malcolm X – a Muslim inspired by his faith to dedicate his life to the liberation of all from the fetters of capitalism and racism – that religion is the opiate of the people or that his faith – and not the white oppressor his faith motivates him to fight – enslaves him. White leftist anti-theism is a cosmic and ultimate form of Whitesplaining. Removing the blinders of white supremacy requires critical assessment of each and every way in which the world shows up for us. Leftist hostility to religion is no exception, and needs to be purged of its background white supremacist suppositions.
If any of these theological approaches sound radical or deviate too far from what folks typically mean by ‘religion’, that’s because they ARE radical and they DO deviate from mainstream discussion of religion. But radicalism is relative. Hierarchical conceptions of religion reign hegemonic, so liberationist conceptions are as anathema to the status quo as the pariahs Jesus consorted with were to the social mores of his day. Heretical conceptions of God are necessary when mainstream religion serves power and has become a violent mixture of idolatry and ideology. Instead of accepting a hierarchical conception of God only to reject it in a defiant act of atheism, the Left should open itself to a deconstruction of the Right’s very way of thinking about God; instead of countering the Religious Right by saying “God doesn’t exist”, we should say “Your God is the Fucking Devil!” I’m not out to convert anyone, but a living faith in an anti-hierarchical God centered around the liberation of all and stemming from the historical consciousness of the oppressed is endlessly more subversive than atheism ever could be.
Christianity isn’t what your ignorant white parents told you it was. It’s what Black Theology tells us it is! It’s what Feminist Theology tells us it is! It’s what Queer Theology tells us it is! It’s what Liberation Theology tells us it is! It’s what Radical Theology tells us it is! Don’t let ‘em steal the Gods like they steal the rent.
I want to close with a somewhat lengthy quote from Caputo. God be with the Revolution:
“Suppose the event that is sheltered by the name of God is not identified with timeless infinite power invested in an omnipotens deus, but with the powerless who suffer the ravages of time? Suppose the sense of ‘God’ is to interrupt and disrupt, to confound, contradict, and confront the established human order, the human, all too human way and sway of doing business, the authority of man over man – and over women, animals, and the earth itself – human possessiveness and dominion – to pose, in short, the contradiction of the ‘world’? Suppose God has no time for the hierarchical power structures that human beings impose on one another and even less time for the power of God over human beings, which is actually the power that human beings exert ‘in the name of God’? Suppose the event that simmers in the name of God, if it were to be written out, would read: ‘No God, No Master?’ Suppose that God’s power over human being is limited by love and that God takes up a place beside them in their powerlessness?”
Alfred is a parent, heretical Christian and Libertarian-Marxist writing on the intersection of radical Christianity with leftist politics.
The following passage from Marx’s Grundrisse could serve as a fairly accurate pitch meeting for American Gods:
Let us take e.g. the relation of Greek art and then of Shakespeare to the present time. It is well known that Greek mythology is not only the arsenal of Greek art but also its foundation. Is the view of nature and of social relations on which the Greek imagination and hence Greek [mythology] is based possible with self-acting mule spindles and railways and locomotives and electrical telegraphs? What chance has Vulcan against Roberts and Co., Jupiter against the lightning-rod and Hermes against the Crédit Mobilier? All mythology overcomes and dominates and shapes the forces of nature in the imagination and by the imagination; it therefore vanishes with the advent of real mastery over them…
From another side: is Achilles possible with powder and lead? Or the Iliad with the printing press, not to mention the printing machine? Do not the song and the saga and the muse necessarily come to an end with the printer’s bar, hence do not the necessary conditions of epic poetry vanish?
The show, which is based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, concerns the conflict between the “old gods” and the “new gods.” The old gods are the gods of disparate pagan traditions from Odin to Anansi, all brought to this country on slave ships and with indentured servants and immigrants, all in decline, forgotten by the people who once brought them to these shores. The new gods, at least the ones we meet, are Media, World (globalization), and Technology, the new forces that people look to in their despair and aspire to in their desires. As Odin, or Mr. Wednesday as more commonly known as, puts it in Neil Gaiman’s novel, “There are new gods growing in America, clinging to growing knots of belief: gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon. Proud gods, fat and foolish creatures, puffed up with their own newness and importance.”
The explanation of the existence of Gods and their conflict is more Feuerbach than Marx, as the novel makes clear. The gods’ thrive on belief, on prayer, and sacrifice,
“People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.”
American Gods is a literary formulation of the paradox of alienation, to use the term familiar to both Marx and Feuerbach: what people create, what people believe, ends up controlling them. Or, to use a different name for this same process, one closer to the realm of narrative, it is what Yves Citton calls “immanent transcendence,” what is entirely immanent to human existence, desire, fear, and imagination, produces as an effect an image of transcendence, of some instance standing above society, God, the sovereign, the state. The effect then becomes a cause (or what Deleuze and Guattari call a quasi-cause) dictating actions, desires, and beliefs. There is no real surprise as to why writers are drawn to this idea, the notion that stories have power but only if people believe in them has been going on long before Tinkerbell drank the potion, it is an occupational hazard the way the same way that philosophers believe in the power of ideas and architects believe in built structures. Triangles imagine triangular gods and dogs dream of dog gods. This multiplicity, the presence of the immanence in the transcendence, is not something the novel is silent on.
“Have you thought about what it means to be a god? … It means you give up your mortal existence to become a meme: something that lives forever in people’s minds, like the tune of a nursery rhyme. It means that everyone gets to re-create you in their own minds. You barely have your own identity any more. Instead, you’re a thousand aspects of what people need you to be. And everyone wants something different from you. Nothing is fixed, nothing is stable.”
It is at this point that the differences between the novel and the series become relevant. The series sticks to the first few plot points of the novel, the first two episodes are mapped neatly onto the first few chapters of the book. A few episodes in, however, the two diverge, the series is set in the world of the novel but is not an adaptation of its plot, at least word for word. There is an interesting formal question here: the adaptation of novel for film used to be a paring down of extraneous elements, as plots and characters are dropped to fit into a film, but now with television displacing film it becomes a matter of stretching out the premise into something that can sustain indefinite variations. Novels, films, and television series are predicated on different economies of desire and belief, doling out their satisfactions and frustrations differently. The change of form cannot but affect content.
The series greatest departure, at least so far, is how it presents the conflict between the old and the new. In the series the old gods are not just forgotten they are also transformed. As Mad Sweeney, the leprechaun puts it. “I was a king once. Then they made me a bird. Then mother church came along and turned us all into saints and trolls and fairies. General Mills did the rest.” A history not so much of being forgotten but of being retrofitted and reinterpreted. “Whatever exists, having somehow come into being, is again and again reinterpreted to new ends, taken over, transformed and redirected by some power superior to it..” Pop-Nietzscheanism rather than pop-Feuerbach. Ostara lives in a home with dozens of Jesuses (Jesi?) of multiple races and denominations, bunnies, and plates covered with plates and jelly beans.
Along these lines, the new gods do not just want to wipe the old ones out, they want to rebrand them, take some of their power, their name and put it onto new platforms. A goddess of desire is offered a second life on tindr. This is illustrated most clearly in the case of Vulcan, an old god who has sold out to the new gods. He has gone from the god of fire to firearms, ruling over a company town where cartridges are manufactured.
“You are what you worship. God of the volcano. Those who worship hold a volcano in the palm of their hand. It’s filled with prayers in my name. The power of fire is fire power. Not god, but godlike. And they believe. It fills their spirits every time they pull the trigger. They feel my heat on their hip and it keeps them warm at night.”
As a god of fireams Vulcan is well placed to understand the circularity of belief generating belief, of effects become causes and vice versa. As he explains, “Every bullet fired in a crowded movie theater is a prayer in my name. And that prayer makes them want to pray even harder.” Worship of guns generates worship of guns. The worship and adoration of firearms is an unstable combination of fear and security that seems to partake of something very ancient, even old testament.
It is then appropriate that the title American Gods is indeterminate, suggesting both the melting pot of diverse deities and demigods and the slick new gods of fame and fortune. The novel and series also invoke the heteronomy of americana, of road side attractions and other wayward beliefs, but underneath this plurality there is still the struggle for dominance and hegemony.
I am not going to oversell American Gods, it is yet another entry in the increasing pantheon to which we sacrifice our time, but it does offer an interesting illustration of not so much the paradox of immanent transcendence, but of a temporality in which America appears as “a motley painting of everything that has ever been believed,” to paraphrase Deleuze and Guattari. The pagan, the monotheistic, and the modern coexist and transform each other. It is not a matter of some metanarrative of progress or decline but temporal overdetermination, of constant reinvention and transformation with the added caveat that reinvention is sometimes just a way for the oldest superstitions to live on.
I will let 3 play us out. It is a good song and I can’t find any decent American Gods clips on Youtube.
In my essay from April 27th, “Towards a Pagan Politics”, I claimed that capitalism levels all values while paganism is committed to a pluralism of irreducibly different values. I lacked time and space then to fully flesh out this point, but I would like to dedicate myself here to clarifying and expanding upon the claim.
What is Value?
I think that my claim could have been made even stronger, specifically that while capitalism starts out as the dominance of one value over all others it becomes a complete loss of all sense of value. Capitalism is a nihilism of the most banal sort. Paganism, on the other hand, is dedicated to the rich complexity, vibrancy and value-laden nature of life. To see how and why this is the case we need to investigate the concept of value rather closely.
Today we have a highly subjective concept of value (which is, itself, largely an effect of capitalism). In other words, we understand the noun “value” from its verb form – we primarily understand value as what a thing has because it is valued by someone. Without human valuing, on this reason, nothing would have value. In other words, value has no reality in and of itself but rather derives from human actions or resides in human minds alone. The models here, of course, are the little pieces of paper and metal which we make into valuable money because we treat it as such.
But the actual word for value, and the origins of the concept behind the word, comes from words for strength and power. Relative terms, surely, but not subjective ones. Value, valor, virtue, virility all share the same origin. Far from the model of money, their most primordial model is fire (another word which is cognate with value) and, we might suggest, the incontestable importance of light and the sun.
Value shines. It is that which shines-out to us, that which shines for us. It does not shine because we make it shine, but rather it calls to us as the sun draws the plant that leans towards it. Nature, everywhere, values because it responds to the obvious presence of real value. At the most basic level we might say that wherever there is the force of attraction there is value. The earth values the sun when the day-star sets its path and motivation.
Human values are no different, they are the draw of things of power and importance that appear to us and define us as those who can see them. Value, then, is inseparable from the concept of a calling. We do not, cannot, determine or choose what will call us. We can only listen, or refuse to listen, to the call.
If we contemplate the model of values as fire and as light we see that values determine how the world shows up for us. Certain things leap out at us, whether dramatic or small, as important, worthy of respect, or in need of a response from us. Values, then, are reality’s opening of a conversation with us – a conversation to be enacted through what we do. The light determines the look of things, what shows up and what doesn’t, and how things appear. It is in the light of how reality reveals itself to me, as value – worth – beauty – truth – that I become who I am and act upon the world as it has appeared.
Divinities and Nature
One of the oldest forms of value are the goddesses and gods whose shining appearance cast the whole of reality into a certain aspect and form. Since before history, when values called to humanity they called through the voice of the divinities. For the same reason, when ancient heroes displayed valor or virtue they were understood to embody or be empowered by one of the gods, they become the active body of value. This is, in fact, what virtue first meant, to embody value i.e. the power and truth of a divinity. Far from subjective creations, value was understood to be the revealing of a truth most frequently encountered as a divinity.
This connection between values and divinities explains, as well, the connection between divinities and nature. In the power and beauty of the river shone forth the face of a goddess or god, the aspect of a value. In the terror and force of the mountain or storm unveiled the might of some divinity and a demand – a value.
None of this is to suggest, however, that divinities are symbols of values. The situation is far more the reverse. We have emptied values of their active vitality, and so find it hard to understand that values are experienced in the action and event of basic truths, forces, powers and realities appearing to us. Values, as active agents, are better taken as symbols of the divinities than the reverse.
To repeat a few points from my previous essay, pagan values will be distinct in being plural. The recognition of several diverse and separate divinities is, at the same time, the recognition that reality is made up of a plurality of irreducible forces and truths. There are always many values, and they cannot be translated one into another or reduced one to another. The many values, as the many gods, are incommensurable – they share no common measure against which they can be organized and unified. There is no unity, no totality, no final truth and ultimate value. Despite that, however, certain values and gods will call to each individual in a unique manner. I will serve certain divinities, enlightened by certain values, and you others. It is only together that we gain a better grasp of the endless plurality that is reality but not through totalizing the diversity of values, truths and ways of life.
Profit and Power
Capitalism is necessarily monotheist in its metaphysics in the sense that it reduces all values to one ultimate value, specifically the standard of price. The market admits, indeed relies upon, the fact that people will value different things and disagree about a given thing’s value but one element is asserted (and echoed in economics) without question – that all things will be reducible to a price either individually or based on the statistical average of what people are willing to pay. We see obvious examples of this in terms of risk calculations that determine how many people can be injured or killed by a product before the risk gets too expensive for a company. Human life, suffering, and death can all be reduced to a price. So too can environmental destruction. How much profit, it is asked, can be extracted from the earth before the destruction outweighs and benefit? Forest and mountains, entire species and nations, all have their price. For the market and the capitalist there is absolutely nothing which can not be numbered, calculated – price checked. In this sense capitalism is leveling, it levels the diversity of values to the basic point of price.
It is easy to assume, then, that capitalism places wealth or profit as the ultimate value to which all others may be reduced but this is, in fact, naïve. For many the goal might be wealth or profit, but the illusory nature of wealth is inherent to capitalism’s own system. Money is just worthless paper and metal unless people behave as if it is not, and the wealthiest people and wealthiest businesses have far more money than the search for wealth would really justify. Wealth is a finite value, but capitalist leveling knows no end. Wealth is finite in the sense that it can only be used and enjoyed up to a certain point, beyond that point you have more than you can use or you have too much for there to be anything or anyone left to buy. A society made up of three wildly wealthy people and a hoard of the desperately poor is a society in poverty for poor and rich alike, there will be nothing to own because nothing produced and no one to sell it. This is why the collapse of the middle class is always the death knell for those who value wealth.
Capitalism knows no limit because it isn’t about wealth, it is about power and control. The rise of capitalism wasn’t about the desire and valuing of wealth conquering all other values, it was about certain social classes and members of professions attempting to gain power over other classes and roles. In this sense the dream of capitalism and science are similar: complete and total control – the ability to order and measure all things. This move, however, from profit to control is the move from leveling to nihilism. We might, similarly, understand it as a transition from trade to The Market. To understand this transition it will be necessary to briefly turn our eyes to Karl Marx and the analysis he offers in Capital.
Money and Market, from Leveling to Nihilism
Money and trade have been around for a long time, long before capitalism proper. The most ancient cultures engaged in trade and, indeed, had gods of trade. But despite the existence of money trade wasn’t about profit measured in cash, it was about concrete diverse goods. In Capital Marx lays out two primary and different processes of exchange in which money might function. First, and most ancient, is the use of money as a medium for exchange. We can represent this in the following way in terms of Money (M) and the concrete goods of Commodities (C):
C -> M -> C
This process represents the use of a good you have, say grain you have grown, to arrive at money through trade that is then used to purchase another good such as shoes. This is the same basic process as direct trade of goods where grain would be exchanged for shoes but money as a medium allows for a wider range of trade since it can be used to buy many things and so doesn’t require the grain producer to find a shoe maker in need of grain. The goal here is goods, or commodities, and the process can be used in service to any set of values since various values can be served through the goods/commodities we aim to purchase. This process can also be in service to wealth, as the collective commodities the process aims at might by those of luxury, riches, and so on. This is what, indeed, most people think goes on in the market, which misses the fundamental nature of capitalism.
The above ancient process transforms in more modern capitalism into this process:
M -> C -> M
We can see the contrast between these two processes clearly if we consider the difference between ancient trade, and the values it frequently served, and the modern Market economy. Ancient trade was most distinctly in service of diversity and plurality. Its gods, such as Janus and Hermes, were gods of new beginnings and doorways. Trade was united, unavoidably, with travel and so the gods of trade were also the gods of travel. The collection of values which group around these related ideas of newness, beginnings, openness, and travel make clear that trade was undertaken in the spirit of curiosity and cultural enrichment rather than strictly of profit or wealth. The image of ancient trade was the wild diversity of the agora marketplace or bazaar. The marketplace was a failure if it lacked a pluralism of goods and life. Money, while perhaps used for exchange (though not always so used), hardly features into it at all.
In contrast, the image of the modern Market is the bank or stock exchange, replete with numbers and abstract symbols of exchange-value – money. An ancient marketplace can’t function without diversity and strangeness, but the modern Market does not require diversity. This is why it is possible to use money to buy money and then, in turn, to make money from the exchange. This is what happens in currency exchanges, or the purchasing and selling of debt. The modern Market can be strictly empty of commodities and still function, because what is being bought and sold are certain patterns of money. It is not, however, just that the modern Market doesn’t require diversity of goods. Rather, it actively militarizes against it. Since all things on the Market must be reduced to price, i.e. exchange-value, there is already inherent in the Market a basic drive towards interchangeability and similarity. Things that are too new, or too weird, become difficult to price and must, at all cost, be either dismissed from the Market or made to conform to the Market’s prices. But, of course, in contemporary capitalism the world is the Market, and vice versa, so all things must be reduced and ordered. Even “priceless” works of art are insured for specific amounts.
The fact that money itself, much like luxury and wealth, can be exchanged and priced makes clear that the final goal of capitalism and its one world Market is not money, wealth or profit. The goal is order, of a very special sort. The Market’s goal is an ordered world in which all things are reduced to their Market price, a world in which one need never deal with faces, textures, sights or feelings but rather numbers alone. The essence of the Capitalist Market is the force of translation and reduction. In this it shares an essence with modern industrial science, whose goal is the reduction of all things to raw materials from which power (might like price) is to be extracted and transformed. Mountain to coal, coal to energy, energy to work and so on – the process of transformation pursues only its own growth so that anything that is produced is so only to increase the power of production. Ultimately in each case power seeks only its own growth without end or purpose, and this growth of power is a process of leveling or pricing.
It is precisely this lack of goal or purpose that represents the nihilistic nature of the Capitalist Market. It ultimately knows no goal and no specific values. It is without commitment. In this sense, it is also without actors. The C.E.O. is a tool of the ongoing growth and ordering of the Market as much as anyone else. None escape the invisible claw. There is no outside the process, and so no ultimate leader or beneficiary of it. Even the richest and most powerful people in the world have a very specific market value that marks the point at which they can be exchanged for someone or something else.
This unbounded nature of capitalism may derive from its historical and conceptual connection with monotheism with its transcendental creator god. For many pagan theologies the divinities are present within, indeed are part of, reality. For most forms of monotheism, on the other hand, the one god transcends reality and pre-exists it. Taking this one transcendent god as an ultimate value requires a rejection, whether explicitly or implicitly, of nature and the world.
We see here, for example, the place of the myths of the Fall which define both human nature and nature in general as corrupt and human life as a punishment and trial. Paganism, on the other hand, most frequently embraces life and the world while avoiding the world and life rejection of transcendental monotheism. Max Weber demonstrated convincingly that capitalism is deeply tied to Christian theology. It enshrines the virtues of hard work and moderation and translates the presence of god’s grace and salvation into success on the market. Since, however, the ultimate goal of salvation is never to be found in this world, the “grace” experienced or demonstrated through work and capitalism similarly aims at an infinite transcendent goal that can never be captured in this world. We should not, then, be surprised that capitalism disregards all worldly values, realities and lives (human, animal or plant) in much the same way monotheism frequently does.
Integrity and Reality
There is, ultimately, one thing that the Capitalist Market cannot tolerate, and that is integrity. We have made clear the sense in which the Market process is a process without limit. It will allow, and can calculate the price and profit of, any action. Cities and nations have a price, as indeed the capitalist resistance to acting on Climate Change makes clear, as do capitalist machinations leading to warfare. The day will come when the full planet will have a price, once the possibility of moving elsewhere becomes a reality.
Integrity consists of a commitment to a given value or set of values, it marks the limit of action beyond which a person will not go. We use the term “integrity” because it is the unifying point, the ultimate defining commitment, which constitutes any given person’s character. Discover what is most important to a person, what they will never harm or destroy – what they will die for the sake of, and you have uncovered that person’s character and the point of their integrity. The Market has no such limit, and those in full service to it such that they will always do what the Market reveals as profitable likewise have no character. They exist in a world in which the call of reality – its revelation in terms of beauty, divinity, or truth – is ignored as impractical.
In this way we can see that the Market requires a dramatic ignorance of reality and truth which results in divorcing what it insists is “practical”, “profitable” and “reasonable” from what is grounded in reality and the world. The Market is a phantom, an illusory claw, a mathematical dream run hopelessly awry. It demands that we ignore, at first seemingly temporarily but ultimately permanently, everything that calls to us as worth pursuing or preserving and all that we are drawn to love and revere. For many of us this is the earth and its children – animal, plant and human. Also it might be the full richness of different ways of life, various cultures, complex history, the spectrum of visions revealing the wild complexity of meanings and values. In the face of the Market the pagan says “No” to the dominance of any one value and “No” to a limitless nihilistic process of destruction and control. Here, in part, is our integrity, where we draw the line and state clearly that some things, many things, even most things have no market price. We live in the Priceless World because it is a world of Real Values.
Kadmus is a practicing ceremonial magician with a long standing relationship to the ancient Celtic deities. His interests and practice are highly eclectic but a deep commitment to paganism is the bedrock upon which they all rest. Kadmus is also a published academic with a Ph.D. in philosophy teaching at the college level. You can find some of his reflections on the occult at http://starandsystem.blogspot.com/ or look him up on twitter at @starandsystem .
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