Archive for global capitalism

For Whom is This Financial Crisis?

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
It would be cool if the disaster actually looked like this.

It would be cool if the disaster actually looked like this.

For whom is this financial crisis? For us and everyone else in this world, definitely. During this meltdown, hardly any nation is left to flourish by itself, not impacted by the crisis. Then, why ask this question? Is it not already obvious?

Surely, people are losing their jobs, prices are rising, and so on. But what does it all mean? What does it mean, a “$700 billion bailout”? What is exactly $700 billion, do we even naively understand it? Does it not, instead, belong in the same realm of hermeneutics as the distance between stars or the age of the universe — numbers too great to integrate to our stupid daily existence? I am not only speaking for us, the idiotic common people having nothing to do with all the great economic system, but also for the very players of economy themselves — do they not able to understand these numbers, the prices of their stocks, government funding, etc, only through office desks, formal letters, and computer screens?

Such is precisely the point. Do we not, today, rather consider this entire financial crisis as a marvelous tragic spectacle happening before our very eyes? A fascinating common reaction today to this news is how we struggle to relate it to our daily lives: yes, we are suffering from this crisis, yes, prices are going up, yes, people are getting fired, so this must all be a real thing. This spectacle of financial crisis takes effort to relate to, especially because not many of us understand how the economy works. The crisis today is so big and marvelous that the only way to integrate it to our symbolic existence is to take it as an awesome spectacle. There is hardly any other hermeneutics. It feels like a war without a bad guy, a natural disaster without the embarrassing trees falling down. A virtual disaster, a disaster of numbers, a real-life interactive movie.

But what does this all mean?

So many people today talk about this crisis as the so-called “end of capitalism.” Indeed, the first thing we relate to when dealing with the notion of some global system of important numeric entries we never really understand is this vague blur called capitalism. We talk of its limits, as everybody today champions Keynes over Hayek and Friedman. But at the same time, we have of course all these discussions that all the while we have never really been a true free market capitalist, we have always been state-controlled (“military-imperialistic Keynesian”), etc.

We all know perfectly well that today’s global capitalism runs precisely on its self-distantiation — the you-can-only-get-rich-if-you-do-not-want-to ideology, the spiritualization of global capitalism so trendy even for the Left today. And what better way to strengthen such ideological workings than pretending it no longer works for us, that the system no longer exists, and all that is left to do is to work out a way to do a more humanitarian and spiritual economics? Let us have no illusions: capitalism is a system that thrives on its very crisis. It will emerge stronger than ever. And we know it will.

Yes, of course we do. Is that not why we blindly trust all the government, the big companies, and the banks? Is that not why we take this whole crisis as some kind of (pseudo-)natural disaster without being able to clearly blame people? Is that not why we do not question why the government suddenly has $700 billion to save capitalism, while all these years, as Alain Badiou put it, “at the least demand from the poor, the same characters responded by turning their pockets inside out, saying they hadn’t a cent”?

What is the economic system, really? What do we understand of it? It is a giant system of non-people, of desires turned objective numbers, and that is it. It is a system of no clear bad guys and no exact scientific tools. Even the best advice Naomi Klein — today’s possibly most popular icon of the Left — gives is for us to brace ourselves as disaster comes, to be able to resist exploitation. Alain Badiou calls for a politics of grassroots economics, while Mario Tronti suggests us to focus on the problem of worker exploitation. But what to do? Do we understand anything at all? For whom is this financial crisis? Because for those who suffer most, the crisis is not a financial one — it is, first and foremost, a crisis of true democracy, a lack of a system that truly engages.

On Political vs. Oriental Islamism

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , on August 29, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

A specter is haunting the majority of Indonesia: the specter of the political Islam. The worldwide claims that Islam is a peaceful religion that is now only perverted by minority followers intent on crashing planes to tall buildings could not have had a warmer welcome from inside the Muslim world themselves — “Blame it on the oppressive political authorities of Islam for all our governmental failure and stigmatization as the international enemy! We are not wrong, we are never wrong, it is only because our teachings have been perverted so much that we fail to create an ideal world!” If anything, the September 11th attacks does not destroy hope for Muslims to learn that they are peaceful religions — on the contrary, the tragedy precisely spurred the hopeful movement of finding “a deeper meaning” to the religion of Muhammad (much like how Stalinist catastrophe saved the Marxist communist utopia in the Žižekian reading).

Tension is ripe as days go by, as the (minority) militant strain of Islam are getting more and more harsh words in the form of both criticisms or outright verbal attacks to their modes and motives from the (majority) of peaceful Muslims. As movements are coming from around the world to reassert the identity of Islam as a “peaceful religion,” at the same time more and more warnings are coming from inside the Muslim world itself to not let its followers get “too political,” as religion is only a “personal means” of spirituality and that we should nevertheless focus more on “peaceful coexistence”. Islam gets deeply personalized, and shouts of “everything I do is a form of my worship towards Allah” can be heard almost anywhere we prick our ears in the Muslim world. Does this condition not precisely echo the current trend of Oriental wisdom in the West and elsewhere?

If the current trend teaches that Eastern mysticism (you should not want too much for yourself, etc.) is important in business (i.e. that you will get more by precisely denying that you want more), how does the personalization of Islam play out in the Muslim politics? Does the same logic not hold true, i.e. you should not get too political in Islam because the only way to win is to forge allies with the winning Western liberal-capitalist democracy? The current “liberal Islam” call for apparent non-politics is precisely its opposite: it is a call to fully support the current dominant political ideology as perfect passive consumers who make minor product corrections (“religion is only for daily moral corrections,” etc.) but should never think of conducting a revolution (“we should attempt for slow revolution,” etc.).

This is precisely how one should read the September 11th attacks (and the stigmatization of Islam that follow — “Islamophobia,” etc.) as an event that saves the Muslim world: it does so by producing a radical, blatant cut in the middle of Islam. One one side, we have the militant/political (I must point here that it is wrong to call them outright “terrorists”) Islam (Al-Qaeda, JI, HT, FPI, etc.) and on the other side the peaceful/non-political Islam (JIL, and many others, including the “false-but-at-least-not-political” Ahmadiyah, etc.) who are now free to point one another as a scapegoat of the tragic Muslim failures and melancholies in the past and today. Each side could not be happier — they can go on without having to feel guilty about anything!

One is tempted to ask here, what would have happened if this split were not produced? Perhaps it would be a disaster for Islam — it would be trapped in a limbo between the political legacies of Muhammad and the tension from global capitalism to adapt as passive consumers, a limbo of ideological guilt and dilemma… The split is thus an inevitable move, and inevitable impact of global capitalism on Islam, its internal war of political (“fundamentalist”,”militant”, etc.) versus Oriental (“liberal”,”spiritual”, etc.) Islam already a second-degree of the true tension between Islam and global capitalism.

Fukuyama was Right, but Hegel Lives on

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on July 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Readers of Žižek should probably be familiar with the famous Žižek quote of “It’s easy to make fun of Fukuyama, but aren’t we today all Fukuyamaists?” Yes, indeed most of us today are clearly Fukuyamaists, in the sense that we do not muse about ideological alternatives to global capitalism anymore. Instead, the primary concerns of today are mainly how to make the system more open, tolerant, humanist, ecological, religious (in some cases), and so on. History in the sense of ideological battles is over, save perhaps for Muslim backlashes.

But what is interesting in the Muslim backlash — and other struggles in the contemporary society, including non-”ideological” ones — is the immense stress people tend to put on their cultural and ethnic identity. Of course there has been many researches on this matter, probably spawned by Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations. People are becoming increasingly sensitive in their physical being — race, ethnicity, cultural heritage and customs, sex, gender. It is important to read Fukuyama by his 2002 book, Our Posthuman Future — in this book he basically fixes his end-of-history thesis, claiming that a revolution in biotechnology will provide new terrains of struggle, thus continuing history.

Here we see a line, a pattern in current struggles: physicality. People are becoming increasingly sensitive towards their physical state and what physical states can and cannot do, what the misrecognized image of themselves are and are not. Technology and the increasingly augmented gaze it has brought forth has dissected and questioned the significance of the human body with all its properties. The body itself is now, more than ever, the terrain of struggle.

It is here that I am being a Hegelian, both in the broadest sense of seeing history as a dialectical process and in the idealistic, disembodied “Spirit” sense. What we are now seeing is in fact a dialectics between man and machine, between body and information. We can see clearly the negation of negation present in contemporary history: Cold War – End of History – Posthumanity, Modernism – Postmodernism – Žižekian 180-degree turn, and so on. Thus, although history may have ended (we are only denying the fact and calling Fukuyama an idiot because of “postmodern” or “cultural” reasons, but we nevertheless skeptically believe, and so on), I would claim it naive to dismiss Hegel as well. Perhaps, he may be more relevant in the posthuman — isn’t that the “Spirit” that Hans Moravec just downloaded into a computer to become immortal?

Cultural Preservation and the Logic of the Zoo

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , on June 13, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

I went to Jawa Timur Park the other day, basically just having a good time with my friends. What struck me most, however, is how this contemporary theme park is laid out. So much can be drawn, as my obsessive inner cultural analyst turned my simple recreational trip into another intellectual analysis of a third world’s nationalist respect for their traditions. I shall expand this elsewhere in Indonesian, but here is my thesis briefly.

The very concept of the educational theme park is of course the standard one in which they strive to preserve Indonesian heritage by showcasing customs and artifacts for people to admire. What strikes me, however, is the very texture of their display, i.e. these certain routes you are supposed to follow from entrance to exit, as it were. Immediately after showcasing cultural artifacts, the track brought us to displays of plants and animals. And then it’s back to cultural heritage, then it’s either fossils exhibition or the reptile zoo. In front of a a giant statue of the Javanese mythical hero Ken Arok as a backdrop of a giant water world, Dipsy and Po from the Teletubbies walk around greeting kids.

I am not merely talking about this crude Marxian notion of how everything becomes commodified and so on, but also, more importantly, of how they need to be presented as some sort of heroic capitalist action to save the national cultural heritage. The mystification is, of course, unconscious, as with other mystifications of commodities as mystical objects — the proverbial model businessman always believes he is doing a good thing. The ultimate anthropocentric gesture for me is not that of ruthlessly killing animals (as this would be too monstrous and against the idea of our superior kindness towards the other) but precisely that of keeping them in cages for us to enjoy. Then, are these acts of preserving cultural heritage not an act of putting ourselves behind bars, treating our cultural heritage as fascinating animals?

This, I think, illustrates the most dangerous trap if we are to preserve cultural heritage. It is a false cultural heritage — a mere visual heritage that can so easily be adopted into today’s capitalist ideology. To be a true traditional-nationalist (for lack of a better phrase), I think we should reject this idea that our cultural legacy is a visual-ornamental one, daring to look for its more ideological sides. The problem is not that our cultural heritage is disappearing and we have to make it appear — it is that our cultural heritage appear too much behind the zoo bars of global capitalism.

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