The Problem of Institutions

Ideology, in the general sense of the way society works, can always be conceived as a problem of institutions. This view is simple, one which looks at cultural-societal structures and the ideologies that constitute them by analyzing what dominant institutions are at play in shaping the general world view of the day. In the past, we have had the church as the key institution in society. Afterwards we had political parties. Today, when virtually the majority says they could not care less about politics — many in an attempt to portray themselves as more “cool” and generally having more ability to enjoy life — we have corporations, that play just as large a role as the dominant institution. We can of course extrapolate this notion to include why an “ideology of cynicism” with its “superego to enjoy,” in Žižekian terms, works very well in the contemporary age of presupposed freedom, but that would start another discussion.

(One may also be tempted to continue this with a reading of corporations personified, as is done in the 2003 documentary The Corporation, the opening lines of which inspired this post, but I will not delve into that here, though I would agree this should have some significance.)

In a posthumanist-Marxist terms, that is to say in a future-oriented Leftist movement, then, the revolution problem becomes a problem of overthrowing the corporation from its current dominant state — not dismantling the entire system altogether, since such a vision continuously turns out to be an impossible task and renders itself as a project with an already presupposed loss, done for somewhat perverse masochistic pleasures. And after all, we did not have to dismantle the Catholic church altogether to make way for the Reformation. This gesture should in turn provide the Left with a bit more confidence — all we need to do is to start institutions that have appeal to the public that would eventually overthrow the corporate form as the dominant institution. It would again serve well to read Hegel at this point, as many good Marxists do.

Surprisingly this task gets even more simple. Already we have an institution that is growing in popularity, very much against the interest of corporations. Yes, you guessed it: the populist side of Web 2.0 — its P2P networks, free software movements, wiki systems, etc. Steal this Film provides a great documentary on this matter (though I doubt you still need more proof). And although they approved ACTA, I think the matter will continue to be a controversial polemic. As I mentioned in this post, the 21st-century subject needs a new institution, a new system other than global capitalism.

What is to be done? I will not be naive and suggest to continue the piracy and open source usage and so on — I know that we have so much more problems ahead of us — but understanding that we are in a moment of tension in which the Left can fully take advantage of should bring forth some hope and perhaps even a renewed sense of dualistic class (bourgeoisie vs proletariat becomes corporate vs pirates) needed for real social change. As the famous Friedmanite idea often quoted by Naomi Klein, in times of crisis, “the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around” — the best way to read this is not only to be prepared as Klein suggests, but also to produce better ideas ourselves. We have a world to win. Pirates of all countries, unite.


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