Autonomous Individuality vs. Social Organization
story © Michael Betancourt, October 28, 2011 all rights reserved.
The idea that the government is an unmitigated evil has its origins in American society with the concept of the “state of nature.” Proposed by Henry David Thoreau, the ideological claims of this view of human nature reveal themselves as an idealized, pastoral—one where society is responsible for everything that is wrong with culture, where individuals are seen as self-contained, self-sufficient and fully autonomous, corrupted only when they need to work together. It is a fantasy of independence, one where the very real social and cultural supports that make the “cabin in the woods” possible are systematically denied. To see the sociopathic tendencies of this ideology fully realized, one needs look no farther than Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.
This ideology promotes the view that government should be as small as possible, that there are no functions government can do that should not be done, instead, for a profit by a private business—it is a view that promotes a social Darwinism masked by an ideological blindness to the social relationships required for any society to function. In the age of digital capitalism, this ideological position argues against democratic expansions of personal freedom for those who are not already powerful through the paradoxical claim of an expansive “personal responsibility” that is instead a reification and assertion of established hierarchies against the constraints imposed by social organization. Any argument for “social justice” is inherently incompatible with this ideological position. The conflict at the heart of the “Occupy Wall Street” protests originates with this mismatch between social organization and the fantasy of individual autonomy embraced through this ideology of automation whose fundamental stance is of self-interest against the demands and requirements posed by other members of the same society.
The linkage of an ideology constructed around the fantasy of autonomy-without-social-support presents a conception of human relationships as fundamentally irrelevant, and denies the necessary social structures enabling capitalism itself—the organization of labor and the generation of both wealth and capital are dependent upon the existence of the social: currency of any kind, whether based in a rentier, fiat or other form depends on the acceptance and mutually agreed upon relationships for its value to exist. Without this general context provided by society, these values simply disappear. Yet it is precisely this social foundation, organized through the idea of government, which comes under assault.
The simultaneous actions of refusing the resources—human, financial, legal—needed to perform necessary functions, and the use of the inevitable failings that result when government can no longer perform its specified duties as a justification to dismantle more of that government creates a self-fulfilling prophesy of government incompetence and inadequacy. There are abundant examples of this cycle in action, from the Housing Bubble in 2008, to the various problems with US infrastructure, to the devastation created by FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, each example originates with an ideological position fundamentally opposed to a concept of the social that is reified in/as government. It is evidence for an ideological contradiction deeply embedded in the historical mythologies of the United States, one that is increasingly dominant in digital capitalism’s expansive valorization based upon an ideology of automation where human agency is of interest only to the extent it can be directed into consumption, debt servitude and exploited as a standing reserve without concern for social reproduction or the coherence of social relationships.
Copyright © Michael Betancourt October 28, 2011 all rights reserved.
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