Sunday, November 20, 2016

Trumpontologies 1

There are various intellectual trends that are increasingly seeing the world as a plurality of worlds, realities or ontologies, such as 'the ontological turn' in anthropology. I think that those who see this trend as a mere 'intellectual choice' or 'fashion' with no basis in reality are really mistaken. The popularity of the ontological has to be itself explained ontologically, not epistemologically. Or at least to put it in a Marxist language it has to be explained materially not idealistically. 

This is not unlike the way Marx regarded the upside down nature of the reality of the commodity as an ontological issue not an epistemological one. It was a situation where, as Godelier put it, 'It is not the subjects deceiving themselves it is reality that is deceiving them'. Likewise, we can say it is not the analytical subject increasingly opting for ontological difference it is reality that is increasingly presenting itself as ontologically differentiated.

To continue flirting with Marxist analogies, perhaps it is only in the era of dynamic capitalist accumulation that 'All that is solid melts into air'. when this dynamic stalls, all that is melting into air slowly becomes solid.

Like a volcano emitting it's lava capitalism has been burning every thing that is in its way. Now that its 'driving heat' is slowing down the lava is becoming solid turning to rock. Cultures that were being transformed are solidifying mid-way through their transformation. To a certain extent western multiculturalism reflects the cultural beginning of this stalling of the transformative/assimilationist drive that was western/capitalist modernity. It marks the rebirth of culturally essentialist 'resistance' in the face of a stalling processes of capitalist globalisation. The french essentialism of Le Pen and the Islamic essentialism of ISIS are both 'Lava rock formations': evidence of the cooling down of the melting (pot?) processes that fuelled and drove capitalist modernity.

This also links up with the work I have done on stuckedness (see Alter-Politics): for example, the processes of people identifying themselves as 'middle class' in the US relied on the existence of some minimal upward class mobility which kept the belief in the possibility of such a mobility alive. Once this social mobility despite its minimal nature actually stops, the belief in its possibility dies, people experience themselves stuck and their social cultural world becomes frozen. What was a process of social transformation and change comes to a halt and people feel imprisoned in their social locations. Is that not one defining characteristic (needless to say, among many) of the ontological reality that is the Trumpist life-world?


  1. Indeed! But, with apologies for abusing the metaphor - does this mean efforts should be focused on re-establishing fluidity or leaving Pompeii, as those advocating Mars colonization would like to do? I'd argue for another vantage point on transformation - one that I think is connected to the "ontological turn". Here I am referring to a change in our understanding of 'what is the future'. The fluidity of modernism depends on the effectiveness of determinism as a way of understanding and acting in the world. Determinism on Mars would be like determinism on Earth, fundamentally at odds with complexity as the context provided by this universe and therefore incapable of establishing a paradigmatic foundation for learning as ontological expansion. Poverty of the imagination is a symptom of the decrepitude of the current regime and the whisper of vile energy crying havoc. Must we be resigned to a dark age or WW3? What could transform nostalgic dreams of re-establishing forced fluidity into a collective capacity to live complexity? One strand might be Futures Literacy:

  2. I agree very much that Trumpism, Brexit etc and the electoral contests in Italy and France are signalling a reaction against globalism on many levels. Just to add to the materialism underpinning your insightful and nicely rendered metaphorical ontological explanation, global trade has recently declined. An example here is that the adidas shoe factory has returned to Germany from China. However, the return of these factories offers no employment opportunities for workers because it is largely automated now. The trade war that Trump has threatened with China will not increase US employment but may accelerate automation in the US which has been growing anyway. The famous foxconn factory in China recently sacked 60,000 workers who have largely been replaced by automation. Likewise in the financial sphere there is now very little reason to have a Euro currency region with all of its attendant strictures that cause austerity and loss of economic autonomy when paying electronically with paypal/transferwise is just as convenient and can do 'at the money' currency conversions on the spot. I may be over-reaching here but in economic terms the US may be re-entering the world of Marx declining organic composition of capital and Keynes on national economic management but having sidestepped the historical process of proletarianization through a globalizing interlude.