Tuesday, January 1, 2013

1 of 95: Introduction, method and why capitalism isn't dead yet

1. Markets are conversations.

This first thesis is three things. It's straightforward. It's a thing that's going to wreck all kinds of havoc upon all manner of things once you get around to thinking about it. And it's something that we are going to return to quite often in the months to come.

A strange thing about humans is that it really does not work that very well to just tell them something. It may be the most straightforward thing in the world, but you just can't make humans become fully human if you go straight to the point. Not because they are stupid in any way, but because they are human, and therefore process information and the world in general through the human mind.

And the human mind is all creative detours.

So. Instead of going on about markets, I'm going to play on your humanity and take the indirect route to what it means that markets are conversations.

Whenever I teach my nonstudents, I tell them to go about the whole process of citation by doing it as if they related two random people talking to each other. In the age old style of intellectual attribution known as "he said, and then she said".

This I do for two reasons. The one being that since they are indeed non-students, I can go about it any way I can get away with. No rules, regulations or retroactvely raging rulefollowing review ruckus - just the teaching of stuff. The other reason being that I want to make the act of saying "and then Foucault said this interesting thing I've been thinking about" a little less formal than it tends to be. A little less of getting the details right and a little more of getting the right details.

I of course don't tell them this. They are too busy grokking the Foucault to realize that they are grokking the Foucault, and it would be cruel to ruin their learning experience by pointing out how much they've learnt.

But in taking this shortcut, I do something heretic: I remind them that behind the Name there's just a guy, and that the difference between talking about this one guy and this other guy is less than written convention would make you believe.

So. Markets are conversations. What's that all about?

Well, it's people talking to each other, pretty much. Person A talks as if he wants to buy something, person B talks as if she wants to sell something. If and when they talk to each other, a transaction might occur, depending on the talk and the talkees.

There's a catch to this, though. Or, rather, two. And they are major enough to warrant their own introduction here in this first introductory post. They are - don't hit me for stating the obvious - capitalism and the modes/means of discursive production.

Capitalism is a societal way of being. It's described in different ways by different authors ("they say"), but the one brutal fact of it we need to focus on here is that the only thing you need to do in order to fulfill your role as a productive member of society is to make money. It doesn't matter how, when, why or with what level of theological intent - making money is the sine qua non. Without that, you are either nothing or less than nothing.

If you happen to be unemployed at the moment of reading, you know what I'm on about.

The productive means of discourse (conversations/communication) are what you would expect them to be. Anything that can make discourse happen. Pencils, typewriters, smoke signals, small mouth noises - take your pick. The modes are how these means are typically used, in terms of genres, formats, rituals, technical standards and the like.

The best example is of course the newspaper. Discourse could in theory happen in any number of ways, but due to historical circumstances, untold millions of people have started off their morning ritual by reading The News. Out of every communicative tool humanity has at its disposal, the newspaper reigned supreme for centuries.

Until it didn't.

I'm going to have a general theme in the parts to come, and that is that the market capitalism of the twentieth century was an exception, rather than the necessary and logical conclusion to the development of the western world. While we will not see the end of mass produced good for mass produced markets any time soon (we all need that daily bread, after all) we will see that the changes in the modes and means of discursive production brings with it changes in the way we do discourse.

Naturally. Wouldn't be much of a change otherwise, now would it?

What characterized the means of getting in touch with large audiences in the 20th century was that it was hard and expensive, and generally demanded blood, sweat, tears and toil in order to be worth it. If you wanted to reach a hundred people, you had to write a note a hundred times and deliver it to each and every one of these persons. Manually.

As of writing these words, I have 1181 followers on Twitter. Compare the one method with the other, and you will very soon think something along the lines of: how did ordinary people voice their opinion back in the days?

They mostly didn't. Couldn't. Limited by the means of production. And so we return once again to the statement: markets are conversations.

When the one side cannot speak, the word "conversation" is seldom used.

The way I will go about it from here on out I the same way I go about it with my non-students. Indirect. Going through the motions of how humans learn about things: by spending time in proximity to the ideas in question and questioning the ideas in proximity.

Without having to go all formal about it.

See you all again tomorrow for part 2 of 95. Or visit some of my cowriters for more thoughts on #1. Such as Les. Or Eli. Or Jakob.

1 comment:

  1. "A little less of getting the details right and a little more of getting the right details."

    What a fantastic little sentence, and a great post.