The Exchange (October 2018)

Philosophy owes nothing to science, but at the same time the efficacy of philosophers is constrained by the constant trade of ideas:

Kantians initially rejected the theory of relativity on the grounds that time and space are a priori categories. Far be it from me to say that one or the other is the absolute truth, but you're either a fool or a con man if you think that your idle metaphysical pretenses can compete with a theory that enables technological revolution.

I can hear the symphony of indignation already: how dare I equate instrumentalism with truth, this is scientism, this is capitalism, this is toxic masculinity!

For one thing, I don't make the rules; but this isn't even my point, there's something much more fundamental to consider: we're embodied in our technology, our economy and our discourse all as a single flesh that doesn't recognize any kind of intrinsic hierarchy. Whatever paradigm you subscribe to only means something in so far that it makes contact with something: you're only saying something if you're talking to someone.

But I can't stress enough how much this is NOT scientism and if anything is the opposite:

Philosophy owes nothing to science precisely because of this lack of an underlying reality beneath the ecosystem. The pedants can complain all they want that an idea isn't empeeerical or that it doesn't account for this or that scientific consensus but they can't take away its potential to exploit an opening and subvert orthodoxy.

The trading floor is indifferent to abstraction but it acknowledges the page on which the future is written, regardless of who wrote it or what happens next.

If people have taken to worshipping the likes of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos it's because for all their own moral grayness everyone else has failed them and they provide the last hope many people have of the human story going somewhere.

Critical theory failed us, the constant navel-gazing about systems of domination lacked any kind of true affirmation; it ended up merely being an infinite loop running through the same machines humming to themselves within the walls of the academy, its battery constantly fed by the pyramid scheme your charming Marxist professor worked for: you can't beat capital, spend a couple hundred grand on a PhD and maybe you'll get an office and be able to ride it out.

There are many ideas that are revolutionary and profound, but none are truly special: conceptualizing time as an immutable backdrop is just an axiom inspired by the mechanical clock, a technology that in turn proved problematic enough on a large scale that a certain patent clerk who worked with them wrote a theory that accounts how they inevitably fall out of sync.

To deny such a massive change of thought is to forcibly close one's eyes to the tectonic shifts in the material world one lives in. You can continue to offer your wares and maybe you even have enough money to sell at a loss but you're still not living if you've shut yourself off to the world you live in.

Capitalism (or whatever you'd like to call the system we live under) =/= markets, no matter what world you live in it's markets all the way down.

Denial of this keeps people in serfdom; any proclamation of "sour grapes" thinly disguised as idealism amounts to willingly signing an agreement to be irrelevant, to circumscribe your potential and tacitly "know your place."

The market is nothing more than the act of exchange: it's not about numbers, or commodities, or subordination; it's the place where you find out what you're capable of.

The government might swing between Democrats and Republicans but just about anybody will tell you it's business as usual with different puppets: a despair echoed by celebrity worship, nihilistic infighting and aggrieved glossolalia wherever you go. The real power belongs not to any ideology but the class of people who raise and to tame the new generation of silicon megafauna.

While the cardigan commune endlessly debates about the ways in which anything could be a capitalist long con, the world lurches forward page by page. I don't know what comes next or what the right answer is but I know that any discourse is only as effective as its willingness to make contact.

But isn't this capitalism?

Maybe in the most bare sense of the term, but the system we live under today is hell-bent on preserving certain hierarchies antithetical to this: unimaginative philosophy departments preserved by a combination of price gouging and predatory credit, gargantuan concentrations of technological capital deciding for everyone else what content is suitable for the proles, an engineered culture war that rewards performatively "woke" brownnosers and psychotic alt-right provocateurs but punishes anyone who tries to play a different role.

Your "self-worth" is NOT defined by a price tag or supply and demand or some other kind of neoliberal mumbo jumbo. When I speak of the market I am not speaking of "capitalist notions of self-worth": the marketplace I speak of is the place where the very idea of value is continually being defined.

You are part of the market: whenever you engage with it you are part of that act, you are writing. You are who you are in relation to the rest of the world; there is no self-worth, only agency: to abdicate your agency, to avoid the exchange, is to subordinate your worth to such a fiction.