Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Making Scarce

Lots of really good work has gone up – in the form of both individual blogging and cross-blog discussions – while I’ve been away. I’m only very slowly catching up – I’m fairly far away from being able to comment sensibly. Over the next few days, I’ll at least try to toss up some pointers to interesting discussions elsewhere, even if I’m not yet up to participating substantively myself. For the moment, I wanted to toss up a couple of links to two pieces over at Larval Subjects, where Sinthome is blogging about scarcity, reflecting on Deleuze & Guattari’s suggestion that notions of lack or scarcity operate to rationalise existing forms of social organisation. Sinthome ties this together with Meillassoux’s critique of ideology and concepts of metaphysical necessity, and then builds on these thoughts to ask a set of questions touching on those that informed the post here on Social Construction. Sinthome writes:

At any rate, the manner in which the argument from scarcity works is clear within the framework of Meillassoux’s understanding of ideology. On the one hand, we are told that since resources are intrinsically scarce, social organization must necessarily take the form of inequity and hierarchy. As the old saying goes, “there are the haves and the have nots, and so it is, so it has been, and so it will always be.” As a result, questions of distribution and production, and the principles and decisions underlying distribution and production become invisible and naturalized. On the other hand, we are told that envisioning any other possibility either a) necessarily leads to the political terror of social systems such as those found under Mao or Stalin, or b) is just an immature fantasizing that fails to recognize the true nature of reality. In connection to point a, it is intriguing to note that we are told both that other alternatives are impossible and are implicitly forbidden from even contemplating alternative systems of production and distribution. There is something symptomatic in the way that something that is impossible is simultaneously prohibited. Here the elementary gesture of any critique of ideology would lie in 1) demonstrating the contingency of existing social relations, and 2) uncovering the site of possibility where another form of social relations is really possible and coming into existence.

Sinthome moves from this to Deleuze & Guattari’s attempt to recentre the analysis of social production around the question of how we expend surplus – and the related question of how particular kinds of lack or scarcity are actively created. The reflections here are similar to those articulated in Marx’s discussion, for example, of the peculiar “laws of population” characteristic of capitalist society – “laws” that, in Marx’s analysis, are specifically not biological in character – although they are taken to be… Sinthome worries in the first post about what he regards as Marx’s tendency to privilege biological needs: I would suggest that, although some forms of Marxism might adopt this stance, Marx is actually quite consistent that “need” is a category of history and society, not biology – concepts of subsistence in a work like Capital are demarcated as containing what Marx calls “historical and moral” elements. The “labour theory of value” is intended to mark out a peculiar sort of production of scarcity in the midst of potential plenty – and to compare the potentials generated by this manufactured scarcity against the potentials that could be unleashed with the creation of less ascetic forms of collective life.

Sinthome ends the first post, and focusses the second, on the question of whether posing these sorts of questions in terms of the manufacture of desire is fully adequate, marking out a careful path that would need to be walked, asking whether all forms of scarcity can be regarded as constructed to the same degree, and warning against the potential for the focus on desire to direct transformative energies away from social transformation, and toward the transformation of desire, if the materiality of desire, and its intrinsic implicatedness in the social field, is not adequately recognised.

These posts are worth more serious commentary than my time-inverted thoughts will manage at the moment – read the originals for a much better sense of the themes being suspended in Sinthome’s analysis.


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