Adam deVille on . . well, a lot of things

At Eastern Christian Books, Adam deVille has a long post which brings together a number of themes he has explored on the blog and elsewhere – on lament, on Marx and Freud and their lessons for Christians, the work of Christopher Bollas, the work of Maggie Ross on Silence, the normotic self of capitalism.

The post is one of those read-the-whole-thing ones..this passage being a highlight. I feel there is a better word than “capitalism” to denote the status quo (to which “stubborn adherence” is described below) – but I am not sure what it is … something more than buying and selling anyhow:

Fong’s book is worth it if only for this central insight, which comes almost exactly half-way through: “there is perhaps no more confused assertion, for a critical theorist, than that capitalist society is becoming increasingly ‘secular’.” Why churchmen and others insist on using this term or its even more fatuous variants (“secular humanism”) has never made sense to me–except, of course, to flog their hideous books.

Rather, capitalism is itself not just an ideology and substitute “religion.” More to the point, as the final parts of Fong’s book argue, it is “a committed psychic investment” and an “insidious….internalized social structure” whose “comfortable obviousness” makes it all the harder to distance oneself from and to think about with “self-reflective reason.” As a result, “late capitalism is defined not only by a reorganization of production, radically heightened capacities of distribution, and a new ideology of consumption but also by a sea change in what Judith Butler calls ‘the psychic life of power'” (86).

Such psychic effects, to be clear, have not totally robbed most people of the capacity for some critical thought. But too much of that capacity in too many people has been anesthetized by capitalism, and most recently and most especially by the technology that so consumes our life today. As a result Fong is quite right to say, as others recently have, that any dreams of any sort of “revolution” are never going to come to pass; for capitalism is extremely adept at using all its commodities to inculcate in people a “remarkably stubborn adherence to the status quo” (98). Such technology gains its power, he asserts, from first gratifying “a psychic need before it does material ones” (110).

Using classic Freudian terminology, Fong explains how this works: the culture industry works both sides of the ego, giving satisfaction to the id in various ways (that is, satisfying many basic material desires and wants) so as to blunt the force of the superego’s critical capacities. If you doubt this, just think how often, in conversation with a defender of capitalism, you have immediately been met with the tedious rejoinder “Yes, but think how many people today own their own home” or “How many more have joined the middle class from poverty.”

Nobody doubts that moving from poverty is a good thing, but that is not why such utterances are made. They are made to close down discussion because the apologists for capitalism know what a weak case they have in the face of massive psychic and spiritual costs–to say nothing of real, material costs, too, to lives devastated by its myriad social pathologies. As MacIntyre memorably put it in his most recent book, advanced capitalism today has “destroyed…traditional ways of life, created gross and sometimes grotesque inequalities of income and wealth, lurched through crisis after crisis, creating recurrent mass unemployment and left those areas and those communities that it was not profitable to develop permanently impoverished and deprived.”

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