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Excerpts from David Hawkes interview on, Against The Grain 2012-03-07 -- Joey 08:50, 23 April 2012 (PDT)

I transcribed some of it:
“The point of similarity between magic and capitalism is the power that both of them give to symbols. In magic, the witch or the magician tries to use representations, incantations, symbols, icons, fetishes, in order to alter the objective condition of things in the real world. That is essentially what magic is. The attempt to use representation to achieve objective affects. That is also what capitalism does. It takes a medium of representation, money, and ascribes to it efficacious and per formative powers. ...Money and fetishes are signs of a similar nature. “

“Yes, I think Enlightenment certainly sees itself as sweeping away superstition and replacing it all with rationality. I think however, we might see this process in a slightly different way. It may be that what seems to be the disappearance of magic from the world, at least from the western world... is actually the result of the complete triumph of magic. It may be that there is nothing but magic in the world anymore. And the reason why we don’t see, it, is because we have no vantage point outside it from which we might view it.

“What I mean, basically, is what we call ‘the economy;’ which is a recent and arbitrary invention. The notion of the ‘economy’ was brought into being in the 18th century, as a way of rationalizing that kind of self-interested, avaricious, greedy behavior that takes place, and is allowed to take place, in a market economy.”

“The idea that certain actions and certain modes of behavior are, so to speak, ‘economic’ and others are not. This is an idea that was developed by the early political economists in the late 17th and 18th century; in order to make it permissible to behave in greedy, avaricious, self-interested ways, which until then, had been forbidden by ethical and moral systems. The notion of the ‘economy,’ says, ‘OK, there’s this area, there is this kind of action which is called ‘economic. ’ And in that area, it’s OK to be selfish. It’s OK to pursue your rational self-interest. In fact, the economy, we might say, consists of those behaviors in which human beings pursue their rational self-interest in a legitimate form.”

“The western world is too is ruled by icons, charms, and fetishes. Its inhabitants are frequently confused as to the boundaries between fantasy and reality. Their leisure time is spent in the contemplation of images. They speak easily of the, ‘the cult of celebrity.’ They dedicate their economic lives to the accumulation of the token they call money. They often understand their identities in relation to the goods they consume. “So, the line, which is very clear in the western world between economics and magic; is far less clear in the post-colonial world. If you take a step back and think about how the post-modern economy must appear from the outside, I think it is quite easy to understand why it might be perceived as a magical set of phenomenon.

After all, there are these arcane networks of signs, and representations, and symbols and so on. The shifts in the relationships between various kinds of money have extremely powerful repercussions. They alter the politics of nations. They break apart great alliances such as the EU. And yet, nothing materially takes place whatsoever. The factors that drive history in the post-modern world are symbolic. If they are economic, they are symbolic. They are not real in any recognizable in any real sense of the word.

“Aristotle says that usury is the most hated form of economy; and he says it’s the most reasonably hated, because it is the furthest away from nature. It takes something that is not part of nature-money-and it makes it reproduce as if it were part of nature. For Aristotle this is a fundamental error, and from that error, all sorts of other philosophical and ethical errors flow.”

“Money is a means, for Aristotle, to the end of producing use-values. When money becomes the end; the purpose of an economic act, such as exchange, that is bad and unethical.”

So, when for example you use your money to buy a factory, and you wait for the factory’s value to increase, and then you sell the factory at a profit; for Aristotle, you have done something wrong; because you have subordinated the material entity of the factory and the use-values that can be produced in the factory to the end of financial profit; which finally, is nothing at all. Financial profit is a set of figures that go into your bank account, but which do not produce anything material: don’t produce anything useful. So for Aristotle, for money to be the end of economic activity was wrong. And above all, usury was wrong.

By the way, Aristotle is not alone in this. All systems of philosophy; all the great religions in world history, basically every system of thought in human history, condemns usury. I think that’s we would do well to think about, because our society is completely based upon usury. Usury runs our economy. I think it ought to give us pause that every previous system of thought in human history has said that usury is basically, the work of the devil. Theoretically, it (capitalism) could be abolished in, literally, the blink of an eye. If we all stopped believing in it; it no longer exists. So in that sense, it’s extremely weak. And I don’t find it all that implausible to imagine some kind of mass revelation, which might well make capitalism psychologically untenable. I wouldn’t like to say what form it might take, but I can easily imagine that as a theoretical possibility.

The other thing to say is that capitalism, because of usury essentially, is committed to unceasing growth. I mean that is the nature of usury. When you lend someone money, you have to pay them back more than you lent them. So, you have to make more money. You have to grow. And that is the basic idea on which capitalism is predicated. Well, when you have a system that is predicated on infinite growth, in a world with finite resources, obviously it’s not going to work for very long. That’s becoming very clear, I think. In that sense, capitalism is weak in that can’t last forever, and may not be able to last very much longer. The question is will we have this revelation that enables us to do away with it, before it does away with us?

I think the appeal of a society ruled by money is quite easy to understand. What money makes possible is, well, social mobility; but also a kind of physiological mobility. In philosophical terms, I think money is an anti-essentialist power. It challenges the notion that there is an essence within us, we might call it a ‘soul,’ which makes us what we are; which determines what we are; and about which there isn’t much we can do. What money does is it allows us to reinvent ourselves. It allows us to alter our essence; or to suggest that our appearance is more important than our essence. After all, money really is an appearance. Exchange-value in general is an appearance that is imposed upon the essential, natural quality of use-value. So, in a society which is dominated by money such as our own, we enter into a condition which post-modernist philosophers like Jean Baudrillard refer to as “hyper-reality.” That is to say, a society, in which there are only signs, there are no reference. There is only exchange-value; there is no use-value. Now, of course a sign which doesn’t have a reference ceases to be a sign. All signs have reference. So, if we live in this world of depthless simulacra, such as Baudrillard describes, then ‘sign’ is an inadequate word. What Baudrillard refers to instead is to ‘simulacra.’ These are depthless signs; pure representation, with nothing underneath it.

Now, a lot of people find that idea very attractive. The idea that we live in a world with no objective reality; no underlying essence; no ultimate truth; and therefore a world which it’s possible to constantly reinvent, and in which it is possible to change one’s role. For example, a lot of feminists and queer theorists find post-modernism and the post-modern condition to be intensely liberating, because they say, well, gender, for example, is not an essential quality of a human being. It’s a network of symbols, and signs, and representations. It’s a construction; and therefore, it can be changed if we want to change it; or if I want to change it, personally, I can change it. People find it attractive to think that their identity is fluid and malleable. A lot of people find this very liberating. The idea that you don’t have to be what you are. You can remake yourself and be something completely different; and not just that but the entire world can do this. There is no ultimate truth. There is not God if you like, and therefore, everything is up for grabs. I mean I think that is one of the reasons why people find a market economy to be exciting; but I think that we have to remember that, according to the standards of all previous human systems of morality, a market economy, especially one dominated by usury, is ethically very, very problematic indeed.

Since the credit crunch, I think people are reawakening to ancient objections to usury really. I mean if you read the economic literature that’s produced at the very beginning of market capitalism in 16th and 17th century England; you find a universal hatred of the usurer. The usurer is a folk devil, and usury is universally agreed to be a destructive, and evil, and literally, Satanic force.And this was kind of common knowledge, commonly accepted folk wisdom. It took an awful long time and an awfully concerted ideological campaign if you like, before people could be brought to accept usury as a permissible practice at all.

So, I think that instinctively people are resistant to the kind of unnatural effects, because I think Aristotle was absolutely right when he said that usury was unnatural. I think that people are naturally resistant to it. I don’t think it would take very much; and I think perhaps this present credit crisis might possibly be enough, to reawaken people’s ancient suspicions and hostility towards usury.

Joey 08:50, 23 April 2012 (PDT)