Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Return of Illusory Metastability

Mea culpa. I was wrong. (Or, rather, I think I was probably wrong.) When the Cold War ended, I believed that this signalled the beginning of the dynamic, multi-polar world. I believed that the world had entered a state of flux destined to eventually lead to a state of overall stability underpinned by an ever-shifting system of heterogeneous actors constantly rising, collapsing, changing. I saw the emergence of Thales' universe, a world made of water and full of gods, rythmic, predictable, but never quite stable. I was wrong.

The U.S. led (read: perpetrated) invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan were purportedly undertaken for the purpose of bringing order to chaos, but this is an inversion of the reality of the situation (if reality is a concept that we can even refer to straight-faced). The system was already stable. Poverty and repression are not synonymous with chaos. The removal of two deeply repressive mechanisms did nothing to provide stability, but instead revealed that the uni-polar world of US hegemony lacked the requisite stability for the modern system of all-imersive Capitalism to function effectively.

Notably, neither of these systems was truly antithetical to the Capitalist system. Iraq, were it not for UN sanctions, would have proven fertile ground for Capitalism, and though Afghanistan's Taliban rulers maintained a policy of anti-Capitalist theocracy domestically, they were more than happy to supply the remainder of the world with opium and its most capitalist deriviative, heroin, that tranquilizer purged of its connection to nature, abstracted from any possibility of a mystic dimension. The crime of the former was that of pretending to non-alignment. The crime of the latter was of harboring a virus dangerous to the entire system.

Had the US merely invaded the latter, there would be no shake-up, no risk of a new bi-polar world. The purging of the Taliban would merely have increased opium production, merely have created a zone of instability to be filled by some amalgamation of strong-men. The invasion of Iraq, however, functioned like an autoimmune disease of the Capitalist system. Capital's strongest agent destabilizing a resource-rich area with a leader willing to play by the rules. Not the pseudo-political "rules" of the international political "order," but the rules of Capital. An agent willing to sell resources for the pretense of power was subjected to violence where an exchange of value would have sufficed.

This violation of the rules of Capital has prompted a response from Capital in the form of bi-polar escalation with Russia. America's lapse into the use of actual power instead of Capital's preferred mechanisms has prompted a similar response from Russia, the only agent capable of restoring the illusion of metastability that is mutually-assured destruction. Deterrence previously existed between Capital (power by the subtle violence of the market) and anti-Capital (power by overt violence), creating perfect stability. But in this potential future Capital will play both sides of the board. If deterrence was merely illusion before, it will be doubly so now. For while in the previous system the macabre threat of annihilation preserved the status quo, in this system there need not even be a reminder of potential annihilation. The world may conveniently slip into the dynamic of two Bell spinoffs, each comfortable with failing to compete. No conspiracy needed, merely an independent recognition that the status quo will be maintained regardless.

Of course, this bi-polarity need only exist to provide stability until "peacefully rising China" eclipses it. Capitalism is not a liberal ideal. It does not prefer civil liberties or mass-surveillance. It does not prefer freedom to opression. It can prosper in either environment. China's surveillance and repression is fine with Capital so long as it is directed solely at the non-economic choices of its citizens. Soon China will recognize the pacification mechanism inherent in Capital, rebellion on a t-shirt, subversion via the unread blog post. With China's inevitable rise will come the eclipse of the briefly revived struggle of the titans, and with it the reign of the all-seeing Zeus, patron diety of the contract, of the rules of Capital.

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