Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Politics Of Truth

- Michel Foucault once defined philosophy as the politics of truth.
- Meaning that claims to truth are used politically.
- Yes. Among his latest work was a series of lectures on the history of Neoliberalism.
- What exactly is Neoliberalism?
- A claim there is a naturally occurring mechanism of exchange that creates wealth for all invisibly and without attention. Interference by government can't be legitimate since the process is invisible and in any case it could only be damaged by interference. Civil Society* claims work the same to provide a supporting legal theory: law need not be forced on the people by the government, cooperation and sympathy result from a naturally occurring process just like that of mutual benefit from free exchange.
- Does Foucault say these truth claims are untrue?
- Not a word along those lines. It is not part of his argument.
- Which is?
- That under cover of such ideas power can be exercised. Government, which has different interests from business, was denied by these claims power to interfere. But there is something even more interesting. Invisible hand mechanisms do seem to be at work here in both the marketplace and civil society. However they do not create wealth or civility for the whole, as is claimed, but only to the benefit of the class that promotes and puts into effect these claims. You know how Marx says capital-based production works?
- Refresh my memory.
- Producers pay their employees, then sell the products they made back to them at a price higher than their salary. And where do the employees get the money to pay the higher price if they only have what they've been paid? They are employed further, and they use the extra money they make today to buy the product they made yesterday. The employer finances this new day's payment of salary by borrowing money. That money is created by the state or banks authorized by it. For this system to go on working, to avoid inflation, the cheapening of money, demands a constant increase of production, since money is constantly being increased. Marx described profit as continuous theft from the worker. Another way of looking at it is not so material. The worker already sells his freedom by the hour. In his off work time, he can establish separate economic conditions by cooperating on trust, investing his labor with others' labor, each extends credit to each. But the worker's potential for private credit investment has been limited by his employer's use of state created money to create his profit. The worker is limited to buying those products the employer chooses to make, but also has his practical life subject to economic crashes caused by too great expansion of money. He may have no opportunity to be a producer on his own time if he is forced to change his place of residence or has to spend all his time working.
- I'm not sure I understand.
- The invisible hand mechanism of production works to take away the economic freedom of the worker, who is subject to his employer's creating his profit by the use of credit. Credit is a choice of who to work with.
- Ok. That's what I don't understand.
- Google makes a claim about the Internet: left to itself, it functions best. Another invisible hand mechanism. Hands off! But look at how Google actually manages the Internet for its customers. The Internet is supposed to open up freely all the information in the world. And what is Google's practice? It makes its profit from advertising that has as its explicit intention to limit customer choice to results Google is paid to favor. Like the employer has monopolized the trust, the credit necessary for economic activity, when workers themselves would like to choose with whom they invest the currency of their credit, an individual searching the Internet for information, choosing himself who to trust, has that choice made for him by advertising. Do you see the connection?
- Say for example I want to research Neoliberalism. Google has sponsored results, articles on sites owned by multinational corporations that pay Google to favor their sites. So I look at them, instead of following my own experience, reaching judgments of whom to trust, and then following the links they send me to. What forces me to take Google's suggestion?
- Nothing. It simply makes it more difficult to form credit relations on my own, like the producers' borrowed money undermines the condition of separate, private investment of work of the employee with fellow employees who are hoping to get free of wage slavery. Clearly this making more difficult for an individual to establish his own credit relations is inconsistent with the claimed mutual good invisible mechanism of civil society. The spontaneous growth of the Internet is an invisible mechanism, but one that works in favor of its managers and against the managed.
- Assume then we do not want to hear any truth claims about human nature in a group. We don't buy into the claim our social nature is subject to the inevitable invisible building of mechanisms, economic and civil. How do we decide what kind of society we make?  I read recently a revolutionary philosophical text about how each of us was a multiplicity of different characters, all of which were in the process of change, and each of our multiple aspects of self had a multitude of relations to different people, themselves a multitude of selves in change in changing relations to a multitude of people. All of us, multitudes in changing multitudinous relation to multitudes, could only see each other as powers or potentialities. Isn't this obscurity of power and potential of relations an example of an invisible mechanism like the economic and civil one's we've been talking about? How do we know what's behind it?
- The simple test is, has the question of human nature been answered in advance? Can an individual establish on his own the relation of credit with another individual, can he set up conditions of experimental control so his particular choice of who to give credit to can have determinate results? Or is this ability taken away by vague, invisible conditions? To see each other as interacting powers or potentialities, isn't that an example of an invisible mechanism like the economic and civil ones we've been talking about? How do we know if a mechanism establishing inequality of benefit is behind it? What sorts of power will be authorized in its name? No invisible mechanisms can be allowed that are supposedly authorized by human nature when human nature is precisely what we're investigating. That includes a human nature of multitudes in changing relation to multitudes.
- But how do you know such open ended society is possible? A society without truth claims about human nature? Who sets the rules for this experimental setting of the rules?
- That too is to be experimented on to find out. We can start first with thought experiments, like the society of multiplicity and possibility. That one we reject out of hand. Others might be more promising. We have to look.
- What would Foucault say?
- I asked him a long time ago. He approved.**
- If that's what you claim...

Further Reading:
The Search For Evil
Bringing Back Stray Sheep
Whose Efficiency?
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* Civil Society: 'Society as a specific field of naturalness peculiar to man.'
** Personal correspondence, 1979