Modern politics ≠ postmodern politics

December 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

During the last depression in the 1930s, the gold standard — a system by which the value of a currency was determined by its exchange value for gold — was proven untenable. Bank failures resulted in a public that did not trust the economy & was hoarding gold instead. President Roosevelt’s response was to demand of citizens to exchange all their gold for a set value to increase the State gold reserve. A year later, the price of gold was nearly doubled [from $20.67 per ounce to $35 per ounce]. The new set price remained until President Nixon truly abandoned the gold standard in 1971. We note how the value of money became increasingly abstracted from real value & the economy dependent on finance.

This, along with the Bretton Woods monetary agreement of 1944, has been deemed a genial move by the US to not only increase inflation but also make the US dollar the new international standard. America’s hegemonic control was set in stone. This has become very familiar in today’s financial crisis climate, especially among groups wanting to end debt slavery or [re]institute leftist policies into government. But perhaps we shouldn’t be fighting for the left in politics, which is a losing battle anyway; perhaps we ought to be inventing ways of bringing into politics [aspects of] postmodernity.

Indeed, this is the exactly what Jelisaveta Blagojević begins to say in A Community of Those Without Community (Zajednica onih koji nemaju zajednicu, Beograd: fmk, 2007). The title is adopted from Derrida’s Politics of Friendship & refers to finding means of community for a body of people not grouped by any [imaginary?] defining characteristics, but “the possibility of survival in difference, that is on the individuality of every I & every other in their otherness” (26). This is a call for a post-identity political system. Just as the abstraction of money from actual value created a non-translatable — or inconstant — exchange value, the same thing was enacted on identities by postmodernism. “Not even identity is identical to itself” (25).

money ≠ money
identity ≠ identity

Both have prodigious social & political implications. Each is important in grasping social totality because their chimerical status doesn’t prevent them from having real-world effects. Money & identity become signs; “beneath signs exists something that isn’t a sign, which is to say a sign is something other than what it is” (23). While the hegemony wants us to treat this as perfectly normal & acceptable in the context of money, the same does not apply for identities.*

The modern perspective of identity is that one corresponds directly to oneself & is that self — “it requires freezing & fixing itself to exist in relation to the other” (61). Furthermore, “self-identity is the result of a full [socio-political] strategy of possession & appropriation. It is structured as safeguarded ownership over one’s own identity” (24-25). The key points are inalterability/inevitability & a right to ownership. The Other it treats as a threat; the social contract is the normal order of things & any straying from the contract is a state of exception. It cannot be other than what it is [totalitarian]. When translated into the context of organizing a larger community [as Hobbes does], this takes the shape of the Nation-state: a unified, enforceable collective identity that is obliged to protect its sovereignty. We can easily recognize this as the model of modern political community as it is practiced in the US, the EU, Israel, Russia, Poland, et. al.

Criticism has been rife of this model, but alternatives slower coming. Alternatives are treated, like all Others under dominant world order, as dangerous & in need of suppression. Chanting TINA (There Is No Alternative) like a mantra belongs to this category of responses; it has prevented many from seeing or looking for new ways of collective being.

Yet if we were to treat the postmodern abstraction of identity with the respect we pay the abstraction of money, a political system based on people as multiplicity can be developed [Spinoza already started this work]. Blagojević calls the singular units of multiplicity ‘individualized beings’ & the function of multiplicity she determines as ‘outspreading’ individualized being rather than homogenizing them into a unified identity. Postmodernism abstracts identity, to repeat, until it does not equal itself — it is “broken in the sense of possessing oneself” (42). It follows, then, that any representation of unity is here the state of exception: the I or forms of community are here the state of exception. This is supposed to “free the false dilemma which obliges knowledge to choose between the ineffable, inexplicable, & indescribable individual experience, on the one hand, & general intelligibility, on the other” (36). We are no longer in the territory of the either/or but already of the &/&.

The difference lies in the approach to “meeting” the Other. In the first case, fear or loathing dominate & have the backing of essentialist and Darwinist rhetoric. In the second case, what’s predominant is love** inasmuch as it “implies indeterminability, hetergeneity, & multiplicity” (17). This is a love that is an event in the sense of extracting us from the everyday, from laws & bringing us face to face with the Other (51), an event that happens in a place of vulnerability & openness (40), a love that makes no requirement of belonging to some community (45). “For individualized being, Otherness signifies the constitutive moment of thinking itself” (27) as it reveals that being is not whole-identity but is broken. The other side of the coin: “when we know something in its totality we cancel the possibility of changing it” (54) [TINA again]. In other words, the modern mind believes that it can not only possess identity but also territory & truth.

Political projects of developing regions have been focused on modernizing, which has always meant mindlessly following the “developed” countries into neoliberalism & capitalism. Instead, we need to be working on postmodernizing politics, the first step of which is postmodernizing identity — bringing an end to ethno-nationalism, stopping the myths of TINA & self-creation [the American dream], reopening closed borders, & restructuring property rights. It only takes a generation.


* While it may not seem very postmodern to be giving serious consideration to identities, we must remember that identities begin at the same moment as politics: at the point of meeting with the Other. Reevaluating how we “meet” the other can give us a whole new basis for forming a political community.

** Love is a figure, not to be taken in the sense we normally use it in. Blagojević explains: “It seems that in the theoretical & political sense, the figure of love can describe the paradoxical process of subjectivization in the best & most provocative way — above all in showing the impossibility of a subject to appropriate & possess the Other &, thereby, also oneself” (11).


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