The Popularization of Social Criticism, Part II

An inherent dynamic of capitalism is that it must perpetually defer its immanent crisis – that is, the very nature of capitalism is to continually expand its circulation of capital otherwise it will collapse. As such, capitalism must always be discovering and appropriating new markets. This is clearly evident in the commodification of resources that were previously considered public; for instance, water or information. Even more ominously, capitalism implicitly encourages and feeds off of its own contradictions. Thus, a certain part of the economic system frees ‘lines of flight’ that are specifically anti-capitalist but overtime can eventually be re-appropriated back into the system. For example, rogue scientists that innovate uncommon technology which threatens the system but can then be filtered, commodified and marketed. More profoundly still, diasporic groups that resist capitalism or globalization can and have easily been packaged into consumable identities (such as hippies, the beat generation, hipsters and so on).

Of course, this also goes for social criticism as such: an enormous market has emerged to satisfy the needs of ‘rogue’ intellectuals via books, music, films, etc. In short, resistance to capitalism is quickly co-opted and compromised by capitalism itself. As a final example, we can quickly reflect upon the sudden and widespread ethos of going green or eco-groovy. The resistance to industrial agriculture is certainly understandable and one that I support, but it has simultaneously spawned a whole new generation of faithful consumers looking to assuage their guilt of imminent ecological disaster. The point is as follows:

the more varied, and even erratic, the better. Normalcy starts to lose its hold. The regularities tart to loosen. This loosening of normalcy is part of capitalism’s dynamic. It’s not a simple liberation. It’s capitalism’s own form of power. It’s no longer disciplinary institutional power that defines everything, it’s capitalism’s power to produce variety – because markets get saturated. Produce variety and you produce a niche market. The oddest of affective tendencies are okay – as long as they pay. Capitalism starts intensifying or diversifying affect, but only in order to extract surplus-value. It hijacks affect in order to intensify profit potential. It literally valorizes affect. The capitalist logic of surplus-value production starts to take over the relation field that is also the domain of political ecology, the ethical field of resistance to identity and predictable paths. It’s very troubling and confusing, because it seems to me that there’s been a certain kind of convergence between the dynamic of capitalist power and the dynamic of resistance [Brian Massumi, ‘Navigating Movements’ in Hope, p. 224]


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