Archive for May, 2013

Published: April 14th, 2013
Words: 35,000 (approximate)
Language: British English

Alan Cornes has written an interesting book on the ethics, morality, and applicability of what he calls “interculturalism.” Although the definition of this last concept seems rather elusive to me, basically he is writing for a kind of liberal business person type, who does a lot of travelling, doesn’t want to offend foreign hosts, and wants to make killer business deals. But then the book also has another dimension (it doesn’t have many of this last, but two is good enough for me), which is his dabbling with mirror neurons leading to an argument around empathy. He writes:

Empathy is surely the one weapon in our human repertoire able to rid us of the curse of prejudice, racism, and xenophobia. Our evolutionary background makes it hard for us to identify with outsiders, we’re designed to hate our enemies, to ignore people we barely know, and to distrust those who look different from us. Even if we are cooperative team players within our own community we often become different people in our treatment of strangers. If only we could mentally structure the world around us in a way that works with this psychology instead of against it, perhaps we could begin to see people outside of our own groups, yes, even those on other continents, as a part of us, how much easier it would be to form worthwhile relations through empathy so that the process of reciprocity follows naturally thus enabling us to build on our humanity rather than fighting against it. -46

This is admirable stuff, and there is much to admire throughout the book: a commitment to an ethics of liberal care (alas I wish the author had considered a little bit more creatively the history of sympathy as a form of power); a sense of the importance of travel for business and human beings (there is a good sense throughout that wandering a bit from our comfort zones is an excellent way to develop a better “moral me”); a commitment to a kind of relativism of the subjective (finally it is the subject who decides what feels right and makes sense through the process of moral decision making). His redactive use of the mirror neuron research today notwithstanding, what Cornes seems to want through this invocation of all things neuro- is a sense of a kind of scientific clarity of the human condition. But does the mirror neuron system map on to empathy as a human virtue? What if we were to resist this anthropomorphism of the mirror neuron system? We would do well to draw back from the lure of hope, community, love, communion, imitation, and think rather of a machine of conjunction working in and through our neurology, that produces habitual perceptions (always a subtraction from what is), and a plan(e) of ecological potential repeatedly captured both in the habit itself and the capitalist value(s) it generates.

Let me explain a little bit what I have in mind here. Take this quote from Lazzarato’s The Making of Indebted Man toward a first approximation.

The independence and freedom that eutrepreneurism was supposed to bring to ‘labor” have in reality led to a greater and more intense dependence not only on institutions (business, the State, finance), but also on the self. This independence might ironically be considered the economy’s colonization of the Freudian superego, since the “ideal self” can no longer be limited to the role of custodian and guarantor of the “morals” and values of society. In addition and above all, it must be the custodian and guarantor of the individual’s productivity. We always come back to the coupling of economics and ethics, work and work on the self. The ferocious critique leveled in Anti-Oedipus against Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis can be read as anticipating the expansion of the “cure” and “analyst/analysand” transference to the management of the labor force in the corporation and to the population in society at large. The increase in psychologists’, sociologists’, and other “self-help” experts’ interventions, the creation of “coaching” for better-off workers and obligatory individual monitoring for the poor and unemployed, the explosion of “care of the self” techniques in society-these are symptoms of the new forms of individual government, which include, above all, the shaping of subjectivity. 94-5

Despite the controversy around Lazzarato and Marx and Deleuze, a debate well-worth having, since what is stake of course are the very categories of analysis and objects of antagonism/contradiction that continue to be of relevance to revolutionary Marxism–despite, I say this controversy, this understanding of the colonization of subjectivity under an infinite temporality of debt in algorithmic capital (Lazzarato doesn’t pay very close attention to the network technologies that provide the infrastructural and logistical support to neoliberalism)–the genealogy of this subjectivity forever in debt is, as Lazzarato notes, thoroughly Western capitalist and Christian. But that this very narrow notion of the subject is becoming global dominant–not through culture and ideology alone but through the ontology of insurance, extraction, logistics, and finance (see–this shaping of the subject through self-help books like Cornes, clothed as they all are now in some transparent neuro-sheen (odd how Damasio and Ramachandran function in this discourse)–this subject is the subject of neuromarketing and financialization. This is finally why the mirror neuron system is important to capitalist extraction: make immediately productive and value generating the subject’s creative encounter with the world.