have I told anyone about my caterpillar boots? slightly uneducated I bought a new pair of caterpillar boots back in january. I wanted the ones with the rivets at the point where the lace-up part meets the toe part and in this neighborhood only caterpillars had those. (in other neighborhoods no one has workboots with rivets. they hardly have workboots at all. it dawned on me only after scouring downtown for a pair that probably the most workboots in the city are sold on Mission Street. I was right.) two days after buying them I wore them proudly to an antiwar march thinking these are great protest-stomp boots only to find out at the rally following that caterpillar bulldozers were the ones razing palestinian houses. this was announced loudly and the crowd was encouraged to boo and hiss.
I spent the rest of the time tugging on my pants legs to make sure no one could see the logo. I mean I know the middle east is fucked up and complicated and there may not be any clear bad guy or good guy but overall I do think that Isreal tends to flex its military power in the typically paranoid, reactive, destructive way that the powerful often do and I have no desire to endorse such behavior so I thought I should hide my shoes.
I did not, though, feel compelled to return them if for no other reason than that I try to minimize unnecessary interactions with strangers and this includes salespeople who although they are there to serve you still give me the creeps. I have worn the boots more than any other of my shoes since I got them. there are people all around me on the street wearing them (not wearing mine that is. wearing their own). they are comfortable. they look good.
do I have a conscience? well some. I won't shop at the Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, or WalMart. I try not to buy things made in China. I only eat meat every other Sunday (see there is this sausage grill right next to that bar we like to go to. the sausage is really good. I don't know if it is free-range (free-range sausage bringing interesting pictures to mind) so can't claim any moral high ground there). I buy leather shoes because I think at least if the cow is already dead we should use every part of it possible and thus not be gratuitously wasteful of the life we hold power over. if the beef industry ever goes tits up I will reconsider my leather-buying.
stuff like that.
I am probably not your typical American. but I kept the boots. caterpillar has my money. they are probably financing the president's re-election campaign with it. and in fact I am in such economic denial that when this pair wears out I might buy another pair. but only if I can't find what I am looking for in another brand. what this probably does do is make me a somewhat typical consumer, often heedless of the consequences of my buying habits.
but here I am a fairly straightforward example of why such a statement as "I think that the amount of money that candidates raise in our democracy is a reflection of the amount of support they have around the country" is utterly outrageous (Ari Fleischer, quoted by Paul Klugman in the New York Times last week). I mean it should be intuitively obvious why such a sentiment is outrageous and it should be intuitively obvious that when people go shopping, in the vast majority of instances they don't do so in order to support a particular retailer's or manufacturer's political interests.
I mean are we really to believe that the corporations which give lopsidedly to the Republican party are the equivalent of elected representatives whom we choose according to where we spend our money? that we have the means to determine where our money goes is often, but not always, the case. that we might pick and choose the companies we allow to accumulate their wealth from us according to what they are likely to do with it seems rational enough. but economic actors have trouble acting rationally even when they have all the information they need; that we would--or should--go to the trouble to ferret out the political proclivities behind every brand we buy to keep our monetary votes out of the wrong hands, and especially when that data is not necessarily ready-to-hand, seems a tortuous route for democracy to take.
beyond that it should be intuitively obvious that a capital-based democracy which gives millions of votes to a CEO and one half of a vote to the guy out on Mission asking me for a quarter is no democracy at all (and nevermind that the liquor company that peddles its 40-ouncers to this guy may or may not have that guy's political viability in mind. or any viability at all beyond that needed to pay for his beer. nevermind that).
this is all elementary. or should be. and probably is. Ari Fleischer could figure this out if he thought about it for just a minute and probably has and that is precisely the problem, I suspect.
or maybe not. maybe it is the lot of those with monetary and political privilege to be unable to conceive of anyone else's not being exactly like them and not having the economic power to make their political wishes known. there are plenty of powerful and wealthy people who think that everyone has had the same opportunities in life that they have and that those who have not "succeeded" have simply squandered those opportunities. or at least they act like this is what they think.
but what frightens me is not so much the inability to see beyond one's own circumstances (and this is frightening enough and I am frightened by it but more frightened by what I am about to say), but rather another presumption which may be at work: that the monetarily successful have done something especially deserving of success or, worse, that they are someone especially deserving of success and thus the disproportionate political power they may have gained along the way can be defended as some sort of morally justifiable advantage. a sign of god's favor perhaps even: if one works hard and lives a godly life, one will be rewarded with earthly wealth and power. don't laugh. our Puritan work ethic is partially founded on this idea.
so here is another in the long list of what frightens me about Republicans: that they may conflate wealth with worthiness and thus believe that, yes, some people deserve the millions of votes that come streaming towards them almost unbidden, while others deserve no more than the one or two that they can scrape together in a good month.
and don't even start with me with the "capitalism rewards those with ideas of merit" bullshit. we all know that's bullshit. even if we make it complicated, and hold that the idea which is unsalable today will rake it in tomorrow if it is of value, or that capitalism is the best way of representing the exchange of ideas and goods that takes place in an economically sociable species and must therefore answer to the demands of the autonomous individual acting in a free market, to do so we must ignore the facts that 1: life is short and it is always possible to die before your ideas receive the recognition they deserve (see van Gogh), 2: salesmanship and competitive acumen are what are what come to be valued above all in the capital-driven free market (see Microsoft), and 3: that the role of individual desire, when figured as the desire precisely of the all-devouring individual, is in the last instance antisocial even when it operates according to its own extroversion.
let me explain that last. or do I need to. the idea that self-preservation can be enlightened and can drive a socially compassionate market is an oxymoron to me but I have not done all the reading necessarily to refute it so this will have to do: self-interest operates according to the ideal of assimilation, of domestication, and the neutralization of anything that questions the mobility and autonomy of the self, to the point that anything that makes it through the perceptual screen that operates at the surface of the self will find itself made over into a representation that issues not from the thing being represented but by the self making the representation.
this is old news. antipostwhateverists will balk at this point and perhaps they should since at first this model seems to set loose a voracious subjectivity that no longer has to worry about the objectivity of its objects, since these are inaccessible in the representation and only have being insofar as they are subjectively conceived. nonsense, you say. the objective world exists. perhaps, but not in the representations of the self, and not "behind" them. not "within" the subject. in fact it may be that the objectivity of objects is annihilated in the representation.
what on earth are you talking about. say it again in terms of the real world (nevermind that "real world" is suddenly a loaded phrase. take it at its common meaning, even though "common" is loaded too). ok: the autonomous self, in its drive to domesticate that which it encounters and which places it in peril, represents those things that come to it from outside according to its own schemes, be they pictorial or linguistic, effectively ignoring (at the least) and possibly murdering (at the most) the very otherness of that which it encounters. this "otherness" is not "objectivity" (objectivity being a concept postulated by the subject and thus still in the realm of representation), but both the vulnerability of the other to representation and its resistance to representation.
and at the point where this vulnerability meets resistance lies the phenomenon of sociability. sociability, or the appearance of an inassimilable other, is that which undoes the acquisitiveness and destructiveness of the self. or that which would undo it were it not so danged vulnerable to it.
that didn't help, did it. let's just leave it at this: the individual eats everything in sight, almost simply by virtue of the fact that seeing is an organized sense, and certainly by virtue of the repeated gesture of domestication that the "I am" tries to perform conclusively. saying not only "this is me" but also "this is mine" is to draw the curtains of perception around oneself to the exclusion of the very unrepresentable vulnerability of that which is being drawn in. the moment of being offered up to eat is the sociable, which calls into question the ability of the individual to eat everything. because the individual can't eat everything, but would like to cover over that fact by eating everything in sight. and even if everything in sight would cause the stomach to burst, what cannot immediately be swallowed is yet corralled as profit within the bounds of individual property.
the very sociability of the market gets trampled in the rush to obtain not only what the other has, but how the other and that which we appropriate from it will be represented, and make it ours at any cost. and yet it is this sociability that insists upon itself outside of property and outside of representation and even outside of the value that objects are deemed to hold in virtue of their exchangeability.
the moral superiority of the wealthy and powerful then would consist in their especially well-honed ability to cover over the appeal of the social, which questions property, questions accumulation, questions the constitution of the interiority of the individual where these things have their center. if capitalism is to represent the value of social exchange, it can only do so by forgetting the sociability of that exchange itself, which necessarily falls outside of representation and beyond the ken of the autonomous individual. this leaves us with a certain anti-social representation of value parading as the social.
the final irony may be that the supposed godliness of the monetarily successful flies in the face of the selflessness demanded of the followers of the god whose favor wealth is reckoned to signal. without digressing along theological lines, allow me to point out that the sociability which troubles the individual may be, in some circles, thought of as the divine.