Before I completely lose sight of this thought, I wanted to talk about this post on crisis theory and this post on the world of 1984. I think crisis theory does make useful analogic predictions about the future. (OK, I don’t for a moment purport to truly understand crisis theory, but I think I have some gist of it.)
I think that crisis theory can be mathematically explicated as a divergent singularity (as opposed to a convergent one.) In physics, singularities give rise to the phenomena we know as black holes (and conversely, although I don’t think we have any data that they exist, they should also give rise to white holes). A black hole would be an example of a convergent singularity—as you approach you will get closer and closer to the actual singularity itself, although you will actually never reach the singularity—this can also be thought of as an example of Zeno’s paradox—you start infinitely dividing the distance to the singularity in half and then half again and then half again and if you discount the fact that tidal forces would have long ago spaghettified you, and if you completely ignore the possibility of superluminal travel, you will really never, ever reach the singularity.
The divergent singularity is the antithesis of a black hole. This theoretical counterpart is known as a white hole, which would “blow” instead of “suck” But the weird thing about a white hole would be that the harder you tried to reach the singularity, the harder it would repel you. I think this is ultimately the basis of crisis theory—the more capital you burn trying to develop a non-sustainable endeavor, the quicker you will actually cause it to fail.
In other words, the anti-global capitalists can rely on the physics of capitalism itself to aid them, in keeping with some of Marx’s ideas. I mean, Marxism in toto is not a scientific theory, in the sense that you could falsify it (and yes, I am geek because I took a philosophy of science class, and there is a technical definition for falsification in this context.) It was more along the lines of Freud, in that, when considered with its ad hoc hypotheses, it was unfalsifiable, and that it is more of a philosophy than an actual theory.
But I guess we could all be wrong. Maybe we are only now seeing the end-stages of capitalism, which kind of makes sense. Prior to our century, capitalism could function rather easily because of the trade and technology gradients that existed between different cities, and later, different countries, and then between colonies and homelands. Capitalism’s starting conditions require a sort of inequality at the outset, a free-energy gradient, if you will, for capital flow down. (Yes, here we go again with the trickle-down mumbo-jumbo.) If there is no scarcity or abundance, then economies stagnate. This is easy to maintain when there are obvious trade and technological gradients between different nations and cultures, and even easier to do when there are barriers to contact and transportation, but the thing that globalism will do is that it will eventually homogenize everything. I mean, we’re already at the stage where aboriginal people are wearing T-shirts with Nike swooshes on them instead of their traditional garb. You can get CNN and MTV from pretty much anywhere in the world, whether or not you even have running water in your house. The most technologically disadvantaged cultures will simply leap-frog to the gooey, chocolatey creamed-filled consumerist center, facilitated by the fact that businesses are trying to capture larger and larger markets, even if they have to create the markets themselves brick by brick.
No one has ever yet had to think about what happens when the market can’t get any bigger (except for maybe the normal birth rate, offset by the normal death rate.) Maybe it won’t happen in my lifetime, but it will probably start becoming a consideration in about a generation or so. (Man, isn’t exponential growth absolutely astounding? And people wonder how they can die from flesh-eating bacteria…)
And no one has ever had to think about what happens when innovation doesn’t happen fast enough to keep consumption going. In a fully globalized economy, we will end up in situations where people will stop buying stuff because nothing catches their interest. I mean, sure, one plasma screen TV is pretty neat, one iPod is nice, but you start running out of reasons for buying more than one pretty soon. People can only add so many rooms to their houses, and ultimately they’ll only have so many walls to cover with plasma screens. And even the most voracious music-consumer will probably need at most four or five iPods, even if they have one for home, one for the office, one for the morning jog, one for the car, and one for the other car.
And the fact of the matter is that poor people can’t buy stuff, so it is ultimately in the best interest of capitalism for rich people to give them some cash. But this only further degrades the gradient of scarcity and abundance.
One day, Walmart will have everything priced at the lowest possible denomination they can go without simply giving things away for free.
OK, maybe this are all wacko scenarios, but I think they’re the logical conclusion if global capitalism continues to run full-tilt, without any contingency plans. If anything, capitalism needs to start entering the second stage. You know how forests have primary stages and then secondary stages? Something like that. Or maybe we can talk about Saturn V rockets and their boosters.
But my point is that we are actually entering an era where Marxist scientific theory can actually be tested. When the stage I engine of capitalism has exhausted the fuel provided by the gradient of scarcity and abundance, jettisoning the empty husk of the fuel canister to burn up in the atmosphere, what form of propulsion will stage II be comprised of? Science fiction writers have come up with some ideas, the most appealing and probably most logical in these security-obsessed times of ours is the currency of reputation. When everybody has money, and everybody can buy the same old shit, what else will there be to trade but trust itself?
Now, my own personal theory of capitalism is pretty fatalistic and Darwinistic. My prediction is that if it continues at full-speed like it is, the reason why poor people won’t exist is that they will probably get wiped off the face of the earth. My sister wrote an interesting paper about Glamis Gold Ltd.’s disregard for the environmental rights of the indigenous people in Guatemala (which I might post someday if I feel inclined to translate a Word document to HTML) and it looks like a typical David and Goliath situation, except that we seem to live in a world where Goliath typically wins about 9 times out of 10, or better. Be it as it may how global capitalism achieves this homogenization, I think it will happen, although I can see how perpetual war could keep the Stage I engine running (almost) forever. (Bear in mind that the more times you bomb something, the less it will be worth bombing the next time around.)
Anyway, the other thing that crisis energy makes me think of is a neurological phenomenon known as intention tremor. It is actually a manifestation of cerebellar disease, and is the phenomenon where someone’s tremor gets worse as he/she gets closer to his/her target. You can elicit this by asking someone to touch your finger with one of their fingers, and if they have this problem, you’ll see how they have to keep correcting their trajectory as they get closer to your finger, because they keep overshooting.
Like dysmetria and intention tremor, divergent singularities are destabilizing. They basically graph out into what looks like seismographs, as the values wildly fluctuate between the two sides of the asymptote, and I mean wildly. As much as Vernon Vinge believes that there will be an AI singularity approaching, I really do think we will also be soon approaching an economic singularity as well, and the descent into hell is going to be absolute madness.