Startseite Krise und Kritik der Warengesellschaft

Source: Folha de Sao Paulo, 30th Sept. 2001
Konkret (Hamburg), 11/2001

Robert Kurz


The Death Wish of Capitalist Reason

Great and symbolic catastrophes in the history of humanity have repeatedly triggered off contemplation, in which the powerful of the world lay off their hubris, societies reflect upon themselves and recognize their limits. Nothing of the sort is to be observed after the kamikaze attacks on the nerve centers of the USA in the capitalist world society. It almost seems as if the barbaric attack out of the darkness of irrationality did not only flatten the World Trade Center, but also the last bit of faculty of judgement of the world democratic public. This society does not want to recognize itself in the mirror of terror; instead, it becomes even smugger under the impression of horror. The more forcefully it is shown its limits, the more vehemently it insists on its own power, and the more stubbornly it cultivates its one-dimensionality.

After the terror attack the functional elites, the media, and the rank and file of the global system of "capitalism and democracy" act as if they were all actors and extras in a real production of the film "Independence Day." Hollywood foresaw an apocalyptic event and filmed it as a presentation of patriotic kitsch and hillbilly morals. That is how the culture industry trivialized and made unreal the reality of the catastrophe, before it even became real. The spontaneous mourning and complete bewilderment is overlapped by the false rituals of a programmed reaction pattern, which makes impossible any understanding of the connection between terrorism and the ruling order.

The hardening of the official democratic consciousness to an angry insensibility becomes clear, when the amateur actor US president conjures up a "monumental battle between good and evil." By means of this naive view of life, the own inner contradictions are projected outwards. It is the elementary scheme of all ideologies: Instead of uncovering the connection in which one is entangled in, a foreign cause for the events must be found and an external enemy is defined. But in contrast to the adolescent dream worlds of Hollywood, there will not be a happy end in the hard reality of a collapsing world society.

In the movie "Independence Day," it is fittingly extraterrestrials that attack "God's own country" and are naturally heroically beaten back. This part of the outer-worldly, outer-capitalistic, outer-rational aliens should now be evidently taken over by militant Islamism, as if it was a just now discovered strange culture which has turned out to be a dark threat. In the search for the origin of evil, the Koran is leafed through as if the motives for the usually unexplainable acts can be found there.

Agitated Western intellectuals are not ashamed of labeling terrorism as an expression of a pre-modern consciousness that missed the era of Enlightenment and therefore must demonize the wonderful Western "freedom to self-determination," the free market, the liberal order, and in general everything good and beautiful about Western civilization in acts of blind hate. As if there had never been an intellectual reflection about the dialectic of Enlightenment and as if the liberal notion of progress in the catastrophic history of the 20th century had not long ago embarrassed itself, the arrogant as well as ignorant bourgeois historical philosophy of the 18th and 19th centuries returns as a spectre in the bewilderment over the new type of insane act. In the cramped attempt to ascribe the new type of horror to a strange creature, Western democratic reasoning sinks below any intellectual level for good.

But the fact that all phenomena of globalized society are interrelated, cannot be so cheaply explained: After five hundred years of a bloody and colonial history, after one hundred years of a state bureaucratic industrialization and a catch-up modernization, after fifty years of destructive integration in the world market and ten years under the absurd rule of the new transnational finance capital, there is truthfully no exotic oriental space that one could understand to be foreign and external. Everything that presently happens is directly or indirectly a product of the forcefully standardizing world system. The One World of capital is itself the womb which gives birth to the mega-terror.

It was the militant ideology of Western economic totalitarianism which paved the way for the equally militant neo-ideological delusions. The end of the state capitalist era and its ideas were used as an occasion to bring critical theory to silence. The contradictions of capitalist logic were not allowed to be talked about, they and the questions of social emancipation beyond the commodity producing society were declared to be irrelevant. With the supposed final victory of the market and competitive principle, the intellectual ability of reflection of Western societies came to an end. The people of this world were to become identical with capitalist functions, even though the majority was already marked as "redundant."

While the financially capitalist crisis mechanisms of shareholder value threw billions of people into poverty and despair, the majority of the global intelligentsia mockingly sang the song of capitalist democratic optimism. They now have paid the price: When critical reason is silenced, its place is taken by murderous hate. The objective unbearableness of the ruling mode of production and living no longer asserts itself in a rational, but an irrational manner. After the retreat of Critical Theory the advance of religious and ethno-racist fundamentalism followed. As long as the fundamental emancipatory critique of capitalism does not form itself anew, the eruptions of social and ideological paranoia will be the sole gauge for measuring the degrees in which the contradictions of the world society have matured. Under these conditions this means the new quality of mega-terrorism in the USA, the officially ignored and downplayed crisis of the globalized capitalist system, has taken on a new dimension.

That which seems to be a strange fury of terror, did not only grow up on the capitalist One World breeding ground, but was also bred by the repressive power apparatus of the Western democracies themselves, which now wash their hands in innocence. Saddam Hussein was armed by the West against the Iranian mullah-regime, which itself crawled out of the modernization ruins of the shah-regime. The Taliban were coddled by the USA, were schooled and armed with efficient anti-aircraft missiles because back then everything that was pointing toward the Soviet Union counted as belonging to the realm of the "good." And the muddle-head Usama bin Laden, now blown up to be the mythical incarnation of evil, for the same reason entered the world arena of armed paranoia originally as a "baby" of Western secret services. The "security" imperialism of NATO, which wants to forcefully hold under control the part of humanity which is no longer reproducible, also uses presently befriended torture regimes and diverse lunatic characters in Turkey, in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Pakistan, Columbia and elsewhere. But because this world is coming apart at the seams, one little monster after the other becomes independent. Today's baby is always the "incomprehensible monster" of tomorrow.

The lords of terror, the warriors of God, and clan militias are by no means only outside of the West instrumentalized powers that are now beginning to slip out of its grasp. Their state of mind is also not "medieval," but postmodern. The structural similarities between the consciousness of capitalist "civilization" and the consciousness of the Islamic terrorists cannot be too astounding, if one considers that with capitalist logic it is a matter of an irrational end in itself. The economic totalitarianism also divides the world into "the faithful" and "infidels." The ruling "civilization" of money cannot analyze the origin of terror rationally because it would then have to question itself. Thus, the enlightened West defines Islamism as the "work of the devil," just as vice versa the latter does the West. The irrational dichotomous pictures of "good" and "evil" resemble each other to ridiculousness.

What goes on in the minds of the chief terrorists is in its nature not more bizarre than the ways and means used by the chief managers of global capitalism to make use of and maltreat humans under the destructive force of abstract business economics. Religious terror strikes just as blind and senseless as does the "invisible hand" of anonymous competition, under whose rule millions of children permanently hunger-to name only example, which casts a strange light on the celebrated cult of consternation over the victims of Manhattan.

When between the lines the media indicates a secret admiration for the undreamt of technical and logistical possibilities of the terrorists, the spiritual affinity, in this respect, becomes clear:

Both sides equally belong to the modern "instrumental rationality." For what the uncanny Captain Ahab says in Melville's "Moby Dick," this great parable about the modern age, applies to both: "...all my means are sane, my motive and my object mad." The economy of terror corresponds with the terror of the economy. Therefore, the suicide-attacker turns out to be the logical continuation of the lonely individual in universal competition under conditions of hopelessness. What is now making its appearance is the death wish of the capitalist subject. That this death wish is inherent in Western consciousness itself and is not only produced by the social, but also by the spiritual desolation of the totalitarian capitalist system, is proven by the periodic amok-runs of middle-class kids in the schools of the USA and the murderous attack of Oklahoma, known to be an authentic product of the inner derangement of the USA. The human who is reduced to economic functions becomes just as deranged as the human that is spit out as a "redundant existence" by the process of exploitation. Instrumental rationality releases its children.

Because the irrational core of its ideology is as alike to Islamic fundamentalism as are two peas, capitalism can only call for a crusade, a "holy war" of Western "civilization." Only victims such as star US columnists, brokers in Manhattan, and citizens of Western freedom count as real victims and are mourned in commemorative worship services. In contrast, the deaths of Iraqi civilians and Serbian children that were mutilated by bombs dropped from a height of 10 kilometers because the precious skin of US pilots was not allowed to be scratched, did not appear as human casualties, but as "collateral damage." The global apartheid does not even spare the dead. The Western idea of human rights has a silent prerequisite of personal saleableness and of solvency. Whoever cannot satisfy these criteria is no longer a human, but a unit of biomass. Thus Western fundamentalism divides the world into the allegedly civilized "empire" on the one hand, and the "new barbarians" on the other, as was already determined by the French author Jean Rufin at the beginning of the nineties in the last century.

The empire totters. Within a few months, the myth of economic invulnerability has embarrassed itself with the collapse of the "New Economy." Now the myth of military invulnerability along with the Pentagon has gone up in flames. The utilitarian thought of the functional elites even tries to make use of this catastrophe. In the middle of the fall of the financial markets, one suddenly has the material for the stab-in-the-back legend: Not the ruling order is obsolete when financial bubbles burst and world capitalism possibly collapses, instead the "external shock" of the terror attack was made out to be the cause-as was done by Wim Duisenberg, President of the European Central Bank (ECB). The system failure is redefined to be the external evil of foreign "infidels," but is not made undone by it.

At the same time, a wave of hysterical and pathetic war propaganda rolls as if we wrote August 1914. Everywhere masses of volunteers appear, in the middle of the crash the stocks of the armaments industry rise. But clandestine groups of men, armed with knives and carpet-cutters, do not demand the mass mobilization and concentration of all the powers of society. The terror is no external counter empire at the same level of statehood and war economy. It is the inner nemesis of globalized capital itself. For this reason, it cannot start a new arms boom. And militarily the crusade will also be in vain. If, as is usual, possible retaliatory attacks of the USA from a height of 10 kilometers decimate just any old civilian population or if ground troops wander with many casualties through remote mountain regions, like the army of the Soviet Union was forced to experience in Afghanistan: Capitalism will no longer be able to suck nourishment for its survival out of this pseudo-war against the self-produced demons of the world crisis.

Voices of reason can also be heard, from firefighters in New York to individual journalists and politicians, who at least say that a war would be completely senseless. But this reason threatens to stay helpless and will be washed away by the wave of irrationality if it does not find a way to an analysis of crisis conditions. There is only one way to really rob terrorism of its breeding ground: the emancipatory critique of the global totalitarianism of the economy.