“Anyone trying to piece together a radical social philosophy in mid-19th century Europe had, before all else, to decide his attitudes to the rapidly emerging phenomenon, ‘economic man.’ In particular he had to pit himself intellectually against the increasingly dominant liberal-rationalist ideology emanating from England. The rationalist drive to classify and quantify and the utilitarian drive to maximize material happiness were combining with the effect of increasing the scale and efficiency of industrial production at exponential rates. The ‘rationalization’ of work processes, the increasing division of labour, demanded that men be useful in increasingly specific ways, and irrespective of personal interests other than the need to earn a subsistence wage.” This passage from Break-out from the Crystal Palace sets the table for the critique of what is known as Homo economicus. This personage, which has taken on a mythic character since its inception in the 19th century, finally makes intelligible the reasons for the curious flattening of everything that has happened apace with our vaunted technological advancement. The key question: in the wake of Calvin’s triumph of the spirit in the 17th century, what has happened to enjoyment? For enjoyment is not susceptible to economic calculation. One is enjoined, in our culture, to relegate enjoyment to a position posterior to economic gain in such a way that it finds itself on the ropes; this narrow conception of economics, in other words, becomes reified in the psyche of everyman and, now, everywoman, that latter addition to our hyper-masculinized picture of reality. And so a transposition of a crucial nature inevitably takes place: economic considerations now function as a substitute for the joy its practitioners are not getting. Nietszche: “Shame, that there should be a price at which one is no longer a person, but becomes a screw.” One can use screws profitably. But if one becomes a screw, all profit, from the human perspective, is lost.
One may see at this juncture that the question is one of the quantification of value. A prison suddenly appears for Homo economicus: he (this personage, is, after all, male, sub-male really, no matter what the external, particular sex characteristics of the person in question in any given instance happens to be) has irrevocably committed, in the prior setting up traditional economic structures based in grossly material concerns, to a privileging of current (read: past) stages of awareness over future ones. This past orientation is, of course, rooted in the ethos of liberal-rationalism, coextensive with the positivist techniques of quantification, dooming economic practice to a perpetual denigration and repression of eros, this term considered from the point of view of its most broad application, not just sexual feeling. (For a very thorough and frankly depressing examination of the phenomenon of eros and its compliment, agape, in the Protestant psyche, I recommend Anders Nygren’s Agape and Eros (1936). As such this prison is internal to the psyche before it is instantiated in the outer, so-called “real” world. It furnishes the conditions by which materially-based forms of economics can emerge. This of course is a reversal of Marx’s historical materialism, which also has a Ricardian or Smithian, that is, rationalist-utilitarian, basis.
One begins to see, at this juncture, that this anarcho-psychological critique really is something other than either the classical liberal or socialist-liberal models. For it does not partake in the Myth of the Machine.
end part III