Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Power to Waste

According to Carl Schmitt's The Concept of the Political (from Philip Goodchild's Theology of Money) 'political concepts have a polemical character because they ultimately refer to the real possibility of physical killing'. And 'the decisive political power is the authority to make war and so publicly dispose of the lives of people, whether of the lives of the enemy or of one's own people, in sacrifice'.

Freud was similarly pessimistic (or realistic, depending on your point of view) about the nature of political power being a sublimated primal violence.

The idea of 'waste' though in this context struck me. That word 'dispose'.

Waste is a chapter and organizing theme in Nigel Dodd's 'The Social Life of Money'. In the conclusion he writes about Geraldine Juarez's bitcoin burning. (Geraldine is @submarine on twitter)
Geraldine Juarez, a Mexican artist based in Sweden, launched a performance art show in Berlin during early 2014 called “Hello Bitcoin”. Playing to growing public fascination with the digital currency that was launched in 2009... ...Juarez’s performance involves burning Bitcoins, ‘postdigital style’. On the face of it, this seems to ironicize the question that skeptics often ask about digital currencies, namely, what can they be worth if they are not real? To the question, ‘What makes a currency real?’, Juarez answers: ‘When we are able to burn them for real’. What is surely in question here, however, is not the materiality of Bitcoin, but the possibility that it can be wasted. ‘The real aspect making it into a currency is not when it is spent, but when it is burnt’, Juarez suggests. What defines the ‘reality’ of money, in other words, is not how we spend it, but how we waste it. (p.204)
The central thinker Nigel calls upon in Waste is Georges Bataille. I've ordered his three volume The Accursed Share which I'm looking forward. The most profound summary of his idea of waste, for me, is expressed by the idea that life on earth is created from the Sun's waste.

[Update: The Accursed Share arrived while I was writing this! It looks appropriately luxuriant and exuberant.]

This is from the wiki on The Accursed Share
The notion of "excess" energy is central to Bataille's thinking. Bataille's inquiry takes the superabundance of energy, beginning from the infinite outpouring of solar energy or the surpluses produced by life's basic chemical reactions, as the norm for organisms. In other words, an organism in Bataille's general economy, unlike the rational actors of classical economy who are motivated by scarcity, normally has an "excess" of energy available to it. This extra energy can be used productively for the organism's growth or it can be lavishly expended. Bataille insists that an organism's growth or expansion always runs up against limits and becomes impossible. The wasting of this energy is "luxury". The form and role luxury assumes in a society are characteristic of that society. "The accursed share" refers to this excess, destined for waste.
So to return to Philip Goodchild and Carl Schmitt, it's interesting to think of the idea of sacrifice as waste, and of political power as the ultimate ability to waste (as in the ability to waste what is of most value to us) For a private citizen there really is no true possibility of publicly 'wasting' a life. There are restrictions and punishments imposed by the social body which prevent this possibility - do so and you are cast out of the social body, you are yourself wasted. However, for those few with the ultimate political power such actions are possible.

There are a couple of other thoughts I have on waste.

First, in terms of its psychoanalytical meaning I'm more interested in the idea of spunk as waste than I am shit or piss. Psychoanalysis tends to view shit and piss as primary, because we shit and piss before we have any idea about spunk. I'm concerned however with depth of meaning rather than chronology. I'm not restricted by a physics ontology and the arrow of time. The relations between spunk, salt and currency are manifest, and may be peeled back in a ontological sense to reveal something about money and waste.

Secondly, I'm interested in the purity of money burning as a form a of waste. There seems to be some meaningful difference between spending on a luxury item you don't need, or even buying a stupidly expensive bottle of wine and pouring it down the sink, and burning your own cash. On a spectrum of waste, burning money would surely represent infinite waste (or as close to it as we can get).

All of these ideas are wrapped up in sacrifice, the sacred and pure forgiveness too, of course.

And so out of all this I hope to expand my argument for money burning so that says something about politics and waste. It would sound something like this:

Burning your money subverts the political power to waste. By choosing to waste your own power, you reach beyond what you are told is possible.

Just an aphorism of sorts at the moment, but hopefully in a few months when I'm outside Bataille I can put some flesh on the bones.

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