In previous chapters various kinds of movement have been discussed at length and from various angles. A proper consideration of the kind of movement appropriately called power interplay and struggle requires, as investigated in the preceding, the introduction of whoness as a mode of being vis-à-vis traditional whatness. Movement within whoness is in general that of mutually estimative power interplay in which, in the first place, human beings themselves mutually estimate each other’s value, their worth in one respect or another. Such a mutually estimative interplay reflects back onto things themselves insofar as they are mutually valued in exchange, thus becoming owned commodities, here comprising both goods and services. Such movement is basically that of trade, commerce, mercantile activity, whose historical origins are ancient, well documented and narrated in economic histories. Money as a mediator of commodity exchange and insofar as a reification of commodity-value itself is also historically ancient, albeit as yet not predominant. Reification as a socio-ontological category of things, as well as the ontology of that kind of movement called exchange, is already inaccessible for any historical telling, including any purported dialectical-historical narrative.
Among others, the Greeks knew of two techniques or arts that distinguish themselves from the paradigmatic art of making called τέχνη ποιητική, namely, τέχνη κτητική and τέχνη χρηματιστική, i.e. the art of acquiring property and the art of making money, respectively. Both involve essentially the movement of exchange (μεταβολή), whereby μεταβολή, interestingly and crucially, ambiguously signifies also simply ‘change’ that can be understood productively. The movement of exchange, however, is a movement sui generis that, as a mode of being, differs from the movement of change initiated from a single origin (ἀρχή) as a productive power (δύναμις) for such change. Hence Aristotle’s definition of δύναμις as ἀρχή μεταβολῆς. Despite the millennia-long tradition of forcefully pressing the ontology of exchange into the mould of the ontology of productive change, thus ostensibly gaining predictive power over movement via efficient causality, the ontology of exchange has to be considered in its own right as homeomorphic with the ontology of mutually estimative power interplay of whoness, if only because the commodities exchanged are either the expenditure of powers and abilities (services) or the products thereof (goods) and are necessarily valued. Behind any valuation of goods in exchange there is always the estimation of the expenditure of human abilities exercised (as well as natural powers exploited), via exchange, for the benefit of others. (The estimation of natural powers as the gifts of nature, along with the appropriation of parcels of land or water as property requires a separate investigation.)
Both the art of acquiring property and the art of making money, however, imply a striving for ‘more’ in property or money, respectively, and thus a quantitative aspect. The movement of exchange then fails in one sense if a ‘more’ does not come from it. The ‘more’ or surplus is quantified in terms of money itself or money-value, since money is the reified or ‘thingly’ universal equivalent of everything of value, thus enabling their uniform valuation in a social (who-)measure sui generis that has to be distinguished from any physical (what-)measure. Money therefore embodies, apparently in itself, a power, namely, the power to acquire something of value, including the labouring power of individuals that is put productively to work by and for the benefit of the acquirer. Such augmentative movement of reified value to produce a surplus mediated by the necessary exchanges to acquire means of production and labour power is the prototypical movement of capital whose simplest formula is the movement of money to more money mediated by production, a social movement sociating both things and people, whats and whos. If the resulting surplus of all the required value interchanges is negative, i.e. a loss, then the movement has failed in a certain sense and its continuation is in put into doubt.
Although a circuit of capital proceeds from an initial advance of money-capital to purchase the required means of production and labour power, the money-capital or its bearer, the capitalist entrepreneur (who may be a natural person or an incorporated company), is not the sole origin of this movement because it requires multiple value interchanges with other players in the circuitous value movement: the suppliers of means of production, the workers/employees themselves, the lenders of money-capital, the owners of land, the purchasers of the end-product. These four kinds of figures are the basic players in this gainful game of value-augmentation each striving for their characteristic share of the resultant reified value in the form of wages, interest, ground-rent, leaving a residue of profit for the entrepreneur. All the various kinds of players are involved in mutually estimative power interplays with one another over gaining their respective kinds of income, in which uniform category the differences in the income-sources are disguised, more than often, conveniently so. Whether the income-outcomes of the countless various power interplays are fair or not depends on the current historical state of play of the power interplays, ranging from periods of relative all-round mutual satisfaction through to bitter and bloody power struggles among the players. The outcomes of power interplays over earning income in any given society in a given time are in any case uneven: fair, middling or downright unfair.
6.4.1 Contradictoriness of the elementary exchange-movementIn what sense are the power interplays played out in the capitalist gainful game contradictory? As a kind of movement, albeit sui generis, power interplay partakes of the contradictoriness inherent in all movement as the ‘at-once-ness’ of presence and absence pertaining to all transition, an ‘at-once-ness’ that is seen by the mind’s temporally triple vision (cf. Chap. 3 above). But what is special or idiosyncratic about the contradictoriness of those movements that can be called mutually estimative power interplays?
Just as a carpenter’s making of a table can serve, and has served, as the simple paradigm for the productive movement of τέχνη ποιητική, the paradigm of the sale of wares on the market may serve as the elementary paradigm for, and even kernel of, the socio-ontology of the intricate web of power interplays constituting the gainful game. The simple paradigm of the art of making, on which the Aristotelean ontology of productive movement is based, has ‘blossomed’ into the onslaught of the modern sciences and technologies in striving to master all movement in the world, whereas the simple paradigm of commodity exchange has ‘blossomed’ into the untrammeled gainful game that today is unleashed globally with oft devastating effect. The socio-ontology of the paradigm of commodity exchange, however, has to date never been explicated, nor the fundamental difference in its ontology from productive movement made clear.
To start with, an elementary exchange between two parties mediated by money is idiosyncratic in the sense of being its own mixture (ἰδιοσύνκρασις) of two different movements proceeding from two different origins or starting-points (ἀρχαί), viz. the buyer and the seller. These two movements are in two different, indeed, opposed directions, but intertwine and depend on each other if they are to reach their respective destinations, i.e. each movement negates the other but also positively includes it. The seller aims at getting rid of, i.e. absencing, the good in his or her possession in favour of gaining, i.e. presencing, money in his or her hands, whereas the buyer aims at gaining possession, i.e. presencing, a good that is good for something or other, useful and therefore a use-value while at the same time handing over, and thus absencing, the purchase price in money, from his or her possession. Each party as a starting-point of the transaction has an opposed but interlocking, dovetailing, complementary intention in mind, namely, complementary to the other party’s intention. A successful, mutually satisfying transaction reached by agreement represents the Aufhebung (resolution) of the contradiction between two opposed movements. It is attained, if at all, through each party estimating the value of what the other party has to offer and, crucially, coming to an agreement (if the one party, say, appropriates the other’s good by force or cunning, the contradiction has not been resolved but only exacerbated).
The buyer assesses the value in use of the good on offer (which may be either a consumer or productive good) in relation to how much it costs, whereas the seller assesses the price at which he or she is willing to part with the commodity good, whereby this assessment includes an estimation of the margin of profit made or whether the expenditure of his or her own powers in producing the good in question is adequately compensated, i.e. valued, by the prospective purchaser. Insofar there is a formal parallel between the productive movement of making something and the completion of an exchange transaction: the contradictoriness inherent in the movements is resolved in attaining an end (τέλος), either in the finished product or in the finished, agreed transaction. Otherwise, however, the ontologies of these two different kinds of movement differ, as is apparent already in the necessity of two different ἀρχαί having to reach agreement, to strike a deal, on their mutual estimations. For instance, a carpenter can finish making a table and be satisfied with the result of his or her productive activity, but its sale requires the independent value-estimation of the table by another, namely, the prospective buyer and also that this buyer and the carpenter reach agreement with each other.
Whether the resolution of the contradiction between two opposite but complementary movements in a completed transaction is mutually satisfactory for both parties is entirely open, just as is whether a transaction comes about at all. In contrast to productive movement, neither party (ἀρχή) to the potential transaction has power over its eventual outcome, even though each may have definite intentions, such as the buyer or seller having envisaged (mentally) a fixed acceptable price range in advance. Despite best efforts, for instance, the seller cannot activate an efficient cause on the prospective buyer to effect a sale. Market conditions outside the control of either buyer or seller also set boundary conditions within which any transaction can be completed. A glut or scarcity of a certain good on the market may force transactions on one of the parties that are entirely unsatisfying, e.g. sale at a loss or purchase at an exhorbitantly high price. The mutual estimation of the values involved in the transaction then does not lead to a mutually satisfying resolution of the opposed movements with the consequence that the exchange, depending as it does on the mutual agreement of two parties, may not take place at all, or only begrudgingly on the part of one of the parties, who is in need. Exchange interplay therefore requires the two players (buyer and seller) to see not along one-dimensional, linear time in terms of cause and effect, but to envisage or imagine various future possibilities residing in the potential transaction during the course of bargaining and haggling (insofar as it occurs) over its terms. The movement called exchange is thus beset with an inherent uncertainty that must be situated in open three-dimensional time rather than predicted effectively along a time-line.
The simple paradigm of the buying and selling of wares can be easily modified to consider services which are a kind of ‘liquid’, not yet solidified, objectified good. The purchaser is not purchasing a finished good, but hiring a worker’s labour power to provide a certain service. In this case, the seller offers his or her own powers and abilities to the prospective purchaser to provide a service of whatever kind to him or her. The service-provider is then paid a wage for expending his or her own labour power for the other’s benefit. The interchange that comes about may or may not be mutually satisfying and is in any case likewise not under the control of either party, in particular insofar as external market conditions set boundary conditions for the transaction, but also simply because it requires an Aufhebung in an agreement. There is an asymmetry when the hirer of labour power is an entrepreneur and the service-provider is an employee earning a livelihood who has scarce or no reserves to play for time in the transaction. On the one side there is then a small or large or huge company with considerable financial power; on the other a worker of some kind seeking employment whose stand in the power interplay may or may not be strengthened by membership in a workers’ union that enhances bargaining power. In any case, a shift of the balance of power in the gainful game results when corporations face employees in the power interplays of the gainful game.
A given transaction is only one move in the more encompassing gainful game of earning income. It must be complemented by others to weave the complex fabric of the income-earning lives of many players. This applies especially for the enterprise player who, as the co-ordinator of productive collaboration, must complete countless transactions for purchasing means of production, hiring labour power and selling finished products in the circulation process of capital. The gainful game is enabled first and foremost by the reification of value in money that serves as the indispensable medium lubricating the game’s movement. Reified value is thus the medium of sociation bringing the players together, all of whom are striving for reified value in the form of the four characteristic incomes or hybrids thereof. Any talk of capitalism that is ignorant of reified value as the medium in which the gainful game is played — and this includes all of today’s economic theories(*) — has failed to understand what it is.
6.4.2 Metaphysical eeriness of the gainful gameAlthough the gainful game seems motivated by the willed and willing strivings of its many and various players to earn income, and thus seems to be the result of the collective action of countless subjects, its core movement is far removed from any underlying human subjectivity. The core movement is namely the augmentative movement of reified value itself as capital, a seemingly eternal circular movement that draws all the players into its complexly intertwined and unforseeable movements of the countless circuits of individual capitals that the capitalist entrepreneurs and their agents, the executives, attempt to tame and manage profitably. Insofar, the will to earn income in competitive struggle is that of an unseen metaphysical will acting behind all the players’ backs: the will to play the gainful game per se. The players themselves, including even the powerful entrepreneurial players, are not the subjects of a game initiated by them and under their collective control; rather they are the pawns in a competitive game that comes over them like a stroke of fate. Each player may be out for modest or obscenely immodest success in earning income, but the game’s rules of value-augmentation are set by the overall, all-subsuming movement of reified value itself as capital willed by none of the players. Only within and underneath this overarching movement of total capital do the various players play out their individual gainful power interplays.
The metaphysical eeriness of the capitalist gainful game remains hidden to all the players caught up in it. They do not see the gainful game ontologically as such, but at most only pre-ontologically and explain it in merely ontic terms, i.e. in terms of facts, putative causes, historical narratives. This entails that the gainful game cannot be overcome historically by any collectivity of subjects, traditionally named as the working class, who are ostensibly destined to become historically an association of free producers consciously sociating and controlling the fruits of their labours. Such a projected overcoming of the capitalist gainful game is called socialism that is ruled out socio-ontologically, not merely, say, by historical experience of failure. A compromise between the gainful game and such a conscious sociation of the subjects via democratic power struggle in politics, where the state is supposed to tame excesses of the gainful game, is called social democracy. Its aim is to reform some of the asymmetries of the class power struggles by making the superior state power serve wage-earners. Neither of these political overcomings (Aufhebungen) relying on power struggle among humans conceived as a collectivity of subjects, however, is in the light of an insight into the socio-ontology of the gainful game, including its mysterious metaphysical, ‘theological’ will to gain ever more in the dimension of reified value. This hidden god of the gainful game, to whom all income-earners bow, could be called, in accordance with the Greek πλεονεξία (the striving for more, for a greater portion, for profit, for advantage, for superiority, etc.) Pleon Exia. Insofar, such collective political struggles for liberation from the gainful game are illusory. A socio-ontological insight into the gainful game would shed an entirely different historical-hermeneutic light on the world, recasting it as a world in which the alternative sight of fairness of mutually estimative power interplay were visible and in play, in which the blindness of being merely caught up in the gainful game as players of various sorts is meliorated. Overcoming blindness through a soberly enlightened eye on the capitalist gainful game is an historical precondition for any freedom whatsoever. Such freedom could be exercised in historical time by stepping back from an all-too-close entanglement in the machinations of the gainful game.
The boundless will to gain more in the gainful game is wedded to and intertwined with the absolute will to power over all kinds of movement and change in the set-up (Gestell), a metaphysical god I have named Willy P., the absolute will to power over all kinds of movement. Willy P.(**) and Pleon Exia are intimately related, but they are different, the former being an excessive outgrowth and dissemination of the ontology of productive movement derived from the innocent paradigm of τέχνη ποιητική, whereas the latter is an hypertrophic exaggeration and universalization of the socio-ontology of exchange interplay derived from the likewise initially innocent paradigm of τέχνη κτητική, the art of acquiring. When the obfuscating veil of the medium of reified value is stripped away, it can be seen ontologically that at the gainful game’s core lies the estimation and valuing of what human abilities and powers can do for each other on a basis of mutuality, along with an estimating and esteeming of the Earth (see below).
(*) Marx’s critique of political economy in his mature writings is the exception insofar as the so-called value-form analysis offers the kernel of a viable social ontology of capitalism based on a well-developed concept of reified value.
(**) For the character called Willy P., see my novel, The Land of Matta.
Further reading: Capital and Technology: Marx and Heidegger.
Social Ontology of Whoness.