11 June 2014

Set-up vs. gainful game

Insight into today's historically hegemonic casts of being allows current events to be seen and assessed more clearly than is possible employing the usual socio-scientific ways of thinking. A cast of being is an historical way that beings (presents) present themselves AS what or who they are in a given era. The current news story of a clash between British Prime Minister Cameron and the EU heads of state over who is to become the next President of the European Commission is just one example of a long-running conflict between Continental and Anglo-Saxon styles of political thinking which can easily be characterized as a clash of mentalities along with their associated political ideologies. These can be named as social-democracy and liberalism, but these are superficial designations from the perspective of deeper-lying casts of the being of beings that in part clash, in part intermesh and in any case are superimposed in our age.

Without an appreciation of socio-ontological constellations, the social sciences distort the view of today's predicaments. The social science of economics, for instance, poses the dilemma of politics having to navigate in fiscal and budgetary policy between the demands on a social welfare state to provide 'modern' social welfare benefits, on the one hand, and, on the other,  the need for 'structural reforms' in economies burdened with tightly regulated employment markets. Such tight regulation and inflexibility are invariably claimed to be for the sake of employment security, and the socio-political fight is fought out in terms of conflicts between 'progressive' social rights and market freedom, between social security and precarious existence, between the 'primacy of politics' and 'neo-liberalism'. In the U.S. analogous struggles are fought out, in a language that at key points inverts meanings, between 'liberal' Democrats and 'conservative' Republicans, between the proponents of Big Government and those of Small Government.

All these phenomena and fights can be viewed also as clashes and complementarities between the set-up and the gainful game. Each of these latter is an epochal cast of being which is at the same time a deep-seated way of thinking how beings show up and present themselves AS such-and-such in an era. A cast of being is thus an epochal mind-set that is taken for granted as self-evident by those living in a given age. Hence it is very difficult to see as such.

The set-up (Ge-Stell) is a way of thinking in whose cast all beings, i.e. all that presents itself, is viewed AS subject to control by a scientific knowing of some kind, precipitating in myriad technologies. The movement/change of all beings, including human beings, is to be grasped by scientific knowledge for the sake of guiding envisaged outcomes toward their final desired actual presence. What counts is what finally comes to presence and is thus securely 'in hand'. Risk is to be mastered. Science and technology of all kinds are subjected to the demands of securing social well-being by delivering the goods of citizens' lives, including especially health care and old age care.

The gainful game (Gewinn-Spiel), by contrast, consists of the ongoing game of mutual valuation and estimation among human beings and things, mediated by reified value, in the pursuit of income-gain. Reified value takes various forms, including commodities, money, money-capital, wages, productive and circulation capital, finance capital, profit of enterprise, interest and ground-rent.  Here the focus is on the starting-points of the gainful game rather than on the final outcomes. The many players in the gainful game have the potential to gain, and may fail, i.e. the outcomes are insecure, which is anathema for the set-up's mind-set  The primary concern for the gainful game's mind-set is that the gainful game is not rigged in favour of certain players, which may be, say, a monopoly, the state or a big labour union. The game should be fair, which includes that the players be free to play the gainful game in pursuit of income without unfair handicaps.

In the first place, the players deploy their personal powers and abilities, i.e. their labour-powers, to gain wages and salaries, but, derivatively, they can deploy also, say, savings as interest-bearing capital or as an investment in land in search of ground-rent income. The possibilities of placing a stake in the gainful game via some form of reified value are myriad, and the possibilities for playing the gainful game, along with its surprising and hitherto unseen turns and modes of play, infinite. The key obfuscation that the gainful game presents to view is the fetishism of reified value, as if certain things (commodities, money, etc.) had intrinsic value rather than being a medium through which, ultimately, we human beings non-reifiedly value and estimate what we can do either for, with or against each other in the ongoing value-estimation game in which we esteem also earth and sky.

The clash between the epochal mind-sets of the set-up and the gainful game has everything to do -- albeit invisibly,  'behind the scenes' -- with phenomena such as the proverbial risk aversion of Continental Europeans, especially the Germans, vis-à-vis the risk-taking alacrity of the Americans, or the long-term low economic growth rates and high secular unemployment on the Continent compared to Anglo-Saxon economies that more flexibly ride the unpredictable waves of the global market economy. Economists, sociologists and political scientists, not to mention journalists, cannot see this because they are beguiled by their set task of merely explaining ontic societal movements and thus are blind to any socio-ontological dimension.

See also: Potentiality and Actuality, Negative and positive freedom , Commutative and distributive justice and Chap. 7 of my Capital and Technology: Marx and Heidegger.


  1. Hello Michael, nice to see you are still posting. This might interest you: http://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/on-infinite-debt-and-circles-of-mutual-acknowledgement/

    1. Thank you, Terence. In my language, your "crony" would be somewho who has succumbed to the temptations of the evaluation game via reified value, and hence to this fetish. The possibility of an alternative lies in a mutual valuing that sees through the fetishism of reified value. Thus, e.g., friends appreciate, i.e. value, each others powers, abilities and even mere presencing, be it dialogical or silent.