Our Market Regime and Republican Ethics


“[A]n incarnate will to power. . . will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant – not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power. . . `Exploitation’ . . .belongs to the essence of what lives, as a basic organic function; it is a consequence of the will to power, which is after all the will to life.” -- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, s. 259

“That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind.” -- The Qu’ran

 I’ve often thought of creating a socialist Monopoly game. Never have because the word “socialist” connects to product decidedly less effectively than, say, handsome women like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman tie to politics, or Fox’s Playboy-like centerfold news commentators tie to TV journalism, or, vampires tie to marketing Millennials. I’ll hold off until I can make the word “socialist” sexy.

I’ve also been deterred because I’d want to create a “democratic” socialist game, which is as difficult to manifest on a game board as it would be on Reality TV…I mean real life. Nevertheless, I think right now when Republican presidential candidates are competing over who’s more Christ-like and bellowing about the “evils of entitlements”; and Rep. Peter King is holding McCarthy-like witch hunts to uncover Communist subversives…I mean Arab terrorists…. of that imagined game board. I am, even after so many years, in no way ready to put the rules of that game together even if Parker Bros. (surely owned by Comcast by now?) were to send me “Rush game: one million first run: one million cash advance –Bros.”

However, I do play the game mentally, making corresponding but invariably quite different moves to the ones we play on our real-life political game board. That board can be described as part-chessboard with rival factions, but the game is played the way Lewis Carroll plays it and not the way Bobby Fischer did, as part zero-sum Monopoly game in which winner takes all, and part bullshit, as the philosopher Harry Frankfurt described it. In Harry’s view, the liar needs to know what the truth is in order to fabricate a functional lie whereas the bullshitter has no need of truth seeking, truth and falsehood both overcome by …bullshit.

I’m focused on the moral dimensions of both games because, as odd as it may seem, that’s where we once again seem to be heading. I say odd because economics seem more pressing now than moral issues. But I am here being “rational” in a “back in the day” way whereas rationality is now frequently confined to chess moves that maximize personal advantage. In a 2012 presidential run against Obama, some (all?) Republicans may have decided that the best battleground to take Obama on is the moral battleground. What’s the game strategy here? Huckabee’s bellowing about Obama’s Muslim upbringing in Kenya and his sympathy with Mau Mau “terrorists”, makes some sense in the battle of who’s moral and who isn’t.

Here’s that sense: the tragedy of September 11th, a radical Islamic creation, is the Tar Baby of Evil. In the new Rep. Peter King view, every Muslim needs to prove he or she hasn’t touched it. The tactic here is to position Obama in the moral chasm of both Islam and 9/11. His moral integrity remains questionable as long as questions regarding his Islamic origin remain, questions that it seems cannot be answered conclusively to the satisfaction of the “Birthers,” whose numbers cannot subside as long as the jury seems to be still out. Republicans back up their hope that the issue remains “viral” by doing what they can to keep it “viral.” Impugning Obama’s moral integrity is a means to achieve an end clearly enounced by Republicans: to limit Obama’s presidency to one term.  A kind of instrumental reasoning anchors the tactic as well as guides it but this is an amoral reasoning, one not troubled with virtue or lack of. More precisely, this is a reasoning that has absorbed the moral into itself as both serve the same end: maximizing Republican advantage in 2012.

I’ll leave the continuance of that game with Obama to the Game Theorists and their mathematical modeling which supposedly will reveal how moves are to be played out. I’m interested in extending the cheap moral game being played to a more elevated level on my imaginary game board, to the level of ethics out of which our moral valuations derive. From the perspective of the game I am playing on my “democratic” socialist board, I can look over at the game the Republicans are playing and see how a neo-liberal economics of unbridled market free play shapes the morals of advantage.

My moral valuation that the game the Republicans are playing is cheap is comparative but it also derives from the rules of their own game. In those rules, moral considerations, and especially ethical disciplines behind those considerations, have no place. They have, in short, been pre-empted by an “ethics” of capitalist economics which elevates personal advantage in any situation and regarding any goal as the highest good. Within this “ethics” and its attendant “rationality,” all individuals seek to maximize a personal advantage that manifests itself on the highest level in economic terms. To maximize one’s personal advantage, one maximizes one’s profits. Cost-effective strategies are moral strategies in so far as moral valuation and worth have been replaced by monetary worth. If you’re profitable, you’re moral. If you’re not, you are soon to be brought under moral review by the new Tea Party inspired terrorist/moral review board.

Capitalist success as a sign of moral worth and probable salvation has deep American roots, but Reagan was the energetic spokesman of a new morality replacement, that is, a democracy’s legislative stake in admitting the economic success of the wealthy as the highest good. At the same time that Republican began a campaign to dismantle what Nietzsche called a Slave Morality, which was in the Republican view, a Liberal Morality, all Losers were set up for a moral rebuke. What both Liberals and the economically disenfranchised were rebuked for amounted to this: Liberals sought to impose the standards of the Losers upon the Winners, while the Losers were “haters” of the strength and independence of the Winners.

Observe the infiltration of Nietzchean will to power ethics into both the axiomatic drive of capitalism to compete and dominate, and a Republican ethic that is, on the bullshit level, Sermon on the Mount Christian, but in reality no more nor less than a Nietzschean Master Morality. Winners are the strong men entitled to a personal sense of moral worth. We – and I mean some 80 percent on the Loser pile – don’t want to intrude. Or, we are reluctant to intrude but if Bernie Madoff who was making off with everyone’s money for ages finally hits the spotlight, a sop must be paid to the vestiges of a more social, Aristotelian moral sense.

Wayward celebrities, recently Charlie Sheen, come under all-time moral review, another sop to our sense that as Americans we really don’t link morality to financial success. But that pretense may disappear as all ethics become Winner/Loser ethics. I think the reaction divide between Analogs and Millennials over the portrayal of Zuckerberg in the film The Social Network – is he morally despicable or, forget all that, just a Winner?—indicates that like much else the moral Bullshit curtain will fall and those vestiges I spoke of will be extinct. What that future promises you is that if you’re not collecting dividend checks (and Oprah says you can just will to receive them), you’re probably immoral.

The belief that moral valuation is a purely personal determination of no consequence to others, or, limited to your Friends, is not a moral position that the media at this time allows a presidential candidate. The belief that moral valuation is beside the point, which is to maximize personal advantage without considering the worthiness of that mission, is a moral position a candidate adopts publicly at his or her peril. When, however, Gingrich and fellow presidential candidates bellow like Biblical prophets that God’s power is sovereign they are maximizing their advantage by adopting and adapting winning strategies. In other words, when you speak at Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, sounding like Nietzsche is your moral guide will not win you votes. And because one’s real moral sense is one’s own, there is no moral demand that it be revealed publicly. Revealing one’s cards is not a way to secure advantage.

There is much track-switching going on right now from the evils of a national debt to the evils of Obama’s health care reform (“Obamacare”), to the evils of unions and collective bargaining, to the evils of entitlement programs, to the evils of unemployment benefits and minimum wage, to the evils of the Liberals themselves who have turned away from God, in Tim Pawlenty’s view, by, you assume, standing behind all these evils. Far better to help those needing such help by adopting the moral maxim of “tough love” whereby you step back from helping them and in this way help them help themselves.

The free market game of scrutiny for advantage, of what Dickens referred to as scrunch or be scrunched fits, as I say, the assertive Nietzschean morality of the Masters, of a will to power in the moral game as well as the economic. The business of morality is not service but domination. The politics of morality is a search for advantage, for a win. The morality of politics is in the winning; the immorality is in the losing. The only hazard one faces here is not losing one’s soul but losing the power to create values, to incentivize, to dominate, to win. One loses this and one falls into a herd morality which is weak and powerless, which adopts the values of a slave and not a master. The Moral Hazard neo-liberals speak of is not therefore a hazard that threatens the Losers but one that threatens themselves. To stretch a hand out in the form of entitlements of any kind is to turn oneself into a slave. This repeatedly persuasive Moral Hazard is replete with the same amount of morality as that of Nietzsche’s Master Morality.

Nietzschean Master Morality replaces moral and political hypocrisy and bullshit with unapologetic defiance. Hypocrisy and bullshit, however, bear no moral weight of any kind for the new neoliberal moralists. The way to play the moral game to advantage in 21st century/post-9/11/post-2008 Great Recession U.S. is to announce a rational impulse behind our morals, a morality to our politics, and a combined moral rationality to unbridled globalized capitalism. This hypocrisy conceals the damage a loot and run capitalism has done to both our democratic politics and our moral sense. Witness how the arrant injustice of imposing austerity measures on those who did not cause the 2008 Great Recession and thereby sink the middle class deeper into economic misery while burying the underclass, did not launch a preemptive war on false grounds and thereby swell the national debt, and, did not receive tax rebates to the wealthy and swell the national debt, resounds in the American moral imaginary – like a mosquito in the room.

Perhaps empowered by the fighting spirit of the Tea Party but most certainly by the audacity of its moral hypocrisy to succeed thus far, the Right is now set to follow through on a moral understanding of the world derived from a reckless, Wild West free play globalized economics that led to the Great Recession of 2008. Liberals and Losers are not just political opponents and competitive failures but morally reprehensible, vacuous at best, a vacuum that Islam could fill. That’s a moral valuation that the Right has been making of Liberals since Reagan. You can witness its success in just this one rallying cry: “We must end the evils of entitlement!”

Photo: PeoplesWorld.org

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