an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

          Volume 1, July 2004, ISSN 1552-5112




The Metaphysics of Capital[1]



Nicholas Ruiz III





All current strategies boil down to this: passing around the debt, the credit, the unreal, unnameable thing you cannot get rid of.  Nietzsche analyzed the strategem of God in these terms: in redeeming man’s debt by the sacrifice of His son, God, the great Creditor, created a situation where the debt could never be redeemed by the debtor, since it has already been redeemed by the creditor.  In this way, He created the possibility of an endless circulation of that debt, which man will bear as his perpetual sin.  This is the ruse of God.  But it is also the ruse of capital, which, at the same time as it plunges the world into ever greater debt, works simultaneously to redeem that debt, thus creating a situation in which it will never be able to be cancelled or exchanged for anything.[2]





Because Nietzsche had the gall to declare that God was dead, he would be dismayed upon learning that he neglected to consider that the failure to produce a dead body—that is, absolute, technological proof of God’s death—would cause we Westerners and our ilk, to do nothing more than file a missing persons report, since the media inform us that when there is no body found, there is no crime committed.  Because the media has not declared it so, ‘God’ has not died, but rather, has progressed, and in the way that diseases elude death by cultivating putrescence, the metaphysical infection of the Divine continues to cultivate the global death knell that Divinity’s continual expansion portends. All are drawn to the spectacle of the great abyss of the Divine—though its temporal location has changed from the timeless to the real-time—and the praxis of eschatological prophecy has given way to the momentous and glorious clamor of each electronic transaction.  This is why fundamentalists, leavened and unleavened, run wild throughout the mediascape, distraught like the living dead they represent, having realized that their merciful God has transmogrified into the abysmal and merciless Capital, with no quarter for the infidels and unbelievers in this new manifest destiny, not that authentic fundamentalists have any real aversion at all to this changing of the guard—it’s not the first time in history that one Deity has been supplanted by another.  Through some kind of postmodern voodoo curse, we still hysterically prostrate and lament the ideal of God, and it seems we will never peacefully lay those remains to rest.  But we are already falling piously into the abysmal certainty of Capital.


The vacuity of our existential uncertainty informs the human will that will never let go of the metaphysical dream of certainty.  All of our histories reveal our illusory loss and uncertainty, but yield no gains other than stupefaction, a negative asset, like consumer credit; and throughout all of our histories our metaphysical constructs, in theory, become less deific immortalities and more like banal, yet lasting infamies we feel bovinely obliged to entertain, reify, and represent.  After all, many continue to argue that Elvis lives, and perhaps he does, and this is because of the dirty way in which nostalgia works, casting trepidation, uncertainty, even with desire, upon the future, while simultaneously manufacturing a longing for the way we never were.  Intriguingly still, religious polity, a metaphysically-inspired social construction of the most historically perpetual kind, a most coercive and mediated mass praxis, has never faltered, has never even missed a beat, since Nietzsche’s epochal declaration.  Religions are effective polities as such, for certain, but there is an apparently more effective one yet, one more amenable to the new needs of a new economy, and an evolving homo economicus—the cult of Capital.


Metaphysical constructs change in structure, while never becoming anything.  We should note the transition from the Pantheon to the Trinity to the One here.  So we have Capital.  In Capital[3], Marx laid the foundation for an understanding of the modern human condition (i.e. its relation to commodity/capital constructions).  We should all be familiar with the worker’s relationship to the owners of the means of production (and communication) through the device of Capital in Marx’s thought.  We need not belabor that foundation of Marx’s device here.  But let us proceed to Jean Baudrillard as he develops the Marxian edifice further, showing how those principles apply in the late twentieth and twenty-first century:


The critique of political economy, worked out by Marx at the level of exchange value, but whose total scope implies also that of use value, is quite precisely this resolution of the commodity and of its implicit equation—a resolution of the commodity as the form and code of general equivalence.  It is the same critical resolution that must be extended to the field of signification, in a critique of the political economy of the sign.[4]


In the contemporary field of signification, Capital moves beyond the confines of Marx’s discourse, but that is not to say that the mechanics of labor and manufacturing, or machinery and alienation, or commodity supply and demand, no longer apply to “working conditions” and the polarization of wealth.  U.S. senators’ portfolios outperform the market by 12% on average, while the average U.S. household portfolio underperforms it by 1.4%--an “uncanny” disparity between the aristocracy and the peasantry with regard to the gift of stock-picking ability—and perhaps, each demographic’s range of access to the informational order of Capital.[5]  It is a certainty that Marxist foundations still apply to Capital in the operative sense—as a comparison between labor employee paycheck stubs and investment portfolios of the owners of the means of production will reveal, or a healthcare coverage comparison between a CEO of a Fortune 500 company with that of the typical employee of any production organization—the reader may fill in the names.


We might consider how a film—John Q (2002)—dramatically narrates how it is that the metaphysics of Capital operate in our contemporary milieu.  John Q. Archibald (Denzel Washington) plays a factory worker whose healthcare benefits (he’s been cut to part-time employment at the factory) won’t cover a $250K heart transplant operation that his son requires in order to live.  Consider that a social metaphysics based upon the largely, Christian metaphysical ideal that is purveyed via Western media might be expected to yield a compassionate society that provides for such an unforeseen and unfortunate event in the life of each individual.  But the metaphysics of Capital organize and inform our sensibilities and our lives with regard to such events in such a way that cost concerns inform decision-making processes in every arena without exception, even in life and death situations, if not especially so.  In the end, John Q. must change from the mild-mannered, seemingly religiously informed family and working man he is at the outset—to a gun-wielding societal albatross (perhaps even a postmodern revolutionary)—in order to get healthcare for his son.  Somehow this is reminiscent of how governments and nations who will first rely on the mannered etiquette of diplomacy (John Q politely attempted to get help from the government welfare system, but didn’t qualify because he made too much money) to achieve their ends, but will then turn to the institutional damming of Capital flows, if diplomacy fails, and then ultimately, to get their way, will instinctively turn to the technology of military violence, when other means fail to produce desired ends.  John Q. enters the hospital emergency room with a firearm and holds patients and hospital workers hostage, then demands that his son receive the care he needs in order to survive (i.e. care he should have received easily under a more piously informed metaphysical order—the virtual order Western societies purvey).


John Q. has suffered from a financial death and loss of face; and the narrative of John Q functions in our postmodernity as an example of something akin to the loss of Greek arête in Homer’s epics, or the diminishment of one’s eudaimonia, that which was so important in Aristotle’s conception. And as history has shown, when one’s arête or eudaimonia is systematically diminished or challenged, violence usually ensues.  The metaphysics of Capital are such that there is no order in Society, outside of the order of the texts of Capital; John Q. is a Gospel for our metaphysical age.


But a theorized relativity of what might simply be a biologically mediated politics of accumulation and defense, (after all, squirrels ‘accumulate’ and ‘defend’ as well) is not helpful in ascertaining the deeper, even visceral, ways in which Capital has metaphysically reified humanity in its own image.  Fredric Jameson writes:


It is on the face of it perverse not to hear the great modernist evocations of subjectivity as so much longing for depersonalization, and very precisely for some new existence outside the self, in a world radically transformed and worthy of ecstasy.  What has so often been described as a new and deeper, richer subjectivity is in fact this call to change which always resonates through it: not subjectivity as such, but its transfiguration.  This is then the sense in which I propose to consider modernist subjectivity as allegorical of the transformation of the world itself, and therefore of what is called revolution.  The forms of this allegory are multiple; yet all the anecdotal psychologies in which it finds itself dressed—in their stylistic, cultural and characterological differences—have in common that they evoke a momentum that cannot find resolution within the self, but that must be completed by a Utopian and revolutionary transmutation of the world of actuality itself.  As Anderson reminds us, it is only because such revolutionary change is already indwelling and stirring convulsively within the present that its impulses can find figuration in such psychic allegory, which does not posit mere individual affects and faculties, but imperiously demands whole new kinds of human beings fit for a world poised on the edge of some thoroughgoing metamorphosis.[6]


While there is certainly merit to such a consideration as Jameson’s, regarding fragmentary differences seeking resolution via a “Utopian and revolutionary transmutation of the world of actuality”, we should be careful not to neglect contemplation of the operative frame of our existence today, in favor of literary (psychic, allegorical, or otherwise) considerations alone, and that is to say that the commodious cataloging, marketing, and redistribution of “revolutionary momentums”, simultaneously identifies and creates a variety of globalizing, biomediated markets for all “stylistic, cultural and characterological differences” that amalgamate into the dominant and operative ideology today—and this Adorno and Horkheimer illustrated in their Dialectic of Enlightenment.[7]  This operative ideology (i.e. culture as an industry of Capital) has contributed to a Reformation of Western culture’s metaphysical ideal. What that ideal was previously is open to debate—but it now is deific Capital—and that is my concern here, because, though Capital’s location is operative, its influence is beyond that of the operative, and informs all other orders by being throned metaphysically.  That differences (products) are consumed with little epistemological significance (everything becomes information), while reverse-psychoanalytically designing an ontology of the perpetual present and the perpetually “new” is well sketched in Baudrillard’s The Consumer Society[8] and The System of Objects. [9]


Modernist subjectivities (e.g. advertising media and the conglomerates they purvey), similar to religions, models of industry and other shapers of culture—aestheticize the Real and hence the ontological; but there is no imperious demand for Jameson’s “whole new kinds of human beings” because we have openly embraced the metaphysics of Capital, and the seat of the ontological location we linguify, at its core, is animal, hormonal and metagenetic, meaning that we as beasts, have gathered, constructed and manufactured the virtual cage we then seek to aestheticize--via a perverse dialectic of the biomediated Code and its milieu.    The reason for this need to aestheticize is unknown.  We have simply exchanged forms over time, like styles or fashions, but never content—the content remains the same dialectical struggle of the colonized and the colonizer, the dominated and the dominator, the undercapitalized and the overcapitalized, etc.  As Foucault’s “docile bodies”, those bodies that are economically virile, while politically impotent, we render unto ourselves the ontological checkmate wherein which we negotiate our stylistic failure to materialize the politically and socioeconomically rhetorical optimisms of our virtual cage.  Our organic chemistry instead produces the psychical Utopian completion in Deific terms, because we seem incapable thus far (or at this evolutionary stage, if you prefer), at least on a mass scale, of being fully vested in our own futures; the infamous “opiate of the masses” still registers in the minds of many and while its traditional domain diminishes, Capital’s purview increases on the scale of the Deific; many refer to this as globalization.  Like the technology bubble of the late nineties, the metaphysical bubble of the latter few millennia seems set to burst.


Where Saussurean sign theory would posit Capital as sign— signifying the utility of the owners of the means of production and communication (i.e. corporate capital—the apostles of Capital)—this represents merely one facet of Capital.  Barthes’ theory of myth would maintain that we live in the shadow of the Myth of Capital, which is a more evolved theory of sign that we might apply to Capital.  But I would argue that we need theorize Capital further still, as myth for Barthes was always limited by its form as a method of communication, and while metaphysical ideals communicate, they also maintain an active rationale and mode of being and operation. The extraordinary explosion of the sign as Myth means that we now live in the Shadow of the sign, and have done so since the construction of mass media and fiber-optic cable, satellite transmission, and their precursory technologies.  This is an important Barthesian/Baudrillardian transition—but we have moved further still.[10] 


Capital is not merely a mythical sign of value; it is the Logos that we refuse to acknowledge as the arbiter of metaphysical being, which in turn informs our operative being—socially, politically, economically, and otherwise.  Every decision that is made, regarding the spirit or the flesh, by every individual and every institution, is made in reference and with reverence to Capital.  What is best for the Church is certainly what is best for its ledger balance, that is, what is best for communion and access to its true Deity—Capital.  What is best for the nuclear family is the same, and that is why child-care centers have waiting lists (demand) for enrollment, while paradoxically, child-care workers (supply) are among the most poorly paid individuals in America—all relationships are determined by the divinity of Capital, meaning that, if the supply of child-care workers (a morally virtuous occupation, one might argue) exceeds the demand of child-care services, child-care center owners need not pay more than the very least of wages, and indeed, that is the case.  The international and domestic affairs of most nations are handled in a similar fashion, in that most events occur in terms of Capital’s divine logic.  For example, is healthcare distribution—a notably moral and ethical enterprise in theory, determined by need, and the moral, ethical and compassionate will to fulfill that need?  No, not operatively.  In actuality, it is determined by cost.  There are exceptions, but they are few. What nations or peoples are immune to this Deific contagion?  The AIDS pandemic, as characterized and experienced, particularly in the poorest of nations, is a most poignant example of the metaphysics of Capital.


Ironically, Capital is the materialization of the voracity of the living organism we call human, and is hence pseudo-biological—yet is also spiritual because of the divinity of purpose it brings to each singular life, while it also cannibalizes the very essence of what we have for millennia idealized as virtuous.  We are prescribed to have a new faith in its Shadow—that is, one must have ‘faith in the market’ to sort out the discrepancies, inefficiencies, inequalities and the like that it (like God before it) inevitably challenges us with.  We cannot question the market, without accusations of heresy.  It is the material manifestation and codification of the organic avarice Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street (1987) reified as the “lust for life”, that has “marked the upward surge of mankind”, out of the proverbial cosmic soup and caves of antiquity.  Capital forecasts the winds of change; we need only follow its logic, to receive its prophecies.  We currently call its missionary work and endeavors: globalization and international affairs.


Wall Street analysts, economists, and billionaires also prophesize, but have dubious reputations unless they are ordained by Capital (e.g. Gates, Buffett, etc.).  These prophets come and go because their accuracies are less than scientific, and only slightly better than prophets of antiquity (e.g. Jesus)—and because Capital (like most other deities) is fickle.  Absurdly, the psycho-technologies of the prophet, though perhaps to a limit, are manifestly more powerful by virtue of their inconsistencies.  As in marketing, sales and promotion, the allure of the event is the selling point—not the presence of the event in itself (e.g. Armageddon).  Should the event occur, no further sales could be made.  And where religions and deities have coded the allure of the Future Event in the cultural discourses of the past, Capital now codes all of these things.  No other construct has enjoyed such universal reverence and appeal.  What construct has, in reality, ever been so intimately related to the actual and operational survival of every man, women, and child on the entire planet, other than Capital?  From cowry shells and plantains to futures contracts and credit swaps—Capital is the divinity we seek today.


Capital has supplanted the Deity as our metaphysical ideal.  What is fascinating is that we do not understand Capital’s formative role in our metaphysical lives, and that we continue to pay homage to religions and Gods we do not follow in practice.  How so?  Consider that Christianity has long been a consumer religion, if we agree that paying lip service to pious codes and ideals, and attending ecclesiastical functions in of themselves do not constitute anything more than mere pastimes, akin to activities that are considered entertainment such as sports, vacations, and the perhaps even the evening news (e.g. infotainment). Specifically, it is the pervasive modality of Capital accumulation as praxis that by default makes Christianity as a doxa and means to an ethical, moral or spiritual end untenable, at least not without creating a state of confusion, let alone hypocrisy.  The Jesus Christ of the Gospels purveyed fairly clear ideas, to put it mildly, about the gathering of worldly affects, material and immaterial, and describes a code of behavior that is antithetical to the very nature of living in postmodernity, particularly with regard to the ways in which Capital must be wielded in order to survive today.


Whereas God manifested himself in the world as religion and in the heavens as Logos, Capital too, manifests itself in the world, its most vivid form being currencies and the banking institutions that have become our places of worship; and from the throne of that metaphysical location, Capital as the divine architect, informs the Logos that divines human rationale everyday.  Some call this Spirit—“The Market”-- but the Lord has gone by many different names over the millennia, and we can understand the folly of man and woman, in hoping to maintain some semblance of a hold on his or her projected feeling of centrality to the Deity.  But as we know, humans have never been the Deity’s central concern, and nothing has changed since Capital’s purview.  Only now, we are “disengaged from all collective obligations of a magical or religious order, liberated from the archaic, symbolic, or personal ties”[11], and ‘free’ to pursue our divinity out in the open.


Currencies signify a relationship to Capital and these significations are analogous to religions as signifiers of Deity.  But beyond the realm of signification, which is always social—religion and currencies, foster the illusion of singularity (consider the ‘freedom’ of being well financed, or the individual ‘love’ of Jesus for his followers—in that ‘Jesus loves every hair on one’s head’).  On some metaphysical plateau, currencies are succeeding in gratifying the need for singular meaning, possibly because their pleasures are ‘current’, and that is to say, applicable to the present, whereas it could be argued that religion has failed to deliver any of its promises and some are tired of waiting for the salvation they are now suspicious will never come.


This shift in Western social consciousness (globalization and universalism are ensuring that no culture will survive outside of this consciousness) thrusts the Deity and all of his religions off of the throne of metaphysical hegemony—this process is still taking place—but we have already been acting out the replacement script; the screenplay of Capital and its priests and pastors (e.g. currencies and financial instruments) and of course, Credit, which suffice it to say may be analogous to the Dark One, (i.e. Satan, Beelzebub, and the like) in a world like ours where we must always attempt to quantify the dark and the light—we are still nowhere beyond the good and the evil.  Milan Kundera reminds of this “unbearable” state—this “lightness of being” which we abhor and cultivate all at once.[12]


In earlier times, Capital’s currencies had been specific in structure to each cultural region, but generalized in societal function, culturally homogenizing only the locality of exchange that participants in each respective culture functioned within.  China and other exceptions struggle to maintain this final bastion of their last metaphysical sovereignty—a tethered currency that does not free-float in exchange.  In modernity, the function of currencies is shifting in such a way that they are now generalized signs; in ways that religions could only have hoped to be.  Such are the terms of floating currencies that different cultures can use the same currency or any other (e.g., Euro dollar, U.S. dollar, Japanese yen, British pound, Swiss franc, Russian ruble, etc.), and know exactly what they’re worth—without any misinterpretation at all—fostering a sort of all-encompassing display of sameness and unification.  What is Christianity worth in terms of Islam? Or, what is Buddhism worth in terms of Hinduism?  Unlike currencies, it is easy to see how there can be no real exchange between religions—instead, there can be only Crusades, Jihads, Schisms and the like.


Unlike God and Capital, currencies and religions act in ways that can be measured.  Distinct from religions, which posit a Deific referent, currencies need no referent (they refer to each other—in America, we discarded the precious metal standard in favor of the ‘floating currency’ in 1971) because they are electric signifiers--ultimate signs, and in this way are metadeific, and that is to say beyond Deity, and they must be, for globalization and liberal universalism is their project.  We cannot all unite and exchange under the sign of a religion and its deific referent, whichever Deity it may be.  History has shown us all how very messy that has been (and continues to be).  We cannot say if this is good or bad for our future, only that it is different from the past.


Currencies alone seem capable of total homogenization, in the name of Capital as Logos, Deity, etc.  Untethered in this manner they are free to usurp and replace all meaning in their proximity in the name of Capital and also a concept deemed ‘Progress’.  Baudrillard has described that our civilization is apt to change, yet it is not necessarily destined to become:


It was an opposition put forth by Nietzsche, he spoke about the era of chameleons. We are in a chameleonesque era, able to change but not able to become. This is our challenge. By an excess of potential changing, any possibility is there, but becoming is not a choice, becoming someone is another fatal strategy. For Nietzsche it would be the sovereign hypothesis. He speaks of four hypotheses. The first one would be inertia, motionless, and so on. The second would be changing, the third one would be history, and the last one is the sovereign one, it is becoming. We are far away from becoming as a symbolic metamorphosis, as the symbolic return of things.[13]


And for that reason, ‘Progress’, as such an ideal is always a mysterious term; perhaps that is why politicians revel in the use of it in their speeches.  But this kind of change, that of ‘Progress’, is a change of image, a change of face, a change in political party—not a becoming.  Yes, we progress into a “global village”, whatever the costs; we might change everything, whatever the consequences; yet may well become nothing.  However, we should anticipate that where religion has failed to unite the world and Marxism failed to unite the workers, Capital, via currencies, is succeeding in uniting consumer-citizens of the world, as the eventual indication of the globalized consciousness all other philosophies have failed to produce.


Like employees that fail to do the work required of them, traditional deities are increasingly out of work, and more telling still, out of fashion, (and we know how important fashion is), so they are of necessity replaceable, and in today’s jargon, we might say they are ‘outsourceable’.  So we have the aortic pulse of Being no longer embodying the fluid dynamic of the Spiritual.  The metaphysique of the human soul still floats, not symbolically, but rather, transactionally, not unlike exchange-traded currencies, futures contracts, and equity issues transact; which is to say, not relative to underlying fundamentals, and not rationally, which is probably in accord with previous metaphysicalities anyway.  That is how equities such as Yahoo!,Inc. (the internet company--ticker symbol—YHOO) can trade at $45.40 dollars per share, and at a price to earnings ratio of 135.12![14]  And it is how seemingly moral and ethical considerations such as healthcare distribution, CEO and celebrity pay, and childcare worker pay and the like are, shall we say ‘so out of whack’. Capital’s metaphysical potency rests in its transparency, and its pataphysical concretion in markets and currencies, which bequeath to us a metaphysicality and logic that God was never skilled enough to cultivate or manifest, garnering instead that Nietzschean elegy with which the world is becoming still ever more familiar.


Wittgenstein wrote that “there is not a philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, like different therapies”[15], and the same criticism applies to religions, psychologies, political parties, and so forth.  All of these methods have attempted to codify order, unite difference, and narrate meaning.  Capital expropriates all of this; and like terrorism and fascism, it enigmatizes meaning, and subsumes the Question of life by igniting the wick of Desire— whose slow burn perpetually teases us into a frenzy for the speed of the moment. This is our purpose and rationale, and what fuels our march forward in the name of a ‘Progress’ we only feign to understand.  Unfortunately, progress is not meaning, which is what we all truly seek.  Meaning has always been a gift; a gift whose weight is far greater than the buttress of populace has historically been able to lift.  And that is why fascism and totalitarianism have not become extinct—on the contrary, they have spawned mutants such as terrorism, and are more virulent and insidious than ever, like other infectious agents that mutate and resist.


So the metaphysical terrain of pious meaning rescinds, as the metaphysics of Capital markets expand, replacing the landscape with an enigmatic chaos as praxis that is ultra-reactionary and spectacular.  In this way it compels and enforces a capitalist raison d'être, and it achieves this in the manner of a narcotic-- narrating and inflicting meaning as in the ilk of the junkie.  Capital has become the Cause, (e.g. Pinero’s and Aristotle’s—much to their disdain—and ours) and its iconology radiates across the oblivion of culture via fiber-optic networks and fashion media.  Capital integrates difference, by commodifying difference and allowing its transference and exchange; it narrates ontological meaning and imposes order.  All that is left to debate after electric Capital—deified Capital, are rates of exchange.


The metaphysics of Capital operate under the guise of an imagined unity, and the spectacle of trade unites every television screen and human singularity in the form of exchange rate indices and equity market averages, from New York to Jakarta to Berlin, reifying the world, so that we are all in agreement.  This is an extension of the Toulminian cosmopolis,[16]--the next stage—the mediaopolis. Guy Debord criticized the spectacle of the image because he believed that the image matrix designed an artificial social rapport.  Implicit in that criticism is that this system of spectacle is not based upon social Capital, a positive concept of Capital, which Robert Putnam believes is in decline, and that would actually have, shall we say, true use-value.[17]  Debord considered that society was mediated through images, and that this image production was indeed a sign system of control.[18]  Capital implements and achieves this spectacle of controlled living as the unacknowledged divinity of our lives.


Interestingly, this is not very different than the notion of the culture industry, which Horkheimer and Adorno described in their text, Dialectic of Enlightenment, which we spoke of earlier.   In that work, they offer, among other things, a telling critique of mass culture, especially when we consider that it was published in 1944, long before the mediaopolis was as evolved as it is today:


Culture today is infecting everything with sameness.  Films, radio and magazines (as well as television and the Internet) make up a system, which is uniform as a whole and in every part… No mention is made of the fact that the basis on which technology acquires power over society is the power of those whose economic hold over society is greatest. A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself.  It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself.  Automobiles, bombs, and movies keep the totality together until their leveling element shows its strength in the very wrong it furthered.  It has made the technology of the culture industry no more than the achievement of standardization and mass production…[19]


Horkheimer and Adorno presaged the mediaopolis that is at all-time highs in terms of its level of adaptation by the masses across the globe.  Their foreshadowing analysis of culture as the industry of Capital is foundational to a theory of Capital’s envelopment of metaphysical culture as well:


Today the culture industry has taken over the civilizing inheritance of the entrepreneurial and frontier democracy - whose appreciation of intellectual deviations was never very finely attuned. All are free to dance and enjoy themselves, just as they have been free, since the historical neutralization of religion, to join any of the innumerable sects. But freedom to choose an ideology - since ideology always reflects economic coercion - everywhere proves to be freedom to choose what is always the same. The way in which a girl accepts and keeps the obligatory date, the inflection on the telephone or in the most intimate situation, the choice of words in conversation, and the whole inner life as classified by the now somewhat devalued depth psychology, bear witness to man's attempt to make himself a proficient apparatus, similar (even in emotions) to the model served up by the culture industry.[20]


The connection to the model of Being that is served up by one’s culture requires that one’s “emotions” synchronize to the culture’s metaphysical system—hence the above excerpt can be developed along the lines of the Aristotelian eudaimonia. In order to achieve a sense of meaning in the mediaopolis, in order to flourish, one must adapt to the needs, not of oneself, but of the political economy of the mediaopolis itself, and this means achieving something like a pseudo-Weberian prosperity.  This development forces an alignment to a new functional ideal of friendship, love and society.


In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle categorizes wealth as an end in itself, but as the worst perversion of a constitutional basis for activity a society could adopt.  Of course, Aristotle felt that a monarchy was best for the masses, and that position is difficult to reconcile with his conception of true friendship, benevolence and eudaimonia, the possibilities of which are suspect under the “trusted” fist of a monarch.[21]  Such are the hypocrisies of aristocratic thought.


Scott Meikle points out that Aristotle posited two different arts of acquisitiveness for human beings; oikonomike and chrematistike.[22]  Meikle explains that oikonomike (running a household), is natural and good in Aristotle’s thought, whereas chrematistike (a form of wealth seeking) can be unnatural when it is an end in itself, and not good, because it is acquisitiveness directed toward the accumulation of money for its own sake.  For Aristotle, wealth can be true and natural (i.e. useful in the household or polis), or spurious and banal (e.g. Capital accumulation as a means of coercion), where “money is the starting point and the goal”.[23]  Perhaps most important for our understanding the metaphysics of Capital is the fact that “it is a serious matter for Aristotle that in the pursuit of wealth as money, there is no limit of the end it seeks”.[24]  Without limits, Capital as divinity is free to hover, endlessly suggesting its own ends, and unlike previous deific constructs, we can be absolutely certain that this Deity has no conscience.


We can only assume that this will be the century of Capital—global Capital, finance Capital, electric Capital, and so on.  But if speculation is appropriate in living, and we are constantly reminded that is it virtually imperative (e.g., 401k plans, profit sharing, investment portfolios, etc.), we could speculatively criticize our new metaphysical location in better ways than before, when all dissent was heresy.  Of course, we are already dogmatizing the new rhetorical power play of market ‘freedoms’ and such, and to dissent from Capital is, as I’ve stated earlier, already heresy in many circles.  Still, our era is epochal and perhaps we should mark it.  We’ve started with: B.C.E. (before common era) and moved into C.E. (common era) and then into what—A.C. (after Capital)?  2004 A.C.?  It has a seductive ring to it.  We’ll have to wait and see.



an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

          Volume 1, July 2004, ISSN 1552-5112





[1] Many of the themes in this essay are developed at greater length in the forthcoming book: The Metaphysics of Capital, Intertheory Press (2006)


[2] Jean Baudrillard,  Impossible Exchange, New York; Verso (2001), p7


[3] Karl Marx, Capital, Moscow; Progress Publishers (1965)


[4] Mark Poster,  (ed), Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings, Stanford; Stanford University Press (1988), p82


[5] Deborah Brewster, “Senators’ stocks beat the market by 12%”, Financial Times, February 15, 2004


[6] Fredric Jameson, A Singular Modernity, New York; Verso (2002), p136


[7] Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, New York; Seabury Press (1944), see in particular, the chapter entitled “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”


[8] Jean Baudrillard,  The Consumer Society, Thousand Oaks; Sage Publications (1998)


[9] Jean Baudrillard, The System of Objects, New York; Verso (1996)


[10] Roland Barthes, “Myth Today” in Mythologies, New York; Hill and Wang (1957),

p 109-159


[11] Ibid, p67


[12] Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, New York; Perennial (1999)


[13] Jean Baudrillard and Wolfgang Schirmacher,  Between Difference and Singularity: An open discussion with Jean Baudrillard”, Online at: (June 2002)


[14] As of the close of the market on January 2, 2004 (Source:


[15] Ludwig Wittgenstein quoted from Philosophical Investigations (1953) in: Samuel E. Stumpf, Socrates to Sartre: A History of Philosophy, New York; McGraw-Hill (1982), p433


[16] Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The hidden agenda of modernity, Chicago; University of Chicago Press (1992)


[17] Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone, New York; Simon and Schuster (2000)


[18] Guy Debord, La societe du spectacle, Paris; Buchet/Chastel (1967), p10-15


[19] Ibid, p120-167


[20] Ibid


[21] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, (350 BCE), translated by W.D. Ross, Online at:, see especially Books IV and VIII


[22] Scott Meikle, Quality and Quantity in Economics:  The metaphysical construction of the economic realm, New Literary History, (2000), v31, p255-256


[23] Ibid, p257


[24] Ibid