Home Forum Political Economy Is power a thing in itself or the space between things?

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  • #248792

    Something CasP has made me think about more and more is the nature of power. It seems to me, hitherto discussions of power have mostly treated it as a thing in and of itself, that can accumulate in absolute terms, to be appropriated and fought over by competing parties, like a body of energy that can be put to any kind of work be it for good or ill. In this thinking, we can imagine a benign individual or group appropriating power and putting it to work for the betterment of all, and to the extent this kind of effort fails, it is due to a deficiency in the will and ability of that individual or group to resist using that power for purely selfish ends (this is how I’ve always understood the phrase: “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, as if the problem is the corrupted, rather than power in general). For sake of argument, let’s just call this the “Liberal notion of power.”

     

    CasP totally flips this thinking by reconceptualising power as a quantitative relationship between entities, the qualitative features of which are determined by the creorder from which it emerged and that we can only identify and understand it by its effects, nothing more. If power is not a thing in itself, but a relationship that emerges between entities, the question arises as to how this relationship emerges, to which CasP also has an answer: strategic sabotage. This is the second CasP insight into power that is so ground breaking, the notion that power is not a neutral, homogenous energy, but rather a contingent relationship created through inflicting damage, limiting potential, excluding and wasting. Ultimately, power is always a negative phenomenon, not positive, in the sense that it limits and destroys rather than liberates and creates.

     

    When reading CasP literature, one can encounter a a few different definitions of power.

    (1) Power is confidence in the obedience of others.

    (2) Power is a quantitative relationship between entities.

    (3) Power is nothing but its effects.

     

    From what I can gather, (1) isn’t really a definition that CasP anchor’s its approach to, instead working from (2) and (3). While (2) and (3) are different definitions, they seem to me nonetheless consistent in the sense that, we can identify a power relationship both by identifying its qualitative effects and associating those effects with a quantitative relationship between relevant entities.

     

    However, Colin Drumm in his “Capital and Power” seminar series claims there’s a problem with this approach to power, in that it seems to only go in one direction. Granted, he’s directing this criticism against definition (1), but I feel it somewhat applies to definitions (2) and (3) as well. The way I read this criticism, is that if we treat power as a relationship forged in abuse, which we only identify retrospectively by looking at the effects, the implication is we’re only really understanding the nature and actions of those “calling the shots” at the top and its difficult to conceive of the “power” of those at the bottom (power used here just as a manner of speaking). When power is a relationship, we can speak of its magnitude as representing the scope of control of those at the top relative to those at the bottom, but this offers little in the way of understanding the scope of agency of those at the bottom. CasP doesn’t offer a single, systematic way of challenging power, but this is to its credit, as its liberated our thinking from reductive and limited approaches like “seize the means of production” as being the primary path to challenging power. Nonetheless, while we have a theory of the powerful, we now need a theory for the powerless!

     

    Enter Drumm’s notion of power as an “option”: the present value of the ability, absent the obligation, to make a choice in the future. I love the example Drumm offers in the seminar to demonstrate this idea: You happen upon bobcat on a hike. Perceiving you a threat, the bobcat flees quickly, clearly demonstrating that it is faster than you. However, rather than waste energy running away to a safe distance, the bobcat stops and looks back at you, to check that you now understand it has the option to ran away faster than you can catch it. To the extent this act stops you from pursuing the bobcat, the bobcat has extracted the present value of the ability to choose to run away in the future, without having to actually make that choice (and waste energy).

     

    This conceptualisation of power effectively resolves the issue stated above, in that we can now think of the power of all parties/classes/individuals at every strata in a detailed and systematic way. Where before we could only think of power retrospectively, as something of an emergent quantitative phenomenon resulting from various intersecting historical and social factors (the creorder) to be identified only after the fact, we can again think of power more as a thing in itself that everyone possesses to varying degrees and can exercise in the future. While this brings us closer to the “liberal notion of power” I outlined above, we’re able to avoid at least some of the associated hang ups. Contrary to thinking of power as a body of homogenous energy, options are entirely contingent on the conditions or creorder of the time and space in which they emerge. Furthermore, this notion of power still highlights the highly intersubjective nature of power; whether the bobcat can actually maintain that speed for long enough to escape is not as important as you thinking it can. However, we’ve now returned to placing the blame on those “corrupted” by power, rather than power itself, and can again imagine power as something that can be put towards benign ends.

     

    I feel there’s something to be said about the naturally anarchist conclusions one is drawn to from a CasP model of power compared to the more Hobbesian view that Drumm’s takes that his “options” approach perhaps lends itself too. If power is a relationship between entities forged in abuse, then power is the problem and is thus the thing to be minimised if not abolished. However, if power is a thing in and of itself, albeit a highly contingent and intersubjective one, then perhaps we can harness it for the greater good? Is power the root of all evil or our best chance at achieving a better world? Can power ever be a positive phenomenon that creates and liberates or is power necessarily negative, limiting creativity and destroying creation?

     

    So what is power? Is it a thing in itself or does the term denote the space between things? Perhaps this is looking at the problem the wrong way by trying to tie down a definition of power rather than explore further these concepts in their own right.

     

    Should we try to salvage and carefully define “power” as one of or some combination of the concepts outlined above, or should we perhaps leave “power” as one of those many vague and ill defined terms (such as “mind” or “life”) and instead seek to further formalise and deepen these concepts like “option”, “creorder” and whatever term we might wish to attribute to those quantitative relationships between entities? My vote is to maintain the CasP notion of “power” as outlined in (2) and (3) above and further work that in with the ideas of “option” and “creorder”.

     

    Finally, what inspired this line of questioning on the nature of power is that I increasingly feel that Capital as Power is first and foremost actually a theory of power rather than a theory of capitalism, albeit one that uses capitalism as a case study. These insights, conceptualisations and questions about power, to me, present enormous potential for all social sciences to better understand all manner of social phenomena beyond capitalism. I can see a new discipline emerging from CasP that we might simply call “Power Studies” or something, focusing on questions like:

    • What power relationships can we identify both in their quantitative magnitudes and qualitative effects?
    • How are the specific features of these power relationships shaped by the existing creorder, and how might understanding these relationships broaden our understanding of the current creorder?
    • Finally, what options can we identify for different groups and can we define a group by the options they share?

     

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    • #248794

      Jordan,

      Those are some very interesting thoughts which raise basic questions of ontology. What is a thing in isolation? What is a thing in relation to other things? To state my position clearly, I posit that a thing does not and cannot exist in isolation. It exists only in relation. As a basic definition, a “thing” is an object, process, force, field or system, as we standardly define them. (If I continued with an explicit categorial taxonomy of definitions, this post would get far too long.)

      I think Ulf Martin gives the best definition of power in the CasP context:

      “In the following, we try to develop a concept of power as the ability of persons to create particular formations against resistance.” – “The Autocatalytic Sprawl of Pseudorational Mastery” , Ulf Martin.

      This is an excellent definition in my opinion because it relates social power back to physical power in an understandable and indeed linked way. Power is the ability to create formations against resistance. We can see this in operation when a bulldozer pushes up a great pile of dirt. The main resistance is perhaps the force of gravity. There are other resistances like inertia, resistance to shearing and the resistance of friction. We can see the issues of power and resistance in Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter. Musk’s takeover is a wonderful (meaning an appalling) example of the use of capital as power. The people thought they had or possessed an agora, in this case a virtual one, as a gathering space or assembly where they could share ideas, both progressive and reactionary. The more destructive of the most reactionary expressions were controlled by the previous owners. Via the use of capital as power, Musk came along, took over and inverted that so far as he could and can. Various forms of resistance have arisen, but again to go into that makes the post too long.

      The operations around Musk’s implementations of capital power are real, physically real. His power is effectively wielded physically. He takes over the infrastructure (logical and physical control just as the terms logical and physical are used in computer systems control). There are logical and physical lock-outs. Real people are thrown out of access to Twitter (logical) and real people, workers, are thrown out of the Twitter building (physical). Locks are changed, doors are shut. The operation of capital as power always has the physical back-up as last recourse. Indeed, not as last recourse but as only real recourse. Only the physical is real in the final analysis. These are some early thoughts on your post, from my perspective. But then I am a materialist or physicalist ontological fundamentalist. Everything is everywhere and always physical. There is only that. Information is simply patterns encoded and instantiated in matter (in various media) which has then the ability to influence the formation of other patterns (via decoding and instruction execution operations by instruction execution “agents” with servos, meaning humans or artificial agents like computers, robots, drones, automated machinery etc.

      • This reply was modified 1 year, 1 month ago by Rowan Pryor.
    • #248796

      Thanks so much for the reply Rowan!

      Those are some very interesting thoughts which raise basic questions of ontology. What is a thing in isolation? What is a thing in relation to other things? To state my position clearly, I posit that a thing does not and cannot exist in isolation. It exists only in relation. As a basic definition, a “thing” is an object, process, force, field or system, as we standardly define them.

      While I’m certainly no ontologist, I very much agree with this position. It’s a dangerous game thinking of “things” as existing in isolation. Inevitably one end’s up taking much of what and how we understand things for granted, which is certainly not becoming of any critical thinking endeavour.

      Though I wonder now if my question was actually more linguistic/semantic than ontological. That is, regarding a workable definition of “power” that would allow for greater insight into our social lives, if only as a tool for framing our thinking. In this sense, whether “power” is a thing in itself or the space between things, I’d still regard it as something that exists only in relation to other things (ontologically speaking), but I feel the semantic distinction is crucial given the vast implications. I’m mainly thinking of the perhaps overly simplistic debate of “power is the space between things” = power is negative (pro-anarchism) vs “power is a thing in itself” = power is positive (anti-anarchism?).

       

      I think Ulf Martin gives the best definition of power in the CasP context: “In the following, we try to develop a concept of power as the ability of persons to create particular formations against resistance.” – “The Autocatalytic Sprawl of Pseudorational Mastery” , Ulf Martin.

      I really like this definition as well. This definition could well bring it all together in offering:

      • A definition of power that gives a general description of what it is, in a way thats a tad more satisfying than simply “power is only its effects”
      • Still consistent with the notion of it being a quantitative relationship, allowing for systematic identification and research
      • Also allows the multi-directionality that Drumm’s “options” provides by affording agency to those below, conceived as the “resistance”

      Perhaps in this sense, power is

      • First identified as a quantitative relationship between entities, under the assumption no such relationship is natural or inevitable
      • Studied historically as a specific narrative of strategic sabotage within a broarder creorder which it both defines and defies in various ways
      • Studied in the present as the ability to create particular formations against resistance; shaping, leveraging and resisting the existing creorder
      • Predictions about its future are informed by studying the options of all actors, with the aspirational goal of identifying potential asymptotes

       

      The people thought they had or possessed an agora, in this case a virtual one, as a gathering space or assembly where they could share ideas, both progressive and reactionary. The more destructive of the most reactionary expressions were controlled by the previous owners. Via the use of capital as power, Musk came along, took over and inverted that so far as he could and can. Various forms of resistance have arisen, but again to go into that makes the post too long.

      As an aside, I feel the positive features of Twitter, both as it was before and what remains in tact today (at least for now) is a great example of the other side of strategic sabotage. Business/power can only suppress, limit and control so much to achieve its given distributional ends and we still benefit from what wellbeing enhancing creative industry seeps through.

      Though your final point raises questions for me about the nature of power, again in a more ontological sense.

      The operation of capital as power always has the physical back-up as last recourse. Indeed, not as last recourse but as only real recourse. Only the physical is real in the final analysis. These are some early thoughts on your post, from my perspective. But then I am a materialist or physicalist ontological fundamentalist. Everything is everywhere and always physical. There is only that. Information is simply patterns encoded and instantiated in matter (in various media) which has then the ability to influence the formation of other patterns (via decoding and instruction execution operations by instruction execution “agents” with servos, meaning humans or artificial agents like computers, robots, drones, automated machinery etc.

      At risk of putting words in your mouth (and exposing my ignorance on the subject), I’m reading this as contra what might be regarded as an idealist approach (or something of the like). I’ve personally never really understood the distinction as ideas surely are physical themselves in that they exist as electrical signals in the brain, triggering muscle movements in mouths and tongues, the resulting air waves vibrating ear drums leading to electrical signals in the brains of others (hugely oversimplified of course, but for sake of argument). If I’m reading you correctly, your point here alludes to a similar take, but if thats the case, the materialist/idealist represents to me more an explanatory gap than an ontological one.

      Tangent aside, I invoke this materialist/idealist divide as certain factors that are not often associated with the physical/material seem to be nonetheless central to understanding power. I’m thinking here of things like intersubjectivity (being on the same “level” so to speak), uncertainty and perceptions of risk, “irrationality” and emotion, formal and informal institutions, sense of identity and belonging, all manner of psychological manoeuvring, etc. We could attempt to understand the leveraging of these factors towards strategic sabotage as effective insofar as they represent a real or perceived material interest (if you don’t belong you might go hungry, for example) but I wonder if this is a Marxist hang up that CasP and Drumm help us to think beyond. Put simply, I wonder how important it is for such a material factor to actually exist in order for such a tactic to be successful (does the bobcat actually need to be faster than the hiker to extract the value of that option?)

      Second tangent aside (thanks for staying with me!), if we try to ground our thinking in something material, might we not only be missing vital phenomena that can be understood on its own terms, but risk falling into the same erroneous bifurcations CasP identifies in much economic thinking such as the real/nominal and economic/political divides?

      This is what draws me back to Drumm’s “options”, the “quantitative relationship” and the “power is nothing but its effects” approaches is that they don’t require us to ground our thinking about power in something external or ontologically prior to it. Rather than find something eternal and “real” to treat as a launching off point, we can begin by merely observing the phenomena of power and then draw upon all manner of disciplinary approaches to understand it.

      • #248802

        Jordan,

        I am no ontologist either, except of the most amateur kind. I attempt to be an “empirical ontologist”, not a dogmatic or speculative ontologist. You wrote that you wondered “if my question was actually more linguistic/semantic.” The way I see it, a question or a proposition is always unavoidably linguistic/semantic. That is how we communicably couch them. This does not preclude a question or proposition from having a real referent. If we are comparing/testing our propositions to/against real referents then that is the sine qua non of the empirical approach, in theory at least. In practice, it’s a difficult enterprise. I will post in the main thread here about “power” as per the various references in this thread. I can only give my opinions of course.

    • #248798

      Great post Jordan, thank you for contributing this to the forum

      B&N say in the book, and have re-iterated several times that “All Capital is Power, but not all Power is Capital”

      This tells me that their work is predominantly about looking at Capital as a sub-category of power, rather than formulating a general theory of power.

      Under capitalism, Capital is certainly the dominant conceptualization of power, and the most ubiquitously used, but it is not the full totality of the story.

      Since reading CasP the first time, I have slowly shifted my focus from understanding Capitalism to understanding Power more broadly. And this is by no means a small task. Conceptualizations of power are extremely varied, and often dependent on the ideological basis that forms their origins. The Post-Modernists (while not being a single cohesive ideology) have proposed some very novel definitions of power and frameworks through which to try and understand power. Contemporary Sociological academic research into the ideas of empowerment has also come up with some interesting propositions.

      Now, my thinking on the matter might be slightly unique, but I may also not be as well-read as is needed for a final approach. Thus far, I lean towards a conceptualization that Power is neither merely an entity, nor a relationship between entities, but rather, that it is a phenomenon that emerges out of the complex process of coordination. And in this regard it is both an attribute of entities, and a relationship between entities.

      In this framing power is the result of the management of dependencies between entities, and management of the entities themselves, according to a specified will.

      How coordination is enacted, will drastically influence what kind of Power results. Note that I do not take the deterministic stance, because all components of a complex system cannot be known, and as such we cannot guarantee that a specific type of coordination MUST result in a specific type of Power.

      But, we can get close to certainty.

      First, we have Power To. This is often referred to as Ability or Capacity. When we find the coordination of physical capability, and cultural setting, and historical influences, and intellectual capacities, and material conditions and kin relations, and social influences (to name but a few entities/components/activities), we arrive at the individual or small group’s Power To enact their will. Power To is the basis for the other manifestations of Power, because it is the coordination of the individual or small group within larger contexts that provides the functionality required to enact will at larger scales.

      Next we have Power Over, more commonly referred to as Domination, or Authority. Power Over is achieved by one individual or group, subsuming, or extracting, or suppressing the Power To of another individual or group. This type of Power can occur at the interpersonal level, such as in relationships, or within families, or social groups, or it can happen at larger scales, such as within organizations, or institutions, or political parties, or social movements. But it’s defining characteristic is that it always has a deliberate power imbalance that is exploited and self-perpetuating. Power Over is, by its very nature, hierarchical. Meaning that in order to exist, and to continue existing, it must coordinate hierarchically.

      Then we have Power With, which is commonly referred to as community, or cooperation, or collaboration. Unlike Power Over, Power With is the combination of the Power To of 2 or more individuals seeking to enact the same or similar wills. Power With can occur at the interpersonal level, and it can occur at larger scales, but its defining characteristic is that it is coordinated horizontally, eschewing hierarchies wherever possible (there are points I will clarify at a later stage about horizontal coordination within hierarchical hegemonies, that require communities to enact pseudo-hierarchical coordination at times)

      Finally is Power Through. This is when it is not possible for an individual or small group to enact their Power To, and the surrounding community must eliminate the obstacles preventing such enacting, and set up the structures that will empower those individuals or groups to claim their power and enable them to enact their power.

      These are the 4 types of power I have identified thus far, and there may be more, but for the moment, these suffice as a framework to explain almost all aspects of the modern world in which we find ourselves.

      Capital clearly falls in the bracket of Power Over, while Colin Drumm’s idea of options is a mixture of Power To, but augmented by Power Over or Power With, depending on the specific context.

      So right now, the deeper question for me is an analysis of the types of coordination and how the different forms of power emerge from these concepts of coordination.

      • #248800

        I realize I answer very few of your original questions with my response, but I hope to untangle what might seem like a dichotomous problem by re-aligning it within a different framework

        • #248803

          Thanks for the detailed response Pieter! Even if I don’t get responses to the specific questions I asked, I’m also just keen to know how others think about power.

          I hope to untangle what might seem like a dichotomous problem by re-aligning it within a different framework

          True, I am attempting to reduce the scope of what power could be down to just one of two things, when in fact it could be many things. Though my goal with this question is to try define power in a way that is both close en0ugh to a folk definition to be intuitive and meaningful while also specific and internally consistent enough to allow for empirical research.

          Certainly a hard thing to do, since the more technical specificity one uses to define a concept, the less familiar it becomes to lay people and the more it fails to account for other phenomena we might otherwise consider to be of the same category.

           

          B&N say in the book, and have re-iterated several times that “All Capital is Power, but not all Power is Capital” This tells me that their work is predominantly about looking at Capital as a sub-category of power, rather than formulating a general theory of power.

          The reason I’m inclined to consider CasP more a theory of power than strictly a theory of capitalism is that they first need to have a theory of power to argue that capitalism is a mode of power. While they may not spend as much time or go into as much detail on the question of power, what they do say struck me as profound. Though I’ll concede I’m likely getting ahead of myself in seeking a definition of power thats applicable to all of history when we may not even sufficiently understand our current moment.

           

          Now, my thinking on the matter might be slightly unique, but I may also not be as well-read as is needed for a final approach. Thus far, I lean towards a conceptualization that Power is neither merely an entity, nor a relationship between entities, but rather, that it is a phenomenon that emerges out of the complex process of coordination. And in this regard it is both an attribute of entities, and a relationship between entities.

          While I can see the benefit of considering power as an emergent property of coordination, I wonder if we’re unnecessarily limiting ourselves by leaving out power relationships that involve no obvious coordination. For example, a workplace or (abusive) family might have clear examples of coordination, but much of power in today’s world is typified with a sort of violent abandonment and withholding by absentee owners. That said, I’m having trouble thinking of an example to the contrary right now so you may well be onto something.

           

          In this framing power is the result of the management of dependencies between entities, and management of the entities themselves, according to a specified will.

          The notion of creorder leads me to wonder how much we can speak of “a specified will” rather than treat power as something that reinforces itself absent the need for a particular end goal. For instance, even in a pure autocracy with one person clearly at the top of the hierarchy, would be limited in the extent they can realise their will, given how dependent each strata is on those immediately below them to maintain their power. If ever this autocrat were to have a change of heart and seek to undermine the existing hierarchy/creorder, they would likely be ousted and replaced by those immediately below, for risking their own positions of power. Perhaps this “specified will” is something of a gradient, increasingly realised as we go up the chain. Either way the will is almost entirely limited to that which will reinforce (or at least not threaten) the established creorder.

           

          This is part of how I see the CasP theory of power as unique, by not seeing power as a means to a higher, more desirable end like (absolute) wealth accumulation or status but as an end in itself. We can’t rely on those in power to pursue any measures that would ultimately undermine their power because they’re structurally limited to fortifying their power, even if they don’t want to, or being replaced by those who will. The powerful are ironically powerless to much else!

          This is also why I continue to lean towards seeing power as denoting a relationship. To treat power as an attribute, something to accumulate (in absolute terms) or as a means to an end, risks making the same mistake as economists: claiming to have privileged insight into some underlying natural forces that can only be effected by power, rather than defined by it.

          I like Drumm’s way of describing the CasP project as “identifying something anterior or prior to the economy that is not itself economic.” Hence, power is not something effects something natural or eternal, rather, if anything, it defines or determines it (eg: power doesn’t effect income, it determines income, à la Blair Fix). While there are definitely heteronomous forces (eg: gravity), they can only set the landscape, they cannot determine our social relations.

          Towards the end of the book, BnN make the point that, even when we’re down to the final barrel of oil, the owners could still give it away for free. Maybe a trivial point but I love it. Indeed, we could even decide they were not the oil’s owners!

           

          These are the 4 types of power I have identified thus far, and there may be more, but for the moment, these suffice as a framework to explain almost all aspects of the modern world in which we find ourselves.

          Your variety of definitions presents a real contrast in our approaches to defining power, in a way that perhaps reveals the limitations of my own, as I outlined above. I guess for my purposes, I’d want to just stick to words like “ability” for “power to.” “Power with” at first strikes me as combined and thus enhanced “power to” or as simply the absence (or opposing force) of power as I’m seeking to define it. “Power through” is an interesting one, though I’d perhaps sooner frame this as “power to/with” that is strategically sabotaged, as this brings to the forefront the charge to power (perhaps at the cost of the agency of the empowered to be though). Power over, as you might have guessed, is how I prefer to most strictly define it, specifically instantiated in a quantitative relationship.

           

          Your approach does raise another important point though. In attempting to make more “scientific” the concept of “power”, we also risk engaging in gatekeeping; limiting (if not sabotaging) its very real rhetorical impact and pro-social potentials. Not to mention the risk of ultimately “measuring” something rather unremarkable.

           

          Perhaps we might be better off keeping the term “power” somewhat undefined, much like how a biologist may be reticent to define “life” or a psychologist “mind”, despite it being such a central object of the entire research project.

        • #248804

          I wonder if we’re unnecessarily limiting ourselves by leaving out power relationships that involve no obvious coordination. For example, a workplace or (abusive) family might have clear examples of coordination, but much of power in today’s world is typified with a sort of violent abandonment and withholding by absentee owners.

          No Power Is An Island. There is no mode of power, or form of power, or concept of power, that can exist in isolation. It might be vested in, and wielded by a single entity, but it requires coordinated effort to create it, accumulate it, maintain it and exercise it.

          Every cog, and spring, and sprocket, and lever that willingly operate in the Co-ordinated Power Machine, must by definition, gain more benefit from their coordinated support, than the average benefit of those over whom the power is exerted, and who must also form part of the machine, albeit without consent. But we can measure this benefit from coordination differentially, as in, establish the average benefit, and then see who benefits above the average.

          Coordination is not always consensual. In fact, it is often conflictual. And even when it appears consensual, the explicit consent may be masking implicit or indirect conflict, coercion, and (dis)incentives. Absentee Owners may even exclude vast portions of the coordination machine from knowing that their efforts form part of the machine.

          The notion of creorder leads me to wonder how much we can speak of “a specified will” rather than treat power as something that reinforces itself absent the need for a particular end goal.

          Those with power over society may be limited by by the boundaries of their power, but they still get to enact their will. The fuzziness comes in because there are many wills contesting with each other, and the system within which they contest also has a will of its own, delineated by the sum total of the full creorder. When we look at a “specified will” there will be inaccuracies, because the framework will necessarily exclude the influences of other entities with equal, greater, or lesser powers, But it does offer us the ability to look at the problem with granular focus. Imagine, if you will, an analysis in which we take all the various specified wills, and we map then into a matrix of power relations. This will offer insights and predictions unlike anything we currently have at our disposal.

          In attempting to make more “scientific” the concept of “power”, we also risk engaging in gatekeeping; limiting (if not sabotaging) its very real rhetorical impact and pro-social potentials. Not to mention the risk of ultimately “measuring” something rather unremarkable.

          While I agree that this is a potential pitfall, I would argue that in the articulation of power as a clearly defined scientific concept, with quantitative and qualitative units of measure, we generate a fresh viewpoint, and enable the creation of a new linguistic milieu from which can be derived newer and more relevant rhetoric than the tired old language we have been using to largely no effect for the last 200 years.

    • #248805

      This is also why I continue to lean towards seeing power as denoting a relationship. To treat power as an attribute, something to accumulate (in absolute terms) or as a means to an end, risks making the same mistake as economists: claiming to have privileged insight into some underlying natural forces that can only be effected by power, rather than defined by it.

      Capital is society’s debt to those who hold it, and debt is something that denotes both a relationship and a quantity.

      In capitalism’s credit money system, money represents unpaid debts.  When debts are paid, money is destroyed.  Capitalists use capitalization– the process of arbitrating between present and future prices of the same thing via compounding/discounting– to capture money as profits, interest, etc., so that money cannot be used to pay off debts. This captured money accumulates as capital within the financial system.  Hence, capital accumulation, at least as it relates to money capture, is the accumulation of unpaid debts.  (Capital created through the appreciation of capital assets does not involve the capture of money.)

       

    • #248809

      I think Pieter de Beer has made a key statement as follows:

      “I would argue that in the articulation of power as a clearly defined scientific concept, with quantitative and qualitative units of measure, we generate a fresh viewpoint, and enable the creation of a new linguistic milieu from which can be derived newer and more relevant rhetoric than the tired old language we have been using to largely no effect for the last 200 years.”

      We are all referring to social or sociopolitical power in this debate. Ulf Martin’s definition – “the ability of persons to create particular formations against resistance” – gives us the clear analogue, or more precisely the clear homomorph, with physical power. “In algebra, a homomorphism is a structure-preserving map between two algebraic structures of the same type (such as two groups, two rings, or two vector spaces). ” [1]  We are seeking a structure preserving map or concept which preserves essential similarities and relates our understanding of physical power upwards and into our understanding of social power. Only in this way, I would argue (as a monist materialist), can we create “a new linguistic milieu” to use Pieter’s words, to address reality consistently across the range of the physical to the social to the ideational.

      I argue that all human descriptive ideas and concepts are models, as indeed I argue that all human perceptions (qualia in modern terminology or impressions in Bishop Berkeley’s terminology) are models. Even normative ideas are intended, in the teleological sense, to be models: they model an “ought” that should turn into an “is” via the claimed future effects of the modelled behaviour as cause. You ought do x so y (or not y) will arise in the future. Capitalism is very much like that. You ought to contain wages so that inflation will not arise in the future. However, as the recent example shows, wages were contained but inflation re-emerged anyway. The system’s outcomes are multi-causational but many causes must be denied as causes (monopoly power, administered prices, profiteering and money creation gifting money or interest-free money to rich corporations “too big to fail”). They must be denied to give deliberate selective sabotage (in the CasP sense) its plausible deniability cover.

      To return to models, there are in relation to the objectively real – as objective or critical realism would understand that concept – accurate models and inaccurate models or  true models (or more nearly true models) and false models. The accuracy or inaccuracy of a model inheres in the degree of homomorphism or structure-preserving character it displays in relation to the real system. A model is always and unavoidably a simplification. It perforce models key elements essential to a given investigation or enterprise at a given time. A model can never model everything due ideational and computational limits. Sometimes the simplification inherent in a model is a feature. Sometimes, the over-simplifications which are unavoidable in modelling become a bug, a whole bunch of bugs, a bugbear.

      Pieter’s statement relates, at least in part, to something I call the “categorial imperative”. I do mean a “categorial imperative” and not the categorical imperative of Kant. The “categorial imperative”, as I define it, refers to our need, indeed our imperative requirement, to categorise things correctly. Without ordered and valid categorisation there can be no ordered reasoning. We then commit category mistakes at every stage of our reasoning. There is still the further requirement, of course, for testing the results of ordered reasoning against reality and doing so in a methodical, empirical fashion. We are quite capable of raising internally category-consistent or selectively category-myopic pure reasoning systems with little relation to reality but great relation to our own wishes and desires: vast structures of motivated reasoning supporting self-interest, careerism, credentialism, class and so on . Bourgeois or conventional economic theory (of the “money measures value”, market fundamentalist, endless-growthist type) is a case in point. Our current capitalist system with its conventional economic theory underpinnings – including the real-ideal or real-formal bifurcation, which Bichler and Nitzan have so accurately identified and critiqued – is very clearly on a trajectory of comprehensive collapse (involving many species extinctions already and possibly including humans quite soon) as it continues in ideological fashions to ignore fundamental physical and biological laws and the asymptote limits they impose on certain activities.

      We properly develop ontologically real categorial taxonomies as we empirically investigate the world. The SI itself is a result of this process and it itself is not necessarily complete yet. Further discoveries necessitating the amendment or even expansion of the SI are possible. The categorial imperative boils down to developing and using the correct operators on the correct operands. I mean this mathematically and linguistically. Math is a specialised language and modelling system, nothing more.

      In relation to the real-ideal or real-formal bifurcation it can only be solved (avoided as a modelling pitfall) by a strictly monistic conception of all existence. This equates to a “one substance” thesis in philosophical terms. If one declares oneself against “bifurcation” in any of the senses explored above, one ipso facto declares oneself a monist. This may sound doctrinaire or dogmatic. I would suggest it is simply the parsimonious (Occam’s razor) explanation which solves the entire issue of the real-ideal split (in methodological theory without in the least solving our multitudinous real, practical problems). It solves the “transmission problem” and the “unification problem”.

      The “transmission problem” essentially relates to the question of how can we conceive that ideas arise from “stuff” and that ideas (including via so-called free will or volition) can affect stuff. Short answer? Ideas are stuff too. Ideas are information instantiated as patterns in media (in brains, books, hard-drives etc.) and more particularly as patterns which can affect the generation of other patterns. The “unification problem” I refer to here is how to unify physical science and social science. That has already been begun in practice. Capital as Power is in that tradition (of social science, not social ideology) as I see it. Conventional economics is in a different tradition, one of social ideology, where it mixes the descriptive and prescriptive, mixes a coagulating conglomerate into a “degenerating research program” (Lakatos) and attempts to make a social science of  it. Self-interest, careerism, credentialism… there is nothing else there. The proof is in the pudding. Conventional economics succeeds only in prescribing a biosphere-destroying ideology. The physical signs are now clear on this point when investigated by objective science.

      To sum up, the ideological myths and lies of classical, neoclassical and conventional economics all need to be dispelled. An attempt at a wholly new and more scientific approach needs to be attempted and indeed is in train, at least with CasP theory and perhaps in other arenas.

       

      Note 1. Wikipedia (which I think is good enough for blog and informal forum references).

      • This reply was modified 1 year, 1 month ago by Rowan Pryor.
      • This reply was modified 1 year, 1 month ago by Rowan Pryor.
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