Home Forum Research The English Vocabulary and the Future of Capitalism

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    By Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan

    Whether you adhere to the idea of universal grammar (namely, that the underlying architecture of all languages is the same and therefore prior to social structure), or to linguistic relativity (which suggests that languages differ and that these differences shape and determine how society thinks about and shapes its reality), you can’t be indifferent to Blair Fix’s 2022 piece, ‘Have We Passed Peak Capitalism?’

    Blair compares the use of economic versus biblical vocabularies. He shows (1) that, in the English language, the ‘jargons’ of the two vocabularies are almost mutually exclusive; (2) that, historically, the relative importance of these two jargons moved more or less inversely to each other; and (3) and most surprisingly, that in the late 20th century, the importance of biblical jargon started to rise while that of economics began to decline (first figure). If this latest inflection is a harbinger of future trends, Blair argues, we might have already passed ‘peak capitalism’.

    Blair then creates what he calls an ‘ideological discord index’, which essentially measures the inverse of the absolute difference between the relative frequencies of the two jargons. When one jargon is highly popular and the other insignificant, the index approaches 0 (remember that he measures the inverse of their absolute difference). When the popularity of the two jargons is similar, the index is closer to 100.

    The historical pattern of the ‘ideological discourse index’ is shown in the top panel of the second figure. In the early 19th century, the biblical jargon dominated. But as its importance waned relative to economics, the discord index rose, reaching 100 in the early 20th century when the jargon of economics first overtook that of the bible.

    From then on, economics continued to gain relative to the bible, so discord declined. But in the early 1980s, the trend inverted: the popularity of economics jargon started to fall while of the bible to rise, causing the discord index to soar once more.

    The bottom panel of the chart shows how these ups and downs of linguistic discord reflect/determine (your pick) the ‘polarization’ of U.S. Federal politicians – the correlation between the two series is +0.53.

    The future of capitalism remains unknown, but the original way in which Blair maps and analyses it is fascinating.

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    • #248142
      Ulf Martin
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      The study is certainly very interesting. However, Fix’s premise that ideology dominates material life does not necessarily follow from his findings. Indeed, his findings may precisely document that Marx was right when turing things around. The “linguistic turn” from economics to “biblic” may be the “subconscious” indicator of a “material” social transition, which, in the conceptualization of CasP, is of course an attempted transition in the mode of power.

      According to Bichler/Nitzan it may be that global capitalism may have reached a “glass ceiling”, i.e. a point when a social transition to a new accumulation regime is necessary. Or perhaps a transition from accumulation regime to something like a steady-state type of capitalism. I myself argue that we may be at a point where capitalism finally needs something like a world state (sec. 5.2 in my “The Autocatalytic Sprawl”).

      Now, those who have followed the discussions around the fake “pandemic” will know that there is the conférencier of Davos, Klaus Schwab, who in numerous books postulates such a transition under the term “Great Reset”. The language of this comes with a lot of millenniaristic “the end of the world is nigh if we do not…” language (climate, overpopulation, epidemics, etc.).

      I’d say it is to be expected that the masters of core capital and their servants in politics and mass media change language from ecomomics to something of “higher moral” if they try to establish a kind of global biopolitical police state but need to make the greater public accept such a transition (see current writings e.g. by G Agamben or CJ Hopkins for the relation of the pandemic to biopolitics). They can obviously not say that they’d like to turn planet Earth into a vast open air prison where “lockdowns” can imposed on anybody whenever the rulers think its necessary.

      If you read e.g. through Bichler/Nitzan’s Israel book you’ll find a lot of “high moral” language accompanying the transitions of the accumulation regime in the 20th century. And in the end, the high moral language of Christianity served the establishment of feudalism as a new mode of power as much as liberalism and nationalism did to establish capitalism.

      • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 5 days ago by Ulf Martin.
    • #248144
      Jonathan Nitzan
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      Note how Blair Fix’s ‘discord index’ shares the same periodicity/trajectories as our own ‘power index’: rising till around 1900, down-trending till the 1980s, and re-surging thereafter (notice, though, that in these charts the discord index is smoothed whereas the power index isn’t).

      Blair, perhaps you can create a proper chart of this co-movement.

       

       

    • #248146
      Ulf Martin
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      So, “biblicalization” of power language correlates not with transitions of the accumulation regime but with the power grip of capital onto society. The greater the power grip the “higher” the justification needs to be, economic justification is no longer enough. Awaiting a proper charting, it seems that at least in the phase after 1980 the change in language trails the rising power grip. If ideology came first it should be the other way round. This would conform Marx’s observation that the “material” process, here rising corporate power, comes first, and only afterwards a “suitable” consciousness develops.

      • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 4 days ago by Ulf Martin.
      • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 4 days ago by Ulf Martin.
      • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 4 days ago by Ulf Martin.
    • #248150
      Scot Griffin
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      So, “biblicalization” of power language correlates not with transitions of the accumulation regime but with the power grip of capital onto society. The greater the power grip the “higher” the justification needs to be, economic justification is no longer enough. Awaiting a proper charting, it seems that at least in the phase after 1980 the change in language trails the rising power grip. If ideology came first it should be the other way round. This would conform Marx’s observation that the “material” process, here rising corporate power, comes first, and only afterwards a “suitable” consciousness develops.

      The end of the 19th century in America was known as the “Gilded Age,” which culminated with the passage of antitrust laws in the 1890s.  So, one could argue that the peak of biblical jargon circa 1900 resulted in the reduction of the power grip of capital on society; i.e., religion was the basis for combatting the capitalist power, not securing it.  Remember, the U.S. was much more religious then than it is today.

      It is not clear to me that the current trajectory of biblical jargon will necessarily have the same result as the 1900 peak because the current trajectory coincides with the radicalization of America’s Christian right, whose prosperity gospel  is centered on capitalism.  They seek to change the capitalist order to make extractive capitalists (e.g., oil, gas, mining and agriculture) ascend above the financial capitalists who currently lead dominant capital.  That is, the current trajectory of biblical jargon may indicate a civil war within dominant capital, not society generally seeking to curtail  capitalist power.

       

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