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The World in a Grain of Sand

“In this grain of sand a world is foreshadowed,” writes Richard Lichtman on the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US.

I am usually attracted to monumental themes in theory and literature: works like A C Bradley’s Appearance and Reality would seem to encompass everything. The first major book I wrote was The Production of Desire, a comparison and evaluation of the theories of Marx and Freud. There is a great deal to be said, however, for seeing ‘the world in a grain of sand … and eternity in an hour.’

The same notion applies to the tragedy of democratic corruption under capitalism. The foundation of this corruption is adumbrated in the pompous and bloated rhetoric we were to witness at the Democratic National Convention. However, what was equally revealing was the ubiquitous manifestation of such pervasive themes as militarism and self-sacrifice as embodied in the person of Tammy Duckworth, whose grievous physical wounds were the result of her involvement in the war in Iraq. A wound seems quite the opposite of an abstraction like patriotism, courage, or imperialism; a concrete instance rather than a distant generality. Yet, in her physical existence and her speech, we witness, permeating the surface, the synthesis of patriotism, sacrifice, glorification of military culture and the disregard of the wholly unnecessary, dishonest and brutal military invasion of Iraq that lead to the death and displacement of at least 500,000 Iraqi civilians. In this grain of sand a world is foreshadowed.

The glorification of self-sacrifice and self-desecration is the wound that is not permitted to heal; it the wound cut anew to bleed again beneath the scab that calls out for healing that will not be permitted to come.

Or consider a lead article in the West County Times: “Soldier Died Living a Dream; Mourning a Hero.” (May 22, 2012) “As long as his heart was beating, he served as a guardian of freedom.” Thomas Fogarty, “whose boyhood dream was to become a soldier” was killed on May 6, during his third combat tour. The paper has the extraordinary audacity and arrogance to speak for the dead, and furthermore, to speak a lie, to invent the speech it imagines he would have spoken had he been asked and given the chance. But that speech, had it been

delivered as claimed, would have been unsupported by the circumstances of his death, for the presence of the United States military in Afghanistan is another calamitous invasion that was and is doomed to failure. Guarding freedom had little to do with Thomas Fogarty’s death. So myths are constructed, murderous myths, one pathetic deceit at a time.

Finally, on what is apparently a wholly different track, the San Francisco Chronicle of Sunday, August 26, 2012 states that the “Tainted industry seeks a new public face … Wall Street, still reeling from public outrage and increased regulation, is in search of a new statesman.” Why so? Because Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, and widely regarded as the “dean” of American financial leaders, after a $5.8 billion trading loss and multiple investigations, appears to have been dislodged from his titular throne. So, Rakesh Khurana, a professor of management at the Harvard Business School maintained that there has opened a fissure in the status of American business statesmanship that “basically leaves a vacuum.” The result has not only been its effect on the realm of business leadership, but a considerable loss of confidence on the part of the public in U S banking on the part of the American public, dropping from 60 percent in 1980 to 41 percent to 21 percent in the current year.

Meanwhile, Brian Moynihan, CEO of The Bank of America; Vikram Pandit of Citigroup; Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and James Gorman of Morgan Stanley have all been revealed themselves to be less than wise and impregnable.

What, however, has this to do with the Democratic (and Republican) conventions and their fulsome presentations? Very simply, all these events are aspects of the construction and deconstruction of the surface of democratic-capitalist legitimacy, which functions to mask the underlying structure of capitalist exploitation.

It is crucial here to distinguish two separate issues: whether the new “public face” that is being sought is any less corrupt than the handsome, deposed face of Jamie Dimon and whether the underlying structure is open to any attempt to alter its more deep seated corruption. Very simply, it is strongly suggested, nothing will be done to alter the system of financial concentration that was previously regarded as too large to fail and has in the years since 2008 grown even larger.

The ground of “false consciousness” is rooted in the deeply exploitative nature of capitalism. This nature, which prevails in the most profound relations of capitalist domination of labor, presents itself in a surface made up of multitudinous events, all of which serve to reproduce these structures while deceiving us as to their function. This system, that not only cannot reveal itself, must provide the forms of “justification” that both make it invisible and simultaneously structure the motivation that maintains its agency. So, the usual myth that there exists a fundamental dichotomy between underlying structure (the view of the structuralists) and the experience of life (social phenomenologists) must be rejected.

Borrowing from both these tendencies we can assert that the surface is always the surface of a context that gives this “surface”its place and meaning; it always points beyond itself to the realm of its foundation. The lying down bears the mark of the labor of the days undergone, and the rising up, the anticipation of the days to come. How we address each other conveys our place in the social system; how much distance we place between ourselves, and the posture we take up is the mark of our intimacy or lack of it. The apparently minor events that make up our lives are never self-contained. So, when we attempt to understand the details of our lives we need simultaneously to understand the structures that provide them their location.