The Myth of the Market
Ed Levin’s comment to my last post on “The Market Principle” has goaded me into expanding on what I mean by “myth of the market”, and the necessity of “deconstructing” that myth, which I am very pleased to do. In the process, I think you’ll understand why Colin Couch’s “Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism”, which I also reference in my response to Ed, is, perhaps, not so strange, and why it hangs around like a zombie despite the breakdown of the market in 2008.
As the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership was sealed today (or yesterday), it’s a timely topic too.
By “myth” I mean not a confabulation but a sacred story. By now, we should have disabused ourselves of the old Platonic prejudice against myth as being synonymous with “lie”. The Book of Genesis, for example, is a myth. It isn’t history and certainly not faulty and “primitive science”. It’s symbolic or metaphoric form, designed to give concrete shape to fundamental intuitions that arise (or descend if you prefer) from what Aurobindo calls the latent “supramental truth-consciousness” which, as far as I can determine, probably means the same as what Jean Gebser calls “the Itself”.
After Carl Jung, Erich Neumann, Mircea Eliade, or Joseph Campbell, we shouldn’t be so flippant about abusing the word “myth”.
It is in this sense that I’m using the phrase “myth of the market” — the sanctification of the “universal market” or the faith in the market as global integrator and central principle of unity. As I mentioned in my comment to the last post, most people really don’t understand the “market mechanism”, as it’s called. But, strangely enough, they give it their allegiance and loyalty despite that. What they are loyal to is not the market but “the Market Story” — the myth. It’s been called “the White Man’s dreaming”, as I’ve heard the expression from others. As noted in “The Market Principle”, the universal market is the successor of God as centre and, later, “Universal Reason” as centre, which is why we speak anyway of “post-Christian” and also “post-Modern” (or “post-Enlightenment”).
The Market Story is a myth of transcendence and the transcendental, a role that was previously served by God and then by Reason, until both self-destructed in turn — the former by Crusade and Inquisition, and the latter (the Enlightenment) for all the reasons given by Rosenstock-Huessy in his important essay “Farewell to Descartes“. This is reflected in the public loss of confidence in the historical institutions of Church, State, and University which is being dubbed “the postmodern condition” or “malaise of modernity”.
Even the Pope yesterday, in a very interesting comment, lamented the Church becoming a “museum of memories“. Did you get that? It’s what Nietzsche’s “madman in the marketplace” shouted over a century ago about the death of God: “what are these churches now but the tombs and sepulchres of God”.
When we talk about the market becoming “disembedded” from the social milieu and taking flight, this becomes associated with transcendence, and it’s clearly in the titles of many books or phrases that fawn over the emergence of the universal market: “Soaring with the Eagles”, or “The Commanding Heights” or “Weightless Economy” or even “Jesus CEO”. Tom Frank noted something of this association of the global market with religious iconography in his book One Market Under God. He referred to the global market as an “altar”, which is quite appropriate.
This sanctification of the market is why the blasted thing won’t die. It has become an idol. And a lot of its critics, who are otherwise adept at dissecting the mechanics of the market and its deficiencies, simply overlook all this religious iconography and the significance of it. The myth of the market is the profanation of the sacred. And one can, if attentive, “read between the lines” of such critiques to detect that intuitive sense of the sacred that is being compromised and debased by commercialisation and marketisation, and much of it hinges upon the full and real meaning of the word “value” and the profanation of value.
I want to comment on that because just this morning I received Sri Aurobindo’s short booklet entitled “The Supramental Manifestation Upon Earth” in which he discusses what he calls “divinisation” of life and of physical existence, and I realised, in that moment, that commercialisation or marketisation is the profane aspect (the exoteric aspect we might call that) of that process of divinisation. It hinges on the meaning of “value realisation”, and herein is Blake’s antipathy to what he called “Commerce”. Commercialisation or marketisation is the antithesis of divinisation, the debasement of value. We might call it “the Shadow” in the Jungian sense.
In other words, divinisation and commercialisation are enemy processes in terms of “value realisation”, and in the sense of the sacred and profane. And yet, says Heraclitus, “the road up and the road down are the same” and Hades is the Shadow of Dionysus.
The sacred and the profane are often not that far apart, befitting what I call Khayyam’s Caution that “only a hair separates the false from the true”, which is, of course, what Colbert also ingeniously referred to as “truthiness”. Blake called the profane aspect of the sacred “the Ulro” — the Shadow world constructed and ruled over by the false God “Urizen”, the Architect of the Ulro. Urizen is the same as the Buddhist demon “Mara”, Lord of Illusions. Blake’s perception, however, was continuous divinisation. “All that lives is Holy” is not an idea or notion. It was Blake’s direct perception of reality.
You may recall Oscar Wilde’s definition of cynical reason: “to know the price of everything and the value of nothing”. Divinisation and commercialisation have a common root — value realisation. Only, as we might put it, one tracks upwards and the other tracks downwards. The sacred and the profane, the esoteric and the exoteric are very closely related, parabolically related, we might say.
The “global market” is not a rational thing. It’s a mythical thing, which has become an idol. Idols are metaphors that are now taken literally. It must be shown to be a mythical entity, that is a “meaning” as much, if not more, than a “mechanism”. Insight into the meaning of the market is just as necessary as analysis of the deficiencies of the market mechanism if we are to free our minds from the hegemony of the market myth.
The meaning is valid — the quest for a transcendent or “universal” principle of unity and integration — but how it gets implemented and to what that meaning gets attached can be a very dubious and perverse thing. In fact, isn’t that the very meaning of the word “per-verse” itself? The point in enantiodromia where a process inverts or “turns through” into its contrary and its mirror opposite.