The Earth as Marketplace

If commerce were permitted to act to the universal extent it is capable of, it would extirpate the system of war, and produce a revolution in the uncivilized state of governments. The invention of commerce has arisen since those governments began, and is the greatest approach toward universal civilization, that has yet been made by any means not immediately flowing from moral principles. — Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man

I am very intrigued by this statement from Tom Paine, for with it we come to the crux of the matter — the utopian mission of capitalism and the idealism of neo-liberal globalisation: a vision of the one space of the Earth as global marketplace realised as the universal civilisation of commerce, or the Empire of Commerce. The One World realised as a borderless and uniform space of free trade and commercial exchanges, a singular matrix of global supply and demand, of production and consumption, of “the virtue of selfishness” and acquisitive individualism; one global space of economic transactions for each and all, everyone peacefully pursuing their “rational self-interest” in the spirit of entrepreneurialism and universal goodwill.

It explains much behind the project of uninhibited global free trade. But the whole planet as “free market” and the Earth as Marketplace is delusional.

The Earth whose diverse life-spaces of the wild and the tamed are now reconceived as one homogenous space, as a singular commercial entity and economic unit — whose spatial boundaries and limits are contiguous with the “free market” — means that all such spaces must be processed and assimilated to the logic of the global commercial enterprise system, which proceeds 24/7. Your home, your bedroom, your living room, your kitchen, inasmuch as they are “private” spaces, stand as offences against and contradictions towards the universal market. They will be assimilated. They, too, become commercialised sites of supply and demand, of economic exchange, sites of production and consumption according to the logic and requirements of the universal free market, which is “free” only because it recognises no limits to itself. Your television, your telephone, your internet connection become simply extensions of the global market into your home, integrating or assimilating those spaces into its commercial logic. Even your love-making in the privacy of your bedroom, or the inner subjective space of your thoughts and feelings, can  be remade into “branded behaviours” and assimilated to the commercial logic of the Earth as global market.

And all in the name of universal harmony, peace, and prosperity, and all benevolently, uniformly, and universally administered by “the Invisible Hand”. No space must be left unassimilated. Anything and everything can be analysed, costed out, and commodified, and be assigned an exchange value in terms of dollars and cents because it is now the only language that makes sense. Even the dissenters from this project feel it is necessary to speak commercialese, and also recast the value of parks and wilderness in commercial terms and cost-benefit analysis. We seem to know no other language at our “end of history”.

The space of the Earth, as a web of life, is revalued as the web of commerce, which is the meaning of The Anthropocene. There is a kind of perverse mirror imaging here, a revaluation of values, that belongs to the problem of “technocratic shamanism” in which what is intuitively recognised as true is grasped, seized upon, analysed, rationalised, technicised and then systematised until it only becomes the shadow of the authentic and the true — as an image and idol. It is transmogrified. The web of commerce simulates the web of life just enough for us to become bewitched by its “truthiness”. We forget that it is just a simulation and an imitation, the result being, as Nietzsche put it, that “the will to a system is a lack of integrity”.

This, again, arises because of our deep confusion of the whole with a mere totality. The whole is what is given to us perfect, complete and entire of itself, before it is analysed and vivisected and abstracted into bits and parts, and then reassembled as a totality. The totality becomes a mere simulacrum of the real and of the whole. It only apes the whole. This is what the web of commerce does with the web of life and then usurps and displaces the latter and becomes, itself, only a pretense of the real.

Does that not remind you of something? Those of you who have read Iain McGilchrist’s book on neurodynamics The Master and His Emissary will recognise this usurpation as the work of the “Emissary”. And I happen to believe that the neo-liberal form of globalisation — this process of systematisation of the Earth’s spaces into the universal market — is only the workings of the “Emissary,” while “globalism”, which is the more holistic perception, is already the perception of the “Master” awareness. This is, I think, what underlies the distinction between “globalism” and “globalisation” wherein they are often confused with one another, and which corresponds to Nietzsche’s distinction between “integrity” (or the whole) on the one hand, and “system” on the other.  And so the difference lies again in the difference between the whole and the totality. Globalisation then becomes the process by which the “Emissary” mode of consciousness seizes the more globalist or holistic or integral perception of the “Master” awareness, breaks it down, vivisects it, and then reconstitutes it as a “genuine imitation”, as a totality — as “system”.

That is how I understand the difference between “globalism” and “globalisation”, as reflected in Nietzsche’s distinction of “integrity” and “system”, correspondingly, in which the Master’s more holistic perception of the web of life, which we know through “intuition”, is broken down, abstracted, and then translated and reassembled into a machine “totality”, and that this is, in effect, the process we call “secularisation” too, but which, when it forgets its source and its roots, becomes, instead, a profanation. Basically, “profanation” is what McGilchrist means by the Emissary’s “usurpation” of the perceptions of the Master awareness, the Emissary being, of course, the ego-consciousness, or otherwise Blake’s “Urizen”. Reductionism and fundamentalism, or the devaluation of values these represent, is the work of the Emissary consciousness structure. This is what Jean Gebser means by the current dominant “mental-rational consciousness” functioning in “deficient mode”.

We could say, that secularism is, in effect, the mental structure of consciousness, as Reason, functioning in “efficient” or “effective” mode, for it is involved in the “concretion of the spiritual” as Gebser calls it. But what we all “profanation” is the mental structure functioning in deficient mode as rationality — as “the mental-rational structure of consciousness” functioning as “rationalisation”, or as “technocratic shamanism”, as Algis Mikunas called it in his essay on “Magic and Technological Culture”.

And so, the translation of the integral life-spaces of the Earth into the singular, homogenous and uniform space of the global market and the “universal civilisation of commerce”, administered and adjudicated through and by the World Trade Organisation, is the work of technocratic shamanism. But, paradoxically, it is also very possible that it can be reversed in the other direction and that neo-liberal globalisation is itself preparing the way for a more authentic globalism, a truer integralism, and a more authentically life-based planetary civilisation than is promised by the “universal civilisation of commerce”.

After all, the roads that the Romans built to expand their empire, were the same roads used and followed to conquer Rome, and were the same roads the Christians took to evangelise Europe.



9 responses to “The Earth as Marketplace”

  1. abdulmonem says :

    Thank you Scott for another mental exploration in the way of knowing the real. There are certain questions the Paine quotation and your analysis raise into my mind. First , Is not commerce a contractual business builds on trust that pops up instantly from the human understanding of his moral principles . Second Does commerce roots up war or good intention and honest relation. Third does commerce makes civilized states or society in light of our present cmmercialized life. Fourth is not our earth, to begin with, a borderless space across which the humans meander freely through the process of human acquaintance and relation before the perverted cuts it in pieces and made humans meander over it impossible without permissions. Fifth is not the internet reminds us of our oneness, humanwise, earthwise and godwise ,specially through the free tools of exchange. I really like to understand what is going on. I do not think the real wants to confuse humanity saying you can not embrace me through knowledge but you can embrace me through love. Shams told Rumi the scriptures are god songs of love to humanity. There is a verse which state that,
    if all oceans are ink and all trees are pencils, the divine words will not be exhausted. Let us return to read in his school with its endless curriculum.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes. Firstly, Paine seems to think that commerce is an effective substitute for moral principles, ie, that “rational self-interest” is more effective than moral injunction. Quite apparently he is thinking of Adam Smith and Smith’s “Invisible Hand” as an effective regulator of commercial behaviour more than ethics.

      Secondly, history hasn’t demonstrated that “free trade” or commerce is an effective deterent to war at all. But this is still the presumption of neo-liberals like Thomas Friedman in his rather banal observation that countries with McDonald’s don’t go to war with each other, which is absurd.

      Also, even nature has borders and boundaries, and even the birds and animals and insects have their territories. In old times, rivers and mountain ranges, etc served as natural boundaries and borders between peoples. Today’s borders are purely legal or linguistic ones rather than naturalistic. But today, the spaces of the Earth are regarded as ecological zones or spheres but which, nonetheless, all work together, integrally, to sustain Earth as habitat for life. “Climate” includes all these spaces and zones — biosphere, atmosphere, stratosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, etc — these are, in a sense, the “chakras” of the Earth.

      The internet is a great tool, and it’s what I meant by that last statement about the “Roman Roads”. As such, it needs to be used wisely.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Charles Leiden kindly provided a link to an old essay by Karl Polanyi about “Our Obsolete Market Mentality” and “Civilisation Must Find a New Thought Pattern.” The essay is a little dated (pre-globalisation) but is still relevant. Polanyi’s objection to society being swallowed up by the market-economy (rather than the market embedded in society) parallels our discussion here of the Earth being swallowed up by the market-economy also. So, this essay is still pertinent to the issues today

  3. mikemackd says :

    Scott, I suspect that reversal you mention is beginning.

    For example, from November 2016 in Australia, when it comes to standard contracts put to households and small businesses, they will be challenge-able in court if those terms have not taken into account the specific characteristics of the other party or the particular transaction. The court must also consider such contracts wherein the party issuing the standard contract had all or most of the bargaining power, and several other such factors, and the court may void the whole contract, not only that clause, if it’s found to be unfair.

    The thing is, globalization as marketisation is a great deception. Market value is an agreement between sentient creatures, in particular human beings. It is not the property of any system, and in particular not the property of a capitalist one.

    To be precise, according to the International Valuation Standards Council it is the amount for which an asset or liability would exchange on the valuation date between a willing buyer and a willing seller in an arms-length transaction after proper marketing wherein the parties had each acted knowledgeably, prudently, and without compulsion.

    I submit that a system can only be termed a market system only insofar as it produces market value transactions, Perhaps that is what Paine was referring to, not that which is worshipped here as such. If the abuses identified by Australian Consumer Law can void contracts, why should such agreements be considered to have been at market value?

    Of course it’s all a bit more complex than that but, as Michael Hudson just wrote, the evidence is in and it can now be generalised that mainstream economics is a discipline of bootlickers, a celebration of the wealthy rentier class:

    Mumford, as usual, saw even deeper: we shape machines, then machines shape us (hold a gun and watch what happens inside you). He noted that “the total result [of the machine] was to displace living forms and to encourage only those human needs and desires that could be profitably attached to the productive mechanism” (The City in History, p, 530).

    Let’s roll back along those Roman roads.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes, the reversal is beginning. The multiple setbacks that the neo-liberal project has experienced lately, (and now with CETA and probably with TTIP too) and since the market meltdown of 2008, are creating an opening finally, although its proponents are probably right to panic about this mid-air stall. The economic growth that these trade deals were supposed to stimulate has faltered and is retracting, so that even the World Bank and the IMF have suggested that it has perhaps gone too far and overreached itself — the usual problem of hubris and Nemesis. So I think the time of its reversal is approaching, which will be the opportunity for its transformation rather than a reversal in the sense of isolationism. It’s an opportunity to translate globalisation, never very ecologically minded, into an authentic globalism that is.

  4. Charles Leiden says :

    Scott wrote,
    Yes. Firstly, Paine seems to think that commerce is an effective substitute for moral principles, ie, that “rational self-interest” is more effective than moral injunction. Quite apparently he is thinking of Adam Smith and Smith’s “Invisible Hand” as an effective regulator of commercial behaviour more than ethics.

    I would suggest that is one of the root assumptions of the modern economic society. Walter a. Weisskopf writes about this in an essay – The Image of man in Economics. He writes ‘
    when economics became an autonomous discipline, it separated itself from philosophy and theology. In the process, the theorists, such as Adam Smith made implicit assumptions about human nature – value judgments. He writes, These normative assumptions about the kind of human nature required by the economy performed a twofold function. As far as they were presented in the form of factual statements, they supposedly served as explanations of reality. However, by presenting what should be in the form of statement about what is, they served the purpose of justification and legitimization of existing existing institutions such as the free market and private property.” Acquisitiveness and self-interest had to be justified.

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