Both ‘economic’ and ‘political’ are false categories as they are impossible to be distilled from the wholeness of social relations without causing mass delusion which is the case in the world we inhabit currently – dictated and straitjacketed as it has been by the ‘West’.
The world that we live in looks and feels increasingly “mechanistic, fragmented and decontextualised”, writes Iain McGilchrist, a psychiatrist, writer and former Oxford literary scholar, in his book, ‘The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World’.
The book explains the way the so called ‘Western civilization’ shaped up over centuries in terms of hemispheric functioning of the brain – the right hemisphere oriented more towards the wholeness of perspective while left being more detail-oriented. Things seem to have gone horribly wrong for the ‘West’, with the left side progressively dominating the right, according to McGilchrist’s thesis.
Read more about the book on the following link.
A more entertaining way to get a gist of McGilchrist’s thesis would be to view the ‘RSA animate’ of it on the following link.
An essay-review of the book by Arran Gare, an Australian philosopher, is available in PDF on the link below.
I agree with McGhilchrist that the ‘West’ and its knowledge system have rendered the world “increasingly mechanistic, fragmented and decontextualised”.
I, however, need only common sense – not the left brain-right brain analysis or anything of that sort – to see how the ‘West’ and ‘Western’ hegemony mechanises, fragments and decontextualizes the world and thus turns our experience of it into a nightmare.
This common sense approach consists in looking at the world at two levels – conceptual and empirical – which simply means trying to get an understanding of the categories in which the ‘West’ divides human life and then examining how those categories then shape our lives and our experience.
Let me apply this common sense approach to examining two categories, namely ‘economic’ and ‘political’ both of which have come to dominate the world -- and fragment, decontextualise, mechanise it -- primarily through the ‘Western’ hegemony and ‘Western’ knowledge systems.
The 'common sense' that one needs to be able to see through the two categories of 'economic' and 'political' consists primarily of the following.
(a) An understanding of the language (how it is used and abused and a willingness to uncover the concepts in their pure and original forms)
(b) An elementary understanding of the democratic theory (such as how simple models of direct and representative democracies function)
(c) An eye on the way families, communities and societies actually function
(d) A lot of factual information (news and commentary obtained through the media).
So what do words, 'economic' and 'political', mean?
If one reflects on this question, one would be hard pressed to reach any definitive senses – unless, of course, one invokes a ‘society’ (or ‘social’ – another category used along with the two in question).
The two concepts (as represented by the words, ‘economic’ and ‘political’) have quite obviously been abstracted from ‘social’ (or social relations).
So some aspects of ‘social relations’ have apparently been abstracted from ‘society’ and given the name ‘economic’ -- a purely mental and quite an arbitrary process.
Similarly, some other aspects of relations seems to have been abstracted from ‘society’ and given the name ‘political’ – in another purely mental and arbitrary process.
So while ‘society’ and ‘social’ is a real category – with real existence of individuals and their inter-relationships – ‘economic’ and ‘political’ are only arbitrary (and indeterminable) abstractions from the wholeness that ‘society’ or ‘social’ represents.
In other words, 'economic' and 'political' have no real existence – i.e. they have no existence outside the mind; even within the mind they can’t be conceived without first imagining a society.
Thus, 'economic' and 'political' are empty shells -- created solely to serve the interests of the powerful and filled inevitably by the powerful with whatever meanings that suit them.
No meaning, however, can ever be given to 'economic' and 'political' that cannot simply be represented by some 'social' relation -- because there is absolutely nothing we are talking about here other than human society and social relations.
The unrealness and arbitrariness of 'economic' and 'political' – I believe – are borne out not only by traditional communities, but also by the way a 'modern' family functions.
Do the members of a family compartmentalize some aspects of their relationships into 'economic' and 'political'? Is it possible for us to separate the emotional support a mother provides her children from the material – or 'economic' – one?
Likewise, a small rural/tribal community has absolutely no reason or need to divide and segregate its affairs into the compartments of 'economic' and 'political'.
In fact, there is no evidence in studies of human communities through history that show that such a division is made. A community can do everything, including production and distribution, without ever inventing the word 'economic' and inventing anything resembling an 'economic' theory. 'Economic' (whatever it means) would just be inherent in its overall social relations.
In fact, production and distribution have always been social and familial activities in traditional societies. The community can similarly run itself without ever creating a compartment called 'political'.
Here is an extract from Karl Polanyi's book, 'The Great Transformation'.
"The outstanding discovery of recent historical and anthropological research is that man's economy, as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships. He does not act so as to safeguard his individual interest in the possession of material goods; he acts so as to safeguard his social standing, his social claims, his social assets.
He values material goods only in so far as they serve this end. Neither the process of production nor that of distribution is linked to specific economic interests attached to the possession of goods; but every single step in that process is geared to a number of social interests which eventually ensure that the required step be taken. these interests will be very different in a small hunting or fishing community from those in a vast despotic society, but in either case the economic system will be run on noneconomic motives."
-- Chapter IV, Societies and Economic Systems; http://taodesigns.tripod.com/polyani/polyani44IV.html
The same point can be inferred from 'The Gift', the book written by French philosopher Marcel Mauss in which he explains gift exchanges in traditional communities. (Even a ‘modern’ family continues to function on the lines of gift exchanges.)
One might ask: What are business corporations and States if not 'economic' and 'political', respectively?
It’s true that business corporations have been built on ‘economic’ – an artificial, arbitrary and unreal category – they can never achieve any of their ends without the wholeness of social relations, even while pretending otherwise. The same can be said about the States, which pretend to be 'political'. (They can only pretend because 'political' has no real existence.)
Thus, in the real world, ‘economic’ and ‘political’ are what I would describe as the un-abstract-able abstractions – i.e. it is impossible to create institutions that can even remotely be described as purely ‘economic’ or ‘political’. In other words, it’s impossible to compartmentalize the wholeness of ‘society’ or ‘social relations’ into ‘economic’ and ‘political’.
The pretense, however, continues in the real world – much like the myth of ‘homo economicus’ – with disastrous consequences.
It’s easy to see how these two imposters, ‘economic’ and ‘political’, have been undermining ‘social’, right from family and small communities to the huge nation states.
The ‘Western’ hegemons first created ‘economic’ and ‘political’ theories -- such as neo-classical economics whose ‘empirical’ basis lies in shambles, quite unsurprisingly -- and then turned them into rigid orthodoxies to be imposed on the entire world.
(These hegemons are the same that cobbled together huge States from much smaller human communities, thus reinforcing this unnatural process of abstraction.)
Apply basic democratic theory to any community - or a large nation state- and it’s easy to see why they have no reason to accept anything other than their own collective and common-sensical judgement as to how they should conduct themselves -- rather than the fraudulent ‘economic’ or ‘political’ theories dispensed, a dime a dozen, and imposed on the world by the ‘Western’ hegemons.
What is implied here that in any autonomous community, run on more or less democratic lines, the categories 'economic' and 'political' would have no existence because all decisions would simply be taken 'socially' and 'democratically' - rather than be straitjacketed or distorted by the narrow considerations/theories labelled 'economic' and 'political'.
The larger implication is that ‘economics’ and ‘political science’ have no justification to continue to exist as stand-alone academic disciplines; they need to be abolished and we should only have a holistic ‘social science’ discipline.
Instead of straitjacketing our lives into these two categories, Indians, who are known the world over for their holistic thinking, must question, challenge and demolish the two obviously fraudulent categories of ‘economic’ and ‘political’.
'Abstraction', by the way, is a great tool to understand how the 'West' has long been committing what I call 'conceptual frauds', making for "an increasingly mechanistic, fragmented, decontextualised world".
Arran Gare (whose essay-review of McGilchrist's book is linked above) seems to agree with me.
Witness: "To begin with, science abstracts from the rich diversity of the world a few abstract properties and takes this ‘columbarium of concepts, the graveyard of perceptions’ to be the true reality, portraying nature, as Whitehead put it, as ‘a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colourless; merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly."
(I would simply replace the word "science" in the above para with 'the West'.)
The following is a recap of what I have said above.
'Society' or 'social' is a real category because it refers to something real, namely human life in all of its relationships with fellow humans.
'Economic' and 'political' are false categories or have no real existence because they are merely abstracted from 'society' or the totality of 'social' relations. Even as abstractions, they have no well defined meanings.
What ever meanings are assigned to 'economic' and 'political', these two abstractions can, at best, only inhere in - and cannot be separated from - social relations.
While people may be able to be 'educated' to bend their minds to somehow make room for these two grotesque concepts, it is impossible to have some real and distilled existence of 'economic' and 'political' other than their inherence in the wholeness of social relations.
(In other words, there is no such thing in human affairs as purely 'economic' or purely 'political' relation.)
The unnatural, overwhelmingly coercive, concerted and insidiously gradual efforts to give a 'real' and distilled existence to 'economic' and 'political' have resulted in a disaster – namely an increasingly "fragmented, decontextualised and mechanistic" world; it has led to subordination of 'social' to the two false categories of 'economic' and 'political', which translates into growing enslavement of humanity.
(That’s why it’s a problem and a massive one.)
These perverse and fraudulent efforts include creation by the powerful of the cognate academic disciplines of 'political science' and 'economics' and insinuating their self-serving ideologies in being accepted gradually by the public as theories, laws, sciences, etc., by such measures as Nobel Prize for Economic Science.
The societal fightback should include seeing through the false categories – and how mere mental abstractions can be turned into instruments for enslavement of humanity.
It's not difficult to see that when 'society' (or 'social') asserts itself heartily enough, the two ghosts simply disappear – that is, 'economic' and 'political' simply dissolve or become nugatory in any community (imagine a small, close-knit one) that is run, more or less, democratically, simply because communal values like solidarity and emotional bonding become more important than the narrow considerations usually subsumed under the two false categories.
I’ll be posting another piece shortly to put forward my thoughts on 'religion' – another fraudulent and unreal category fabricated by the 'West' and abstracted from 'culture'.