Friday, January 28, 2005

On tsunamis etc.

The person who sets an ideal of human happiness and freedom up against the brutalities of human evil and natural disasters and the pain and suffering they cause is often motivated to ask: ‘If a benevolent and omnipotent God really did exist, why is there so much suffering on the world?’ Such an inquiry does less to alleviate any actual suffering than it does to reveal a desire to expose God’s impotence, if not non-existence. Such skepticism depends on a one-sided image of God for its consistency. That is, it must not concede that there may actually be an horrific and painful aspect to divine creation, nor that these terrible qualities may be integral to the sublime itself. The general desire of the sceptic is merely to deflate the image of paternal or divine powers.

The unattainability of happiness and the frequency of human misery are not to be taken as signs of failure or as a frustration of human desire – let alone as a violation of our rights as humans or as a betrayal of some divine covenant. On the contrary, this constantly failed, but somehow necessary, attempt to symbolize and attain a positive, limited form of enjoyment is what constitutes and identifies happiness, psychologically and politically.

Money money money

If you take a $20 note to a shop, you can get goods and services in return. If you deposit it at a trading bank, they’ll pay you interest. But, if you take that note to the Reserve Bank, they will only give you another one in exchange. This says something about money as a signifier and its relationship with the figure of the sovereign. The irrational, brute force assumed by sovereign power is ultimately what backs the Reserve Bank (the bankers’ bank) and its power to issue notes that are ‘legal tender’. This guarantees the note’s command over goods and services – and hence over other people’s labour. On the one hand, the note is pure signifier, the signifier that stands for all other economic signifiers, the commodity of commodities (so to speak) that stands outside of the market for economic goods and services, and yet that forms the unity (the very unit of measurement) and liquidity of the market. This fact is even more obvious as money digitizes and becomes only virtual data. On the other hand, the note is pure object, a worthless excrement (no mistake that Freud saw money as symbolic of excrement), society’s most notorious objet petit a. It stands as a desired remainder and Master Signifier, symbolically outside and yet formative of the marketplace, and it operates not just as a ‘signifier of value’ but also as an object of (im)pure desire itself.