Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.Picasso
So if you’ve ever been to that awful place called the internet, you’ve probably seen this political compass chart around somewhile:
It’s everywhere. It’s been used as the basis for about a billion memes. On first glance, it looks like a decent enough chart. You’ve got your left/right axis, authoritarian/libertarian axis, and with that! You’re good. You can locate any existing political position somewhere on this chart. Let the lafs begin!
You already know what’s coming tho. Wait for it, wait for it!…..
THIS CONCEPT SUCKS!
Ya there we go, that’s the stuff. It sure does! Lemme list just a few things that suck about this conceptual configuration:
- Left and right? What, is it still the 18c? The fuck are we still using HANDS to understand politics with. This atavistic binary is just worthless in every way, it tells us nothing about the present and has no concrete content whatsoever. It’s like a neanderthal trying to operate a computer. This binary was already obsolete in the 19c, let alone today.
- Libertarian/Authoritarian – well, at least this axis has some concrete content to it. Freedom vs order! It’s not entirely useless. Unfortunately the delineation itself is already a political move – by accepting these definitions unquestioningly as they’re presented we’ve accepted our current social order’s way of understanding itself, and are now primed for media narratives that also use this binary.
The problem here isn’t so much with the binary itself, but in how we define and understand it. The chart assumes that freedom and order can only be opposed to one another. While there is certainly internal tension here – if we only approach it this way, we’ve missed that freedom/order are also interdependent with one another. They require one another to exist!
We can only be free if we are already a part of a political project that has imposed some kind of basic structure on a situation. So, the kind of freedom we have is directly related to the kind of order we already have. This also means that there are different kinds of freedom, and different kinds of order. There are many more dimensions to this axis than the graph is capable of showing, simply because it has reduced a whole spectrum of possibles to a two dimensional axis between opposites.
- The shape of the chart itself is a cross. This visually reinforces the idea that there is a ‘center’ to politics. The intersection in the middle looks like a neutral position – and this also reinforces the feeling that one is outside of this graph, looking at it from neutral. This is, of course, not the case. You are already on the political spectrum, but you’re not gonna have an easier time locating yourself on it with concepts like this one.
And of course, there is no ‘center’ to politics, no neutral position.
In this piece we’re gonna try to build a better political compass, adequate to the 21c and to the Post-Holocene. The first step in building any new concept is always, of course – destroying some old ones! So, we’re going to start by trashing everything about this shite – left/right, libertarian/authoritarian and the cross shape. It’s all garbage!
Instead of nebulous abstractions, I will start off with some actual history instead. After the first accumulation cycles, the capitalist revolutions and subsequent industrializations, political trends have all been clustered around this new society and its destiny. These trends had, by the 20c, crystallized into 3 main metapolitical groupings.
First off we have (classical) Liberalism. This was the first emergent political theory of capitalist society as it tried to understand itself. It is the oldest of these clusters, and the political landscape when it first came into being was very different than the world we live in now. Liberalism first had to define itself against now obsolete politics like monarchism and feudalism. Its theorists are legion – some of the primary ones include(d) John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and Thomas Hobbes. The political compass we just ditched is constructed from an inherently Liberal viewpoint.
Liberalism considers capitalist economic activity to be natural, and human beings to be naturally economic actors. Because of this, liberalism doesn’t define itself by means of the economic system it presides over and reproduces – instead, it points to its electoral cycle as its definitive feature, and calls itself ‘democracy’. Freedom, for a liberal, is understood as freedom from state power, while still nonetheless living a life dominated by value dynamics and the economic imperative of ‘work or starve’ – a situation that requires continuous state intervention to reproduce itself regardless.
While the electoral cycle fulfills an important function in making people feel like they have some kind of political agency, it also has some crippling flaws. Perhaps the biggest is this – liberal democracies cannot implement long term social plans, because their party apparatus is constantly cycling. The states themselves are also ideologically resistant to the kind of nationalization of industry it takes to actually have a plan. So, instead of any kind of social plan, – liberal democracies leave all future planning up to the economic machine, and the state ultimately serves and follows in the wake of this machine. If you’ve been reading anything on this site, you already know where this is heading.
Liberalism calls itself democracy in theory, but in practice it is and has always been oligarchy. The capitalist, landlords, and their bootlickers dominate the state and the media apparatus. The electoral system is set up to keep capitalist control at all costs.
Democracy in the Post-Holocene means public control over the why, when, what, and how of production – or it means nothing at all.
Secondly we have communism. While egalitarian/millenarian sects and revolts have been a recurring feature of our history, contemporary communism really began with the invention/discovery of historical materialism and the Paris Commune. Histmat analysis uses a completely different model of capitalist society and its history than liberalism does, and this model is built out of the deconstruction and critique of liberalism’s own models. For communists, the capitalist economy is not natural, nor are humans naturally commodified economic actors – simply because capitalism is factually an artificial historical construct, and for most of our history, humans weren’t commodities at all.
Libs and commies do not get along or communicate very well with one another because of this – while they may share some similar ‘progressive’ values sometimes, they also have divergent cognitive mappings of the social world (which you now have a taste of if you’ve tunneled through the matrix).
They also have different understandings of freedom. For communists, freedom is understood as freedom from economic domination, which is to say that communist projects try to give their participants a minimum level of material security (capitalism just lets people starve – 7.5 million a year!) This kind of freedom also has another, positive dimension – the freedom to participate in effective small scale and large scale social projects with others. Liberalism only tolerates this if said project doesn’t interfere with value dynamics or accumulation cycles – which is to say our ‘free societies’ only permit this kind of freedom if it accomplishes absolutely nothing.
Historically of course, this kind of freedom has turned out to come with a caveat – the return of state domination in exchange for material security and the ability to effectively struggle with others. It’s a tradeoff – but we also have never seen an economic apparatus like this that was not always already under siege by capitalism.
I want to emphasize that both historically and currently – people living in any kind of attempted socialist situation mostly accept(ed) it and even like(d) it. The image of some kind of totalitarian big brother state isn’t entirely without basis, but it’s also a ridiculously overblown liberal exaggeration of what it was actually like to live across the wall. If you didn’t fuck with the party apparatus, well – you were left alone for the most part. The state didn’t have the time or manpower to closely monitor and control hundreds of millions of people – they had way too much other shit to deal with. (Our current digital panopticon is actually a much better realization of the Big Brother ideal). You also could never have a tiny bureaucracy ruling a massive population like that by sheer force of arms or agitprop – especially a population that had a recent revolutionary past. Contra the external propaganda, there was a minimally consensual social contract in place, albeit a different one than we have. If there had not been, the project wouldn’t have lasted for a day.
It was basically this – feed us, or else.
If people aren’t fed then things implode immediately. Politics is all about food. People who can eat do not revolt. And indeed – in the relatively rare case that socialist states did have famines (the ones post collapse of the USSR don’t count, they were because of the trading network going down) the hungry people were more likely to be motivated to become more active in the ongoing social project rather than revolt against the state.
Another difference that often goes unnoticed – while participants in 20c Communist projects definitely did not have the freedom to criticize their state the way that we do, this was for a very simple reason – there, words mattered. Words could have a huge impact on the success or failure of the project, and this is similar to the kind of censorship that Western states have always practiced during wartime. Socialist states are always at war, because they are always under seige by an auto-expanding economic algorithm – capitalists hungry for new territory to expand into and exploit, pissed off that somebody is trying to stand up to their global domination.
We are in this kind of siege situation now, already – with our past selves.
Here, we can say whatever we want – because nothing that we can say has any impact on social outcomes. The economy and its stochastic division of labour rules all. This is why I can write this shit and not be arrested – within capitalist social relations, the site will accomplish nothing, and my friends at CSIS know this.
I want to live in a social project where I could be arrested for writing this shit. Then I would know my words matter!
Attempts to build alternative social systems come with all kinds of problems – because all social setups come with problems. Nonetheless – it’s hard to beat having guaranteed food, housing, clothing, education, and a job for everyone. It’s also hard to beat an economy that doesn’t exponentially grow, biosphere-wise! A majority of people living in (most – sorry Ukraine) ex-soviet states actually really miss this shit – they’re a lot worse off today than they were then.
Here’s a link to a compendium of information dispelling capitalist propaganda about socialist projects.
We have way better tools to try to do something like this now – most megacorps are already internally planned economies, just without a decent floor of material security/democratic rights for everyone. And of course – in the Post-Holocene, there has to be a plan – so some form of socialist climate planning is non-negotiable.
Finally we have fascism. Fascism is a response to both liberalism and communism. Now, it’s gonna be hard for me to say constructive things about this one, because my understanding of it is and will always be completely external to (and critical of) fascisms own internal understanding, and reading this shit gives me a headache. There is no neutral, I sure ain’t neutral, I’m not pretending to be neutral, and I don’t like fascists – if you want a sympathetic account of this shit read big boy Adolph, or Heidegger or Schmitt I guess. (Or Jung – oh snap!)
Fascism doesn’t really have much of a historical analysis to work off of. Instead, fascism is more like a reflexive response of traditional essentialism to the ongoing undermining of its authority and influence by liberalism and communism. Fascism builds an assumed holistic essentialist identity, projects that identity back into the past (believing this identity to have come from the past and thus experiencing this as return to authentic roots), and then sets out to build an anti-liberal, anti-communist empire out of this self-image.
Fascists don’t really give much of a shit about freedom. The regulative ideal of the social here is a projection of Fascism’s innate essentialism – a closed, organic, homeostatic, holistic order where everyone is in their ‘right place’, and social antagonisms have been erased. History shows this to be quite literally impossible – social antagonisms (conflicts of interest) are constitutive of humans doin thangs, and always have been.
So when fascists try to eliminate social antagonisms, they necessarily have to begin a project to exterminate the ‘figure of the Other’ that holds their essentialist identity together. Because Fascist projects can’t exist without this Other as a target, they also tend to immediately initiate offensive campaigns of territorial expansion.
Fascists are likes zergs this way. They never stop coming at you.
Very nasty stuff.
Nobody wants this.
Fascism is what is known as a counter-revolution – you only get infected with weaponized Fascists if there has been an attempted and failed socialist revolution. That being said, because Fascism is inherently a reaction to pro-active, future-oriented political organization, it is a reflexive reaction by something already latent in the population – traditional essentialist biases, themselves a privilege for those at the top of the hierarchy.
This is called Proto-Fascism, and it is everywhere. Fascism as a project is basically an alliance of all the benefactors and rulers of the current order (essentialists all) accidentally starting their own zerg rush revolution while putting down the organized revolution.
Everybody loses when this happens.
The innate essentialism of Fascism is one of the many reasons I’m an anti-essentialist, and why I think it would be a very good idea for you to be one too. Anytime any kind of essentialism gets weaponized there’s gonna be lots and lots o’ killin. You can see this today in North America with its overt culture of White-essentialism and what it does to our PoC comrades, you can see it in the Jewish-essentialist project of Israel and what it is doing to our Palestinian comrades. Essentialist identitarianism has always, and will always dehumanize and kill its Other – full stop.
I’m trying to write more descriptive shit about Fascism but all that’s coming out is polemic so I’ll stop.
These are the big 3 political formations of the capitalist epoch, which we have yet to overcome. They’ve all done incredibly shitty things and killed millions and millions of people (the winner bodycount wise tho isn’t who you think, dear reader), and they each see themselves as the good guys and their others as the bad guys.
There have been many attempts to build a 4th politics, seeing as all 3 of these clearly suck a lot, but all of these attempts have turned out to be just new variations of these 3 metapolitical structures. What we’ve got, political resource wise, is encompassed within the big 3 – or, politics is both inescapable and obsolete at once. (Given our current historical conditions, we can’t rule this latter option out, but it’s irrelevant to the current exercise atm).
Because of their mutual hostility, the 3 metapoliticks like to think of themselves as totally separate and completely different from their ‘others’. However, just like essentialist identities – it turns out they actually each need one another to define themselves. They are both separate and connected.
With all that in mind, here’s my first stab at a conceptual shape adequate to the 3 politics, their relations with each other, and their history:
Ah, that’s better! Already we’re getting somewhere. This shape has some huge advantages over our previous shitty one.
- It actually respects the existence of all three of these politics as distinct political movements and perspectives, rather than cramming them into an already-liberal framework pretending to be ‘neutral’. The only real use for our old shitty compass would be to superimpose on this one 3x. While this would certainly be a productive avenue of investigation, I want to kibosh ye olde shite cross entirely for the purposes of this exercise so I’m gonna just dead-end it for now.
- It shows you that the 3 politics are connected to each other in addition to being separate from one another. They’re snuggling! Awww.
The intersections of the circles are where you’re gonna find all the hybrids, of which there are tons. Let’s cram some existing tendencies in there now and see what it looks like!
THIS IS NOT THE FINAL POLITICAL COMPASS.
Note: the placements of these tendencies on the triple-ring are totally adhoc! You can disagree with them as much as you like! And when you do (you will) please make a new one you like better and share it! (Especially so I can replace this one – it seems to be causing a lot of confusion).
More triple-ring advantages:
- It makes it more clear that there is no neutral way to see any of these circles. You can see communism and liberalism from a fascist perspective, you can see fascism and communism from a liberal perspective, and you can see liberalism and fascism from a communist perspective, but you can’t see any of them from a neutral perspective. If you’re a primate and you’re reading this – you’re already on the graph somewhere.
This ends up having a fun effect – each of the bubbles sees the other two as identical. The more securely you are in one of these formations, the more the other two will start to blend together. This is a necessary effect of the parallactic structure of the political field.
Funny stuff. This kind of parallax is actually constitutive of our minds, so you can find it in just about any field of human endeavor you care to look, if you know what to look for. You can easily test this on yourself just by rotating your own mind around this shape with a big stack of books.
- That space in the middle isn’t any kind of neutral – it’s a space of conflict. The middle is what each of these bubbles is fighting over – hegemony. The dominant politick controls the center, and gets to do things like shape the media narratives, write the history books, educate the chilluns, write the laws, pick the judges, order the military around, all that fun hegemonic shit &c &c
- Finally, this model is gonna isomorphically map onto my Lacanian mind model, when I get around to building that.
So we’re off to a pretty good start here with this new shape. But we’ve got some problems too:
- None of these formations is actually a closed, unified circle. Just because you’re in the same circle with someone doesn’t mean you’re going to just magically agree on everything. Politics is war by other means! Each formation is always in conflict with itself, and is actually held together by these internal conflicts. We can call a conflict that is structurally integral to a political situation a contradiction. So, we need to split the circles to show these contradictions.
- The fascist/liberal/communist labels are all a minefield of 20c historical connotations for everyone. This doesn’t help us get to a 21c perspective at all.
So let’s fix this. I’ll wipe the 20c labels and replace them with the temporal orientations of each politick. That’s right, with these 3 circles, we can neatly capture a politics that retreats to the past, a politics that manages the present, and a politics that advances to the future.
Now we’re getting somewhere! I’ll try to avoid the old 20c labels from now on.
Let’s think about the contradictions internal to each of these formations.
Past-pol is inherently essentialist, identitarian, particularist, and is actively hostile to any kind of universalism. If this politick had a motto, it would be something like ‘born better’. This all means past-pol is necessarily held together by the ‘other’ of its reified identity.
The big primary conflict in this politick is between those who are aware of this ‘other’, and those who are not yet aware. Classically of course, this other was The Jew, but it could and can be any other (insert ethnic slur here) essentialist identity. I’m gonna keep using the Jew as the primary example here out of solidarity with the victims of the holocaust.
Both sides of Past-Politicks are held together by this other figure, but the past-politicks that have ‘named the Jew’ are now actively conscious of this. In the terms of our old bad hand concepts, the naming of the Jew is the barrier of entry into the ‘far-right’. So for one side of past-politick, the Jew is implicit, and for the other side, the Jew is explicit.
Present-pol is less essentialist and identitarian, and has a universalist dimension that has been hegemonic for decades but has been losing its grip for quite some time. This universalist dimension believes itself to be neutral – it uses abstractions like ‘human’ or ‘people’ to cover up the functioning of the economy and structural antagonisms of interest. The motto of this politick would be something like ‘we’re all individuals’.
Present-politics is focused on managing and tweaking the existing state of affairs, and has serious future-blindness as a result. The conflict here is very obvious because it’s been hegemonic in the west for almost 80 years now – ‘liberals’ vs conservatives! Democrats vs republicans. ‘Left’ vs ‘right’.
Economically speaking this is just a fight between social democracy (keynesianism) and neoliberalism (monetarism) – in materialist terms, between the interests of the urban cores vs the ruralities. Culture war idpol bullshit is largely just fluff on top of this – either side can, will, and does manipulate all kinds of idpol for their own ends. Never trust a politician appealing to an identity kids!
Future-pol has an emancipatory universalist dimension that is opposed to that of the present-politick. This opens up a contradiction within universality itself, making f-pol both partisan and universal at once. The call of this politics is always thus – ‘join us! You are one of us!’
Traditionally the big gap here was between reform and revolution, but this doesn’t help us much in the 21c. Let’s get concrete: any future-oriented politick adequate to the Mass Extinction Event is going to have to tackle that shit head on, so I’ll speculate that the ‘reform vs revolution’ axis of the 20c is now something more like the ‘green new deal’ vs ‘the green army’ – a reformist overhaul within the existing state of affairs vs a full scale mobilization against the Event.
contradictions, relations to universality, slogans
That’s starting to look pretty sexy.
More Sufficiently Materialist
Thus far this has all been pretty abstract and kind of idealist. Let’s get materialist about this shit.
Each of these politics is a different way of responding to a cataclysmic rupture in our history – the invention/discovery of capitalism. Capitalist accumulation cycles have a very simple structure: they look like this.
M – C – M+
Where M = money and C = commodities. In the case of production, the commodities in question are always going to be twofold – labor power (LP) and means of production (MP).
It works like this: to start a business, you need money. Then, you need to use that money to buy workers and machines/tools to make your product. To be able to do this, you have to have both an available supply of people willing to sell you their time, and the necessary resources.
Then, having made the thing, you sell it and pocket more money than it took to make it, ideally – M+. Finally you throw the more moneys back into the cycle, and the whole thing repeats itself at a slightly larger scale.
M – LP/MP – M+
This is the basic structure of the production level of capitalist accumulation at its simplest. You may have noticed that there’s no environmental elements factored in there – this is necessary for profit (M+) to occur.
Like, at all!
Any biospheric damage control that’s even possible within this cycle is always secondary to the necessary closure and expansion of the cycle. The bottom line always wins.
You may have also noticed – you can’t vote this shit away. No successful electorally focused party will ever go near capitalist accumulation, cuz it’s how all our food and toys happen. Any attempt to fuck with it would necessarily launch us into a chaotic transition period, and nobody who benefits from accumulation is gonna vote for that.
You may even have finally noticed – this loop hasn’t brakes. Once it starts, it keeps expanding.
Until it can’t anymore.
Now, for most of our history this cycle may have happened sometimes and somewheres sporadically, but it was not the ultimate determinant of all of our lives as it is now. What happened 5-6 centuries ago in Europe (then peripheral to the Muslim world) is that the cycle of expanded reproduction was practiced as a conscious goal on a collective scale for the very first time. This process was necessarily violent, because no self-respecting human being has ever voluntarily wanted to work for a wage. The class of wage laborers had to be created by brute force and generations of cultural revolution.
The accumulation cycle had massive advantages over the structure of feudal economics, which did not have any mechanism for automatic expansion (a very good thing for long term survival, but incapable of competing against exponential growth). Capitalist accumulation has turned out to be almost irresistable – as the accumulation cycle expanded it has destroyed and re-built entire empires in its wake, and has crushed most attempts to stand up to it or stop it.
Insofar as we are materialists, food comes before ideas, and the accumulation cycle is the hand that feeds. So, all 3 of the big metapolitical structures are all differing responses to this cycle, cuz none of them can exist without it – or food. Let’s put it in the middle!
accumulation cycle add
Now that’s looking a little more sufficiently materialist. It’s the accumulation cycle that’s holding the whole structure together!
For materialists, politics is ultimately just about food. We all have to eat, and so – there is no outside of politics. We each have to get our food via political-economic maneuvering. If you want to know about somebody’s politics, just look at how they get their food. That’s their connection to the economic apparatus.
If they’re at the top of the system their political conceptual apparatus/experiential horizon will likely be structured around justifying and defending this relation and the privilege that comes with it. When they’re not at the top, well – their horizon will probably be a lot more about ameliorating the suffering and degradation that comes with this relation, or trying to climb the ladder, or revolting against their conditions. And if they’re somewhere in the ‘middle’ (still p much the top), you’ll have a bottom perspective looking up, and a top perspective looking down.
Which one is dominant will depend on how much time and mental space you spend looking up or downwards.
If this seems too a-priori or universalizing, don’t take my word for it – test it out for yourself! In fact, you should be questioning everything, and testing everything for yourself! The Holocene is over and there is no subject-supposed-to-know!
The Last Piece – Historical Necessity
It should be a little clearer as to why I’m always ranting about capitalism being a mass extinction event now. If you let accumulation cycles run rampant across a planet for hundreds of years, well. lol.
As the mass extinction event sets in, it is becoming and will become more and more urgently necessary to stop accumulation cycles. We lived for most of our history without an automatically expanding economic apparatus, so there really just isn’t any actual need for it – other than apathy, ignorance, selfishness and greed. The longer we let capitalism go on for, the more dire this necessity will become. Eventually, of course – it will stop on its own, having finally cannibalized its own enabling conditions. And everything else.
As the crisis intensifies, the contradictions internal to each of our metapolitical formations will also exacerbate. This will totally ruin present-pol, as it has no other reason to exist other than to perpetuate capitalist accumulation. It thus has no conceptual resources to deal with the ongoing crisis – because it is the crisis. If ‘voting’ changed anything, it’d be illegal!
Thus, present-pol will be pushed towards past-pol and future-pol, and both of these will be pushed towards their outer limits. Past-pol will have to confront Naming its Other, and Future-Pol will be pushed farther towards mass mobilization and The Green Army. This process has already been happening for decades now, and it will continue to intensify.
‘Normal’ is never coming back, because there never was a normal to begin with.
a better concept bitches
So there ya go. It ain’t perfect cuz no concept is, but I can pretty much guarantee that this, this! – this is a half-decent political compass for the 21c. And it’s definitely far superior to that gobshite cross.
I declare this: a better concept!
Retroactive edit: added crosses in the intersections to try to capture the space of possible combos.
Some caveats: there are probably an infinite number of conceptual lenses you can throw at these formations and their intersections and contradictions – these are just the ones that are also the most relevant to the mass extinction event.
The relations to particularity and singularity aren’t dealt with here either – this is just not something I can do for you. I’m exploring a dimension of universality. Here’s a secret that anti-essentialists know: everyone has a relationship to a dimension of universality. (Which is why fascists are not only bad, they are also wrong). So, you can explore with me if you like, and I cannot guess as to the particulars of you. It will all be flavored with the uniqueness of you.
Every universality is tinged with the particulars and the singularities of one voice. Mine is no exception.
Which is all to say – this author thinks that The Author is dead, and knows that the Signifier is minimally autonomous. Go nuts with this shit. Do whatever you want with it. I don’t care what you’re thinking, as long as you are.
Understanding the structural necessity of our minds’ relation to some dimension of universality gives us the power to choose which dimension we live in. Busting out of one and entering another gives you a big advantage – you will develop the tools to start rebuilding your own. There are a bunch of religious universalities that can be useful too – that’s right kids, you can be in more than one dimension of universality at the same time! The materialist wager here is that, insofar as we disallow magic and god, religious universalist dimensions can be read politically as, well – a relationship with food.
If you have to eat, you are a political animal. If you speak and are spoken by language, you are a sexual animal. A political-sexual dissection of religion (or ideology): better conceptualized as discourse/practice formations – is therefore the basis of an insanely productive materialist anthropology.
After the Cliff
And so but of course like all concepts it’ll die eventually. Probably pretty soon actually – it is necessarily limited by our historical moment and conditions, which are hilariously terminal, ludicrously turbofucked.
After the cliff, accumulation cycles will have ceased the world over. The biosphere will have its first moment of freedom in centuries! The time of global history will be over, and whatever happens next will be necessarily local.
With nothing holding them together anymore, these political formations will fly apart, and begin to transform and evolve in new and different directions in different localities. After capitalism finally stops, the survivors will have the opportunity for the kind of political experimentation that this species hasn’t been able to do for more than half a millenia. There will be a lot of politics on the table that are currently inoperative.
These survivors will be in an extinction race, so let’s hope those poor sadsack motherfuckers choose to be future-oriented!