How Capitalism is the Metaphysics of Obscenity; a Diatribe

I

Without being a Marxist, I can say that virtually everything about Capitalism is obscene. I can say this without concluding that Capitalism is in itself evil. I am not going to venture an analysis of socio-economic systems. (I will repeat this in Part II.) I do not assent to Capitalism being an evil, nor do I agree that it is invariably good, nor do I think that it is neutral and therefore virtually, if not actually, benign. Most of us think that when something is understood to be neutral, it is at least implied, if not predicated, that this thing is benign and only remotely possibly malignant. There are many who might like to conclude the neutrality of Capitalism, as if expressing the wisest assessment, but then this is born of America’s love affair with consensus. Yes, everyone is allowed to disagree and present opposing positions, so long as they conform to the dogma that everyone must reach consensus in the end. What is is, though, whether I have formed an opinion on the moral state of capitalism–can an ism have morality? What is the moral state of Capitalism. This is the question, or one of the questions that must be asked and thought through to determine whether capitalism is a good or an evil or neither or both. I will, though, refrain from concluding that what is is right. What is, is, and whatever is is as it is when it is where it is however it is or becomes. I am also going to avoid what most ideological Capitalists like to assert, and that is that Capitalism is natural, more organic to humans and their interactive needs than any other socio-economic system. I am not now, nor have I ever been, nor am I likely ever to be a communist; but I cannot agree that Capitalism is a more natural economic system.

What then am I saying–I am saying that Capitalism creates obscenity on an unparalleled level; of course it does. But first we must understand what obscenity is, what, therefore, is obscene; or more importantly, how am I using the term obscene, and what implications will it have for my argument. Obscenity, Baudrillard reminds us is not restricted to sexuality. I understand how quickly many educated Americans (especially educated Americans) might recoil from any critique from a French intellectual of their most fervently pursued and defended faith–western bourgeois capitalism. But yes, Baudrillard tells us that obscenity is found everywhere in society, and that it can be applied to anything in society that is a matter of social negotiation.

Obscenity is pornographic; this is the most popular understanding of what is obscene. The use of profanity might be another, yet this is a most highly restrictive sense of what is obscene. Since the sixties, our cinema has had a highly revised sense of obscenity, what should always be, as the ancient Greeks would have said, ob skena, that is, off stage.

Now, pornography, in its links with obscenity, has permeated everything we do, everything we represent through our media, everywhere in our society including the sex trade (as we like to call it when we want to soften what we think about trading in sex, buying and selling human beings and what we call sexual gratification). Yes, what we say without words in America is if sex is included in trade, then the obscene must be okay–whatever is sexually pornographic has to be good. If it makes money, how can it be bad? Whatever is evil n pornography is counterbalanced by the money one makes? Could this be what we are saying? It seems so. We do prefer our criminals who make a lot of money and make money for others, usually corrupt politicians–yes, we prefer these money-making criminals to the decent man who makes little money. I am not herein asserting that all pornographers are criminals or that pornography in itself is criminal, although we do have draw lines, all definition, all laws, all ethical systems have boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. Nevertheless, there has to be something wrong with the man who is good to a fault in the marketplace, the good man who does not make a lot of money has some defect, doesn’t he? This remains implicit.

Of course, I understand that I am using ‘obscene’ in a restrictive sense, one that has been given to us through a prolonged negotiation in our society and its traditions of theater. In its etymology, ‘obscene’ comes from the Greek ob skena, which literally translates, off stage. There are other meanings applied to the prefix ob. Another one, for which we could find a connotation appropriate is ‘against.’ Scenes of violence and sex were to take place off-stage. Orestes revenge does not take place on stage. Clytemnestra kills Agamemnon ob skena. So, the obscene is what should take place off stage, but what stages are we talking about?

If all the world is a stage, then anyplace is a stage and thus there are many off stages. In the matter of pornography as we understand it to be sexually explicit media we have a special stage for what would have been off stage. Newly constructed stages where there are refined notions of what should and should not be staged. Snuff films are outside the boundaries of conventional porn, of course. Their criminality and inhumanity in the extreme make them more than obscene within the confines of what is pornography, socially acceptable porn. I am not going to herein delineate what is and is not acceptable pornography in the conventional sense of sexual explicit material. I will not discuss the varieties of pornographic media and what their “tastes’ are, or the set of values they impart, or the market they feed or create.

What then is obscene if everything is seen? If all that would have been ob skena, or was ob skena, is in view, then what is obscene? The obscene is, in one connotation, anything that should not be mise en scene, which, when written in itlaics without hyphens, translates from the French, put or placed in scene, put or places on stage. So, the mise-en-scene (note well the hyphens) is really an antonym of obscene. There used to be a whole ongoing dialogue in my New England bred mother’s family on the dialectic of public and private. What was public space and what was appropriate in public space and what was appropriate in private space and where that private space began and ended was of paramount importance in determining what was obscene, literally here, what should remain off stage, in the private scenes of ones life.

Public space was a stage. Taking my cock out on the bus is obscene. Taking my cock out in the kitchen with my wife when we are home alone is not. Fucking in the back yard at night when everyone is asleep may or may not be obscene; fucking on a park bench in the middle of the day is obscene. Fucking on the same park bench at three A.M. when no one is around might be obscene to an arresting police officer, but may not in the opinion of a judge be the same sentence as given to the couple fucking on the park bench in the middle of the day.

We do have something very close to contextualism–what some like to call perspectivism, but I insist needs a new connotative understanding–But then, the removal of our stages, the elimination of the theater of society does make everything we do, ob skena, acquiring the taint of former obscenity for everything we do and say. Obscenity is also that which can be called against staging; therefore, all that is confrontational in its presentation, all that is against the conventions of social staging–all the world again . . . .

Outside the conventions of traditional theater, and in my estimation this includes the Greeks of antiquity, yes, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are within the conventions of traditional theater in the West, in fact, they are the beginnings of our tradition in theater. They represent the forms of theater in their variegation we enjoy today. Every theater–every staging–is one or another theme in variation on the Ancient Greek model. There are non-western varieties of theater that can be employed, but anything that is in part western is in part, at least, Ancient Greek. I will not venture an analysis of Greek drama and how it has been used, adapted, employed throughout the history of theater in western societies or how it has affected the theaters of non-western societies.

 

II

So, as above, without being a dyed in the cotton or silk socialist (and that does not mean Bernie Sanders you imbeciles on the right and the left) or communist–do authentic communists wear silk . . . another question with an absented question mark . . . oh no, my readers will become confused. What am I saying? Nonetheless, it would be easy for me to say that virtually everything about Capitalism is obscene without having to be a Communist. Now the next question that should come is just what do I mean when I say Capitalism is obscene? I thought that this was becoming clearer above in Part I.  When I say anything is obscene I do not by necessity mean what the mainstream (read residually Puritanical; even our pop culture mainstreaming is the anti-Puritanicalflip side, thus a supporter of and perpetuator of American Puritanism) of American opinion is on obscenity. No matter how the responses to obscenity have shifted over the millennia since the term obscene referred to anything that should not be seen, at least in public. (We do have our private obscenities as well as our continued public ones). I still do not understand how the woman’s nipple ever became obscene, but images of death and carnage and violence, especially from our Super Hero characters drawn up for us from Hollywood are not.

The etymology of the word ‘obscene,’ again, is  the Greek ob skena, which meant literally, off stage, that is, anything the Greeks thought should not be performed or shown on stage in their theater. All revenge in Greek drama was ob skena. No depictions of sex were on stage; this was obscene. I am not herein going to put forward anything akin to old Nazis diatribes about the decadence of wester bourgeois capitalist democracies. We can critique capitalism and contemporary democracy without being opposed to the civilization that has nurtured them or allowed them to suffer mal-nutrition.We do feed our institutions, our system thus also being nourished by this, and what we feed the institutions that comprise our systems is also of our doing or un-doing.

So, now let me say that I hold this truth to be self-evident, everything about Capitalism is obscene without concluding that Capitalism is in itself evil. I am not going to venture an analysis of socio-economic systems at present. I do not assent to any conclusion that Capitalism is evil, nor do I agree that it is invariably good, nor do I think that it is neutral and therefore virtually, if not actually, benign. Most of us think that when something is understood to be neutral, it is at least implied, if not predicated, that this thing is benign and only remotely possibly malignant. There are many who might like to conclude the neutrality of Capitalism, as if expressing the wisest assessment, but then this is born of America’s love affair with consensus, a consensus that is increasing manufactured by our media as much as it has ever been and perhaps even more so, albeit, insidiously (which is not to imply conspiracies).

Again, every person is permitted to disagree with anything, and is allowed to present his opposition, yet only in so far as this person conforms to the dogma that everyone must reach consensus in the end. What then is the consensus view on Capitalism? It certainly is not that Capitalism is obscene. Now, I do contend that words are never fully or far removed from their etymologies, and these remain, if in no other way, at least residually connotative in every context of use. (I should write more on this, but this is not an essay in semantics, which of course form is serious branch of study in the discipline of linguistics and not some word loosened from its mooring of meaning by being bandied about as an ad hoc rebuttal when conversations get too heavy for some to bear, especially when terms are being defined, clarified or disagreed upon. I have to reserve this idea I hold for etymology for what is upcoming. I will discuss this further  only in one or more essays in the future. Seek the pages section for them. One must always look to the pages section of this website and not just the blog pages. I know that the inclination to do this might not be pronounced. I know that the way many have been taught to read, essays of one thousand or two thousand words, as might be found among the essays gathered in the pages section, could be daunting. I know that the essays I write require a different dedication than do the entries in the blog, the reading of which is foreshortened. Let us then try to stretch our literacy beyond what can be digested from the literary equivalent of the sound bite, or should we say, sound bit.) Any assessment of information herein needs more than what is achieved by superficially skimming pages as waiters do with their crumb scoop over the table cloth after dinner and before coffee and dessert.

I will continue to avoid saying what most ideological Communists or Capitalists like to assert, and that is that Capitalism is evil, a cancer in any body politic, if a communist; or that capitalism is natural, more organic to humans and their interactive needs than any other socio-economic system. I am not now, nor have I ever been, nor am I likely ever to be a communist; but I cannot agree that Capitalism is a more natural economic system. I have my problems with American Totalitarian Capitalist dogma, and I will not in reflex support it within these pages. It would be absurd for me to claim that capitalism is a more natural economic system when clearly anything by culture is not in itself natural at all; do we mean better adaptive to human needs? So then, unfettered capitalism is best?

As to the obscenity of it–this is easy for me to claim. Capitalism does turn everything it touches or covers or finds itself in association with into pornography if it does not transform all relationships into forms of prostitution. We pretend that marriage, for instance, in America is about love, when in fact it is mostly about prostitution when it is not about animal husbandry–a mutual prostitution of all interactions within marriage, including child rearing, again, the husbandry.

I know how many hairs have begun to stand on end up and down the arms of those who cannot entertain that anything like prostitution can be linked with raising children; but then I am not saying prostitution as we understand this in its streetwalker connotations and turning sexual tricks for favor or money. Yet there is something akin to prostitution in our understanding of marriage, and therefore, something like prostitution in all relationships. Great and beautiful marriages work against this; the ones that fail never command or countermand the energies of this from the basic form of the institution.

It is no irony that since the dawn of civilization, the flip side of mariage has always been prostitution; that is, the counterpoint to, or as a set of forewarnings in distinction against, marriage has always been prostitution. Madonna and whore again. If not wife, then whore; or if not whore and not wife (read breeder because the word wife comes from the Anglo-Saxon wif which means female as in female cow, female horse, female dog), old-maid, a secular variation of nun.

The return of sexual favors for gain is not what I am talking about, but how everything in the market of comity exchange has tainted all exchanges including the exchange of love and affection, friendship and employer/employee relationships. Every Capitalist is one kind of pimp or another and in being a pimp, he must turn everything into pimp, prostitute and John.

The Diatribe is finished.

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