Those who have power have no interest in giving it up. But they are not in control. They are the most precarious of us all.
Ten years ago, I read an essay in Critical Inquiry entitled “Removing Knowledge.” In it, Peter Galison, an eminent historian of science and nuclear physicist (since for old guard historians of science, you had to be the latter to be the former) tries to make an educated guess about the scope of secrecy in our present day society–USA circa 2003, 2004. What he manages to convey, with a wink and a nod, is this: what the state makes private through secrecy is what corporations make private through intellectual property. And that for the last few decades, the state has LOOKED TO THE CORPORATIONS to establish legal precedent for this power.
I still don’t know which of these entities is more powerful-corporations or nation-states. Or perhaps we’ve invented a whole new category, the corpor-nation (pun away you clowns.) Corporate inversions are happening everywhere, but they are particularly powerful in this American center of power. And a corporeal inversion occurred a few years ago, as we united citizens may or may not have registered. I mark that moment as a poignant reminder of the self-destruction of these economic and political liberalisms and, more than likely, of the ‘democracies’ such liberalisms have conceived.
I will be using this article in the Fall to begin a discussion about openness. And more importantly, I think, I am using this piece to address closed-ness. Because the ways in which things are closed off are increasingly unlikely to be accessible in and by any kind of public until long after significant decisions–whether they be statecraft, or marketcraft–have already been made. Some will say this is the way it has always been. I don’t know, and can’t know, one way or the other. And this I lament. Sigh.
Goldman Sachs has just settled with the Federal Housing and Finance Agency (FHFA) to the tune of a cool 3.15 BILLION dollars! This comes on the heels of multi-billion dollar settlements between the Federal Government and other giants of the banking industry. The settlement will certainly cut into Goldman’s profits, which in 2013, were just over 8 billion.
Now, here’s a tiny bit more context. Goldman is the largest broker of hedge fund activity in the world. They provide the very largest hedge funds (nearly 20% of the entire industry) with services such as financing, trading and holding assets. Last year, the top hedge fund manager’s personal compensation was 4 BILLION dollars. The second highest, an ex-Goldman employee, was 3.5 billion. In other words, the financial industry regularly sees ANNUAL individual compensations meeting and exceeding the fines being paid by entire institutions.
And because the government has systematically chosen to settle (the bar for conviction is perversely high), none of these agents of the 2008 financial crash have to admit wrong-doing. While conviction may not be in the cards, the process of a trial would surely have revealed more than a few unpleasantries. So they settle. Again and again. (If you follow these patterns into how corporations behave with one another, settlement has allowed for large scale collusion by pharmaceutical and patent industry giants, amongst others. Weakened regulators try and keep up. When they give up, they are systematically hired by the industries they were once charged with regulating.)
These corporations have become settlers of a different sort. And they colonize from within. As we leave behind settler colonialism and enter into an era of settlement capitalism, we can begin to glean some of the symptoms of the autocolonial turn. If the British perfected the practice of divide and conquer during their Empire, note how the same principle has devastated the institutions of liberal democracy in the United States.
Chronicle of a Species Foretold.
The real anonymous lies in the inchoate interstices between capital, commerce, legislation and governance. It is the accretion of oligarchic action. Those places, despite all designs towards transparency in late liberalism, are of -ahem- lively forms of unknowing, of secreting away the conditions of our own being. These actions, of course, effectively position us into a condition of living an ‘unreal.’*
*And we wonder why this obsession with ‘un’ reality; augmented, alternate, multiple, etc. We are living something that is increasingly unknown to us, despite all of the innovations and refinements of technoculture–rather, it is unreal BECAUSE of these refinements. The late liberal human is dissolving. This is necrosis. The species becomes something else as it dies off.