Marxism, Capitalism, and Happiness
Part I – Political Debate in the Age of The Absolute Censor
You may have heard that two contemporary intellectual stars of the left and right were brought together in Toronto on April 19 at the Sony Centre under the title Happiness: Capitalism vs. Marxism. A much anticipated political debate was to decide on whether Capitalism or Marxism was better suited for the production of Happiness. With reportedly some tickets going for as much as $1,500, three thousand fans were set to watch two theory spouting men pit Marxism agains Capitalism. But when all was said and done, not only did they find themselves agreeing on more than they could find to disagree upon, but it seemed in many cases they were not even addressing the same subject matter. What happened?
In watching this debate on Youtube, I asked myself whether this could be a case of Twiddledee-Tiddledum? As the old children’s nursery rhyme goes:
Twiddledum and Twiddledee agree to have a battle
For Twiddledum said Twiddledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.
Just then flew in a monstrous crow,
As black as a tar barrel.
Which frightened the heroes so,
They forgot their quarrel.
Had the monstrous crow of publicity and the democratization of information destroyed the coherence of the old public space of critique and confrontation? Had it done so with an efficacy that a totalitarian government could have never imagined?
In order to respond to this question, I decided to write a rough draft article that I would first publish on Medium. I also wanted to write it to send as a letter to Twiddledum since we had worked in Paris at the same university in the 80’s and 90’s. I will publish the response here should I receive one.
Before I get down to examining point by point what was said during the debate, I imagined the following exchange as a preface:
Twiddledee: Go ahead Dum and say whatever you want about Marxism or Capitalism!
Twiddledum: Why Dee ?
Twiddleee: In the end, nobody really knows the truth, at best, its opinion, at worse, its fake news; nothing really matters.
Twiddledum: Well, then, let’s go have lunch and be happy, shall we?
Is this a new happy form of censorship? If so, does the new censor become laughable precisely at those moments someone might have, at least in a more naive age, felt like crying? Does Happiness set the conditions for a mediatic debate between Marxism and Capitalism today –and not the other way around? If, as Marx often proposed, history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second as comedy”, was this debate simply a happy departure from the past?
I want to address here not simply what should have been said in defense of Marxism by Twiddledum (perhaps because of his declining health) or Capitalism by Twiddledee, but the failure that this debate points to in isolating a more complex and dire problem.
The New Absolute Censor of Happiness and Fake-News
The problem stems not from the old notion of censoring speech, at least in North America and Europe, but in allowing anything to be said in any manner. Unlike the old relative and negative censor of totalitarian governments where there was always too much meaning, with the new Absolute and positive censor there is the absence of meaning. Instead, the message transmits in a publicity of stars, happiness, nonsense, and fake news that ultimately ends in either acts of aggression or silent resignation.
The recent debate in Toronto on Marxism, Capitalism, and Happiness was just one example: two mediatic stars, from the left and the right, not only could not find anything to disagree upon, but they joked their way through some very serious subjects using one absurdity after another. Though it may be considered as a progress that the debate did not fall into the cycle of aggression and persecution that many political debates encounter today, one may well have wondered what was the point from the beginning.
Here, then, the next part of this article aims to examine the arguments of both Tweedledee and Twiddledum during the Toronto debate, to not only bring out the absurdities that were being ‘debated’, but to situate the modern day function of the Absolute Censor.