The Left often has a difficulty with intangibles. Often the notion that what is intangible is important is rejected altogether because of an over-insistence on materialism. Acceptance of the importance of intangibles does not reject materialism as the basis for being and so of society and politics. It simply sees the emergence of 'things from things', from matter, as constructions of minds that are material but have evolved into a consciousness that is creative in using language, concepts, the creation of new formations of matter through science and manipulation and new relationships as tools and weapons in the struggle for power, resources and status.
On the other hand, the Left often collapses this analysis into a
po-faced Frankfurt School vision of intangibles which is riddled with
inappropriate moral judgments that derive ultimately from
Judaeo-Christian habits – hence the often trotted out garbage about
commodification and objectification as if the concepts meant much more
in their hands than the sort of moral disapproval that Jeremiah would have warmed to. The correct approach to intangibles is one that is detached and neutral about the
fact of intangibles and concentrates on their actual use in ‘really
existing’ human relationships as instruments of power – in effect as
weapons and tools.
For example, it may well be (I think it is) true that so-called
'commodification' and 'objectification' are potentially progressive insofar as they are
expressions of actual human being. It is the interpretation and use
to which they are put by power that is problematic and not their use in
themselves. Even consensual pornography, let alone free trade with full information, can be highly progressive if undertaken between equals freely choosing their position. The issue is thus not the fact of intangibles or even their
analysis but the ownership of the use of them and the right to choices
about use value. The Left has certainly not come to terms
with late liberal capitalism’s ability to create and control economic
and power relationships based on these intangible weapons and tools
rather than on the use of iron, steel and rail.
The current political case study is the violent struggle in America going on
at the moment between liberals trying to define their own fake news as
truth and conservatives discovering that they can create their own truth
with impunity as fake news. The struggle sometimes seems trivial but it is a war as important as
the mid-twentieth century ones conducted with bullets and bombs because
ultimately it is about control of the levers of informational power and
so economic choices affecting the material lives of millions. Both sides
are basically lying liars who have got into the habit of lying but this
complex eco-system of lies is a good example of the power of
intangibles and of the Left's failure to rise above the lying to create the opportunities for the mass of the population in order to derive their own functional truths from full information and a solid grounding in critical thinking.
As we write, the US stock market rises and employment levels are
increasing and yet an entirely different vision of reality is presented
as truth because it is necessary for some people to believe it is true –
the same applies to the persistant apocalypticism about the British
economy under Brexit. These are
examples of political intangibility distracting us from reality that are
as absurd as our uncritical acceptance of brands and the claims of
corporate social responsibility going on within capitalism. As invented reality spins away from really existing material reality, so the chances for cataclysm do increase - hence our social progress as a continual two steps forward, one step back amongst mountains of gore and lost dreams. The educational problem is one of lack of critical thinking under complex social conditions and the equally important lack of some sense of the self as more than simply the creature of social conditions - this last lie is the fatal pessimistic crime of the modern intellectual liberal left towards the people.
There is thus a total system of intangibility overlaying materiality with many layers within it, all
derived from a materiality for which there is no serious Left critique
that is not mired in a priori theory. The dead weight of all forms of essentialism - especially the cant of Kant - gives power to an intellectual class denuded of intellect. Our new critique should encompass our
acceptance of the value lying in intangibles in economics, in culture, in
social relations and in politics but then explore how to vest the value
in the people in general rather than in self-interested classes –
including an intellectual class which is highly manipulative of
intangibles in its own class interest. In short, the Left has no serious
philosophy of the human condition that is not already moribund and it is time to call the universities out on their failures.