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Dataism and Capitalism (II): The Inner Logic of Money

First published on 10 May 2024 – on The AfroDiscourse Substack

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Written by Adrian Nyiha

By falsely promising universal goodness to wayward desires, money usurps the throne of God, who is the Good, who is the Life so faintly imaged by sumptuous meals and fine clothing.


(reading time: 7 minutes)

In Part I of this series (see here), we suggested that the connection between capitalism and dataism is a factor common to both money and data: the reduction of things and people to measurable, manipulable quantities. Having explained in Part I how data does this, we now take up once again two central ideas mentioned earlier: the inner logic of money, and the logic of accumulation.

The Logic of Accumulation

Towards the end of Plato’s Republic, Socrates proceeds to compare the pleasure enjoyed in lives founded on different objects of desire or kinds of love. There are three basic orders of life, based on the three main “parts” of the soul in Plato’s standard anthropology: the highest (for him) is the “reasoning” part that loves wisdom, and the second is the “spirited” part that loves honor and victory. Of the third and lowest part, he says:

as for the third, because of its many forms, we had no peculiar name to call it by, but we named it by what was biggest and strongest in it. For we called it the desiring part on account of the intensity of the desires, concerned with eating, drinking, sex, and all their followers; and so, we also called it the money-loving part, because such desires are most fulfilled by means of money.

In this lowest part of the soul, unlike in the other parts of the soul, what seems to matter most is not the object of desire or the object of pleasure, but desire and pleasure themselves. What seems to matter most is not the actual reality desired and enjoyed, but their effect on the desiring part of the soul. What matters for these appetites, if they are considered in isolation from all else that is in man, is not ontological goodness, but experienced pleasure; not being, but only appearance.¹

Of course, these appetites are natural and have a natural limit, and the actual enjoyment of their objects is limited. We can only eat so much before we become nauseous. We can only drink so much before we keel over, unconscious. It is the higher parts, so to speak, of the soul that recognize and affirm the limitations of our desires. But if these desires or appetites attain supremacy in us, then they long, in a manner of speaking, to burst their bonds, to break free from their own intrinsic limitations. They want to dine at the highest table, to leave no wine untasted. The infamous orgiasts of ancient Rome would cause themselves to vomit in an attempt to immortalize the pleasure of the palate.²

Another thing to note about desire before we move on is its inclination towards immediacy. Our appetites want to be satisfied in the present. They pine for an immediate experience of the pleasurable. For that reason, then, they will tend to reduce any temporal barriers that lie between us and the object of desire. But temporal “distance” is due to the limitation of corporeal beings. One thing cannot occupy the same location as another, whence distance and a host of other limitations; whereas, in the immaterial realm, we see that things can occupy the same “space.” For instance, you, the reader of this article, has a vast number of ideas about all kinds of things, ranging from what you ate for breakfast to your opinions about climate change, all in one single mind. Therefore, our appetites will tend to strive to overcome all corporeal limitations, seeking to make all pleasurable things present to themselves simultaneously. In other words, they will tend to accumulate the pleasurable. Thus, we have described what we earlier referred to as the logic of accumulation.

Accumulation, the Inner Logic of Money, and Capitalism

As can be seen, we cannot simply accumulate everything in one, easy-to-reach location. And the more things you have, the larger the space they occupy, so that beyond a certain extent, further accumulation of things simply doesn’t break any barriers of distance and, therefore, time. The reason for this is that the “things” we are dealing with are still too real, too solid. To accumulate every pleasurable thing in a single location, we would need to immaterialize them (because of the inevitable limits of corporeality—think about the space you would need for a sizeable herd of cattle, for example). We would need to reduce the things in question to something tangible or perceptible, but that is small enough in size to be indefinitely replicable in a single place.  In short, we would need a symbol to represent the things in question. Moreover, we would need to reduce all the wide variety of “stuff”—bread and bottles, whisky and dresses, cars and curtains, guitars and concrete—to some abstract common denominator that can be represented by a single symbol. We would need to reduce all the specific qualities of all these things to one single factor: their capacity to give us some kind of pleasure—in economic terms, “utility”. And we would need some means to represent utility, and to represent it in terms of “less” or “more”, given that our purpose is to accumulate as much utility as possible. And this is what money does. This is the function that money serves when we refer to money as a “store of value.” However, to arrive at money as a “store of value,” we have had to abstract from actual things—from bread and bottles and whisky and dresses, etc.—so that what is left to us in money is not the pleasure-producing things, but the mere potential to enjoy these things. Money permits us to have not everything, but only the ghost of everything; not things, but their appearance. Money promises universal goodness in the abstract and, therefore, not in actuality. And by falsely promising universal goodness to wayward desires, it usurps the throne of God, who is the Good, who is the Life so faintly imaged by sumptuous meals and fine clothing.

It is vital to see that the inner logic of money considered exclusively as a store of value is not only a function of the logic of accumulation, but also encourages the emergence of this accumulative logic. If we set our hearts not on real things, but instead on money, then we set our hearts on this abstract appearance of goodness, on the false promise of everlasting fulfillment, on the logic of accumulation.

Turning to capitalism, we may quote the words of D.C. Schindler once more: “If capitalism means that capital, i.e., stored money, or money that has been, so to speak, removed from circulation and thereby abstracted from the actuality of concrete exchange, is the principle of the economy, then [such capitalism is incompatible with true freedom].” If the motor of the economy is the accumulation of money, then such an economy is deeply problematic. And, indeed, this often seems to be the case: the primacy of the “bottom line” for businesses, the increasing tendency to value stocks over commodities as an economy “develops” and to disparage commodities because they generate less money, and so on and so forth.

At this point, we are equipped to revisit the commonality between dataism and capitalism. As we saw in Part I of this short series, dataism reduces the world to measurable, manipulable quantities. And as we have seen now, capitalism, at least in the sense in which we have described it above, does the same, reducing the world to monetary numbers to facilitate the accumulation of wealth, in a limited and merely potential sense. But what exactly is the alliance between dataism and capitalism? And what is the proper place of money? There have been deliberate hints that such a place exists, that money does not only serve the function of a store of value (which should be evident to most). These questions will be addressed in the next parts of this series.


Notes

  1. It is not bad that these appetites are oriented towards experienced pleasure—as they are, indeed, in animals. However, man is no mere animal. In man, these appetites have to be ordered by what is at once higher and deeper in himself: his mind, his will, and his heart.
  2. As Schindler notes, Socrates makes the surprising connection between love of pleasure (and love of money, as we will see later) and the fear of death.

Previous Articles:

Dataism and Capitalism (I): Tracing the Connection

Africa and the Question of Revolution

The Word and ‘human words’ (Part I): The Word at the heart of history

Human words and The Word (Part II): African languages and The Word


Read more on: The AfroDiscourse Substack

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Academia, Afrocentricity, HiA-Media, Science & Technology, Value Exchange

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