La Part Maudite

18 02 2008


I will simply state, without waiting further, that the extension of economic growth itself requires the overturning of economic principles—the overturning of the ethics that grounds them. Changing from the perspectives of restrictive economy to those of general economy actually accomplishes a Copernican transformation: a reversal of thinking—and of ethics. If a part of wealth (subject to a rough estimate) is doomed to destruction or at least to unproductive use without any possible profit, it is logical, even inescapable, to surrender commodities without return. Henceforth, leaving aside pure and simple dissipation, analogous to the construction of the Pyramids, the possibility of pursuing growth is itself subordinated to giving: The industrial development of the entire world demands of Americans that they lucidly grasp the necessity, for an economy such as theirs, of having a margin of profitless operations. An immense industrial network cannot be managed in the same way that one changes a tire… It expresses a circuit of cosmic energy on which it depends, which it cannot limit, and whose laws it cannot ignore without consequences. Woe to those who, to the very end, insist on regulating the movement that exceeds them with the narrow mind of the mechanic who changes a tire.

Georges Bataille

I read Georges Bataille’s book, The Accursed Share as a teenager when I was on my Nietzsche tear. (Really, anyone who can read Nietzsche with a straight face after the age of twenty still has a lot of growing up to do.) I remember being fascinated by the idea that any society must necessarily produce waste; that societies that function best are not necessarily the societies that are the most efficient. One interesting fact I learned from this book, for example, was that up to forty percent of men in pre-communist Tibetan society were unproductive monastics who obviously neither worked nor reproduced. Another example of waste that Bataille goes into is the polatch of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest. The idea that one throws many of society’ resources out the window, not just in the capacity of “recreation” in the modern sense, but in a burst of creative and destructive energy, has held my imagination ever since. Read the rest of this entry »