Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

44: Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari part IV:
Stages of Societal development

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         According the authors there is some benefit to be gained from a study of universal history – an explanation of how all human societies evolve. There are three stages in history corresponding to three social machines: the savage stage, the barbaric stage and the civilized stage. They are progressive in that you must start at the beginning and you cannot skip a step. However the authors use words that suggest that the steps are regressive. Transitions are always contingent; never necessary and always cataclysmic.
         Recall from last time that the greatest fear of any collective is not knowing what to do with desire; not knowing the socially acceptable code of conduct; not knowing what to do with the flows that surround us (Q1). Therefore the purpose of a social machine is to alleviate this fear by coding the socially acceptable forms of expressing or channeling desire. The authors claim that history has only revealed three desire coding machines. These three machines code the flow around us in different ways and give us comfort in teaching us how to behave. However, although they give us more comfort and security from the fear of not knowing what do do with our desire, these machines become more repressive as societies develop.
         The Savage Stage: The Primitive Territorial Machine
         A task that we find very natural but which the authors claim is not natural is: remembering things. The primitive territorial machine, which deals with illiterate savages, needs (if it is going to fulfill its primary function: to bring to a society the comfort of knowing what to do), first and foremost it needs to breed a race of people with a memory: an individual and a collective memory (Q2).
         In order to create a memory in illiterate people the memory must be burned into the mind. To achieve this, the social organization in savage societies centers around a Theater of Cruelty. “...cruelty is the movement of culture that is realized in bodies and inscribed on them, belaboring them.” Everything that is significant to the lives of savages is territorialized though an inscription or mutilation of a human body. With the newly created memories, alliances and filiations and their codes of conduct are maintained over extended periods of time (Q3)(Q4).
         The Barbaric Stage: The Barbarian Despotic Machine
         This is the stage of the god-king. An idea, a religion, the state, the empire and/or nationalism functions like a god and the despot is the king. The despot destroys the old alliances and filiations – cancels all old debts; then imposes new debts and alliances with himself as the direct filiation with what ever god he chooses. This is a terrible age: The theater of cruelty's potency is reduced but its coding power is augmented by terror in the name of authority: the Law. The law is an infinite debt that must be paid continually but which can never be fully paid (Q5). This infinite debt based on terror has raised states and empires and all their accomplishments throughout history (Q6). Until the infinite debt becomes internalized and spiritualized.
         The Civilized Stage: The Capitalist Machine
         By internalizing and spiritualizing the debt the need for cruelty and terror is reduced to a need to create constant anxiety. Anxiety is expanded to cover every aspect of our lives (just as cruelty and terror were applied to every aspect of life in more primitive societies). However the capitalist machine never stops changing. It never stops coding then decoding and recoding and often even over-coding flows. Capitalism when it invents something new, codes an acceptable social use for it (as with inventions and innovations). Capitalism decodes the acceptable use of somethings (as with most out of fashion things) then recodes them by bringing them back into fashion (as with repeating or new fads). Capitalism even over codes where there are two or more legitimate but contradicting desires (as in most court cases)(Q7).
         Where earlier machines were the tools of a relatively constant power elite, Capitalism creates and consumes the power elite almost constantly. Capitalism begins when money begets money (Q8). Capitalism is the age of cynicism, fatalism and abstraction. A capitalist society does not believe anything or in anything anymore (except the unconscious internalized debt). A capitalist society accepts its cynicism as the way things have to be. A capitalist society reduces all desires to money.
         Q1 The authors claim that not knowing what to do in a social situation is our greatest fear – even more fearful than death. Consider that soldiers often face death rather than disobeying the social code that says follow orders. The same is true for death row inmates. Think about how powerful peer pressure is in your life. In every situation there is a socially acceptable course of action. Do you accept the authors' claim that our greatest fear is not knowing what to do?
         Q2 The authors claim that creating a memory is not so much for facts (such as what food is OK to eat and which is not) rather for social codes (for remembering the socially acceptable way to express desire). Do you believe that memory and remembering things is an unnatural human activity? We work very hard to train our memory; we practice using it everyday; memorizing causes a lot of stress for everyone involved: is it worth it? As society develops there are more and more social codes to identify and remember: are there too many things to remember in the modern world. Will our children have to learn and remember more things than we do? Is there a limit to the amount of things we can remember?
         Q3 The Authors look at savage cultures (that is prehistoric; without a writing system) and notice the immense amount of physical mutilations (things like body piercings, tattoos, branding, circumcisions, make up, ceremonial scaring and public tortures and executions). The point of all of this is to remember who and what belongs to whom; to set and remember the alliances and filiations and their terms. Does this sound like the primary reason to you? What other reasons could there be for physical mutilations that take place in savage cultures?
         Q4 Many of these mutilation practices are still with us today as remnants of our savage past. We brand, chain and pierce cattle. We still pierce ears; wear beautiful necklaces, bracelets, earnings and rings; tattoo or paint ourselves; circumcision is still practiced in many cultures. Do these practices still create a common memory? Or show alliance or filiations? Will we ever be able to out grow our savage past?
         Q5 The fist law system in Greece was set up by a man named Draco (he is where we get the word: draconian) the one punishment for any infraction was always death. Later the punishments became worse: torture and then death. Certainly a despot cannot survive without the law; but are we really better off with the law? According to the authors the benefit of law for us in not our safety or protection (because all laws have actually failed miserably at that) rather the law's purpose is two fold: 1) to create a sense of terror that makes us think we know what to do in social situations and 2) to legitimize the despot's cruelty and terror. How do you feel about this critique of the law? Is the law terrible?
         Q6 Until very recently all the great nations and empires in history have been barbarian and despotic. They all used the law to create, organize and channel their people's desires. The authors ask us to consider whether all the glories and triumphs of history have been worth the crimes and human suffering that has resulted. Who benefited most from law, empire and totalitarianism? The authors do not explicitly claim this next point but I think they hint at it strongly: only a very small number of people have actually benefited from the law and from empire; some of the rest have on net suffered more than they benefited and the greatest number have had only pain and suffering without any benefit. How do you feel about this implication?
         Q7 Do you feel more and more anxious about more and more things as you age? If you do then that makes you a good member of a capitalist society. Congratulations you have been well socialized! How does this make you feel? Do you believe that anxiety is not only A form but THE form of social repression in the modern world (that is: all forms of repression are reducible to anxiety)?
         Q8 Capitalism officially starts when “money begets money.” When commercial society loses its connection with the material and becomes more connected to the abstract. I think this means that Capitalism started in 1971 when the USA finally left the gold standard and money became an abstraction unconnected with any commodity. But Capitalism will continue to grow and become more and more abstract, cynical and fatalistic. Do you believe these traits are more prevalent today than 10 years ago?
         Q9 In one way Capitalism can last forever since it is grows larger through its self-consuming; in another way it may run out of the raw material needed for growth. Which do you believe is most likely?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren