Vagueness is huge these days

Like heaps, evaluation of ideologically framed social structures should belong to the analytical domain of vague predications. This probably seems obvious. Of course ideology is vague, why else would it cause illusions? Leaving deeper matters on what is illusory aside, I am interested in what analytical vagueness entails for capitalism, or any state of agreed upon social relations. I believe that the same thing we say is obvious is often a lens we use to order our world. A concept that is an illusion, or causes delusional behavior, in one instance is exactly the shorthand generalization we use to understand causative and normative events in another. The concepts enshrined by formidable words such as capitalism or socialism are abstractions that are meant to, but hardly ever do, signify an expansive set of actually existing states of affairs. However, just as a certain number of centimeters can be tall or short depending on the reference, the semantics of any ideological states of affairs can only become a conceptualized system in relation to something else.

Some theorists predict the end of the sovereignty of the nation state. This is risky – every prediction of capitalism’s decline has been an embarrassment and group identity seems a necessary condition for subject identity (which itself enables human cognition). Yet we do seem to believe that communism has ended without much contention. Certainly this did not occur because capitalism was ‘correct’ in the way propositions are correct. Probably the lack of contention is because communism actually signifies, in natural language, specific authoritarian states and capitalism signifies an adaptive process. Actually existing nation states can disappear, but can the systemic social arrangements of states in general disappear?

When a state collapses, it is clear. When a process slowly changes, its end is not so easily felt. Just as genetics will remain genetics after it has internalized our current epigenetic evolution in understanding, so will the name ‘nation state’ or ‘capitalism’. The identity of a word over time is a grammatical illusion, but in the face of dramatic changes in the processes that constitute the whole, a word can keep it’s name through a genetic lineage. Others contend that it is naive to believe that national sovereignty is in decline. I believe that the nation state is much less indelible than more dispersed processes like capitalism. But how can we really know either way? Like the prediction of an atomic universe in ancient Greece, such predictions are intuitions. We do have more methods with more reflexive foundations for our assertions today, but even the most rational and ingenious analytics in history have missed most of the whole story.

In the end, one view has to be correct: nation states will remain or be replaced. Given a long enough time, both propositions will be proven true – one after the other – but who is right and when will be a matter coincidence rather than prescience. This is where vagueness is important. Whatever structural changes accrue – for or against the nation state – powerful agents will rely on the vestiges of older powers to support their dominion. Agents will act according to what their context makes reasonable, and slowly these actions will accumulate into noticeable difference. Eventually there will be a new structure and even later a new name will emerge, baptizing an old change into a new transcendental signifier. And to be sure, these states of affairs will have very real consequences for individuals, and the reflexivity that comes with a new signification will matter. However, it is only by looking back, by creating a relation, will we be able to say that we are no longer in the age of the nation state, not by looking forward. And so it is with the -isms. Grain by grain capitalism will slowly be unheaped.

Questions, however, are not so polite. At what point does a thing stop being itself? We can’t say. How will we know that states of affairs are something new? After the old state has died and bequeathed its estate. How do we use names when the borders are so fuzzy? When we act as if we know it when we see it. As ratiocination moves to dissolve illusion, it opens doors to new dissected realities. Many questions survive their progeny, they are older than every -ism and out live all their answers.

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