Friday, August 31, 2007

(Other-) Worldly Competition

It is possible to think of all individuals as being engaged in the struggle for valued resources, whether these resources be economic, social or cultural.

A strategy of those who have more resources than others and less than some is to contest the valuation of resources to make it appear that the resources that they have more of are actually more valuable than the resources that those who have more resources have more of.

More often than not, it is those who have more economic capital than others but less than some who find themselves in this position. Their natural response then is to ascribe to themselves some other form of distinction which more often than not is defined in direct opposition to a desire for economic capital. They proclaim themselves ascetic whether they be academics who perform the (thankless) social duty of reproducing the dominant classes and laborers for production; the artists who produce for arts sake; or the religious who forsake wealth in order to save souls.

In defining themselves as ascetic, they legitimize their lack of economic capital and think of themselves (and want others to think) as having won the battle (which they themselves defined and against whom no one else cares to compete).


To think that there are different kinds of resources for which people are in competition is to expand the reach of accumulation beyond the economic realm.

Some sectors say that they are beyond worldly concerns and yet in so doing, they have effectively accumulated prestige along the axis they defined which runs along the worldly- other worldly continuum, the other-worldly pole of which would be ascendant in their hierarchy.

This can be said of academics and artists and the religious who legitimize and valorize their position in society precisely by ascribing value to their otherworldliness. And yet in their wanting to ascribe value to themselves, they are accumulative as much as those in the economic sector.

And the accumulation does not stop with their positioning themselves vis-a-vis other fields. Within their field, they too are engaged in struggles over valued resources , which need not be monetary (positions of control, prestige) and in this they participate in the act of accumulation.

Furthermore, if we look at the actions of academics and artists and the religious, they too participate in the act of economic accumulation except that they find ways to justify and hide such accumulation. Academics will complain of the low salary from teaching and yet some will accept consultancies which pay a generous amount. Religious will speak of the poverty of the individual religious who owns next to nothing and yet live in orders which allow them to maintain their social standing.

But since their social position is defined in opposition to the worldly, they cannot explicitly say that they are in the business of economic accumulation. To admit that they desire to accumulate economically is to admit their subordinate position in terms of the market economy and to acknowledge that that is a criteria they choose to live by. And so they accumulate economically while professing something different rhetorically and their economic accumulation remains the subject of whispers far from the public rhetoric.

Contrast this with the economically dominant (especially those with something left to prove) who choose openly to donate to the other-worldly sector in order to enhance their other-worldliness by sacrificing some of their accumulated labor to demonstrate their capacity for other-worldiness (and detachment from worldly values) to obtain the values the other-worldly claim they have.

Next Post: Friday, September 7

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