Years ago, in college, we talked about the theory of totality. At the time, in the late 1980s, the word “totality” referred to the full-on construction of reality that is mediated by corporations in conjunction with governments. The kern of the idea, based in left social theory, is that we are fully embraced by the entirety of corporate-created desire: every thought, feeling, deliberation, policy, and production (whether aesthetic or concrete) was fueled by the rationalization of generating profits, stabilizing dissent, and rooting out radicalism of any kind.
Obviously, the theory of totality is itself a kind of totality. Nothing can escape the reality of totality theory; we are all subjects to its work — and resistance, while not futile, is complicated and highly uncertain. The ideas behind totality and its many spinoffs are like those of many I know who believe that the systems in place currently are built to ensure continuity — and that there are even meta-systems of thought and governance that determine the progress of that continuity. These meta-systems appear, for all intents and purposes, to the outside world as conspiracy or on the order of conspiracy. To those who have knowledge of these meta-systems, they are more like proven theorems that have not yet been accepted.
I find it all very fascinating. With the coming economic recession/depression, people are talking about many of these meta-systems en masse and whether one or the other will either save us or destroy us. Massive spending. Massive taxes. Massive infrastructure. Massive muscle. There’s more than a bit of apocalyptic derring-do in all of the pundits arguing for massive activity to get us out of a massively complex set of problems: most recently, it’s been John Judis and Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic, and Paul Krugman, of course.
Massivity has become a new way to handle the crisis and I hope the economists and pundits are right. But I worry, deep down, that their ability to apprehend the entirety (but not the totality) of global finance and its complexity is not unlike that of people who think have a worldview based on some brand of totality). In other words, I’m wondering if the economists, who are paid to understand financial history and to get us out of the coming mess, are not fundamentally different from those who look at global systems and see conspiracy hiding in the darkness.
By no means am I associating Mr. Krugman with Sasquatch watchers. But, as much as I believe Krugman knows what he’s talking about, I worry that he’ll inevitably miss the mark as much as anyone who thinks they can see through an opaque reality.
Massivity, to me, is a new way of explaining how to solve a global crisis based on the proposition of normative economic knowledge.