Researching transcendental economics in october 2007, Catherine Moole circled Guangzhou city on public transportation – down to panyu, up to baiyun. She watched Obama’s first candidate speeches on bus-seat flatscreens which seemed especially built just to broadcast his smooth gestures.
The economic crises was discrediting conventional forms of analysis, and some desperate and forward-thinking investment managers were turning to liberal humanist scholars. They sought to capitalize on longer demographic and social trends developing intercontinentally, and on the emergence of transpacific commodities. Catherine got research grants from banks due to her discovery of sinoplasmic instincts, which were organic drives that reiterated over millennia, and which were becoming pervasive with the sinicization of world markets. Investment funds paid her to map out investment environments in the unfolding of transpacific hybrid civilization.
Her research followed the breaking-points where emerging markets were disrupting the global credit system. Before November 2008, iron ore prices were set annually by the old cartel of colonial firms, but then Chinese purchasers destroyed the cartel by insisting on lower prices. Ensuing uncertainty led to the first markets in ore futures, since manufacturing and construction companies were suddenly willing to pay for guarantees on future prices. The Chinese purchasers had broken the grip of the English old-guard on their ownmost most mineral. That winter, Chinese firms bought-out resource companies around the world, and arrested Australian mining executives on corruption charges. The axis of commodities was shifting towards Guangzhou, a transition rife with metaphysical niceties and speculative opportunities. The city was an experimental zone for encounters with capital and machinery, a theatre for the genesis of new life-forms, where new elbows and knees are broken. Financial firms sought ethnographers to investigate these branding systems which were so consequential for investments.
Catherine had posited sinoplasm as an instinctual basis for planetary commerce in the near future. This research led her into fields of research from cinema to real estate, but all her far-flung studies were organized around a regulative principle she called Taiwanese Luck. This was a new kind of liberal ideal, based not in political-economy or religion, but in a physiological aesthetics of organic reproduction.
Her investigation of ancient commercial habits ventured into theatre and folklore, such as the local place god TuDi Gong. His temples had emerged in medieval times along the Spice Route among monks who operated hostels for pilgrims. He represented the locale for both permanent residents and travellers so that everyone can pay homage to the place through him. He was a humble bureaucrat with simple earthy temples, and not a powerful god of the skies. Of all the Chinese deities he was closest to the common people, and this makes the celestial powers suspicious of his egalitarianism. Once the Jade emperor found TuDi was too generous, not collecting enough taxes, and allowing the peasants to enrich themselves excessively. At that time there was a mix-up where a woman as falsely accused, and since her reputation as tarnished the emperor assigned her to TuDi as a wife. She was instructed to restrain his generosity. So if not for that wife, then the peasants would certainly benefit more from his prodigality. Catherine found TuDi remarkable for his proximity to terrestrial forces and spatial instincts, and considered him a proxy for a somnambulant localism, and for agrarian sympathies and liberties.
There are established pattern for Chinese officials to voice support for farmers. This is associated with Maoism, but also dates to ancient times. On May 6th 2010, the ChongQing Evening News reported on a meeting between Party Secretary Bo and some university students with placements as village-level administrators. There were complaints that the students had blundered their roles in public life, and it was said they had only gradually learned that “lack of true feelings for the people caused all problems”. During the meeting the secretary remarked that “farmers have the sincerest emotions” and that “the average people are the true materialists, if you work wholeheartedly, you will be recognized by the farmer brothers.” He went on to say that education systems should include farmers. Some of Catherine’s cynical banker colleagues pointed out that Bo’s policies were essentially Thatcherist, and his speeches were empty cliches from the cultural revolution. She used the opportunity to recall Marx’s ’18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon’, where French Royalists were shown leading the bourgeois revolution despite themselves.
Catherine believed a circuit between agriculture and academia recoiled around the Earth, and she called this the Ancestral Exchange. This effect was revealed through her studies of the pedagogue Tao Zhixing, who wrote an education thesis with John Dewey at Colombia in 1913-16. After returning from his studies, Tao underwent a ruralist conversion, and went on to develop educational infrastructure oriented around the peasantry. Tao’s given name means “knowledge action” and comes from a precept of the famous Ming general Wang YangMing, whose ideas are compared with American Pragmatism. In a program Tao implemented in 1923, elementary school students were instructed to teach evening calligraphy to their families at home.
Dewey lectured in China in the early 1920s, alongside Bertrand Russell. The students preffered Dewey’s ideas, and found Russell’s references to Laozi were too pacifist. Dewey had a profound sense of what he was doing in China, although it’s not clear exactly what that was. The author of one manuscript (‘The Dewey Experiment in China’, Harvard Press, 1978) says he “saw himself taking part in the completion of a cycle of world cultural exchange going back to the ancient Mid-East. The US had received the development of that early culture, and he was now transporting it back, in modern democratic form, to its homeland in Asia.” Dewey taught that going to school was a child’s first contact with an environment beyond the family, and so education was an expansion of the child’s life-world. He connected this environmental expansion with an international cosmopolitanism, so that it was the task of the educator to create a world where international communication was possible. But Dewey’s idealism seems ironically misplaced in the Warlord Era. The student riots began when it was announced that the Chinese were shut-out of the Versailles negotiations, and that the German-controlled territories in Shandong would be ceded to Japan. The riots recurred throughout the following decade.
Catherine considered Chinese disruption as a limit under which the planetary economy operated, a horizon of chance which conditioned the markets. To appreciate the conditions of this system, one had to appreciate the singular nightmares of the Chinese leaders, their worries for the weaknesses of their engineering state, and their hatred for unruly Uyghurs and transportation workers.
In the summer of 2009, reports circulated of a nun in Guangxi who claimed to have discovered a legendary flower known as youtan poluo (优昙婆罗) growing beneath her washing machine. Ancient scriptures describe how this plant grows every three hundred years, when it announces the coming of a Buddha. Chinese state news countered these reports with scientific claims that the flower was in fact worm eggs. But continued murmuring led officials to issue a censorship decree specifying that this kind of flower not be discussed in the news.
This bizarre episode is no surprise if we consider how messianic Buddhist legends have accompanied social upheaval in China at least since the White Lotus rebellions at the origins of the Ming Dynasty. The centuries since are scattered with tales of Triadic sects subverting the empire with cultish uprisings. The millennial tax-revolt is a shadowy tradition that connects events across the Pacific, and points to an instinctive life where capitalism and religion interweave in a regional aesthetics of the imperceptible. Well-known manifestations from this dimension include the Dalai Lama and Falun Gong, who are participants in a sleeping trans-pacific economy where religion regulates the dynamics of capital.
The strange tales of Charlie Soong (宋嘉樹) are classics of this neglected genre. Hailing from Hakkan merchants on the island of Hainan, as a teenager he circled the seven seas on trading ships. A voyage gone astray landed him in South Carolina, where a Durham Tobacco-man paid his tuition to a baptist seminary. After graduating in the 1870’s he moved to Shanghai to work as a missionary. But proving insubordinate for that vocation, he opened a printing press, and made fortunes selling Chinese bibles. He married into a wealthy Christian Shanghai family whose ancestors were converted by the Jesuit Mateo Ricci. Besides all the bibles, Soong’s company printed pamphlets of anti-imperial and religious literature that circulated through Triadic sects. This syncretic genre mixed Taoist and Christian accounts of the apocalypse, along with various political accounts of revolution, including American Republicanism and French socialism.
Through these subversive networks, Charlie came into acquaintance with a certain Dr. Sun Yetsen, a rising figure on the Triadic underground. Charlie Soong and Dr. Sun were sworn brothers, committed to the prophecy of a messianic regime. Soong recognized Dr. Sun as a capable leader, and offered financial support for his politico-religious subversions. In the 1880’s Soong sponsored his trips to America and England drumming up support for an uprising against the Qing. In London, Sun was kidnapped by Qing diplomats who locked him up in the back of their embassy. Word of his arrest somehow reached the Scotland Yard, and when the British elites figured out who he was, they saw an opportunity. Officers marched down to the Qing embassy with a media crew, and demanded the immediate release of the Christian and Lincolnian modernizer. Dr Sun stepped out to fanfare and instant celebrity in Victorian England as a Chinaman who’d seen the light, and who was standing up for liberal Western values against the arcane Asiatic empire. When news of this event got back to the bible-man Charlie Soong in Shanghai, that the English government had sided with his subversive comrade against the Manchurian overlords, he broke into a publication frenzy. Accounts of the event were pumped through underground channels, announcing the crumbling of the empire and the dawn of a mystical heavenly kingdom. Dr. Sun was revered for this event, and it generated international and domestic support that empowered him to found the Republic which ended dynastic Chinese history in 1911.
Catherine investigated how bio-social signals stir up revolutionary energy, and bring populations under the spell of apocalyptic events and the promise of a new life. Regimes manipulate these signals for purposes of statecraft – for inspiring state-worship, managing subversion, or attracting consumers. When Obama and the Dalai Lama are photographed together, that sends a signal which upsets Chinese authorities, and that disruption is similar to where Dr. Sun appeared released by the Scotland Yard, an image that helped dissolve the Qing dynasty. This is a semiotics of exchange where democracy and religion have woven together with capitalism which paradoxically has the power to purify and bless them. There are orders of monks who embrace capitalism aggressively, such as the venerable monks of FoGuanShan monastery (佛光山) who host meetings of the WTO where they give flattering introductions to important Party members.
Catherine’s research was not well-received in the financial community where ancestral ethics was poorly developed. Their one-sided liberalism is flimsy and irreverent because it underestimates the density of time, and obstructs essential translations of the unknown. Knowing the severity of neither war nor religion, they were bereft of the instinctual rapport which orients creatures in their habitat. This is a general non-rapport with material conditions which leaves populations without nuanced affects as their feelings are conflated into the muck of anxiety. There was utter disregard for the material necessity of subjugation.
Catherine addressed financial conferences with a Hesiodic rhapsodies pleading for the evolution of liberal culture, and she believed that restoring civilization would require raising science from the dead. This was an operatic liberalism of terrifying passions.
The utilitarian Angloceltic discourse was grew increasingly ridiculous as it grows candidly self-renouncing, like when the IMF publishes reports recommending the closure of the IMF, or when bond rating agencies engage in downgrade-wars: “Moody’s downgraded Fitch this morning, and this afternoon Fitch responded by downgrading Moody’s”. The great economic crises of the early 21st century (which Catherine called the Swooning of Sense) is that, after centuries of improving the economy, the power of machines simply becomes exorbitant. This achievement was celebrated, and people have even dreamed of the day without work. But the prospect of not working is more disturbing than anything else. Much of people’s identity and esteem comes from their work – without work the symbolic representation of individuals would crumble. So the power of machines becomes terrifying – what if things work too well? The ethnic secret of angloceltic economy is the anti-production which slows progress to avoid potentially dangerous transformations that might occur at higher efficiency, which also encourages the reinscription of codes as a side-effect.
If educators improved schools, then students might advance too quickly and become unmanageable. So the fear of intellectual development throws education into reverse – students who have gone too far must be returned to the fold. This situation is often experienced by teachers. Any institutions that work too well are in danger of putting themselves out of business, or spawning other institutions which escape the grasp of present management. If police eliminated crime they might end up unemployed, and the prejudices against preventative medicine are well known. The fear of effective work generates all manner of anti-production – “slack in the system”, the resistance to evolution. Environmental fears are routinely conjured to dispel limitlessness. Slack in the system is a pervasive narcolepsy with far-reaching implications for physiology and religion. Prices were predicted to rise after the expansions in the fall of 2008, but instead there was destabilization – the amorphous slack of liquidity makes prices erratic. Price destabilization has effects which ripple through populations, throwing those with narrow margins into panic. The expansion of credit causes recklessness in sectors from real estate to education. When students receive unlimited loans they fail to notice the horrific deal they are getting, and they are also more likely to default. Excess credit makes customers swoon when they enter the market, leaving them unscrupulous and easily taken.
The student who sincerely desired education bore tense mannerisms which made them suspect. Their absolute recoil was fearless before efficiency, and they were prepared to work hard enough to transform the present circumstances. Sinoplasm was a death drive which aimed at superior markets.
The prevailing semiotics of anti-production discouraged athleticism in work, and entertained hypocritical ruses called “performance” and “excellence”, which sabotage efficacy. There was an truncation of authentic work due to the corruption of values, which makes jobs impossible to orchestrate and schedule. There were never suitable credentials to qualify someone for the required job, and that leaves the job bouncing back and forth between whoever has the highest credentials, never getting done and keeping them eternally employed. By suspending intellectual work, productivity was lowered indefinitely. Stupidity eliminates the risks of efficiency. Catherine believed that this anti-production somehow culminated in a revolutionary power she called Ancestral Work.
She was intrigued at the accomplishments of Matteo Ricci, who established four Jesuit missions in China between 1585 and 1610. In the early days, Ricci adopted the guise of a Buddhist monk, but found that monastic caste was too despised, so later dressed instead as a Confucian literati. She noted the dialectical implications of Ricci’s hostility towards Buddhists. After a well-liked Buddhist scholar was publicly tortured and executed, Ricci wrote cruelly “he was wont to boast of caring nothing for things pertaining to his body… while being beaten he cried out like any other profane mortal.” Christian priests were mocked at Peking market plays and on prints that circulated portraying them as sodomites and pedophiles. Ricci resented that mocking, and he made the same claims about Chinese. The Vatican began beautifying Ricci in 1984, and there is speculation that he may be on track for sainthood. Marking the 400th anniversary of Ricci’s death, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that he was “a model of dialogue and respect for the beliefs of others, and made friendship the style of his apostolate during his twenty-eight years in China.” In Peking court eunuchs accompanied Ricci in his scientific studies, and he was fond of some of them.
Sinoplasmic wealth spread through channels of communication, but since the robust wealth creation of transcontinental pedagogy did not register directly as GDP, and the true sources of growth are dismissed as unaccountable in anglo-Celtic regimes. these instincts may be invisible to economists, but can return to haunt them at night. Since all drives are inherently uncertain (they are intensive quantities, and therefore unmeasurable) it followed that education should be administered with generous and intuitive competencies regarding the libidinal commerce of information around singular populations. This required the desire to circulate knowledge widely, and attention to the intricate calculations of chance known by options traders.
Catherine produced a sinoplasmic model of education to mediate the emergence of competent and loyal networks of market agency by disseminating an ethics of regional technology. Students were selected for their potential to function as instinct-relays, and this would meant accessing the most diligent populations prepared to attain standards a system demands. Economyies work on relations of trust which translate into GDP over the long-term, so the challenge is to make connections between regional markets that last generations.
Her planetary idealism turned on a practice which she called “nudging”, where the expression of instinct becomes democratic and cosmopolitan. This nudging is an abstract notion which includes typical actions of authorities, but also casual gestures that could be made by anyone. Sometimes it’s even an act of desperation, like how beggars distribute themselves on the sidewalk. Spouses, friends and siblings often nudge to bring each other into line, or to eliminate embarrassing phenomena they don’t want to be associated with. There are asymmetrical nudge-systems in effect between parents and children, teachers and students, bosses and workers. And while nudging may be an instrumental violence, it can also appear senseless and equivocal. A teacher might nudge the student simply to demonstrate who is the sovereign, just as the student could nudge back to show they won’t be easily manipulated. This is phatic communication which manifests and positions participants through mise-en-scene. It is nudging that says “I am here and you are there, so we are going to interact like this…”. This includes noises made to arouse others attention, to establish a proxy for future expression, like where a speaker clears their throat to get the audience’s attention. This is where she located the genesis of a new market system – “We’re here.”
Catherine’s models of civil society which were inspired by the French anthropologist Bruno Latour. In his Politics of Nature (2006) he developed hypothetical layouts (agencements) for encounters between professions, and theorized an abstract mechanism which escorts barbarians “beyond the gates” where they can apply for re-entry. Among other things, Latour’s “barbarian” might be someone whose nudges transgress to the point that they are no longer nudges but something else, like striking, blackmailing, sabotaging etc. Nudges are borderline activity that a system naturally monitors, the limit of what is permissible for market participants. The delivery of a forceful nudge immediately raises the question of its legitimate. She had discovered this ancient nudge discourse in the bowels of the cultural revolution, in such strange transgressive practices as “cutting the teacher’s hair”. In Catherine’s re-synthesis of Latour’s work, political economies were modelled as systems of nudge registration which have their efficacy in their sensitivity to subtle variations in nudges, in the resolution at which they differentiate similar gestures. When parties enter into exchange relations, it would be assumed they harbour nameless violence, and it is always the business of the market’s infrastructural intelligence to gauge and manage that brute physiological force. Political courtesies, or codes-of-honour, channel violence into communication, sublimating attacks into doves’ footsteps.
The governor of Hubei province, Li Hongzhong, was exiting a press conference when a young female journalist approached. She inquired about a high-profile court case where a hotel worker had been charged with murdering an official who she accused of rape. Governor Li grabbed her Sony pen recorder, and uttered some words that reverberated around the Chinese media: “Are you really from the People’s Daily? And you ask such a question? What kind of Party mouthpiece are you? Is this how you guide public opinion? What’s your name? I’m going to find your boss.” With so many pen-recorders running in the room his message echoed over social-media and incited mass hysteria when someone proposed an advertisement for Sony: “the recorder even Chinese governors want to grab!”.
Catherine conceived China as a pressure cooker for gems of rhetorical efficiency where the exchange of nudges accelerates. This rhetorical power paradoxically depended on censorship laws, and it was most essential to understand how this contradicts the doxical praxis of liberalism. There are populations who experiment playfully with the limits of the sayable, and under intense conditions words are charged with surprising effects. This is the opposite of obscenity, and requires great sensitivity to the unwritten laws of public decorum. Populations manoeuvre carefully to open sites free from the strictures of the superego. This is a natural anarchism and a verbal twister of the masses. It’s often noted how authorities clamping down everywhere, shutting down more internet sites than ever before, can coincide with a thaw where its suddenly possible to say more. The authorities clamp-down because they are losing control, so the clamping-down naturally becomes a sign of new liberty. This is not perversion, but rather the graceful disintegration of tyranny counter-actualized, and the fulfilment of the promise of economic justice. Sinoplasm forced the evolution of institutions through a mass grappling between coercive gestures, a planetary nudge-chain. The instinctual object was a post-electoral democracy that would operate through mass exchanges of coercive frustration.