Richard Dienst on indebtedness

13: “Both the media-driven panic (short-lived) and the ideological turmoil (quickly calmed) obscure a more fundamental and permanent kind of crisis, /…/ a crisis of indebtedness, operating in at least two dimensions. In the first place, /…/ a debt crisis in the classic sense, the piling up of unserviceable obligations, /…/ In a broader and more elusive sense, this is a crisis in the social and psychic relations that make economic debts possible: the various forms of economic belonging, selfhood, responsibility, and mobilization that make indebtedness of any kind durable and binding.”

174: “The question ‘how much debt is too much?’ is usually answered in technical terms /…/ Is it possible instead that the limits of indebtedness are no longer, or never were, subject to strictly economic calculation?”

29: “collective indebtedness can function as a mechanism of oppression only because it marshals a variety of cooperative relationships into a productive, constitutive force.”
30: “we should reserve a special meaning to of the word indebtedness to describe the reciprocal bonds of productivity generated between people, in their work and their lives alike, /…/
this kind of indebtedness precedes and exceeds all forms of credit. For its part, credit acquires value not through some kind of vague reciprocal ‘faith’ between two parties but precisely because it enacts an ongoing recoding of productive powers in order to adapt them to the mechanisms of accumulations. A collective muyst always be ‘indebted’ to itself in order to carry out any kind of production; it must, in other words, find durable ways to anticipate and mobilize its potential in order to realize it. /…/
What characterizes capitalist societies, then, is the way that this collective indebtedness gets expressed in the generalized form of credit.”

158: “Capitalism is that apparatus of indebtedness in which all debts, public and provate, pass through the cash nexus. /…/
The key historical task at the moment, then, is to find a way to constitute /…/ a properly historical connection between indebtedness and the common good on a global scale.”

175: “perhaps indebtedness can be a kind of revolt in itself, capable of filling the prevailing order with unrealized demands until it reaches a breaking point.”
31: “At the limit we may say that the collective that is now indebted to itself has become unbounded – /…/ the global multiutude. /…/
We usually think that a crisis means that something has broken down or stopped working properly. /…/
the current crisis seems eerily quiet, resembling an economic lockdown and permanent state of exception. It is as if the system itself wants to be seen as ‘too big to fail'”.

176: “It is not a matter of expanding the areas of social life ruled by debt – that has already happened and there is no going back. It is instead a matter of recognizing how such debts, taken together, express unmet social needs that can be recast as political demands. Surely housing, health care and education /…/ should be understood as obligations that everyone owes to anyone /…/
Can the credit system, instead of accelerating inequality and the false choices of consumerism, serve as a kind of public utility or, better, an institutions of collective self-reliance?”

181: “the cancellations of debts can actually reinforce the rule of the creditors. /…/
Yet the desire to throw off all obligations will continue to generate potent opposition to the current regime of indebtedness.”

[on The Coming Insurrection]
183: “do not recognize any obligation that is not built on truth, trust and love.
Is that enough?”
182: “The decision to form a bond with others comes upon us out of the vicissitudes of the moment, like the swerving atoms in Lucretius coming together to form a new body. But how can it last? /…/
The book’s pervasive suspicion of organization, obedience, identity and belonging in general poses a dilemma /…/ when the book begins to talk about ‘self-defence’ /…/ Who or what is being defended?”

185: “If the Utopia of microcredit imagines how economics might be conceived as universal mutual obligation, without trancendental rights or sacred duties, the Utopia of Jubilee imagines how economics as we know it can be jettisoned by an act of collective will. A politics of indebtedness thus poses a basic dialectical problem: how can the constructive and constitutive force of indebtedness be affirmed without erecting an appropriative and destructive apparatus?”

Excerpts from Richard Dienst, The bonds of debt (2011).

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