What Does Democracy Re-Present?
Language is a response to communicative needs,
which proliferate and diversify according to their satisfactions
and according to on-going experience. These communicative
needs overlap or co-participate with needs having to do with
things--needs to consume things, but also to use them instrumentally, or
to locate one's own or others' needs among them, perceive
them accurately, foresee the consequences of their processes, etc.
Satisfying each other's needs having to do with things
creates bonds among humans as those special parts of the external
material world who are part of the same species as ourselves--who
receive from and give to each other. The bonds created by language
are similar to the bonds that would be created by sharing those
things, if we could do so. Some of our sharing is impeded by the fact
that there are things we cannot give to each other, such as mountains
or our sensation of red, or granting the wish that the nuclear age
had never happened. Much sharing is impeded by scarcity, in that
there is not enough of something for everyone. Much is impeded
by private property and our practice of not-giving. It is perhaps
the differences in the reasons for not giving and receiving that
makes the actual sharing of language so abstract and
'psychological,' transforming the mind into something different from the body.
We share abstractly, and this sharing produces only egos
and minds, not peaceful and abundant material communities. We
do not share goods concretely with the many. Perhaps we
even practice giftgiving only with our immediate families and
friends. What we do share, instead, is the not-giving of exchange,
which makes us separate and adversarial, and connects us to each
other only through the laws of the state, if at all. Exchange makes us
into things that do not give to each other, except linguistically, so
we are not part of the same species of nurturers. Instead, we
organize ourselves into 'concepts,' which are organized into more
The OBN of 'Ones'
We create word-like representatives in government to
take our places, organizing the larger group for us,
deciding, commanding, legislating what giftgiving remains, the giving
of obedience, of public services, of taxes. The
representatives allocate (give) our tax money.
The lexicon, what Saussure called langue, is a
purely differential system of words seen as values in which each
element is related negatively to all the others as what it is not,
and positively to the things it re-presents. For example, the word
'dog' is what it is because it is not 'cat' or 'beautiful' or 'justice'
or 'running.' Those are negative relations it has with other
words. 'Dog' also has a positive relation to dogs, which it re-presents.
We identified a very similar relation in private
property, where each owner is related negatively to all the others,
by mutual exclusion, and positively to the property s/he
owns. Money, like the verb 'to be,' mediates between these
mutually exclusive elements, creating a second substitution,
a quantitatively divisible value concept
sample,1 to which property can be momentarily related, and the property of one owner
can become the property of another--without resorting to
giving. Giving to needs implies inequalities--while exchange implies
and requires equalities, covering up needs and giftgiving.
Speaking about money as the 'general equivalent,'
Marx commented, "It is far from being self-evident that this
character of being generally and directly exchangeable is, so to say, a
polar one, and is as inseparable from its polar opposite, the character
of not being directly exchangeable, as the positive pole of a
magnet is from the negative. People who give free rein to fancy
may therefore imagine that all commodities can
simultaneously acquire this characteristic of being directly exchangeable--just
as, if they like, they may imagine that all Roman Catholics
can simultaneously become Pope."2 He says that "a commodity
can only function as a general equivalent because, and in so far as,
all other commodities set it apart from themselves as
equivalent."3 (See Figure 34.) Marx is actually talking here about money
as what I would call the incarnated concept sample. What he sees
as 'magnetic polarity' is the polarity between the one and the
many, the concept sample and its related items, and/or the word
which has taken the place of the sample as the equivalent for
that concept, and the related ('relative') items. In his description
of money as the general equivalent, Marx identified an
important moment of concept formation and the incarnation of
the masculated concept--though of course, at the time, he did
not see that was what it was. His analysis of the relation
between money and commodities is notoriously difficult because
that relation involves so much more than meets the eye.
In masculation, the family is set up like the concept,
where the patriarchal father is sample or 'general equivalent.' He
takes the place of the other members of the family in decision
making, instituting command and obedience through his over-taking
will, and representing them in the society of men, the
OBN. We have seen that property is related to its owner in the
many-to-one concept (or family name complex) way. A similar thing
happens with our government.
Figure 34. Money is the general equivalent.
All other commodities set it apart from themselves as
Curiously Marx personalizes commodities, saying that
they choose one of their number to be the equivalent, and this is
just the democratic process personified. The US Declaration
of Independence said "all men are created equal," at the
time notoriously leaving out women and slaves (free giftgivers)
from the democratic process. The fathers of our country were an
OBN, made up of white male property owners. They divided
themselves into groups according to location, each of which chose one
of their number to be their general equivalent, to take their place
as their representative in the governing bodies made up of the
'ones' who were representatives of other groups.
Democracy is embedded in a context made up of
other extrinsications of the concept.
Figure 36. Re-presentative government. (Compare with Figure
The OBN 'members' typically were themselves, by choice
or by force, already in a 'one' relation regarding their families, and
in a self-similar 'one' relation regarding their properties.
The 'representatives' made decisions which affected those who had
no power of choice, as well as those who did. The context made
up of 'representatives' formed a new meta group, an OBN of
the OBN, which had its own internal dynamics. A general
equivalent was also chosen from among the group of the choosers, to be
the general equivalent and representative of all, the president.
When the inhabitants of a nation are allowed to choose
their representatives, the process appears to more directly reflect
the concept process than, for example, monarchy does.
The representatives then appear to be not just the samples, but
the 'words' which take the place of all the members of the
community or group. Like the words in the langue, they are in a mutually exclusive relation with each other, but they have a
positive, though polar relation with those they represent. (Figure 36)
From this position, they reconstitute themselves as a community,
giving to each other and receiving in various ways, making
deals, coalitions, etc. This community acquires a life of its own
with power over the lives of the many.
National boundaries then become like the boundaries of
the concept. Those outside are 'things' that are not related to
those 'samples' or to those 'words.' They are not represented,
though they are affected by the decisions the representatives
make, especially the decisions made in the nation that achieves the
one status among nations.
If we stand back and ask ourselves, "If this is true, what
does this configuration mean?" the strategies we have
for interpretation pass through the concept process itself, and we
are led to repeat the problem. However, if we access and give value
to the model of the giftgiving mother, we may be able to
avoid projecting our conceptual and linguistic patterns into
We could devise a way of organizing society free
from projections and their subconscious resonances. We would
not need to mutually exclude others in order to have national
or individual identities, and we would not need to create relations
of below and above, 'things' and 'words,' 'manys' and 'ones' in
order to make individual or collective decisions. Rather,
co-munication, forming the co-munity by satisfying needs at
all levels, would be understood as the basis of meaning as well as
the guiding principle for the organization of society.
Those in the 'word' position, the representatives,
are themselves sometimes organized like the concepts of gender.
US Democrats, for example, usually pay more attention to
needs, while Republicans look at profit and national
egotism. Both parties function on the male model--the right as more
macho, the left as more paternalistically nurturing.
The Sexist Point of Democracy
Modern democracy more accurately corresponds to
the problem of masculation than tyranny or monarchy because it
has developed in an epoch of exchange where the money-word is
the king, the general equivalent, instead of the king himself. This
fact allows us to act out and perhaps understand the problem
as systemic, rather than attributing our difficulties to the
individual character of the 'one,' to the king or father, to the heredity of
the royal house or the superiority of a nation or race. As much as we
do fetishize gold or other money, it is clear that it is not a person.
And according to the American Dream, anyone can 'make money.'
We have displaced the problem of the privileged sample position
into an area where it more closely resembles masculation, though the
fit is not complete. Regardless of class or race, the story goes,
anyone who has enough luck, energy, and know-how can acquire a lot
of the general equivalent, much as anyone regardless of class or
race can be genetically 'given' a phallus, the organ by which he
is directed into masculation. He can 'have' instead of 'lack.'
In fact, 'lacking' is the other side of the coin, and anyone
can also be like a 'lacking' woman. The supremacy of money
detaches the privileged sample position from heredity, and perhaps
allows more space for us to consider socialization and opportunity as
the causes of privilege, along with money-making and
Ancient Greek 'democracy' was directly the
Reign of the Phallus, as Eva Keuls shows in her book of that
title.5 Women and slaves were both 'have-nots' in that period, 'inferiors'
providing the satisfaction of needs. Gender coincided with nationality
and class as a categorization by which a relatively large peer group
was allowed access to privileged one positions. Keuls describes
the 'herms,' which were anthropomorphic statues of penises with penises standing at the doors of Greek houses. These seem to
me to be attempts to concretize a self-similar relation.
This is also perhaps a clue to a pun, the sense of which
has always nudged at my curiosity, but eluded me. That is
the similarity of monetary capital and the capital of a column.
Jean-Joseph Goux talks a lot about capitalism and caput, the head, in Symbolic
Economies.6 Perhaps columns are images of
phalluses derived or transposed from herms, and standing together to
hold up the temple, the image of the phallic state. The capital is
then the head, not of the person, but of the phallus.
Athena, the warrior goddess who gave her name to the
city, nurtured male citizens and protected them in battle, is housed
(or trapped) inside the temple. Born from Zeus' head, she
performed the masculating functions of privileging the Athenians, caring
for and protecting them, herself taking on the manly behavior of
the warrior. Athenians were masculated as males, but bonded
things of the same kind, bearing her name. Battles in which
the Greeks slaughtered the Amazons are regularly depicted
in Athenian art. Athena is the woman who helps men
conquer women, as well as other nations and classes. She is the symbol
of the way her men collectively receive their power over others,
and she is honored by the symbol of their collective
columnar erections. Her name given to their nation state fits well with
the social cohesion that took place, not through women's
nurturing, but through male bonding in battles or oratory and
sports competitions, with the goal of becoming privileged 'ones.'
The Athenians could also bond in the privileged enjoyment of
their freedoms--pleasures not available to women or slaves.
Masculation is an artificial construct, and it needs images
of itself which will confirm it. (It is the physical
appearance--having the penis--that puts the boy into the
non-nurturing category in the first place.) Perhaps masculation needs
phallic images as evidence of self-similar structures at different scales,
in order to make the universe more familiar and friendly to the
boy dis-identified from his mother. Whatever the
motivation, Patriarchy (or Puerarchy) creates its own images everywhere
re-presenting the phallus every time entrance into a
privileged category is at issue.
However, the key (one more herm-like phallic symbol)
seems to me to lie in the similarity between herms and columns
and men. The column is a gigantic penis; the herm is a
man-sized statue of a penis with a
penis7. Could we say then that an erect man seems to be the image of a penis, self-similar to his own
erect phallus, his head its 'head?' The need for a self-similar
phallic image would thus be at least partially satisfied by a man's
own body. His phallus would be the image of himself and, vice
versa, he would be its image.
We have become blind to these images, or we have
learned not to talk about them. To me, they seem to be symptoms of
a mass psychosis that is being caused by masculation. Once we
'take the scales from our eyes,' we recognize the images for what
They riddle our history. An ancient image is the ureaus, the cobra headdress worn by Egyptian pharaohs and gods. The
phallic snake's head atop the human head was the symbol of
Most death-dealing instruments, as we mentioned,
are index-phallic symbols. Each 'member' of the armed forces
has his 'gun.' Marks of conquest, from obelisks to flag
poles, punctuate our patriarchal landscapes. More pedestrian
modern examples: 'skin heads' allude to the organ of male
violence. 'Joe Camel' notoriously looks like a phallus and
self-similarly advertises cigarettes, like a herm. His phallic face becomes
a herm--with the self-similar cigarette branching off as a
If we see property as what privileged ones 'have,'
cap-ital would be property masculating itself into phallic
self-similarity, growing infinitely through repeatedly deserving a greater
money name, and working or producing to become adequate to
the name, creating a flow of (hidden) gifts towards a
centralizing infinitely aggrandizeable 'one.' An economic self-similar image
of masculation with phallic motivations (in fact blood rushes to
the gland as hidden gifts rush to capital investments),
cap-ital transforms itself from a word, controlling the workers'
behavior through salary, into the 'money-sample' value-equivalent
of products in exchange. An accumulation that allows one to
tell others what to do, capital creates a sample phallic capitalist in
its image. But he also creates it in his image. We now have
numerous large capitals, which hold up the state. Their heads are the
pillars and capital-ists of their communities.
The erection appears as privileged one and has a relation to
a sexual object which is also for the moment singled out as a
one-many sample--for instance, a woman as sample of all
women. Athena served as the sample (hypostatized) woman by
which citizens acquired their phallic standing-in-common. The fascio also was a bundle of sheaves bound together by one of their kind.
A similar function animated the Nazi 'Heil Hitler' phallic
salute. There must be ways to organize the state that do not require
a leadership of phalluses. (In fact, the erection-in-common alludes
to gang rape.)
It is not a matching between word and thing (or erection
and singled-out woman) that creates 'meaning,' but the response
to human needs regarding both words and things and
the consequent positive proliferation of co-municative
needs. Similarly, it is not the matching or correspondence
between money and products that creates economic value, but
the response to both communicative and material needs, in spite
of the generalized situation of not-giving.
The correspondences between words and things, money
and products, man and boy, man and woman continuously draw
our focus onto one-many structures and their relationships of
abstract equality and modeling and away from needs. This is
another reason we do not recognize value as a gift that is being
attributed and appreciated in common in all the different areas. Each
self-similar area of patriarchy is considered separate and
independent from the others because its concept sample is in evidence
and different from the others.
Moreover, the 'samples' often appear to be the source of
their own value. The relation between the president and
the electorate, or senators and congress persons and the electorate,
is seen as entirely different from the relation between money
and commodities, for example. (See Figure 38.) While it is true
that the scales are very different, I believe we have also learned not
to look, and to discount the similarities when we see them.
Our view of patriarchy is thus splintered, divided
and conquered, and we find ourselves addressing one part of it at
a time, rather than making a general criticism and offering a
global alternative. The partial criticisms can only have partial
results, however important they may be, because other aspects of
the patriarchal system 'take up the slack.' Other 'heads' of the
hydra are ready to attack, when one has been decapitated.
By tracing the patterns that create these 'heads,' we
may collectively address the whole mechanism. Capital, after all,
is only one of the hydra's heads.
1 Exchange value is qualitatively simple and single, so that it can be divided
quantitatively. Money is the material 'word-sample' which satisfies the communicative
need arising from the kind of altered co-munication which is the exchange of
private property. It is a communicative need for a re-presentative of giving while not-giving.
2Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, London, J. M. Dent, 1962, p. 41.
3Ibid, p. 42.
4Computerized banking and credit card proliferation are actually
dematerializing money, transforming it back from a material word to an element of language.
5Eva Keuls, The Reign of the Phallus: Sexual Politics
in Ancient Athens, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1985.
6Jean-Joseph Goux, op. cit., pp.44-47.
7Eva Keuls, op.cit., p.44, ff.