The Implosive Capitalism Cage Fight

Simone A. Medina Polo
15 min readJun 24, 2023

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Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

At a juncture where two majorly publicized events include a charity fight between two billionaires and an implosion of a carelessly lavish submarine, one can ask again the question: what is capitalism? In a sense, these two seemingly different events have nothing in common when taken in isolation from each other. On the one hand, you have this fight event between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg — each a billionaire and a social media CEO respectively, who often obscure their disasters through publicity such as charity. And on the other hand, there is the OceanGate submersible’s implosion which many decry as a tragedy of hubris, one which echoes the site of the Titanic that the submarine sought to revisit. But, like spark of a fleeting light that fails to illuminate a whole room, this immediate glimpse at these events only helps to conceal the complex fabric of what makes both experiences intelligible to us.

For the sake of brevity in this piece, there are a number of subsequent questions one may follow up with. Why a fight event between CEOs? Why charity? And for that matter, why did that stupid submarine implode? In the abstract and taken in partiality, these questions are confusing and disorienting. There is a tangible sense in which people behold at least one of these events and wonder just how exactly we got here. It is perplex, really. While it is easy to get caught up in the moment and bask in the garden of unearthly delights, it all feels unreal the moment that you take a step back.

It is a problem that we face every day when we have these sporadic and repetitious news cycles. The world today feels like a broken-down world that cannot be put back together. Everything is taken piecemeal, analytically dissecting every piece that is torn away from the organic fabric in which it was otherwise a part of life. Now the world feels like the laying down of a desert, the land feels infertile, the horizon dead and any prospect of hope crushed by the innumerable catastrophes that makes this sense of loss feel inconsolable.

It feels like we are in the middle of an act of mourning the world. There is sometimes the denial that these broken-down figments of everyday life are significant, nothing to linger over and think much about. Sometimes we come to lashing out and angry outbursts unable to reconcile the given contradictions and failures that constitute the present moment that we are living — it can be the embitterment of passing interactions with strangers or the sweeping distain with which we meet those closest to us. Of course, we bargain with fantasies about being able to live only when we pay our debts, as we take the grass to be greener on the other side when we act as if accidental obstacles are what preventing us from living this life that we are losing even before we get to live it. Melancholia and depression collapse us into a state of atomized grief, cut off from any other person with whom we could hope to communicate what we lost — as if even language could bare to host the magnitude of this impact we’ve felt and do justice to it nonetheless. And while acceptance is taken to be the sign of improvement in many cases of grief, here it is just another symptom — we accept a broken world and its ways in a helpless sway that cannot resist or say no. Acceptance is but another negation of what we’ve lost, another repression of this grief as something that cannot be helped.

In any case, all of these moments are vignettes of subjective scenes, partial views from which we circle around the same problem. In them and of themselves, these passing moments of grief have no hold and are bound to fade out. Just as the world feels broken down, so do we. It is burn-out and exhaustion as an incapacity to bear with much more — as if the world cannot contain its own weight when it comes to experience itself because it is overwhelmed at its excesses. One is overworked, overproductive, unemployed, homeless, a refugee, placeless with nowhere to go and nowhere to hide but in the crevices of this corpse of a world coming always too early and always too late. It is a disjointedness of space and time which we feel in our very skin.

Each of these layers of inward reflections are only incoherent and unintelligible to us if we strip them away from the world in which they are given. Methods of economics, sociology, psychology, and various other disciplines have compromised their methodologies and scope of study to questions and answers commensurable with that world — that is to say, disjointed analytical statistics of a subset of data. But the loss is incommensurable, as no measure or metric can grasp at its magnitude without bothering to take the complexity of these troubles as a whole.

This entire preamble seeks to appeal to an audience who is living an incomprehensible life in an incomprehensible world — I know it is confusing. I am there with you too. I am appealing to you because it is crucially important that we do not get hung up in the one-sidedness of our respective grieves, whatever stage you are in and in whatever form that has been given to you. To comprehend our situation, it doesn’t suffice to regurgitate reflections from a broken world as that alone is broken too. Rather than just reflecting this world from our partial outlooks, the task is one of putting the world back together.

The objective bearing of these subjective stages of grief is something that can be grasped when these things are taken as a whole through their partial moments — that is to say, not as a whole without parts or as a part without whole, but rather as a whole through its parts and parts as a whole. This is the essence of dialectics as a methodology and as a living process.

The subjective figments of life are fundamentally tied to an objective core common to each distinct moment that we have experience. When G.W.F. Hegel tells us that substance is subject and subject is substance, this is precisely what he means. However, this cannot be turned into a formula. Every waking moment that we land into something immediately incomprehensible to us, we are called to discern the way in which there is something substantial to be made intelligible as well as the ways that it is subject to an on-going experience of itself. The crux of comprehensibility is that it takes its very immediate incomprehensibility as an object — dialectical comprehension is nothing more than the exhaustion of incomprehensibility and the readiness to continue to exhaust the incomprehensibility that it is reflecting upon. This is precisely why acceptance is not so much the resolve of grief but a part of it. At worse this grief tells itself: it is what it is. Helpless. It takes its world as a given and without question. Nonetheless, the grief continues. The only resolve of this grief that could be called comprehensive is that it exhausts what is so incomprehensive about it and that it continues to do so — and this is what acceptance is desperately looking past about the nature of the grief that it is a part of.

In Hegel’s work, the dialectical method gets deployed as the comprehensive exhaustions of various contradictions and tensions that arise in our experience, our awareness of ourselves and of others, as well as the dense worlds that we meaningfully inhabit. If philosophy starts out as the love of wisdom, then the dialectical method proceeds to see this to the end when every claim to wisdom is foiled and unfolded into another one. This is done exhaustively to the point that the bedrock of these contradictions in the love of wisdom is the only absolute wisdom that we can impart. Life is an animated contradiction (logical life), living multiple lives as well as dying multiple deaths (natural life) oscillating back and forth in a contradictory narrative whereby this animated contradiction seeks to grasp itself as a whole (spiritual life) — a understanding of the complex totality of life which Hegel aptly grasps towards the end of the Science of Logic:

In the logical life of life as an animated contradiction:

Life in the idea is without such presuppositions, which are in shapes of actuality; its presupposition is the concept as we have considered it, on the one hand as subjective, and on the other hand as objective… it is the impulse that gives itself reality through a process of objectification

In the natural life that proliferates external and indifferent differences:

As treated in the philosophy of nature, as the life of nature and to that extent exposed to the externality of existence, life is conditioned by inorganic nature and its moments as idea are a manifold of actual shapes.

And in the life of spirit as the comprehension of itself:

Nature, as it reaches this idea starting from its externality, transcends itself; its end is not its beginning but is for it as a limit in which it sublates itself. In spirit […] life appears both as opposed to it and as posited as at one with it, in a unity reborn as the pure product of spirit.

The love of wisdom cannot be helped, but the wisdom of this love can and must be seen to the end as otherwise we have fleeting opinions and wisdoms with no bearing on the very things that they sought to comprehend. This is what makes the philosopher different than the sophist. Today’s self-help author provides common sense wisdoms imparted through noncommittal rhetorics seducing us to buying into an idea in the marketplace of ideas. The philosopher, however, seduces in the name of truth to which philosophy commits. It is easy to fall in love with wisdoms as there are plenty of fish in the sea — but the crux is to see this love to the end to the point that an actual wisdom is gained as a result and in the process.

However, there is another respect in which the dialectic is comprehensive. The idealist and philosophical dialectic is incredibly powerful. But dialectical materialism and historical materialism help flesh out the definite situation in which the comprehensive activity happens. Marx saw in Hegel how the whole is woven by its parts as its parts are made intelligible as a whole. At the threshold of the emergence of capitalism, both Marx and Hegel sought to grasp how this leap in the totality of our situation impacted its parts. In Hegel, this is called civil society where a system of needs develops to mediate the individual’s needs and labouring satisfactions through that of others and vice versa — as such, the protection of private property becomes a juridical matter calling for administration and arbitration whereby the cracks are caught by either policing or the corporate. Accordingly, Hegel sees this emerging complexity in the exchange and distribution of things, as well as the excessive waysides that culminate in the rabble of civil society. As Hegel writes in Elements of the Philosophy of Right: “To discover the necessity at work here is the object [Gegetlstatul] of political economy, a science which does credit to thought because it finds the laws underlying a mass of contingent occurrences.” Marx fleshes this out and makes it further explicit in critiquing classical political economy for treating its objects as disjointed contingent occurrences in the transaction of objects, when in fact this transformation in our relationships to things through the commodity-form is also a transformation in the relationships between people. As Marx writes in volume one of Capital: “This juridical relation, which thus expresses itself in a contract, whether such contract be part of a developed legal system or not, is a relation between two wills, and is but the reflex of the real economic relation between the two. It is this economic relation that determines the subject-matter comprised in each such juridical act. The persons exist for one another merely as representatives of, and, therefore, as owners of, commodities… the characters who appear on the economic stage are but the personifications of the economic relations that exist between them.”

Thus, when we treat the facts in abstract isolation, we fail to grasp the totality which makes them intelligible such as the social formations that give a particular form to these phenomena such as the commodity-form at the intersection of labour both as the producer of commodities and a commodity in it of itself. As Marx eloquently notes of prior political economy in Capital:

Political Economy has indeed analysed, however incompletely, value and its magnitude, and has discovered what lies beneath these forms. But it has never once asked the question why labour is represented by the value of its product and labour time by the magnitude of that value. These formulæ, which bear it stamped upon them in unmistakable letters that they belong to a state of society, in which the process of production has the mastery over man, instead of being controlled by him, such formulæ appear to the bourgeois intellect to be as much a self-evident necessity imposed by Nature as productive labour itself. Hence forms of social production that preceded the bourgeois form, are treated by the bourgeoisie in much the same way as the Fathers of the Church treated pre-Christian religions.

It is in this same spirit that we caution against acceptance as the resolve of grief rather than it being a part of it. When we come to accept things for what they are, we fail to understand why they are that way and how they came to be that way. In the instance of capitalism, dialectical materialism sees through the contradictions that lay at the heart of our most immediate and familiar experiences such as that of commodities — take the thing closest to you, including the medium that you are reading this piece through, and come to realize that this object hosts a range of internal contradictions such as the congealed labour-time of others that spared you the time of your own labour so that you can enjoy it. That alone scratches the surface as it only gets more complex when you come to reflect on the minutiae of middlemen that mediate the exchange of commodities, the employment of labour, and the means of production. Dialectical materialism grasps at this totality, and along with historical materialism we are then able to grasp the developmental and societal transformations that made these given socio-economic formations possible. The stakes of the problem are that if we take things for what they are, then we have failed to comprehend what they are and what we are doing with them — much less how they arrived here and why. In this sense, acceptance is yet another flight away from grief.

In any case, we understand then that the totalized horizon of capitalism renders much of our experiences intelligible, however contradictory and incomprehensible that is in fact. The capitalist totality is precisely what allows us to look at this contemporary juncture between two CEOs duking it out for charity and the implosion of a lavish submarine in a concrete manner. Both events only make sense in this context, even if there is utter senselessness at the core of it all.

When we take the phenomenon of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg fighting, there are some considerable implications that make this event even possible. At its most elementary and somewhat abstract, that we live in a capitalist society with unevenly distributed wealth such that billionaire CEOs are a given thing in this world. But more concretely, that the antagonisms generated by capitalism are deeply tied to both of these men’s industry by generating hubs for social volatility and reactionarism — the marketplace of ideas means that everyone has an opinion committed only to itself with no concern for truth, as the opinion lends itself to consumption whereas truth cannot be digested in such a consumptive way. As a result, the decay of truth gives way to a vacuum of power, an absent centre of gravity around which shitstorms and volatility are our most common interactions with others. Now this tendency is reflexive insofar as these two CEOs are self-aware enough to put themselves in a cage match — in a sense, they are giving us what we want and they played a role in shaping that very demand. Instead of fighting CEOs and billionaires through revolutionary action, we are giving in to the interpassivity of a pay-per-view event where we pat ourselves on the back for seeing these two CEOs at blows with each other. This is ideology at its purest, when the restlessness at the heart of the exploitative distribution of wealth and its means of production is redirected as part of that wealth, as something to be produced and consumed — outrage feeds the algorithm, our reaction is positive feedback, and revolutionary restlessness is deflated and co-opted into a consumable rebellion. All of this with the cherry on top in the pretext of charity, which is only the symptom of a socio-economic state whereby the most immediate supports of disenfranchised people are underfunded with the vague promissory note that wealth will come to them by means of the volunteerism and the good will of those with wealth. The historical and material contradiction being that the non-for-profit industrial complex would be rendered obsolete if wealth wasn’t accumulated and distributed in such a fetishistic manner that allows billionaire CEOs to exist in the world.

Then we can consider the catastrophic disaster of the OceanGate mission to visit the site of the Titanic. As following reports have noted, the submergible was engineered in a haphazard fashion with no regard for regulation and safety — in many ways, the flaunting of risk acted as an extension of the flaunting of wealth by the engineer CEO Stockton Rush who dismissed all critiques of the submergible. There is the hubris of seeking the site of a disastrous event while paving the way for yet another one. Then there is the teenager who was dragged into the vessel by his father, Shahzada Dawood, who insisted that it would make for a great Father’s Day experience. Dawood, a philanthropist and investor, sacrificed the safety and comfort of his own son for the sake of a lavish and transient commodified experience. Aside from the unfortunate teenager who was dragged down into this situation, the deaths of these billionaires and business men were fitting in the form of an implosion produced by a vacuum contracting the intense pressure of the deep ocean. The failure of the structural integrity of the submergible is an apt metaphor for the failing structural integrity of capitalism. In the current totality of the capitalist horizon, there is seemingly no way out. However, capitalism will collapse in either of two ways: capitalism will be disrupted by an extraneous force (which would have to fly in the face of the current historical and material conditions of its on-going dialectic as utopian socialisms often speculate) or capitalism will implode onto itself. By virtue of the immanent critique of capitalism that the dialectic warrants, it is the latter instance that will be the case either through an implosion in the vacuum of power yielding its way to yet another social formation to come; or worse, through an implosion in the vacuum of power leaving nothing behind.

On a closing note: this reflection has stemmed from two highly publicized events intended to generate discourse as yet another form of economic and social exchange. It is with some careful reluctance that this text ventures into the risk of becoming yet another atomized “opinion” in the oceanic madness of the current vacuum of media. On the other end, there is an attempt at a love letter to those perplexed by these ridiculous events that are much ado about nothing, yet they are everything to us in an everyday sense. To you, I solely want to say that shit is hard right now. We are here trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, which is necessarily and incomprehensively comprehensive of every aspect of our lives. The saturation of the discursive landscape by these publicized events surely upholds a world viewed from the flaunting of wealth that billionaires can afford. It is a partial and incomplete perspective that gets off in its own partiality to wealth. Two CEOs fight each other in a cage for charity to obscure the very disenfranchisement that calls for charity and which they systematically help perpetuate. A submarine full of billionaires implodes into itself to viralized attention, while boats of hundreds if not thousands of refugees suffer long and restless deaths — however, it makes sense that one is viralized over the other, as one excites our attention through the exotic flaunting of careless wealth, while the other challenges our worldview by considering the deaths and grievances of others with whom we may have far more in common. The crux of the proletariat in Marx is that as much as it is a one-sided perspective, it nonetheless has a vantage point for grasping the totality of its situation whereby it both labours to generate commodities while it is itself one — the commodification of labour is a productive contradiction in capitalism, one that we must become systematically conscious of. Otherwise, we devolve into half-hearted antagonisms that celebrate the deaths of billionaires while doing nothing about it nor grasping the systematic totality that would make such an antagonism intelligible and necessary in light of racism, classism, sexism, colonialism, transphobia, islamophobia, anti-semitism and all forms of convenient ideological patches that produce convenient enemies to spare us the trouble of grasping how deep in shit we are. This alone makes the whole difference in differentiating scientific socialism from the abstract ruminations of utopian socialisms.

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Simone A. Medina Polo

Simone A. Medina Polo is a philosopher and an PhD candidate at the Global Centre for Advanced Studies for Philosophy and Psychoanalysis.