Sin and Capital


I am in the midsts of the book Marx’s Inferno. It is dense af. But gives a fantastic overview of the milieu in which Marx operated and some important expansions of Marx’s thought (Lukas, Althusser, etc)

The premise of the book ostensibly is that the format of Das Capital mirrors that of The Inferno from Dante’s divine comedy. A secondary thesis is that Das Capital is a work of political theory and not social theory. But really, it is a wealth of information and I am learning a ton about the history of Marxism.

Sin originally means missing the mark. The inferno is all the ways that one can mis the mark and the consequences for that. Punishment in the inferno follow the logic of contrapasso. The punishment resembles the sin itself.

The book itself is a bizarre and idiosyncratic endeavor. But what it shows is the diffrent ways that the system of capitalism sins, or misses the mark. Some sins are ‘worse’ then others, they exist in a lower circle of hell. For example, there is the sin of akrasia – weakness of will. This is the desire that we all have within the capitalist system for more money – for example. But is this because of our personal agency or because of the structure of capitalism? How in control are we of our own will.

In the platonic dialogues, I remember reading about akrasia, weakness of will, as epistemological. That is it centered around knowledge. If only someone knew the right way to act, they would act thusly. If someone knows the correct way to act, why dont they act that way?

The last few years I thought Freud – ahh the unconscious. People have unconscious urges that make them act contrary to how they ought to act.

If you look at Nietzsche, then really the question is to act according to your will. The only akrasia is acting contrary to your will. There is no right and wrong, only will and the capacity to carry out one’s will.

But for Marx there is the struggle between the system and the individual. How much agency, or will, can an individual exercise within a system? Perhaps we act contrary to our will because we are embedded within a system that would prevent us from making proper decisions – from acting rationally. For surely if we acted rationally we would do “the right thing.” This is an epistemic approach – knowledge is about making decisions.

In Marx’s Inferno, the critique presented as Marx’s pov is that people are prevented from getting together with full knowledge of the supply chain and workings of capital and discussing and deciding for themselves what to do. It is not that their actions are hampered but their decision making process -via dialogue – is hampered.

The idea of focusing on thinking vs behavior is echoed in so many fields from psychology to business processes to interface design. I think of Thaler and Sunstein’s Nudge Theory and how to create behavioral systems that nudge people to act in a certain way while leaving a modicum of freedom to exercise choice. But perhaps the real goal should be to nudge people to make better decisions and to use dialogue, to self educate, etc rather than to restrict or guide action.

Back to akrasia… what kind of sin is this? What is the sin of acting within a structure, without full agency? It is a sin that exists in limbo not in hell. It is with the other sins of the weakness of will (akrasia).   


Back to my initial point. Within the system of capital there are multiple sins, with their own punishment and their own severity. The sin of limbo is akrasia, a sin of structure, or lack, or bad luck. The first sin of hell is the sin of exploitation, of surplus capital…  ie force and fraud.

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