The current political moment involves an overwhelming mass hysteria under the apocalyptic sign of Donald Trump’s presidency. It also features the shutting down of Palestinian student groups at various universities. This mass hysteria, one that echoes across the chambers of cyberspace, is one of a hitherto comfortable ruling class feeling that its comfort-jacket has been pinholed. I am less worried about Trump than about the political ruling class across developed and developing nations, which believes that making the right noises is equivalent to enacting the right politics. I am a member of this class, and I look back on unpackings of the travels and travails of late capitalism in ethnography at this moment to darn my own comfort-jacket. The new definition of class is cosmopolitanism. I am not an American citizen, and yet I consume and am affected by Trump’s politics through my cosmopolitanism.

In Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (2005), Anna Tsing interrogates one particular, modern face of the local: the one that cultivates the sympathy of the aforementioned ruling class. Tsing takes the question of the global to a most unlikely geography, that of indigenous communities and threatened forest lands in Kalimantan, Indonesia. On the one hand, the local gets stamped, circulated, and reproduced as pristine and mystical—the abode of salvaging mysticality and indigenous knowledge—and on the other, it turns into a frontier landscape of struggle over natural resources. This struggle takes place primarily through the points of contact between various actors of the global and local maps. At each point between varied interpretations of the same universal category and its appropriation and adaptation, the global is produced across a range of frontier zones. Each actor interprets the global (be it human rights, global finance capital, environmental values and norms, nature-loving fashions, or NGO funding support) in their own situation and uses it to further what they perceive to be their valued ends. The urban Indonesian student adopts cosmopolitan values of nature, appreciation and scientific interest in plant species, and exploration. The developing nation-state turns into a franchisee, as it deploys its muscle to secure and aid the interest of investors and industrial players who will help boost its economic indicators and provide legitimacy for its undemocratic practices. The indigenous community of Kalimantan consumes the resources attached to the language of rights to articulate their struggle to retain control over forest land vis-à-vis the developmentalist state. The adopting of languages, values and cloaks of the global, proves to have an emancipating effect for the local. Tsing’s narrative reflects on how these acts of adoption have been crucial to producing the universal itself. In different situations, transactions or negotiations surrounding such a global category give rise to connections that she calls friction. Tsing reminds us that the constant manufacturing of the local sustains one of the fantasmic economies of late capitalism.

I think of Tsing’s Friction alongside Michael Taussig’s The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America (1980). Taussig offers a complex and poignant account of the imposition of devil belief and other ritual categories onto logics and processes of mining, as colonial economic initiatives start making inroads into the lives of a Bolivian indigenous community. As peasants turned into mine workers and plantation laborers, they became attuned to the logics and processes of capitalist accumulation. In this case, a concept of devil worship came to impute ritual meaning and to interpret the generation of surplus value, the nature of wage-labor, and the workers’ entrenchment in the mine economy. In interpreting the logics of resource use, nature, and the body, devil belief was woven into the recently installed apparatus of colonial industrialism. Mass production requires peasant communities to switch to modes of wage labor not previousy practiced in the area. Furthermore, it requires a switch in worldview to be able to look at the area’s natural-resource base from the point of view of colonial capitalism. The peasants do this, not as a clean encounter between colonizer and colonized, but by transposing ritual categories onto new capitalist structures and reconfiguring the meanings of things in relation to each other.

Through both Taussig and Tsing, we are reminded, in anthropological wisdom, that capital is not a homogenizer; it is, in fact, a traveling locus of resignification for sign systems and orders and arrangements of power that already exist. Our current righteous hysteria is an expression of capital speaking its latest spell in our direction.