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We’ve had a few pieces on the disconnect between the public and the political process.  This essay by Richard D. Wolff looks to answering the question why, despite there being two different political parties in the US, that the overall arc of the US body politic maintains the same general direction.

 

“In short, “democracy” has been applied to societies whose political/residential sphere was at least formally democratic but whose economic sphere was decidedly not.

The ideological rigidity of most brands of anti-statism across US history served nicely to keep the focus forever on state/public versus individual/private in thinking and acting about social change. Democracy was redefined in practical terms as the liberty of the individual/private from the intrusion of the state/public. The democratic quality of the individual/private enterprise – the central structure of the economy – was exempted from analysis or even from view in terms of its structural incompatibility with democracy. Legalistic equations of capitalist corporations with individual personhood also helped to distract attention away from the undemocratic structure of the corporation. Likewise, the US government’s commitment to a “democratic foreign policy” fostered the reproduction elsewhere of the same undemocratic economic structure that characterized the US.

The right wing of US politics has long understood and responded to social movements for equality and democracy as threats to capitalism. Its leaders built their coalitions by working to mobilize public opinion against those movements as threats to the “American way of life.” It built its ideology on the notion that democracy meant a state kept from intruding on the lives and activities of persons and enterprises rendered as equivalently “individuals.” Equality to them meant equality of opportunity, not outcomes: and then only if opportunity was strictly disconnected from the wealth, income and social position each individual was born into.

The left wing of US politics has always tried hard to sustain the notion that capitalism was not only compatible with egalitarianism and democracy. It would also be strengthened, not threatened, by moving capitalist society closer to equality and democracy. In practical terms it contested against the right wing by insisting that the mass of people – the workers in capitalist enterprises – would become disaffected from and disloyal to capitalism if it indulged its anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic tendencies. Capitalism, it argued and argues, will be strengthened not threatened by less inequality and more democracy.

Both left and right – and their expressions in the leaderships of the Republican and Democratic Parties – live in fear, conscious or otherwise, that the mass of people, the working class, will become disaffected from capitalism. “Populist” is the currently popular epithet that expresses this fear.  Both parties contest for the support of the leaders of capitalism – major shareholders and the corporate boards of directors they select – by offering their alternative strategies for avoiding, controlling, or safely channeling mass disaffection with capitalism.”

Want to know moar, citizen? Check out Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky.

 

    The dour feminist in me would like to point out that women are still struggling toward full autonomy in society after some 2000 years of ‘civilization’ ( :/ ), but the hot topic of self driving vehicles has crossed my desk and merits a comment or two with regards to society.

A healthy dose of skepticism is always in order when it comes to vaunted new technology promoted by the tech industry.  Because they, like other features of capitalist society, value profit over anything else, the tech industry will often jazz up, embellish, and often outright fabricate their claims to make their product seem like the next “must have” consumer item in society (consider the recent crapple failphone X – now with *twice* the screens to break).

Skepticism in place, we do need to realize that sometimes the technological advance is real and will have serious effects in society.  Consider the case of the elevator operators in the 1940’s.  It was a flourishing job opportunity, and even wielded social power as a 1945 elevator-operator strike in Manhattan severely clogged the engines of business industry.  Within a generation this profession was gone; automatic elevators had all but replaced human elevator operators and ran elevators more efficiently and cheaply ever since.

A shit deal if you happened to train for and be a Elevator Operator – with the phrase “this is progress looks like burning in your ears” you had to go out a get a different job, and most likely one that did not pay as well as being an Elevator Operator.

Fast forward to the present day – Truckers are now facing this very same conundrum as automated vehicles are entering their field of work.  Operating truck driving software and actually driving a truck are two very distinct categories; thus yet another blue collar job opportunity might very well be shut off to the people.  I’m not a Luddite when it comes to new technology in society, but the motivation behind the vehicles (and most of capitalism to be honest) has me worried.  “In Canada 1 in every 100 workers is a truck driver, some 300,000 people – it’s the second most common occupation reported by men.” (The Walrus – Overhauled by Sharon J. Riley).

Are we going to spend the money to retrain these people if the technology for self-driving vehicles actually becomes a standard?  Or do we just turn these people to the wind, like the Elevator Operators of the 40’s, “here’s your last paycheck, sorry about your luck , bu-bye now.”?  I highly doubt that the trucking industry – the prime mover in its quest for ‘automated-efficiency’-  is going to step up to the plate and sponsor job retraining for all the employees that have become redundant.  The responsibility for integrating these now jobless people back into the economic workforce will most likely fall to the government and as valiant as Canadian social services are, a three hundred thousand plus hit on our limited social resources just won’t end well.

So, the case looks like this – Business moves ‘forward’ creating more efficiency and profitability, while the social and economic damage caused by said advances is left to the government to haphazardly repair with the limited resources available to it.  This smells like a looming case of what in corporate culture is known as “externalities” or items that have a tangible economic or social cost but importantly not directly to the company itself (Pollution is a prime example of an ‘externality’).  So really, it will be the common citizen, who will be responsible for keeping society going while business plunges ahead willy-nilly chasing the most effective and profitable supply chain.

I have a problem with these technology driven calamitous ‘externalities’ that we will be facing, not just in the transportation sector but in other sectors as well.  This process is driven by greed, and greed gives no fucks for those who must perish in the process of efficiency maximization.  The argument against me would be such – but with greater efficiency and optimization more people will be better served by the industry at hand, thus society will be better and everyone wins.

It’s just that everyone doesn’t win.  The people put out of work by technological advances and their families are going to lose and lose big because they will have no income to afford the goods being delivered so efficiently and profitably to the stores.  Our profit driven corporate/business sectors almost always seems to ignore that fact that their profitability hinges on condition that people exist in the market that have the capacity to buy their widgets.   You may have the best widgets out there, but with no demand, nothing happens.  Of course you can keep profits going up through dubious accounting methods and the churn and burn of the stockmarket magic – but that is an illusion as you are just moving money around an not creating actual value in society; plus that financial shell game periodically crashes hurting everyone in society (see 1929, 2008 et cetra).

The way forward is clear, at least to me.  Technological advancement needs to examined and fined tuned through the lens of what society as a whole needs, and not just the business sector because the business sector is necessary too short sighted to see beyond the bottom line and what is good for them at the time.

 

Related reading and some of my paraphrase fodder – Overhauled – By Sharon J. Riley found in the Walrus Magazine December 2017.

 

“They use everything about the hog except the squeal.” ― Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

Driving into work today I listened to a story about how many large countries of the world had recently banned imports of Brazilian beef and chicken into their countries.  Reports from a whistle-blower about cardboard being ground up with raw chicken, mixing of fresh and rotten meat and of course, chemical baths for tainted meat to hide the smell of decay.

I thought to myself, what a lovely metaphor for Capitalism in general.  Brazil’s meat packers export some 10.2 billion (US) dollars worth of beef and chicken to the world.  Our capitalist friends and the notion that they hold would like us to think that because these meat exports are crucial to the Brazilian economy every care would be take to insure that the product being delivered to tables across the world would be of the highest quality.

“The investigators allege that JBS and BRF disguised inedible beef, pork and chicken, bound for both domestic consumption and export, by injecting the meat with chemicals and acids to improve its appearance and smell; by mixing expired meat with healthy meat; and by fleshing out meat that was considered weak with water and low-cost starch, such as manioc flour.”

Well.

This would seem to point to a different narrative about meat packers goals and aspirations it goes something like this.  The global supply chain for beef and chicken is quite complicated, thus actually tracing product directly back to us (Brazilian producers) will be difficult at best.  Every pound of product is more profit for us, and there are quick and easy methods – acid baths to remove the tainted smell, cardboard/cellulose stock to stretch the grinds – that will significant improve our bottom line.  A few people far away might get sick and/or die, but that won’t come back to bite us because of the nebulous supply chain, and thus the acquisition of profit must be prioritized.

The government food inspectors must also be bribed into complicity because if they were actually doing their jobs, this second narrative could not happen.  Sadly, this seems to also be the case in the Brazilian situation.

“Investigators say Operation Weak Meat uncovered evidence of bribes paid to Brazilian officials, including some at the federal Ministry of Agriculture, to look the other way. Police issued 38 arrest warrants and closed 21 meat-packing facilities for further inspection.

Brazil’s federal Justice Minister, Osmar Serraglio, was allegedly caught on tape calling one of the inspectors under investigation “big boss” in a phone conversation with one of the leaders of the bribery scheme in Parana state.

Serraglio, who oversees the investigating police force, said the police raids prove he is not interfering in the inquiry. Police in Brazil said there was insufficient evidence to launch a separate investigation into the minister’s involvement.”

This is the true face of capitalism, the face that we don’t learn about in school and the news.  The capitalism that always places profit over people, the capitalism based on the exploitation of others, the capitalism that makes our way of life possible.  We are insulated from the sharp pointy bits of capitalism, perhaps shedding a maudlin tear now and then for the exploited poor, wherever they happen to be in the world, and then moving to the next goal of material acquisition.

“However, Elliott anticipates the scandal will have worldwide consequences, provoking a rise in commodity prices globally. He also believes that similar arrangements — bribing officials to grade unsuitable meat as edible for consumption — will be uncovered in other countries that export large amounts of meat, as importers begin tighter inspections after Brazil’s revelation.”

 

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” ― Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked.

 

The Brazilian tainted meat situation exemplifies what is wrong with the current system and what was wrong with the state of things in 1906 when Upton Sinclair’s the Jungle was published.

Ain’t progress grand?

 

“It appeared as if the whole world was one elaborate system, opposed to justice and kindness, and set to making cruelty and pain.” Upton Sinclair, Oil!

 

[Source:cbc.ca]

We can change society in the (sociological) blink of an eye.  Unfortunately, it is usually in service of making a buck.  Highlights from JSTOR’s public section.

 

drunkcoffee“For caffeine addicts, a morning without a pot of coffee is a no-go. But it hasn’t always been as convenient to make coffee as it is today—and as Rebecca K. Shrum writes, the dawn of coffee machines came along with a massive dose of manly marketing.

Mr. Coffee, the first electric-drip coffee machine for home use, debuted in 1972, forever changing the way Americans made coffee. Before its rise, women used percolators to brew their coffee on the stovetop or on the counter—a method that produced bitter, scorched coffee. Despite the availability of complicated, non-electric drip systems, percolators ruled American kitchens.

[…]

Mr. Coffee looked and worked differently than percolators. It also made better coffee. Since it automated the superior drip coffee technique, it gave even groggy consumers the chance for a good cup. It was also dramatically more expensive than a percolator.

In a bid to get consumers to give up their familiar percolators for this expensive new product, Mr. Coffee included something unexpected in its marketing: men. Not only was it given a masculine name, writes Shrum, but its marketing suggested that it would produce a man’s preferred brew. The company hired Joe DiMaggio to give his masculine endorsement to the product—adding an additional layer of masculine advice to a product that purported to teach women how to make a better brew.

But Mr. Coffee did more than mansplain. It played into stereotypes of men as arbiters of coffee quality, and encouraged men to get into the kitchen themselves. Since it was so easy to use, men no longer had an excuse to cede coffee-making to their wives. This corresponded with women’s increased entry into the workforce and helped men contribute more to their households.

Today, the thought of a man unwilling to brew a pot of coffee (or so upset about his coffee’s quality that he abuses his wife) seems preposterous. Mr. Coffee changed those cultural expectations, even as it played into existing stereotypes about gender and domesticity.”

capitalism    The excerpt is from a great piece by Christopher Lasch writing in the short lived journal “Democracy”.  Written in the 80’s, details the systemic problems facing US democracy.  The situation described shows the roots of where we are now, and how (unfortunately) we have arrived here.

   “The centralization of power in the United States and the decline of popular participation in community life have become dramatically visible only in the
period since World War II. The roots of these conditions, however, go back to the formative period around the turn of the century. We have been living ever since then with the long-term consequences of the momentous changes in­augurated at that time.

     The most important of these changes, of course, was the emergence of the corporation and the spread of the corporate form throughout
American industry.   Often misunderstood as a shift from entrepreneurial to managerial control, the corporation emerged out of conflicts between capital
and labor for control of production. It institutionalized the basic division of labor that runs all through modern industrial society, the division between brainwork and handwork-between the design and the execution of production.

    Under the banner of scientific management, capitalists expropriated the technical knowledge formerly exercised by workers and vested it in a new
managerial elite. The managers extended their power not at the expense of the owners of industry, who retained much of their influence and in any case tended to merge with the managerial group, but at the expense of the workers.

     Nor did the eventual triumph of industrial unionism break this pattern of managerial control. By the 1930s, even the most militant unions had acquiesced in the divi­sion of labor between the planning and execution of work. Indeed the very suc­cess of the union movement was predicated on a strategic retreat from issues of worker control. Unionization, moreover, helped to stabilize and rationalize the labor market and to discipline the work force. It did not alter the arrangement whereby management controls the technology of production, the rhythm of work, and the location of plants (even when these decisions affect entire com­munities), leaving the worker with the task merely of carrying out orders.

     Having ·organized mass production on the basis of the new division of labor-most fully realized in the assembly line-the leaders of American industry
next turned to the organization of a mass market. The mobilization of consumer demand, together with the recruitment of a labor force, required a far-reaching series of changes that amounted to a cultural revolution; The virtues of thrift, avoidance of debt, and postponement of gratification had to give way to new habits of installment buying and immediate gratification, new standards of comfort, a new sensitivity to changes in fashion. People had to be discouraged from providing for their own wants and resocialized as consumers. Industrial­ism by its very nature tends to discourage home production and to make people dependent on the market, but a vast effort of reeducation, starting in the 1920s, had to be undertaken before Americans accepted consumption as a way of life.

     As Emma Rothschild has shown in her study of the automobile industry, Alfred Sloan’s innovations in marketing-the annual model change, constant upgrading of the product, efforts to associate it with social status, the deliberate inculcation of an insatiable appetite for change-constituted the necessary counterpart of Henry Ford’s innovations in production. Modern industry came to rest on the twin pillars of Fordism and Sloanism.  Both tended to discourage  initiative and self-reliance and to reduce work and consumption alike to an essentially passive activity.   […]

   When I read this section I was immediately drawn to the sections highlighted in purple.  What I hear from conservative commentators and business commentators is that what it takes to succeed in society is to get out there and play the market, or innovate, or work hard and save money and improve yourself et cetera.  Usually, along with their sprightly commentary on how bootstrapping oneself to greatness, is another piece on the evils of the nanny state and how those damn social programs (WELFARE *clutches chest*  *dies*) are making people into lazy dependent sloths who do nothing but keep the productive people down.

   Of course, like most capitalistic propaganda, it is utter shite.  The message retains its ubiquity and longevity in our society only because of its constant repetition in the business press and media.

The virtues of thrift, avoidance of debt, and postponement of gratification had to give way to new habits of installment buying and immediate gratification, new standards of comfort, a new sensitivity to changes in fashion.

   I quote this again because damn, if this isn’t an indictment of how capitalism has malformed our society, I’m not sure what is.  This way of life we now live was a choice made by the elite classes, as to how society was to be run.  Clearly, attributes like avoiding debt and postponement of gratification have no place in a modern civilized society (!).

   Racking up debt, conspicuous consumption, becoming dependent on the market – didn’t just *happen* – they were orchestrated to feed the industrial elite’s needs and as always, at the expense of the working class.

    So, the business class essentially builds/nurtures a culture of dependency – that is, actively discourages self production and self-reliance – and then has the temerity to bluster about Big Government creating a welfare state chock full of slothful, gormless, dependent people.

    Create a society where dependency is rewarded, and then proceed to blame the people for becoming dependent.  Fascinating stuff this capitalism is.

lemming

Happy Lemmings Day! a.k.a Black Friday

Should we besmirch this plucky rodent’s escutcheon by associating Lemmings as the embodiment of greed and feral-consumerism known to a good chunk of the western world as ‘Black Friday’?  It isn’t really fair (hey, just like capitalism) to play on the misunderstood ‘suicidal tendencies’ of the much maligned lemming.  For the record:

Lemmings have become the subject of a widely popular misconception that they commit mass suicide when they migrate, by jumping off cliffs. It is in fact not a mass suicide but the result of their migratory behavior. Driven by strong biological urges, some species of lemmings may migrate in large groups when population density becomes too great. Lemmings can swim and may choose to cross a body of water in search of a new habitat. In such cases, many may drown if the body of water is so wide as to stretch their physical capability to the limit. This fact, combined with the unexplained fluctuations in the population of Norwegian lemmings, gave rise to the misconception.[6]

The answer, dear friends, is of course we should – appropriating and exploiting nature is a zesty analog for capitalism and the consumer culture that feeds the satanic mills that are grinding our planet into dust.  (Not enough sleep and too much coffee during this particular writing stint.)

It’s hard to believe, but sometimes your dear host finds it necessary to perch upon a perfectly precarious high horse in order to dispense the needed wisdom to the unwashed massess, the hoi polloi, the basket of deplorables, et cetera.  I remember making a post about Black Friday expressing my disgust with scenes that seem to happen around this time of year.

As noted in the video above – we’re still mired in this terrible consumerist extravaganza. The problem is that, I’m not disgusted, but rather saddened by the whole, often gory, spectacle. The lengths people will go to, to get stuff, that they think will bring them happiness in their life.

Their association of “happiness = stuff” is no mere coincidence, but rather the endgame of a society, while drunk on capitalism,  that measures success, status, and happiness with the amount of material goods acquired. Of course, the needs are manufactured (followed by the goods to meet those ‘needs’) so that the prospect of new shiny baubles will be the next ‘true’ indicator of having ‘made it’ in life. The process of chasing after material goods in the vainglorious pursuit of happiness is a nasty positive feedback loop that reduces citizens in a democratic state to mere consumers always hungry for their next fix and thus justifying the exploitative system that feeds them their drug.

I can’t help thinking that if we had a guaranteed minimum income and housing for everyone people might start to stray from the consumption paradigm. People might start renewing connections with others and engaging in pursuits that they actually want to do instead of what they have to do in their struggle to avoid the depredations of abject poverty.

We’ve lost reverence for the security and connectedness a strong community provides – and it is only way back from the abyss that we continue to create for ourselves.

Make no mistake – capitalism in its current incarnation requires the exploitation of people and resources to make it work. Exploiting people and natural resources inevitably leads to war (see Iraq for instance) and this in this zeal for feeding our doom-systems we often forget that eventually

war1

war2

Start with lemmings and end with Lord of the Rings references, you’ll only see it here at DWR (for better or worse).

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