coromandal


the problem of the docks
May 24, 2020, 10:51 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , ,

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We know morality comes from God and is passed through priests who write codes to which we become devotees. It’s essence is pure as it stems from a pure God and is passed through pure priests who make pure codes.

But there is another morality origin story. Merchants hire police and make self serving laws to protect their property on docks around the world. The laws are presented as moral even though their ultimate motive is self serving and maybe even impure. To know morality it may be better see where power lies than where God is.

Unfortunately, when we teach morality, when we study the history of morals, we always analyze the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and do not read [Colquhoun], this character who is fundamental for our morality. The inventor of the English police, this Glasgow merchant … settles in London where, in 1792, shipping companies ask him to solve the problem of the superintendence of the docks and the protection of bourgeois wealth. [This is a] basic problem …; to understand a society’s system of morality we have to ask the question: Where is the wealth? The history of morality should be organized entirely by this question of the location and movement of wealth.

Michel Foucault



seduction and control

tea garden 3

In the discipline society bosses and workers were locked in a continuous pitted struggle for dominance and advantage. There were wins and losses on both sides and to a greater or lesser degree it worked: there was clarity about what each side stood for which made the society understandable and transparent, and afforded people a semblance of success and fulfillment in their lives.

In the control society this essential struggle between boss and worker is removed, the corporation and shareholders sit at the top making decisions and collecting profits without being challenged, while at the bottom a vast sea of workers engages in an endless and fruitless campaign of competition for survival.

The control society is fundamentally manipulative, passive aggressive and opaque. It has removed the clearly defined adversary and the straightforward rules, and substituted a milieu of confusion and fluidity in which people fight each other to stay afloat. Everyone is an entrepreneur now, said Margaret Thatcher as she and her contemporaries stripped away all of the assurances and infrastructure on which one relies when living in a modern discipline economy.

The outcome is continuous muggings and fatigue. How many friends have we recently heard say – I’m exhausted? How many – implicitly or explicitly – blame themselves and not the system for their frustrations and failures? Now you are the master of your own domain, and you are to blame if you fall through the cracks.

Surely none of us would have thought to say it but: we need a new enemy! To convince a critical mass of people that we need a new adversary could be the way out of the manipulations of the control society and back into a place where we can mount proper campaigns for meaningful work, healthy environments, balanced days, sufficient remuneration, and happy retirements. We need an enemy who we can define and see and mount a real tangible assault against to win back worthwhile and respectful lives.

Byung-Chul Han describes the control society:

In disciplinary and industrial society, system-preserving power was repressive. Factory workers were brutally exploited by factory owners. Such violent exploitation of others’ labour entailed acts of protest and resistance. There, it was possible for a revolution to topple the standing relations of production. In that system of repression, both the oppressors and the oppressed were visible. There was a concrete opponent — a visible enemy —and one could offer resistance.

The neoliberal system of domination has a wholly different structure. Now, system-preserving power no longer works through repression, but through seduction — that is, it leads us astray. It is no longer visible, as was the case under the regime of discipline. Now, there is no longer a concrete opponent, no enemy suppressing freedom that one might resist.

Neoliberalism turns the oppressed worker into a free contractor, an entrepreneur of the self. Today, everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise. Every individual is master and slave in one. This also means that class struggle has become an internal struggle with oneself. Today, anyone who fails to succeed blames themself (sic) and feels ashamed. People see themselves, not society, as the problem.

Why Revolution is No Longer Possible, Byung-Chul Han, University of the Arts, Berlin



a subsidy scheme

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Twenty years ago I read an op ed in the Globe and Mail that asked the question: what is the biggest public money grab in North America? The answer, the suburb. The suburb is a massive welfare program?

In the intervening period I have read precious little on the topic – ie. specifically tying suburban life to public debt – no doubt because the idea cuts too close to the heart of the truth of how we live. I’m now reading Chakrabarti’s A Country of Cities which kicks off with the bold face assertion that how we live is subsidized.

I sometimes like to think about a solution. If there’s a problem, why not? Clearly the solution here is to delink public money from very expensive lifestyle choices: ie. no more oil and gas subsidies, no more massively expensive infrastructure projects and utility grids that serve less than x people per acre, no more big box market subsidies and incentives, raise the level of investment in efficient means of transport (public) and lower that of the much less efficient means (private cars), etc.  I know, I know, I’m dreaming. But this dream has to do with that hard nosed topic, money, so maybe …

Here is Chakrabarti:

The suburbs, therefore, are not a mere reflection of the way people want to live, or even a reflection of true market forces, but a synthetic consequence of history. The suburbs are largely a creation of ‘big government,’ and explicit policy-driven, subsidized scheme that has guided how we live, work and play. Over the last century, this has created the most consumption-based economy the planet has known – that is until the music stopped: the twenty-first century debuted in America with an epic collapse of the housing market (particularly the single-family housing market), the rapid acceleration of climate change, and the largest division between rich and poor in the postwar era.

Vishaan Chakrabarti, A Country of Cities, p 33.



πλάνης vagabond fever

A Plague, a Cure and Some Art: the Museum of Medical Sciences

A wandering star, a stranger in town, and a highly contagious plague are inextricably related in the minds of the ancients. In the western tradition, Greece and Rome, the universe was moral. Lives were defined, prescribed and ordered by the gods, the law, the state, and the family. Things outside of this bounded universe were treated with suspicion, a very human instinct.

Stars that moved in unrecognized patterns, and foreigners who wandered into town were unknown and from away and engendered caution and fear. They were named for their outsider status. Plagues were foreign too, they invaded the sanctity of the community and killed its members, and were named with the same words as the stars and drifters.

 The Stoics, believers in an interdependent cosmos, looked to the night sky to augur our predestined lives. Of particular interest to all these ancients was the stella erratica, or “errant star,” so called for its shifting location. (Our familiar constellations, by contrast, remain fixed in the firmament.) Romans borrowed a word from the Greeks to denote these celestial strays: planeta, or “planet.”

Derived from the verb “to wander,” the original Greek noun πλάνης was applied to more than just Mars and Saturn—in Euripides’s Bacchae, to take just one example, it refers to a “vagabond” who comes to town. Among the physicians of the ancient world, including Hippocrates himself, πλάνης could also mean “fever,” a pestilence that migrates from person to person. The Romans, of course, had their own words for disease—morbuspestis—but they adopted this astronomical language in their own medical writings too, using the Latin cognate. In one account, planeta refers to a fever with an “unrestrained onset.” In another, planetae are those illnesses that obey neither finite duration nor predictable prognosis.

Gore Viral, How We Got Our Language of Infectious Disease, By Charles McNamara, May 6, 2020



there is more to a human being

Look Back in Anger: how John Osborne liberated theatrical language ...

We are homo economicus in a post capital malaise – a thick stew unlovingly conceived, with bitter ingredients, forced on us, and permeating everything.

We are naturally human, made to work and think as machines; naturally intuitive, forced into extreme rationality; naturally modest, made to be egotistic; naturally cooperative, made competitive; naturally sharing, made acquisitive; naturally collective, made individualistic; naturally imaginative, made rational; naturally curious, made means tested.

We have the formulations of who we really are – simply the opposite to those devised by the technocrats.  We need only to resist them and take on again the mantle of our true natures.

Our current disregard of non-economic motivations is even more surprising when we learn that less than a century ago, the Enlightenment’s “narrow rational programme” for individual happiness had already become “the butt of ridicule and contempt” – as the Austrian modernist writer Robert Musil observed in 1922. Indeed, the pioneering works of sociology and psychology as well as modernist art and literature of the early 20th century were defined in part by their insistence that there is more to human beings than rational egoism, competition and acquisition, more to society than a contract between logically calculating and autonomous individuals, and more to politics than impersonal technocrats devising hyper-rational schemes of progress with the help of polls, surveys, statistics, mathematical models and technology.

Welcome to the Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra



difficulty in dying
May 8, 2020, 8:14 pm
Filed under: chronotopes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Looking back at 'La Peste' by Albert Camus - The Hindu

How very lonely dying must be. How much more lonely today as we isolate to keep the virus from spreading.

In normal circumstances, confined to bed whether at home or in hospital, with media – a book and a TV perhaps – the nurse, the occasional visitor for company, but mostly we’re left with our memories of people we miss and of friendships. Our thoughts form around muffled sounds of talking in the hall, pets in the courtyard, household work, local construction. The curtain, window and door are important thresholds that let in the outside to enliven our minds. The images are pleasurable as each reminds and promises us of our deep connection to the world.

In the time of cholera and covid, the isolation is even worse without visitors, and wary nurses suited in layers of protective equipment, gloves and masks.

Our towns play roles in our relative isolation when sick. At the start of his novel La Peste, excerpted below, Albert Camus’ narrator tells us – before the rats start to die, before the concierge catches the deadly plague – how lonely death can be, and how the conditions of death can vary widely depending on the conditions of the place you inhabit. The town he describes, Oran in North Africa, is a scrappy place, uninspiring, with hardscrabble business affairs, hot and dry with climate extremes and dark nights. All are features that conspire to attenuate the discomfort of an invalid – he hears the despair of the city and and is unsettled.

There is a hint in the passage that an environment can help us to die better. A place that is “inspiring” and affords “small attentions,” and “something to rely on,” render comfort to the sick. These aren’t physical attributes, they’re intangibles. A pandemic by definition circles the globe and the conditions for the sick vary widely from luxurious to squalor. But thankfully, inspiration, support and attention are intangibles that can be built into any place on the planet. This is how we support the sick and dying in the time of covid.

What is more exceptional in our town is the difficulty one may experience there in dying. “Difficulty,” perhaps, is not the right word, ‘discomfort” would come nearer. Being ill’s never agreeable but there are towns that stand by you, so to speak, when you are sick; in which you can, after a fashion, let yourself go. An invalid needs small attentions, he likes to have something to rely on, and that’s natural enough. But at Oran the violent extremes of temperature, the exigencies of business, the uninspiring surroundings, the sudden nightfalls, and the very nature of its pleasures call for good health. An invalid feels out of it there. Think what it must be for a dying man, trapped behind hundreds of walls all sizzling with heat, while the whole population, sitting in cafes or hanging on the telephone, is discussing shipments, bills of lading, discounts! It will then be obvious what discomfort attends death, even modern death, when it waylays you under such conditions in a dry place.

La Peste, Albert Camus



transformed into a wilderness

Fukushima is a wasteland, but nuclear fallout isn't the problem ...

The Chicago School – Friedman and his acolyte thugs – recommended we let the market alone decide. Thatcher said there is no such thing as society. Polyani connects the two: he suggests that the implementation of market fundamentalist principles will end in the collapse of society.

Polyani says that to commodify and abuse labor is to diminish the life of the person whose labor is being used. It disposes of our basic natures: physical, psychological and moral! Outrageous. He reconnects what has been alienated: the person with her work.

He says that a market that governs all removes the protections afforded by our shared institutions, which causes social breakdown: crime, starvation, pollution, loss of military and food security – and the dissolution of society itself into a wasteland.

To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment, indeed, even of the amount and use of purchasing power, would result in the demolition of society. For the alleged commodity, “labor power” cannot be shoved about, used indiscriminately, or even left unused, without affecting the human individual who happens to be the bearer of this peculiar commodity. In disposing of a man’s labor power the system would, incidentally, dispose of the physical, psychological, and moral entity of “man” attached to the tag. Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the the effects of social exposure; they would die as the victims of acute social dislocation through vice, perversion, crime, and starvation. Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed.

Karl Polyani, The Great Transformation, 1944

Our thesis is that the idea of a self-adjusting market implied a stark utopia. Such an institution could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness.

Karl Polyani, The Great Transformation, 1944
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a Politburo for correct thinking
May 6, 2020, 5:34 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

POLITBURO USSR UNDER STALIN | SUPREME SOVIET UNDER STALIN ...

After the collapse of world markets in 2009, the banks, regulators, MBA and economics schools all came together and made policy changes and passed legislation to protect against such a cataclysm from happening again. Ha ha, no, actually no they didn’t. All systems are more or less the same and we are hurtling toward similar disasters timed every decade or so until the end of our lives.

The economics profession is like a Politburo – or a religion – only with less empirical evidence. Its sacramental formulas are proven wrong again and again, yet no changes are made, no recriminations rendered, no firings, no jail time. J. K. Galbraith puts it like this:

Leading active members of today’s economics profession … have formed themselves into a kind of Politburo for correct economic thinking. As a general rule – as one might generally expect from a gentleman’s club – this has placed them on the wrong side of every important policy issue, and not just recently but for decades. They predict disaster where none occurs. They deny the possibility of events that then happen … No one loses face, in this club, for having been wrong. No one is dis-invited from presenting papers at later annual meetings. And still less is anyone from the outside invited in.

James K. Galbraith, as quoted in The Future: Recycled, No Future For You, The Baffler

 



a common disease, as in a plague

So many plagues consume us. The scientists emphasize the ones that destroy our bodies, but the ones that destroy our minds and souls are as pervasive, noxious, and deadly. Where are the priests?

Consumerism is one such plague, buying luxury goods and experiences. So believed the Epicureans, and in the town of Oinoanda in south west Asia Minor in AD 1208, Diogenes, who was an Epicurean, posted warnings about the plague of consumerism in a market that sold luxury goods.

Luxurious foods and drinks … in no way produce freedom from harm and a healthy condition in the flesh.

One must regard wealth beyond what is natural as of no more use than water to a container that is full to overflowing.

Real value is generated not by the theatres and baths and perfumes and ointments … but by natural science.

  • Epicurean slogans inscribed at the behest of Diogenes on central market colonnade in the town of Oinoanda south west Asia Minor AD 1208

Diogenes, an evangelist for Epicurean salvation from consumerism, describes his passion on the same wall in the market in Oinoanda:

Having already reached the sunset of my life (being almost on the verge of departure from the world on account of old age), I wanted, before being overtaken by death, to compose a fine anthem to celebrate the fullness of pleasure and so to help now those who are well constituted. Now, if only one person, or two or three or four or five or six … were in a bad predicament, I should address them individually … but as the majority of people suffer from a common disease, as in a plague, with their false notions about things, and as their number is increasing (for in mutual emulation they catch the disease from each other, like sheep) … I wished to use this stoa to advertise publicly medicines that bring salvation.

  • Diogenes, same wall

 



reduction
May 1, 2020, 4:49 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

In cooking reduction is a good thing: onion, celery, carrot, wine simmered to make a very complex and rich sauce. It can also be good to shed all the trappings and bling that have been piling up and encrusting our houses and apartments. Our arteries will thank us when we eat well and exercise. Reduction even to base material needs can be a good and even enriching thing.

In the same way, in the world of business, efficiency is necessary for good profits. However, unlike cooking, home economics and biology in which in which we achieve tasty, orderly, and healthy results, economic reduction through efficiency is often decidedly bad for the body politic. It removes qualities essential to life like spirituality, politics, and morality.

Havel warns that our straw man homo economicus has cut too deeply and that we must reclaim a meaningful relation to the divine and society, and to a shared sense of right and wrong.

In the interest of the smooth management of society, then, society’s attention is deliberately diverted from itself, that is, from social concerns. By nailing a man’s whole attention to the floor of his mere consumer interests, it is hoped to render him incapable of appreciating the ever increasing degree of his spiritual, political and moral degradation.

Vaclav Havel