coromandal


simplicity and otherworldliness

What’s society built on? It’s built on trust. It’s built on bluff. – Stereolab 

In revolution at first there is a general unhappiness around the status quo power in a given state, then a consensus builds up around the idea that the power is undesirable and should be removed, then the offending power is removed whether by violence or by peace, and finally a new political structure is established which of course is in danger of becoming a new intolerable status quo.

Historians and quants journal the entire process and measure the delta improvement from before the event to after. What’s exhausting is the cycle of history, how one insufferable social state can be revolutionized and replaced by an equally intolerable state. To break the cycle, a smart revolutionary carefully plans to remove the abuses of the old status quo and implant measures to guarantee better affairs in the new.

Gandhi was one such revolutionary. He saw and understood the abuses of the British Raj and realized India could throw them out of the country but end up keeping their rotten ideas. It was both the pervasive presence of the Raj and the insidious nature of their governing philosophy that kept the Indian subcontinent in its state of subservience and lockdown.

The prevailing philosophy of the British occupiers was of course Western – a mix of liberalism, imperialism, economic growth, Marxism, nihilism, industrial capitalism, the dominance of power, profit and capital. The genius of the occupiers was to convince Indians that this modern, western, instrumental philosophy benefited them. Gandhi realized that to be successful he would have to fight off the Western philosophy and the nativist Hindu nationalism which had adopted most of the precepts of the western ideas.

And so the question was asked: what do we build society on that is uniquely Indian? In his Hind Swaraj, Indian Home Rule he prescribed this vision based on the Indian virtues of simplicity, patience, frugality, and otherworldliness. He rightly saw that science and industrial capitalism had overturned spiritual authority and that this had to be corrected. The British quit India 73 years ago.

So was there success in Gandhi’s revolution? Modern India is the world’s largest democracy, it was founded on principles of secularism, and for many years after independence had a protectionist economy and during the cold war often chose to trade with the USSR instead of the West. Up until recently Indians have effectively kept modern multinational corporations out of their communities. Although not explicitly Indian principles, they show a tendency to resist western political culture as defined by the Hind Swaraj.

However, more recently the forces of nationalism and global neoliberal capital have ravaged the world including the Indian subcontinent. But the Hind Swaraj’s indictment of Western civilization was written to return Indians to the root of their identity and a root is deeper than a storm.

From The Inner Voice:

The terms of Gandhi’s critique, however, were remarkably original. He set out his views in “Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule,” a book written feverishly, in nine days, in November, 1909. Gandhi opposed those of his revolutionary Indian peers who—inspired by Marx, Herbert Spencer, Russian nihilists, and nationalists in Italy and Ireland—saw salvation in large-scale emulation of the West. Many of these were Hindu nationalists, intellectual ancestors of Gandhi’s assassin, determined to unite India around a monolithic Hinduism. Gandhi saw that these nationalists would merely replace one set of deluded rulers in India with another: “English rule,” as he termed it, “without the Englishman.”

Gandhi’s indictment of modern civilization went further. According to him, the industrial revolution, by turning human labor into a source of power, profit, and capital, had made economic prosperity the central goal of politics, enthroning machinery over men and relegating religion and ethics to irrelevance. As Gandhi saw it, Western political philosophy obediently validated the world of industrial capitalism. If liberalism vindicated the preoccupation with economic growth at home, liberal imperialism abroad made British rule over India appear beneficial for Indians—a view many Indians themselves subscribed to. Europeans who saw civilization as their unique possession denigrated the traditional virtues of Indians—simplicity, patience, frugality, otherworldliness—as backwardness.

The Inner Voice, Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker



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

20180521_185210

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

20180422_195023

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.



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



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
Comments Off on transformed into a wilderness


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



flunkies and goons

nineteen-eighty-four-220312 (With images) | Nineteen eighty four ...

As the germ ravages the land, and we stay safely in our homes, now is the time to prepare for a better future at work. Improve your skills for the post pandemic reality. Lots of useless jobs if you’re interested as David Graeber shows us in his book, and which are excerpted below.

Here are the skills – update your LinkedIn. Flunkies appease, goons oppose, duct tapers patch up, box tickers distract, and taskmasters obfuscate and abuse.

What about jobs that aren’t bullshit? Let’s take the opposite skills as a possibility: provoke, promote, resolve, clarify, and act.

The optimist sees hope for substantive change after a pandemic. Less bullshit jobs would be something to rally around.

  1. 1. flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, door attendants

  2. goons, who oppose other goons hired by other companies, e.g., lobbyists, corporate lawyers, telemarketers, public relations specialists

  3. duct tapers, who temporarily fix problems that could be fixed permanently, e.g., programmers repairing shoddy code, airline desk staff who calm passengers whose bags don’t arrive

  4. box tickers, who use paperwork or gestures as a proxy for action, e.g., performance managers, in-house magazine journalists, leisure coordinators

  5. taskmasters, who manage—or create extra work for—those who don’t need it, e.g., middle management, leadership professionals

David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs