What other goals, principles satisfactions?
October 21, 2016, 4:42 pm
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Image result for office workers magnum photographs

Photo: Lise Sarfati

Modern people are commodities; disconnected from self, others and nature; their virtual only focus is exchange of personhood with other persons on the market. Life is subsumed in these market processes: packaging and moving personhood as a product, negotiating exchanges and consuming.

What of life, real life? What other goals, principles satisfactions?

Modern man has transformed himself into a commodity; he experiences his life energy as an investment with which he should make the highest profit, considering his position and the situation on the personality market. He is alienated from himself, from his fellow men and from nature. His main aim is profitable exchange of his skills, knowledge, and of himself, his “personality package” with others who are equally intent on a fair and profitable exchange. Life has no goal except the one to move, no principle except the one of fair exchange, no satisfaction except the one to consume.

Erich Fromm

how can we make it easier to ask, is it right?

Some big breaking news here.  It’s time, now the 21st century is upon us, to storm the walls of our most sacred institutions, especially biggies like individualism, progress and will.  How we have defined them is not working for us and this author – Matthew Taylor – shows how delinking one from another — individualism from narcissism, happiness from progress, for instance — can help to make our most revered ideas purposeful again.

First up, the unassailability of individualism is — assailed.  The author doesn’t dismiss it outright; he sets it straight:  our drives no longer rule us, rather we capture them to serve us.  Our political boundaries are broadened past self and kin, and difference and the other brought in and considered true and valid.

Next, happiness is delinked from progress.  The grand old institutions of progress – science, markets and bureaucracy – come up wanting: science and markets fail to address the general good of society and bureaucracy’s rules don’t care about results.  He recommends humanism and its concern for ethics be brought back in to soften and enrich how we define progress.

And finally, says this author, mere will isn’t enough.  He names three pillars of our triumphalist culture:  freedom, justice and progress, which have hardened into platitudes and abstractions around which a priesthood of flunkies has formed and nearly everyone else a blissfully ignorant adherent.

Who are we, who do we need and want to be?  Summon a new energy, spirit, leaders, thinkers to define a new paradigm for life in the new century.

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discipline, control, contribution

Gilles Deleuze’s Postscript on the Societies of Control, 1990

Here is a fascinating documentary on the shift from Foucault’s disciplinary society to Deleuze’s control society.  Disciplinary society is made up of bounded institutions through which we all pass in our lives:  family, school, hospital, prison, factory.  The control society, dominated by the corporation, is like an all encompassing gas which pits us against each other, in a shifting, never certain obligation to aims of the new global market.

What follows control? Watch the film.

From the documentary:

The factory constituted individuals as a single body to the double advantage of the boss who surveyed each element within the mass, and the unions who mobilized a mass resistance; but the corporation constantly presents the brashest rivalry as a healthy form of emulation, an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each dividing each within.

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deluded optimists
August 22, 2010, 8:38 pm
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We’re addicted to optimism and it’s causing crashes.  Name it and claim it and golden parachute out.  We haven’t always been this way:  early American culture was dour and strict.  The fantasy optimism evolved much later as a reaction to all the lack of fun.

Barbara Ehrenreich’s article How Positive Thinking Wrecked the Economy describes the endgame of the pursuit of happiness:  a fantasy of unbridled optimism that took over our banks and markets and led to delusion and failure.

Here is an excerpt from her article:

Americans did not start out as deluded optimists. The original ethos, at least of white Protestant settlers and their descendents, was a grim Calvinism that offered wealth only through hard work and savings, and even then made no promises at all. You might work hard and still fail; you certainly wouldn’t get anywhere by adjusting your attitude or dreamily “visualizing” success. Calvinists thought “negatively” as we would say today, carrying a weight of guilt and foreboding that sometimes broke their spirits. It was in response to this harsh ethos that positive thinking arose– among mystics, lay healers, and transcendentalists – in the 19th century, with its crowd-pleasing message that God, or the universe, is really on your side, that you can actually have whatever you want, if the wanting is focused enough.

When it comes to how we think, “negative” is not the only alternative to “positive.” As the case histories of depressives show, consistent pessimism can be just as baseless and deluded as its opposite. The alternative to both is realism – seeing the risks, having the courage to bear bad news, and being prepared for famine as well as plenty. Now, with our savings, our homes and our livelihoods on the line, we ought to give it a try.

— Barbara Ehrenreich, How Positive Thinking Wrecked the Economy, 2008

June 10, 2010, 5:03 pm
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At the genesis of  American society are two dominating myths: Jefferson’s agrarian utopia and Winthrop’s city on a hill, says Thomas Bender in his article excerpted below.  He says they are almost opposite in many ways, but that the one thing they agree on is a commitment to sameness.  Homogeneity, the myth of equality and “natural harmony”; in opposition to heterogeneity, conflict, even democracy.

A healthy city is built on difference and the healthiest was founded on it and remains so today.  New York is a good example:  its founding principles and conditions were based on difference:  different religions, different languages, different races, different markets.  Bigotry and religious sameness were expunged and the place flourished.

In this excerpt Bender claims that the idea of an autonomous market – the iconic claim ‘let the market decide’ – is one of the insidious results of this culture of sameness.  If we live in natural harmony and we are all the same, then there will be no conflict in markets and, more significantly, there will be no need of political intervention or regulation or power in the naturally harmonious economy.

Here is the excerpt:

Myths of sameness inevitably misrepresent the condition of life in a modern and urban society.  Not only do they favor provincialism over cosmopolitanism, but they undermine our ability to bring economic life within the purview of a democratic politics.

If there are fully shared values – either as a fact of nature, as Jefferson would have it, or as a result of very strong communal institutions, as Winthrop proposed – the market need not be an arena of conflict.  It would be no more than a mere mechanism of exchange, essentially without implications for power relations.  If, however, the assumption of consensus is false, then the market, unless politically controlled, becomes autonomous and self-legitimating – an all-too-faithful representation of modern power relations.  Just this happened in the course of the nineteenth century, but for many Americans the myth of equality and of natural harmony masked the implications of this development, allowing the bulk of economic decisions to be insulated from political control.  Americans, more than any other people, came to accept the market as a law of nature, as a public philosophy.

-Thomas Bender, “New York as a Center of Difference‘” Dissent, Fall 1987