coromandal


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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rational pursuit of maximum value
November 16, 2014, 2:04 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , ,
Naples, Italy | A Couple CooksIn civilizations gone by merchants never occupied the top rung of the social ladder.  Plato’s republic, the ancient castes of India, Renaissance Italy: they were always several steps down. But, somehow, we know better and have them ensconced – or more likely they have themselves ensconced – right at the top.

I used to teach at a university which installed as its dean the ex ceo of Jiffy Lube, his administrative and money skills no doubt outweighing his academic credentials at the selection interviews.

So what do we get when we put businessmen and economists at the top of our institutions, like government and universities? The accepted argument is solvency and profit, but are there other dividends?

Here’s a portion of an essay by a Harvard law student. He describes courses in which ‘feasibility’ and ‘efficiency’ are the central, generative ideas, and ‘justice’ – which one would believe to be central to the study of the law – tertiary.

Feasibility and efficiency are the lingua franca of the economist / businessman counting and distributing his beans: what are they doing in courses in the law at America’s best school?

The Johnny-come-lately nineteenth century science, economics, has come a long way and occupies a position of extreme privilege. It’s illegitimate. The study of law should be the study of law. When it’s whored out to business it stops defining, protecting and facilitating justice. It leads to self interest and self destruction.

Here is Ted Hamilton:

A year ago, I imagined — as most people probably do — that the initial year of legal studies would put a heavy emphasis on the good. I anticipated lots of lofty vocabulary about justice and rights and freedom. Attorneys may not have the cleanest reputations, but it seems fitting that an introduction to the life of the law would aim high, if only as an idealistic and rhetorical reprieve before the realities of the job market set in. But while there’s certainly some discussion of liberty and righteousness in the halls of our law schools, there’s not quite as much of it as you might think. The path to the bar is not paved with sentimental cobblestones of the Good and the Right. It’s much more pragmatic than that.

In fact, the most repeated word in my first year law curriculum was not justice, or liberty or order.

It was efficiency. Continue reading



a man can’t be a whole society
May 21, 2014, 7:04 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

Steve Giovinco, On the Edge of

We don’t want to go home for Christmas because of the discomfort and fights and recriminations. There’s something wrong with the family and we’d rather be alone. But at the same time we’re lonely and need people to be with.

Anyway, not everyone doesn’t go home for the holidays; some people like their families. I wonder what is the difference between those who get along and those who don’t? It could be fundamentalism – families that are too perfect, led by charismatic or autocratic fathers (or mothers, or siblings), who push the air out, make a hermeticism that is too pure. Children and relations who need less purity – the chance to act out, to be imaginative, to rock the boat, let go the party line – eventually just stay away.

Airlessness may affect every family, but moreso the nuclear family – as the chance to challenge lousy authority increases as the power of a single family head is diluted by more and more aunts and uncles and cousins and sibs. Love is not a closed system, it is ecumenical.

Here is Vonegut’s case for extended arrangements. He says, a man can’t be a whole society to a woman, and they fall apart. A woman needs more, and so do we. This is from Vonegut’s famous commencement address.

No matter what age any of us is now, we are going to be bored and lonely during what remains of our lives.

We are so lonely because we don’t have enough friends and relatives. Human beings are supposed to live in stable, like-minded, extended families of fifty people or more.

Your class spokesperson mourned the collapse of the institution of marriage in this country. Marriage is collapsing because our families are too small. A man cannot be a whole society to a woman, and a woman cannot be a whole society to a man. We try, but it is scarcely surprising that so many of us go to pieces.

So I recommend that everybody here join all sorts of organizations, no matter how ridiculous, simply to get more people in his or her life. It does not matter much if all the other members are morons. Quantities of relatives of any sort are what we need.

Kurt Vonegut



heart attack
January 26, 2014, 5:15 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,

In the 1950s, two researchers named Bruhn and Wolf went to the village of Roseto in eastern Pennsylvania near the New York border, to attempt to find out why the townspeople there were outliving – by a wide margin – people everywhere else in the country.  Their assumption going in had been that there were physical reasons for the longevity, like diet and health.  What they found was evidence that the reason for exceptional health was social.

Rosetto PA was settled in the 1880s by stone workers from the Italian town Rosetto Valfortore.  The settlers brought the name of their southern mountain town with them and apparently they brought a lot more than just the name.  When Bruhn and Wolf visited the town they found a very tightly knit, socially cohesive community.  They were publicly and privately social, they lived in extended families, they worshipped together, they formed multiple social organizations, and the classes mixed and were mutually supportive.   Continue reading



the life of the mind is good for all of us
November 4, 2013, 5:18 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

J. M. Coetzee’s remarks on the decimation of the idea of the University over the past 40 or so years. He says we must resist the idea that the humanities are good for improving the population’s skills and argues that they are essential for their own sake, for their ability to make a rich and just and social life. The article is linked below.

At the beginning of his letter, he agrees that there must be academic autonomy, but then asks a deeper question: without the humanities is it still really a university?:

Thank you for letting me see your essays on academic freedom in South Africa. The general question you address – “Is a university still a university when it loses its academic autonomy?” – seems to me of the utmost importance to the future of higher education in South Africa.

Hardly less important is the junior cousin of that question, namely: “Is a university without a proper faculty of humanities (or faculty of humanities and social sciences) still a university?”

Governments, once guardians of the common good and benefactors of a literate citizenry, have morphed into mere skills training schools made to meet the needs of the economy:

But South African universities are by no means in a unique position. All over the world, as governments retreat from their traditional duty to foster the common good and reconceive of themselves as mere managers of national economies, universities have been coming under pressure to turn themselves into training schools equipping young people with the skills required by a modern economy.

You argue – cogently – that allowing the transient needs of the economy to define the goals of higher education is a misguided and short­sighted policy: indispensable to a democratic society – indeed, to a vigorous national economy – is a critically literate citizenry competent to explore and interrogate the assumptions behind the paradigms of national and economic life reigning at any given moment. Without the ability to reflect on ourselves, you argue, we run a perennial risk of relaxing into complacent stasis. And only the neglected humanities can provide a training in such critical literacy. Continue reading



stupid intelligent insane
March 31, 2013, 1:40 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: ,

Don-Quixote-32736_7The former is preferable without doubt, to be born stupid into an intelligent society, because you can become less stupid, and chances are you will if everyone around you is intelligent, and because you’re changing you, not someone else and not a system.

The latter option, to be born intelligent into an insane society – which one could argue many are living in today, I feel like I am – is more difficult.  You could try to find someone else to make a meet up or an aren’t we smart club with, but more than likely you will just go mad as you tilt at the windmill of the insanity around you.

I think insane societies are that way because somehow the majority has finally – usually after a generation and more of convincing – fully believed colossal lies about themselves and their lives.  They are so huge we call them orthodoxies; they are virtually impossible to dislodge.

A final note about the premise of the question:  are we born one way or the other?  More than likely we’re nurtured into ignorance or enlightenment.

Aldous Huxley asks:

“which is better – to be born stupid into an intelligent society or intelligent into an insane one?”

― Aldous HuxleyIsland



work and home intertwined

Capitalism is on trial.  In its most virulent form it seems to be failing entire classes of people in many corners of the world.  There is an awakening of masses of people from North Africa to Europe and North America to how a dogmatic form of capitalism has insidiously and systematically undermined their ability to make for themselves dignified and fruitful lives.

For those of you so inclined, the passage below is a damning list of the effects of capitalism.  But it’s much more than just a list.  It makes the argument that capitalism has made us profoundly passive in our personal and social lives, and that this translates into an inability to demand basic freedoms in our shared economic lives. Continue reading



to unprotect ourselves for the sake of bigness and of love

Summoning up a whirlwind of illogic, Margaret Thatcher once said, “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.”  That was the beginning of the end of the idea of society in contemporary western life.  This new idea has run its course for the better part of two generations.  It has had enormous impact on our lives and our politics.  There are evidences of it in everything from personal attitudes to public policies.

I can think of numerous examples of how the idea that society, or a commitment to the public good, is essential to having a good life has ebbed away.  On a personal level, the incidence of competition and lack of empathy among friends and colleagues is higher and harsher than it used to – and needs to – be.  Professional jealousy and character assassination at work particularly, as people angle to get ahead, are commonly accepted, where I don’t think they used to be as much.   Continue reading



squinting at pop
August 15, 2011, 5:23 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

Facebook status updates are quite a bit about life actualized:  sushi lunches and manicures on days off, chillin’ with single malts in Brooklyn lofts, cedar planking salmon, safariing in east Africa, prix fixe with poached flounder, taking post season dips in the Tyrrhenian Sea, generally jetting about, and so on.  I like reading them, but must admit many are giggle inducing.  Would they, gathered together, make a viral tumblr?  No doubt.

The actualizing set has seductive new tools.  Facebook’s ‘like’ and Google’s G+ are innocuous but powerful little buttons built on the human need to have and to express strong opinions about — well, about everything and nothing. Essentially, they are curatorial tools, which puts everybody in the desirous position of editor.  They give delusions of influence and power.  That they are viral shows our deep need to know, to be culturally evolved and experienced.

Continue reading



the discovery of infinite space (heterotopia 1)

Heterotopias are kinds of places described by Michel Foucault in his essay Of Other Spaces in 1967.  They approximate, or maybe more accurately reflect, utopias; approximate because heterotopias exist and utopias can’t, by definition.  They are ‘outsider’ spaces, meaning they exist outside of the influence of dominant cultures or hegemonies; and the people and events in them are involved in undesirable, outsider missions.  They are places that are real and unreal at once, complex and contradictory.  For Foucault, heterotopias are places that allow escape from places that are authoritarian and repressive.

This is the first of four posts on heterotopias and based on the essay Of Other Spaces.

Galileo’s rediscovery, that the earth rotates around the sun, upended the Medieval us.   It began the inexorable smashing of orthodoxies and institutions that led to the Enlightenment and modernism.  It accomplished this because it fundamentally challenged our way of thinking about how the world works and is ordered.

Medieval space was hierarchical – celestial, supercelestial, terrestrial, sacred and profane – and oppositional and stable – urban and rural.  But Galileo’s discoveries made us believe that space is open, dissolved, infinite, and that our normal perception of place is an illusion, a shapshot in time of something that is actually – maybe slowly, but irrevocably – moving and dissolving and changing.  Nothing is fixed, there is no still reference point, the center can no longer hold, said Galilleo.

Continue reading