"[T]ranscendental materialism is an error—a contradiction—because in it, the causes of being are exchanged for the causes of activity" (Ian Hamilton Grant, "Does Nature Stay What-It-Is?, 72).
Realism or sensualism—”empiricism”—are modifications logocentrism. [ … ] In short, the signifier ‘matter’ appears to me problematical only at the moment when its reinscription cannot avoid making of it a new fundamental principle which, by means of theoretical regression, would be reconstituted into a ‘transcendental signified.’ It is not only idealism in the narrow sense that falls back upon the transcendental signified. It can always come to reassure a metaphysical materialism. It [materiality] then becomes the ultimate referent, according to the classical logic implied by the value of referent, or it becomes an ‘objective reality’ absolutely anterior to any work of the mark” (Derrida, Positions, 64-5).
That Derrida quote pithily outlines the problems associated with some forms of analytical materialism. The problematics don’t arise from materialism as-such, but from the ontological or metaphysical functions that are supposedly realized through bad materialist analysis. Trouble is, most people—even Pheng Cheah, in his reading of the very piece I just quoted—don’t make the distinction between methods that are simply materially grounded, and methods which hold a somehow transcendent conception of their grounding materiality.
Here’s an easy example: the problems of old-school Marxist materialism. The problem with historical materialism isn’t that it takes an analytical approach examining the material conditions that help shape social relations which, in turn, exert strong influence upon the course of history. All that stuff is fine. The problem is the metaphysical trappings of traditional Marxist materialism, the thought that the careful analysis and description of materially effected social trends could be used to extrapolate universal laws predictive of the way future trends will unfold.
The trouble comes from a conflation of the respective analytical proprieties of abstractions and materialities. In yoking economic and social phenomena to the material conditions which preceded them, Marx tried to leech off the predictability of supposedly stable matter and then apply it phenomena which can’t rightly be examined in such a way.
In rejecting materialism straight-up, we kinda throw the baby out with the bathwater. There’s much to be gained from admitting to the fact that materialist conditions have strong effects upon abstract, sociological, and economic phenomena. Even if this materialism takes a mechanistic shape, its descriptive powers are still manifest, and it is still a viable frame for analytic inquiry.
Conversely, in re-embracing materialism—even cautiously so—critics and theorists risk stepping into the same metaphysical or ontological traps that resulted in the sweeping rejection of materialism.
My assertion is that bad materialism is possessed of a strong streak of transcendent logocentrism. This logocentrism serves the same deterministic function of teleology or eschatology, in that it suggests that the current shape or status of examined phenomena is effectively inevitable, as it is the product of natural, physical laws. The propriety of this conceptualization of materialism comes from a neat rhetorical trick in which analyzed individuals (be they subjects or objects) are recognized as being shaped, in various way and to varying degrees, by the social, cultural, or material milieu surrounding them but are nonetheless considered to have become individuated separate from that milieu. It’s okay to admit to the fact that materiality effects the behaviors of individuals. But it’s not okay to say that these individuals became individuated according to their relation to that milieu. Their individuality must have existed prior to their relationality, because admitting otherwise would mean admitting to the recursive effect the empirically observed things have upon the laws which are derived from such observation. The laws can’t be definitively, reliably predictive unless they precede the phenomena which precede them.
Hence the striking propriety of the evocation of materiality in regards to moral abstractions and human behavior. This is basically the foundation of economics, sociology, and clinical psychology—all of which aren’t necessarily bad, but get troubled once they overstep the bounds, confuse themselves with the hard sciences, and come to conclusions that can’t rightfully be backed up by their empirical methods. With eerie consistency, these conclusions tend to be awful: we can measure intelligence based on the size of someone’s cranium, we can predict the behavior of a man-made speculative market by comparing it a marble rolling down a halfpipe, we can say with certainty that blocking a certain dopamine receptor will tamp down the brain-beasties which are chemical and therefore in no way a product of the soul-crushing contingencies of office work…
See, that’s the problem: the evocation of materiality is gangbusters when it comes to serving as an incidental, momentary analytical base. It allows us to freeze behavior, bracket off any meddlesome context or other confounding variables, and attempt to describe phenomena in useful ways. But this is often (usually [almost always]) drawn out to untenable conclusions, and those conclusions are usually geared towards justifying awful shit.
But I’m getting off track. My project is particularly concerned with analyzing alternate conceptions of individuation, those which are pointedly non-totalized/dialectical but also shy away from direct teleology or eschatology. These conceptions are almost always undergirded by a mystical sort of vitalism that functions as both an individuating life force and as a means of forcing an amenability to empiricism upon social phenomena. As of right now, I don’t know exactly what I want to say about this vitalism other than that it’s stupid.
White Hot Harlots is proud to announce a partnership with Ross Douthat. Ross is a conservative intellectual and renowned columnist for the New York Times. His work will appear here periodically.
Whenever the talk of American politics turns toward abortion, the same conversations always seem to take place. Taking a look at history might help us understand why we keep having these repetitive discussions.
In 1933, the big question on the mind of European intellectuals was “what is happening right now?” Across the globe, people were turning en masse toward authoritarianism. This turn made little sense, since by definition authoritarianism is bad for most people.
One such intellectual was Willhelm Reich. Reich, a German psychoanalyst, suggested that the turn towards fascism and communism was a result of widespread sexual frustration. In his Mass Psychology of Fascism, Reich suggests that “the goal of sexual suppression is that of producing an individual who is adjusted to the authoritarian order and who will submit to it in spite of all misery and degradation.” So far as Reich was concerned, all of the world’s woes could be solved through morw sex.
Reich was a member of the German communist party, and in the 80 years since his book was published, the left still believes that social problems can be traced to a lack of sex. While the belief was patently false in Reich’s day, it at least fit into trends established by Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Similarly, todays’ liberals draw their inspiration from Gloria Steinem and Alfred Kinsey.
This background is critical if we wish to understand recent congressional battles about women’s reproductive health. On the one hand, conservatives believe that abortion is society’s ultimate sin and must be stopped. On the other hand, liberals believe that anything that stifles the free and easy exchange of sex can have dire social implications. Both sides need to make adjustments if we wish to solve the abortion debate.
If conservatives want to make the debate more honest, they should admit that abortions are sometimes caused by material conditions, and that perhaps instituting harsh criminal penalties for women caught seeking abortions might be going too far. But on the other hand, no progress in the debate will be made until liberals abandon their long-held belief that sex solves social problems all by itself.
Just as Reich’s communism was naïve, so were the sexual politics of the 1970s. Women predicted complete equality, which of course did not happen. The result of their “feminist revolution” has been a decoupling of sex from love, a society in which more than half of marriages end in divorce, and skyrocketing abortion rates.
Liberals might choose to ignore the link between sex and abortion, but it’s there. The only question is: will they change their path and begin to speak honestly? Will conservatives let such an honest exchange take place?
Only time will tell.
Let’s say, several years ago, I killed somebody. It wasn’t a clear-cut case of murder, though, because it happened in one of those backwater states like Florida where they got wacky gun laws that make it easier for civilians to shoot minorities. Maybe I saw a black kid cutting across my lawn and so then I shot him. That’s borderline legal in Florida. Maybe, if it had gone to trial, the judge or jury would have determined I was within my rights and let me go.
But the case never went to trial, because instead of informing the authorities, I buried the kid’s body in my basement, right next to an inflatable Wal-Mart Santa and a pile of “Sweatin’ To the Oldies” memorabilia. Two years later, my wife goes down the basement and notices a severed hand sticking out beneath a my replica of Richard Simmons’ death mask. She gets scared and calls the cops, and I get arrested.
In that scenario, would my wife be a whistleblower or a traitor? Would the press coverage surrounding the incident focus mostly on me and the crime I had probably committed, or would it instead focus on my wife’s neuroses and proclivities? Would she be barely mentioned, as a witness, or instead would columnists call her a traitor hold her up as an example about how women these days just don’t respect the bounds of family?
This is basically what’s happening in the case of NSA-whistleblower Edward Snowden. He uncovered gross criminal activity. He reported it. And instead of focusing on the criminality of said activity, the press has decided to speculate on his mental state and call him a traitor. This is stupid, and it needs to stop happening.
And, please, don’t try to pick out holes in my metaphor. First off, and most importantly, PRISM is not legal. It’s not legal in the same way that murder’ generally isn’t legal, since monitoring the communications in general isn’t legal. The only way that PRISM could have been legal was if it, like murder, gained a special, court-sanctioned exemption. This couldn’t happen, because like my hypothetical murder, PRISM was kept secret, which means it was necessarily kept beyond judicial or congressional review and therefore was grossly illegal.
Second, you might complain that in my metaphor, the wife goes to the proper authorities. Snowden did no such thing, you might say, because instead of submitting his domestic spying information for proper review, he blabbed about it to a newspaper. This criticism is very dumb. You should be ashamed of yourself for making it. Where else could Snowden have gone? Should he have had filed a report with HR? Should he have called the very same authorities who were breaking the law and politely asked them reconsider their actions?
Again, PRISM is illegal. Its secretive nature is what makes it illegal. It’s not illegal because monitoring everyone’s communications is necessarily and always wrong. It’s illegal because it happened beyond the scope of review that sanctions government actions—by being conducted entirely in secret, it subverted the very foundations of legality. In the murder metaphor, the killer’s potential legal defense was rendered moot by the fact that he tried to cover up his actions and put them beyond judicial review. The same thing happened with PRISM. There was no verification, no checks or balances, just a gross over-reach of federal power conducted beyond the boundaries of normal accountability. The only way the wrongdoing could have been exposed was by leaking it to the press.
So everyone, please, stop calling Snowden a traitor, and stop focusing on him instead of on the massive crimes your government just got caught committing.
And a special note to the liberals out there who think that criticizing Snowden makes them appear Serious or Respectable: fucking stop it. You remember back in 05 and 06, when flag-draped septuagenarians would embrace George Bush at town hall meetings and pledge their support to him by giving the feds permission to tap their phones? Remember how stupid and insane those people seemed, trying so desperately to excuse the criminal actions of their bullshit president? That’s what you look like now. Like a bunch of sad, shitty morons.
You heard anything about 3d printers? They’re all the rage in the academic nerd circles, but the only mainstream press coverage they’ve gotten has been about how they could potentially be used to make guns. I say “potentially” there, instead of that they have already been used to make guns, because the news coverage has been particularly misleading in this regard. Supposedly, a gun has already been made, and plans for said gun are freely available on the google. But this “gun” was just the lower receiver of an AR-15. Anybody with access to a high school shop class could have made a better one, too, since this one was made of plastic and only fired 10 rounds a short distance before it melted. (And that’s after the guy who “printed” it had to spend several hundred dollars buying additional, factory-manufactured parts so as to turn it into a fireable gun).
The mainstream media’s imbecilic handwringing over the 3d printed gun is similar to the manner in which academic writers have grossly overreacted to 3d printing as a basic concept. All you have to do is load up your printer with raw carbon and petroleum and trace amounts of various minerals, and, voila, you’ll be able to make whatever the fuck you please. The food-a-rack-a-cylcle from the Jetsons will be real, and so grocery stores will go out of business. Likewise, all manufacturing will grind to a halt, since we’ll all have tiny little factories built right into our homes. You want a metal bedframe? Print it! A strawberry ice cream parfait? Print it!
I’m not kidding: this is what humanities people actually believe is going to happen. And they are as naïvely optimistic as the mainstream media is naively scared.
First off—I don’t know how much climate change reading you’ve done (I would advise against it, if you don’t enjoy being really scared and sad), but it’s pretty goddamn optimistic to assume that first world society is going to resemble its current form in the year 2050. Huge, densely populated swaths of Europe, Asia, and the Americas will soon become uninhabitable. And—seriously, dude—the best estimates say that the east coast will be flooded by 2075 at the latest; that’s assuming we work up the political will to begin aggressively fighting climate change, which we won’t. The worst estimates predict catastrophic change within the next decade.
This isn’t a doomsday scenario. The human race won’t get wiped out. You and I will probably be okay (our kids might not be, though). But a shitload of people will die. Most likely beyond WWII-levels. And however society gets rearranged, it won’t be according to any lofty democratic or equality-based standards. It’ll be somewhere between old-school feudalism and new-school, Chinese-style industrial slavery.
Good, forward thinking social theorists have been making this point for a while. Guys like Matthew Stoller look at massive deleveraging of America’s middle class and our country’s gigantic income inequality not as some accident of capitalism but as an intentional process. The rich are girding themselves against catastrophic social realignment. They have to hoard power because freedom is about to become exponentially more expensive, well beyond the means of people who right now are relatively fortunate.
So pardon me for not embracing a fucking printer as the harbinger of a gloriously democratic, post-capitalist future. You have to be insane to think that regular people are ever going to be given access to 3d printing technology. Democracy is trending backwards. The whole post-war American ideal, where minorities were afforded some basic rights and social mobility was somewhat of a reality? Where you could live comfortably working 40 hours a week and the state served functions other than as a mechanism of oppression? That was an historical blip. It’s gone, dead forever, and it’s never coming back. The government and our elite classes have a clear, vested interest in taking power away from people. It’s no longer a matter of wanting to preserve luxury; it’s a matter of basic survival.
To this end, I think it’s foolish to assume that 3d printing will be anything other than a tool of oppression. Other, supposedly democratizing technological breakthroughs—like cell phones, internet access, and social media—have been widely disseminated only because their use reinforces extant power structures. Your iPhone makes it easier for the government and elite classes to track and commodify you. That’s why it’s not illegal. If it posed an actual danger to power, if its promise of giving a voice to the voiceless were really true, it would have been either outright banned or priced so restrictively high that no truly voiceless person could afford it.
Likewise, the future of 3d printing is up in the air. If the gun example scares enough empowered people into thinking that 3d printing might actually change our social structure, like by arming the citizenry or destroying the financial industry, then it might get banned. If it can be shown somehow to aid in the further deleveraging of non-elites, it will be allowed to exist in a tightly regulated manner. But no way, no how, will it make society more equal or just.
God forgive me, I watched an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. Maher’s panel included Michael Moore, a weasel-faced Goldman Sachs cheerleader, and a Pinterst-looking woman who appeared to be doing a bit. Zach Galafanakis was the episode’s special guest, because apparently he’s some kind of fucking pundit now that he appeared in The Campaign (and, he said, you wouldn’t believe it but real politics is just as goofy as his movie!)
Maher asked Galafanakis why it was that the right was so good at grass roots organizations, what with the Tea Party having so much congressional success, but then the left has hardly any grass roots support. Home for come that be?
The weird fascist Pinterset woman jumped in, saying, no no, it’s a good thing that the Democrats haven’t suffered from that kind of mass movement:
"Do you really want them to? Frankly, the primary process the Republicans have been going through has been painful, has been divisive, has been counterproductive. When conservatives are so busy trying to out conservative each other and that is the primary goal of the primary, it’s not good for the party. I think your party has been smart enough to say ‘He’s a moderate? Lets him stay there and see how he does.’ And primary for primaries sake hasn’t been good for the Republicans.”
A statement like that is just empty think tank pap. It does not deserve to be scrutinized at face value. Reading just a bit between the lines, however, we get a real answer to Maher’s question: the left doesn’t have an empowered grass roots because the party that represents them hasn’t allowed such a movement to form. Effectively, there is no left.
Now, I can’t quite get a bead on where this woman is coming from, ideologically. She’s on MSNBC, but she’s written a book about how the left has launched a war against organized religion. So far as I can tell, she’s some sort of new wave conservative emissary, probably hired by forward-thinking GOPers in order to make their brand more appealing to people who aren’t klansmen. She’s not exactly an intellectual powerhouse, but then again if she were, she probably wouldn’t be on TV.
I’m trying to dissect her image because the only way we can glean any worthwhile observations from her is to view her not as a person but as a marketing strategy. She’s a slogan for a brand. That brand is what I’ve come to regard as “beige-washed conservatism.” It’s the same pro-business Randian bullshit as regular Republicanism, but instead of relying on racism and homophobia for its selling points, it’s now dressed up in boring NPR monotone so as to make it more palatable to people under 50. Intellectualism, like everything else, is largely an affect, a vague feeling that gets triggered into existence by certain empty signifiers. The woman wears glasses. She dresses smartly and speaks in complete sentences. Golly, that must mean she’s smart.
She also tries very hard to seem like a centrist. Her opinions are timid and obsequious, which is what most people now mistake for intellectualism. The Democrat Brand is a sort of emptily elitist technocracy, a system in which the opinions of experts and the financially empowered are prized while everything said by everyone else is ignored. This is good when it comes to stuff like evolution and climate change, but bad when it comes to most matters of social import, or to fields that are as intellectually corrupt as economics. This pinterst pundit fascist woman is apparently the GOP’s attempt to appropriate the Democrat brand for their own ends, like when Wal-Mart began copying the beige color scheme of Whole Foods so as to trick people into thinking they were somehow eco-friendly.
This is the lesson that got learned by the last election: fuck the people. Do not, under any circumstances, take their concerns seriously. Back when the GOP just made bunch of noise about praying away the gay and hunting undocumented immigrants for their pelts, they did fine. But as soon as they elected people who were stupid enough to actually attempt getting any of these things done, the party became unseemly and began losing.
So that’s the new face of politics. The Democrats’ winning strategy—the strategy that embodies the popular perception of intellectualism—is to insulate government from the input of its citizens. Instead, government should be run by hacks and technocrats who are told what to do by media elites, military personnel, and financiers. The Republicans are copying this playbook, apparently, only instead of Bill Gates and Larry Summers, their cadre of elites consists of people like Bill Koch and Ted Nugent. Same shit, different flavor.
Once we come to this realization, we can see how stupid Maher’s question really was. The Tea Party/Occupy split is a false binary. Occupy was a legitimate grass roots organization, which meant it never really existed so far as our elites were concerned. The Tea Party is an astroturf project designed by FreedomWorks and funded by the Koch brothers. Occupy was treated with widespread derision. The Tea Party was a media creation that had an entire cable network. And, most fundamentally, the Tea Party is in thrall of power, while Occupy represents a legitimate (albeit small) threat to power. That’s the biggest difference between the two, and it’s why one has been actualized via congressional representation while the other has gotten the shit kicked out of them by cops.
The Tea Party was an empty marketing gimmick. It was a stunt, a make believe carnival sideshow that got a little bit out of hand. Don’t’ worry, though, because Republicans are going to make damn sure that doesn’t happen again.
According to concerned bloggers everywhere, entitlement is one of the greatest problems facing the world today. No, I’m not talking about Social Security and Medicare (we’ll get to those in a second). Instead, I’m talking about the tendency among commentators to frame complex social problems in reductive terms, blaming bad actions on the fact that the people who committed those actions felt that they were entitled to do so. This is not only a lazy line of argumentation but a privileged one, and its continued use will do more harm than good for marginalized and disadvantaged peoples.
Looking just at posts I’ve read in the last month, entitlement has been blamed for a rash of misogynist facebook humor, a decline in k-12 test scores, the unemployment epidemic among Millennials, BU’s hockey team going on a rape spree, and creepy internet “Nice Guys.” And that’s just what I remembered off the top of my head.
Now, I think Bauerline’s Millennial bashing is bullshit, and I’m just as creeped out as you are by Nice Guys and Men’s Rights Advocates, but neither of those are my main concern right now. My point is that the manner in which these groups are criticized is intellectually lazy and socially problematic. It needs to stop.
First off, rhetoric surrounding “entitlement reform” has been used to bash poor and disenfranchised people for decades. Ever since Reagan evoked his phantasmal “welfare queens,” criticizing entitlement has been little more than politically acceptable racism. Despite all his big talk about cutting entitlement, and despite gutting welfare programs that disproportionately served minorities, Reagan actually expanded government entitlement spending as it was classically defined. He is still generally remembered as having cut entitlements, however, because in the minds of most commentators “entitlements” only include government services that are conceptually linked to poor, black, or brown people. A poor single mother is said to feel “entitled” to her monthly $150 EBT credit. But no one would ever say that a rich Lockheed executive feels “entitled” to receive the billions of government dollars his company receives every year in order to make ineffective, grossly overpriced weapons the military doesn’t need.
When you criticize someone’s concerns as seeming entitled, then, you’re not criticizing their beliefs; instead, you’re marginalizing them as people. Entitlement only works rhetorically when it’s attached to people who don’t count. This is why an AIDS patient is considered entitled when the government helps pay his exorbitant hospital bills, but a health care executive would never be called entitled for reaping personal gain from a monstrously bloated and inefficient health care system.
This is where the pejorative connotations of the term get especially troubling. Entitlements originally referred to programs to which people were rightfully, well, entitled. You paid into Social Security for several decades and then you were entitled to payouts when you turned 65. Entitlements were earned. Once the term got so closely linked to the needs of minorities, however, it became mocking and dismissive. An entitlement is now the exact opposite of what it used to be, an especially unreasonable or unearned sense of deserving something or other.
This is all very stupid. Making an accusation of entitlement the end game of your criticism is just intellectually lazy. Everyone always feels entitled. Duh. If we didn’t, all of our actions would be riddled with guilt. No one except a maniac intentionally does things that she doesn’t feel she deserves to do, and simply explaining that so and so did such and such because he felt it was okay for him to isn’t an analysis. It’s just a basic description of obvious reality, and it’s only an effective criticism of someone if that someone already seems undeserving.
Liberals tend to lose arguments when they frame them in conservative terms, especially when those terms are designed specifically to mock and dismiss the concerns of marginalized groups. Merely turning around the poles won’t work. Entitlement is only a politically potent criticism when it’s applied to groups who are already vulnerable to dismissal or marginalization. That’s why my examples of the Lockeed and Healthcare executives being called entitled seem so off. It’s also why simply calling rapists entitled does nothing to combat rape culture.
The other, bigger danger of these criticisms is that they discourage people from dissent or complaint. While valid criticisms of people senses of entitlement can certainly be made, doing so sets a dangerous precedent that encourages the further dismissal of people who are already in bad shape. Sometimes it’s okay to feel entitled. A worker making minimum wage might feel logically entitled to earning more than $7.50 an hour. A citizen should feel entitled a functional infrastructure and protection against police harassment. It’s not necessarily delusional or narcissistic to want more than what you have.
I want to talk about this again. it happened over 3 years ago, but who cares? look at it!
someone knocked on my door real quick at 1 AM. I didn’t get it because I was home alone and I’m a pussy. When I left this morning, this little fellow was outside my door. That’s meat shoved in its stomach! Anyone know what this means?
Not gonna bullshit. Justin Roiland did this. I still want to beat the shit out of him for it. He is filth.
Something I’ve only read a little bit about, and I’m wondering if there’s more stuff available regarding it, is the influence of the social and behavioral sciences upon business and management theory, and how much that combined influence has seeped into liberalism.
Much has been written (speculation, mostly) about the influence of larger political trends upon what tomorrow’s business elites are taught at today’s business schools. The Reagan Revolution made is moral to be a cunt, and so every single businessperson has acted like a cunt since then. Clinton made it cool for self-proclaimed liberals to not only turn Mexico into a land of subsistence laborers, but to regale in the spoils of doing so. Bush the Younger injected the sub-idiotic supernatural self-certainty of evangelicism into the mix, and Obama is doing is damndest to make sure that the corporate sector becomes permanently entrenched against the constraints like “environmental regulations,” “safety concerns,” and “labor laws.”
That’s all easy enough to trace, and a great deal has been written about all of them.
Much more interesting, and maybe even more pervasive, is the extent to which sociology and psychology have been appropriated by business thinkers and then weaponized against US workers. For example, when you work at certain retail chains like Target, your manager will begin every shift by making everyone do an inspirational chant—real dehumanizing, soul-destroying shit. My guess is that there’s no way that didn’t originate during some kind of Gravity’s Rainbow-style, horrorshow experiment. It started off innocent enough—like the CIA was just trying to figure out what type of speaking voice is the most effective when you’re torturing information out of dissidents—and then, 6 decades later, it morphed into forcing all your employees to wear red and begin their day by chanting about how much they love helping people save on batteries.
More generally, isn’t it weird how much shit your average employee is willing to take these days? I realize that, historically, most folk have always been pliant when it comes to working too hard for too little. But it has to be worse now, or at least creepier. Americans are psychopathically attached to their shitty jobs. They internalize the bizarre, cruel, and uniformly illogical systems of workplace discipline and assessment. They become creepily attached to their corporation, forging conceptions of their selves into which the public and private faces of their employer bleed heavily. We discuss ourselves, even, as if we were corporate entities instead of human beings: just the other day, I heard a student talk about “enhancing his personal brand” and how he hoped working at such and such a company would allow him to absorb some of their ethos into his own. Creepy, right?
This terrifying embrace of the corporate self has made a rebirth of organized labor seem impossible. Ignoring even the legal hurdles and decadeslong deleveraging of non-elite workers, there just isn’t any will to organize. Those of us who have succeeded in whatever job consider our success proof of our manifest internal goodness… and we’ve got no reason to share our success with failures. Likewise, those who haven’t succeeded have been trained to blame only themselves, to think it selfish and disgusting to pine for a better lot. Thinking beyond the individual is discouraged; at times, it’s even regarded as a mental illness. Only the weak and deranged think about things at a societal level. Normal, healthy people accept the fact that they’ve had total control over their own lives and are 100% personally responsible for whatever shape things have taken.
Likewise, questioning the manner in which corporate logic values (or devalues) you is considered the height of derangement. Consider the execrable Who Moved My Cheese. For those of you who have never been forced to read it, the book is a condescending parable wherein two dullards live in a magic room that unseen forces sometimes fill with cheese. Eventually the cheese runs out, and after much soul searching the more industrious of the two stops complaining and feeling like the world owes him a living and goes and ventures out into the maze to find another cheese room. The other one starves, because he is selfish.
The main point of the book is that the forces behind our employment—indeed, the forces that determine whether or not we starve—are utterly beyond comprehension and are only spoken about by people who have personality disorders. Smart people, the ones who don’t starve, they just go out and react to whatever contingencies the mysterious employment forces send their way.
Who Moved My Cheese is beneath contempt, and it would be entirely beneath response were it not such a staple of business speak. Rich, powerful people think it is a work of genius, because rich, powerful people adore anything that not only excuses their largess but also manages to condescend to poor people while doing so. The book used to be given to people who were about to be fired. Now it’s a customary gift to college graduates and new employees.
The fact that such retardation could become canon is testament to the need for the sort of consciousness-raising that liberals are presently so afraid of. And I think the liberal tendency to dismiss the efficacy of class awareness (even while they wholeheartedly embrace identity politics of every other stripe) is because no one ever formulated a fake mythos of “non-violence” to attach to class issues.
What bullshit, non-violence. It doesn’t exist within capitalism. Refusing to directly interact with a violent situation is still a violent act, since you’re allowing violence to happen unencumbered. And if you believe, as you should, that certain societal realities are violent, well then there’s no way to “non-violently” deal with them. And I’m not just talking about using drones to blow up Pakistani children or America’s brutal healthcare or medieval prisons—class warfare is fucking violent. Stealing someone’s pension is violent. Taking away the jobs of people leads to a lack of healthcare, domestic abuse, suicide, assault, murder, the poor academic performance of children and the euthanization of pets. When your company labels you an inefficiency and outsources your job to a Chinese slave, that’s violent. You’ve been assaulted. And just walking away like a pussy doesn’t make it any less violent.
The reason organized labor worked was because, like the Civil Rights movement, it was violent as fuck. Unlike the Civil Rights movement (which was a wonderfully orchestrated product of a very different time), organized labor wore its violence proudly, right on its sleeve.
See, treating black people like humans only tertiarily scares racists; it mostly offends them on a visceral level. No racist is as defensive of his perceived cultural purity as a rich man is defensive of his yacht.
And so the labor movement needed to be violent. It had to not only defend its strikers against Pinkertons but also to put the fear of god into scabs and make the super rich at least a little bit afraid to walk down the street. Powerful people don’t just go and give up their power because it’s the right thing to do, see. They only give it up when they’re forced to by threat of violence or imprisonment.
But liberals all devalue organized labor now, at least partially because its violent messiness runs counter to their core sensibilities. This means many of not most liberals—even academic liberals—have never taken the time to think seriously about why the labor movement was effective, about how violence is actually often an awesome tool that does a whiz bang job of achieving goals.
So your liberals will start talking about how unions won’t work in a contemporary sense, and all their arguments miss the point because all of them are clean and logistic and in no way bloody. This is because, like conservatives, they have internalized shitty management logic. Toothless, meek, identity politics liberalism—the kind that views “opening up a conversation” as the ultimate end goal of all political action—is a product of the acceptance of sociology and psychology-influenced business speak. We used to realize the necessity of conceiving of our employment adversarially. Instead of melting our identities into that of our employer, we conceived of ourselves and our jobs as separate entities locked in a struggle for the allocation of capital. But now we’ve become pliant and timid, convinced that occasionally being given a chance to speak to management affords us just as much agency as a decent salary would. It doesn’t.
(This is an old piece that I found especially relevant in light of the recent huffy moron shitshow surrounding the offensiveness of the Oscars. The takeaway is that just because you or someone else takes offense at something doesn’t mean that something is bad.)
Twice in the last month or so, I’ve come across headlines describing how a teacher was fired for making students solve violent math problems. These headlines are fantastically intriguing, so I click on them: is this teacher doing sexy math, perhaps, making the students count the number of times he strokes himself, penalizing them for turning away even for a brief moment? Or is it more of a sick disciplinarity, like subjecting them to a number of short beatings or electric shocks and then compounding their suffering by asking them to translate their pain into a multiplication table? Of course, the articles discuss nothing so interesting. They discuss nothing even moderately troubling, actually, to those of us who aren’t paid to act like hysterical idiots. The entirety of broadcast news is paid to act in just this way, however, and so all it takes is one apoplectic oaf a parent lodging a complaint and then, bam, my yahoo session is ruined.
In both cases, the teachers committed the unforgivable mistake of using evocative imagery in crafting story problems. The first time, the teacher referred to slaves on a plantation. As in, “If three slaves pick nine bushels per hour and work for 7 hours,” etc, a declaration found offensive only to the most feeble and unimaginative of minds. I dug further, figuring the article must have left something out—like, maybe this was a statement for or against slavery, arguing that the slaves deserved their poor lot, or (more incendiary), perhaps explaining to the children how they clothes they were wearing were made by children much like themselves, children who got paid 20 cents an hour and were literally tied to their sewing machines. What an effective teaching tool that would be! Of course it would be met with stern reprimands and indignant headlines, as effective teaching always is.
But no—not at all. The teacher had merely used the word “slave,” and that upset people. Our classrooms have become so full of needless terror, so crippled by the threat of substantive discussion, that the mere use of a potentially insightful term is grounds for firing a teacher.
The latest article refers to problems even more inane, and therefore all the more perplexing and infuriating:
http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/teacher-fired-assigning-violent-math-problems-third-graders-201910368.html This teacher appeared to try and capture the interest of his students. Problem: Kids quickly grow bored of being asked to count the number of pies on a baker’s shelf, or of having to figure out the money made by that baker, assuming he earns X dollars per hour and worked Y hours. Solution: replace the mundanity of baking with the excitement of violence. Bloodless violence, of course: no grizzly details were given. Problems would say “a killer killed X number of people per day for Y days.” No wounds were described. The smell of the corpses was not evoked. Nor was any mention given to the motive for the murders, or anything potentially scary like that. All these problems did was admit to the fact that sometimes violence happens and then, like literally ever single piece of worthwhile art ever produced, used violence as a trope to try and get across another point. Even worse: some of those problems referenced pipe smoking! Another said a child died after eating marbles! What kind of a monster would expose children to such ghastly imagery?
That these teachers were dismissed doesn’t especially disturb me—every day, I read about much greater horrors taking place in public education. The really bad part is in listening to the stammering, sub-retarded, self-righteous indignity of aggrieved parties. Parents are aghast that such things could happen in a classroom. Administrators are disturbed, they mumble, beyond words. How could this happen? And in America, of all places?
And with that last item they do have a point. American culture is designed to disallow unfriendly speech. Unfriendly actions are accepted if not encouraged. But the cardinal rule of all things American, from national politics to basic employment, is to make sure you never say a single unkind word. Crossing that line puts people in the uncomfortable position of being made to think, and we simply can’t have that. Especially not in schools.