Posts Tagged ‘Contemporary Political Economy’


April 21, 2013

Whatever became of colonialism? What is colonialism? How does one set it up, run it? Is there a business “how to” manual for doing that? Dutifully, a library search found me busily inquiring. Just “colonialism” was met with “see colonies, subdivision colonies under names of countries” and “see imperialism, subdivision foreign relations under names of countries” and “see world politics”. Well colonies gave scads about everything from the early American colonial diet to life in the Indian sub-continent under the British. “Economic colonialism”, “contemporary colonialism” and “present day colonialism” yielded nothing; likewise “theory of colonialism” which found itself wedged between “Theory of Collective Behavior” and “Theory of Constraint Management”. No texts on the business economics of colonialism, its strategy, marketing or management! “Neocolonialism” revealed some disparate titles (NAFTA & Neocolonialism) while “Post colonialism” revealed a plethora of works. Alas, they all implicate an end to the colonial (hence “post” colonial). I was interested in how colonialism had reinvented itself within the 21st century. “Urban colonialism” and “city colonialism” fared no better.

The entire search reminded me of youthful days, on a philosophic lark, trying to “uncover” texts with directives on Witchcraft. Plato and his ilk are just full of one vast exegesis on “the good”, but not much on what is not. Balance was found lacking in my search. Like colonialism, many accounts of the experience of witchcraft, in different countries, and history, but no theory, no directives, no “how to” manuals. I began to sense that colonialism, as part of Ron’s sinister “Evil Empire”, may just still be lurking out there, and very active. Only today it has been rebranded under a different guise. How many companies and products have done just that over the years? Why not colonialism?

Going through back channels, subjects associated today with colonialism (like human trafficking), I stumbled on some works. One very curious one, Prospero and Caliban (1950) is an exposé of the psychology at work with colonialism — Hegel reconstituted through a Freudian/Jungian blender. The book’s perspective has an almost Tea Party logic to it– colonialism works just fine, it is that damn human nature which causes the project to ultimately go awry; so let’s look at the human errors in hopes of getting it back on track. The other, a rough contemporary, was one that I had missed when reading the likes of Fannon’s Wretched of the Earth or Said’s Orientalism – The Colonizer and the Colonized by Albert Memmi (1957). It even has an intro by J. P. Sartre himself! Memmi writes: “I have been criticized for not having constructed my portraits entirely around an economic structure, but I feel I have repeated often enough that the idea of privilege is at the heart of the colonial relationship — and that privilege is undoubtedly economic. [I know the feeling, babe] Let me take this opportunity to reaffirm my position: for me the economic aspect is fundamental.” (Preface, page xii) Sartre’s contribution in the Introduction (page xxiii) further fleshes this out by humanizing it (or rather de-humanizing it): “In fact, racism is built into the system: the colony sells produce and raw materials cheaply, and purchases manufactured goods at very high prices from the mother country. This singular trade is profitable to both parties only if the native works for little or nothing.” If after Bhopal, Union Carbide could quietly redefine itself as a wholly owned subsidiary of the ever respectable Dow Chemical (now engaged to Monsanto, see the society page announcement “Monsanto And Dow Cross-License Biotech Corn Traits” AP, 4-11-13) thus legally absolving itself from responsibility for the devastation wrought, then it is apparent what became of colonialism after the curtain of Post colonialism came down, ostensibly ending the show.

Birds Do It, Bees Do It….

March 19, 2013

Two in one day! What does it take? Charlie Dunmore, writing for Reuters, reports that the European Commission is looking to ban neonicotinoids (3-15-13 EU Could Impose Pesticide Ban To Protect Bees). “Syngeta and Bayer, leading global producers of neonicotinoids, say the harmful effects on bees is unproven and that a ban would cost the EU economy billions.” Later in the online news: Bird Group Calls For Halt To Widely Applied Insecticide by Chuck Raasch for USA Today (3-18-13). “The [American] Bird Conservancy, one of the nation’s most active bird-conservation groups, released a 97-page report Monday that says that independent studies of the damage to birds and aquatic ecosystems they depend upon for food raise “significant environmental concerns” and that the Environmental Protection Agency has been too lenient in allowing the use of this class of insecticides, called neonicotinoids.” Later in the article this appears: “Manufacturers say the American Bird Conservancy report depends on suspect science, and a ban would be destructive to global agricultural production. Defenders say that neonicotinoids were created as safer alternatives to the pesticide class they replaced about 20 years ago. Neonicotinoids have been in use for about two decades. The insecticides are sprayed or used to coat seeds, such as corn, to protect crops and control insects around the globe.” Beginning to see a pattern here? (No, not that the reporters’ first names are the same)
There’s an even larger recurrence taking place. Our friend the atom was touted as the savior of progress back in the 50’s. Able to power ships, cure diseases and give light to entire cities. It was safe and concerns to the contrary were unsubstantiated. DDT was likewise promoted to famers and public health officials. Reports began filtering in on these matters, on their residuals and “unintended” exposures, uses, etc. and the same was said. Another spotlight appeared on cigarette smoking, then on exposure to second hand smoke. Lead paint was shown to be disabling growing children because it was inadvertently being ingested or its dust inhaled. The same dust likewise produced by the lead in gasoline. Why, it was all “suspect science”, “unproven”, and would cost the economy billions to rectify. Later, in Raasch’s article: “An industry scientist disagreed, arguing that the EPA constantly monitors the effects and that extensive studies by Bayer and other major producers of the insecticide do not show adverse effects on birds. “Field studies have shown that birds rarely, if ever, are affected when fed a diet with a high content of treated seed,” said Mike Leggett, senior director of environmental policy for CropLife America, the association that represents pesticide makers.” Of course, it is not in Bayer’s or Syngeta’s interest to do studies on the residuals, the 20 years of accumulation of their product within the soils where it was utilized. Given the task to pour a 50lb bag of pesticide from one container to another, not a single one of their technicians would refrain from using a dust mask while performing the task. Some scientist are showing that these toxins are now appearing within growing organisms, such as plants, much as minute traces of Teflon exist within human blood from long term ingestion of accumulated residue. Yet there’s Mike Leggett, lobbyist with CropLife America, confidently proclaiming “that birds rarely, if ever, are affected when fed a diet with a high content of treated seed,” But what about the dust that comes from what did not stick to the seed in the perfect control required for laboratory testing? That rubs off in fifty pounds of seed grinding against each other within the bag and during the mechanized handling in planters and drills? It escapes into the air like the dust of two old fashioned chalk erasers clapped together. Multiply that over 20 years and uncounted square miles. Like the residuals from nuclear processes and waste, from smoking cigarettes, from leaded paints and gas, it drifts into the air, coating everything over time. Indeed we are told that Bermuda was formed over time from airborne Saharan sand. The same folks who would sue if they discovered the wind had carried their GM canola’s pollen onto your non GM field (and have won in court over exactly that) disinherit the wind when it comes to detrimental outcomes. For these giants battling with each other over “market share” the birds and bees have become collateral damage in their campaign for “global agricultural production.”

Off The Radar

March 10, 2013

March 9, 2013, CBS evening news aired an interview with the CEO of Goldman Sachs. Jill Schlesinger, MoneyWatch Editor-at-Large, spoke with Lloyd Blankfein. Throughout the interview Blankfein reiterated Goldman Sachs’ interest in and commitment to diversity. As Mr. Alessio Rastani so eloquently put it “Governments don’t rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world.” Blankfein’s comments, as the ruler of Goldman Sachs, are disturbing. These are not his “personal opinions” or commitments. Many will take them as such because he uttered them. These are his pronouncements as the head of an entity that “exists only in contemplation of the law”. It is a given that current late term global capitalism operates unopposed, without alternative. It is also a given that said capitalism appropriates anything and everything; opposition or rebellion, counter culture manifestations, indigenous cultures or societies, all become gripped by the “invisible hand” of the market. Biodiversity is being driven out by self-same global market, along with the diverse and unique cultures that it sustained. Read Blankfein for what he is saying as ruler of the world, not what is presented within the smoke screen of “this is his own opinion or personal epiphany.” Within this corporate position, diversity is no longer self-defining. The dollar now determines what is diverse, and what is not. As an example of this the Goldman Sachs CEO spoke of an unnamed client that withdrew their patronage because of this position. Blankfein said he could well understand their position, and would still like to manage their money. The distribution of sense only extends to what makes for money. What lies outside of that– real value, actual diversity– does not appear on the radar of what makes sense, what has meaning. When it does, it will likewise be appropriated and assigned a dollar value so that it can be traded, sold and speculated on.

Speed Dating Pandora And Charon

March 3, 2013

Like Charon, the beekeeper starts this new season by ferrying home all the hives that did not survive the winter. And this year the boat is overcrowded. Adding to this dirge, the news coming in from out west does not anticipate much joy. Accounts indicate a record low number of available hives for almond tree pollination. This marks the start of the annual migration to pollinate the nation’s food crops, everything from cranberries and blueberries to pumpkins and pickles. A tipping point has been reached with no one daring to venture an educated guess as to why. The likely culprit is the 40+ years of no till, chemically dependent farming practices; a situation only growing more intense as food is now being converted to fuel. The hesitancy to assign specific blame or cause echoes the years of denial by the tobacco industry; that their merchandise was safe and no definitive link could be made between the use of their products and any disease or illness (a strategy now equally embraced by the nuclear industry, as well as pharmaceutical industry in terms of opiate addiction, etc.). Here in Ohio, the first large beekeepers’ workshop/conference has taken place. Others are scheduled to follow. Like Pandora, they are the epitome of grace and correctness when it comes to discussions, lectures and classes on natural beekeeping, specific hive pest management, urban beekeeping, recipes, salve making demo’s, etc. But will we ever look into the box?
Currently the writings of Vandana Shiva and her colleagues have entered the horizon of consideration in terms of the bees and their eventual demise. Shiva writes of the monoculture promoted by farming practices based on GM methodology (not only cultivar but field preparation necessitating herbicide/insecticide application). Reading this, one quickly realizes that bioengineering diminishes and negates the importance and place of pollination which results in cultivars that are self-pollinating (not requiring an outside pollinator). Most of what Shiva writes and speaks of in her interviews focuses on India and the impact of the imposition of such global agricultural practices on local economies and farmers. “But wait!” is the knee jerk response of a first world listener or reader. “This is not what we are experiencing.” The critical reader recalls the years of “post-colonial” studies and descriptions of “Imperialism”. The lid of Pandora’s box begins to slowly open when one realizes that “this is not what we are experiencing” means we have already been properly indoctrinated and conditioned to accept all these practices as the status quo, the “distributed sense”. It would be absurd to consider farming like the Amish who are outside this distribution of sense. To perceive danger, disease and toxicity where only happy meals are served by positive and forward looking, job creating corporations is to transform oneself into a kind of 21st century Charon; a bearer of bad news, one that ferries us from a present complacency into an unsettling future.

Governor Kasich And Unconstitutional Funding Of Education In The State Of Ohio

February 3, 2013

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled the state’s funding of education to be unconstitutional, not once, but 4 consecutive times. During that period, several governors have presented plans to rectify the inequity, all for naught. The unconstitutional condition remains the status quo. Recently, entering into his third year as governor of the state of Ohio, John Kasich presented his plan.

“We want to deliver the resources of this state fairly,” says Kasich. “We want to make sure every boy and girl no matter what district they come from are going to be in a position to have the resources they need to be able to compete with any other district across the state.” (John Kasich January 31, speech at the Polaris Hilton.)

What does the ability to compete have to do with learning, with education? Response to the speech focused on funding inequity and that the funding withdrawn and cut over the past two years would not continue. No one questioned the underlying assumption evident in this quote—that competition contributes to learning, that competition is somehow an integral part of learning. It is difficult to imagine. Just how would that look? Would learning be like a chili competition? But wait, learning to cook chili requires collaboration and cooperation. Culinary education does not take place when the aspiring chef is thrown out of the kitchen for not cutting up the onions fast enough. Maybe the contribution that competition makes to learning would be through shaming the non performing student. “Why can’t you be like her?” Somehow, that doesn’t appear to present a very promising trajectory. I know, sports! Sports are competitive, so he must have been referring to sports in making sure “every boy and girl no matter what district they come from are going to be in a position to have the resources they need to be able to compete with any other district across the state.” Yet like with cooking, sports skills are learned within regimens of cooperation and collaboration. Drills and exercises are done with combined groups of underachievers, achievers and over achievers. Competition may determine who ultimately represents the particular school or district on game day, but not who learns. Keep trying to come up with the connection or link between competition and learning/education. There is none. As the January 18 post, Lance Armstrong, points out, competition is about what education is not. Armstrong’s competitiveness generated a learning, but not one that society would prefer to have reproduced. One would need to stretch, and really stretch, the meaning of the word “education” to include indoctrination (and “learning” to be indoctrinate) in order to arrive at an ostensible benefit competition makes to learning and education. How different it would have sounded if the governor would have said “We want to make sure every boy and girl no matter what district they come from are going to be in a position to have the resources they need to be able to cooperate and collaborate with any other district across the state.” Cooperation, collaboration and the ability to work together are definitely part of learning and education, as well as worthwhile life skills to promote. Perhaps the continuous emphasis on competition is why the state’s funding of education remains at odds with the Ohio constitution.

“The Managers Have Failed, Long Live Management” Revisited

January 12, 2013

“Standardized test backlash: Some Seattle teachers just say ‘no’
Resistance to standardized tests has been simmering for years, but now a group of Seattle teachers is in open revolt. No longer will they administer the tests, they say, citing a waste of public resources.
By Dean Paton | Christian Science Monitor” 1-11-13
Excerpts from that article:
“First one teacher, then another, and then more stepped forward to charge that the test wastes time, money, and dwindling school resources. It is also used to evaluate teacher quality.
“Our teachers have come together and agreed that the MAP test is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress,” said Kris McBride, academic dean and testing coordinator at Garfield High. “Additionally, students don’t take it seriously. It produces specious results and wreaks havoc on limited school resources during the weeks and weeks the test is administered.””
“This high-stakes testing – there needs to be a moratorium on it, because it’s out of control,” says Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center, Long Island, N.Y. “None of these tests really have anything to do with curriculum. Maybe they have a little bit to do with math. But that’s it.”
“ Ms. McBride, the academic dean, said Garfield teachers “have a myriad of reasons for not administering the MAP test,” including “no evidence” the test is aligned with state and local curriculum, that it’s “filled with things that aren’t a part of the curriculum at all,” and that the district uses student test scores to grade teachers, even though the company that markets the test says it should not be used to assess teacher effectiveness.”
“Seattle school officials say the MAP test, which is given as many as three times per year, “helps improve academic decision-making and accountability.””

The attempt by the actual teaching faculty to critique the imposition of near continuous testing (“three times per year”!) by non-teaching management brought to mind this blog’s May 20, 2012 post which specifically addressed this situation. Here it is again:

In the past weeks Jamie Dimon made a preemptive announcement of failure, and kept his job. The rhetorical move exemplified the brilliance of management that makes Dimon the model of emulation for folks like Scott Walker, John Kasich, Mitch Daniels and other state governors across America.
“These processes manifest themselves in an increasing concentration in NPM [New Public Management] on the supervision and regulation of the public sector through mechanisms such as audits and inspections. The emphasis on control brings to light the first hidden substantial aspect of NPM managerialism that is reminiscent of state Communism. Like Communism, NPM is totalitarian because it leaves no institutionalized room for criticism, which it always sees as subversive:
Because managerialism sees itself as the antidote to chaos, irrationality, disorder, and incompleteness, there are no spaces within such a social order in which autonomy can be contested legitimately. Managerial definitions of quality, efficiency, improved productivity or self management, construct a particular version of autonomy. Those who do not desire these managerial constructs of autonomy are simply defined as absurd, as under managerialism, these notions appear as self-evident “good”
The German sociologist Ulrich Beck recently coined the term McKinsey Stalinism in this context.
The introduction of permanent control over faculty – which is unprecedented at least in the history of universities in democracies worthy of the name – is nothing other than the introduction of a culture of permanent mistrust. That is the second attribute that NPM shares with state Communism.
The qualispeak of NPM exploits the indisputable fact that in Europe, North America, and Australia higher education is largely financed by public funds and founded on the idea that taxpayers – the shareholders in the state – are entitled to know that their money is being spent efficiently and transparently. NPM is VFM [Value for Money] and thus the best of all possible worlds. In this respect NPM is the privatized heir of state Communism. Managers who make higher education “efficient” and “transparent” by exercising constant control over the faculty are represented as the form that “accountability” to taxpayers and consumers takes in the former public domain. “Accounting,” that is, the dual process of counting and being required to account for what one does, is central to this process (“MU,” p. 325). The management itself in NPM, just like the party in state Communism, is outside all control and accountability because the management by definition represents both efficiency and accountability. That is the third attribute that NPM shares with state Communism. The question of whether managers really do spend taxpayers’ money more efficiently and whether they are more reliable than faculty cannot be asked in NPM. Nor may one ask whether the cost of the management controls are less than the money saved on inefficient academic personnel. The fact that there is not a shred of evidence for these two crucial assumptions of NPM – rather the opposite – makes abundantly clear where the blind spots lie in NPM. That all the recent economic scandals – from Enron, WorldCom, and Barings to the Lehman Brothers – happened despite constant audits furnishes some extra empirical food for critical thought on both management and audits.
This brings us up against a fourth interesting similarity between neo-liberal managerialism and state Communism: just as the Party by definition represents the interests of those who are led by the Party, so according to NPM management represents the interests of those who are managed. That is why NPM management models allow no place for representative bodies, which are only seen as a hindrance to administrative efficiency. And were undeniable irregularities in management practices to occur, then an individual manager eventually may be criticized or dismissed, but management itself can never be challenged. Neither the NPM nor the state Communist discourse will accept any criticism of their core practices and key personnel as legitimate because criticism is identified with lack of loyalty to the organization and so is seen as fundamentally subversive.” (pgs. 608-610, Critical Inquiry Spring 2012, essay entitled If You’re So Smart, Why Are You Under Surveillance? Universities, Neoliberalism, and New Public Management by Chris Lorenz)

Economic Noir Festival

January 3, 2013

I don’t know whether it is because of the events of the last weeks, the last years or just the holidays but it feels as if the only thing on is a late night festival of B grade black and white economic noir movies. The action, actors and their lines are almost too predictable anymore. Add to that the Jimmy Olsen cub reporter asking the redundant, oxymoronic questions of the usual suspects and one could end up with old movie toxic shock syndrome. Return with us to some of the more memorable stock lines. “The gov’t needs to come up with a long term plan as to how it will pay off the huge deficit.” This comes off so tough guy you can almost feel the cigarette dangling from the lower lip! Until you realize that the US gov’t isn’t part of the European Union and thus does not borrow or owe a central bank, the way the various members of the EU do. In fact, the US has always borrowed. Not only that, but most businesses, whether mom and pop or Wall Street listings, borrow to operate and then continue to do so as they attempt to pay off the original investors or debtors. It may sound like a pyramid scheme to the naïf but that is how commercial banks become too big to fail. Nothing new there. No one says “Businesses need to come up with long term plans as to how they intend to pay their employees more so they can fund their retirements, purchase health care for their families, etc.” Oh, that would change the whole character of the B grade black and white film, maybe make it into color, 3D even. The B grade movie script is getting stale to say the least. Fie on you, nasty old gov’t, for making people rely on you for food stamps while they are working, Social Security for when their employer shows them the door, and various medical/health care entitlements for children and others unable to provide. “Well someone has to pay for it!” Then Jimmy Olsen will ask the “small business” owner who runs a restaurant chain, or clothing outlet or whatever whether that means they will be cutting back on their employees and not hiring any new ones. “Oh, I had planned to expand to another 30 outlets for my franchise, but now I don’t know. I have X hundreds of employees but will have to stay lean and mean.” Etc. Give me a break. Dog eat dog world out there. Grow or get eaten. Cut back on your shelf space at the grocery aisle and someone else will fill it. Lose your market share and your competitor will gobble it up. The lost market share will never return. Jimmy never brings THAT up. Yet if Business Weakly was interviewing this “small business owner” and the talk came down to how and why they operate their business with the imperative to grow and expand, that is precisely what you would hear. Either way, Jimmy or Business Weakly, they make it sound like without them, the store shelves would be empty like in the Soviet Union during the 1960’s. No, the B grade black and white economic noir genre always promotes the standard plot line of the solitary individual tough guys trying to create jobs and provide opportunities for the mindless schmucks who are totally incapable of knowing how to make their own beds (let alone lie in them) and thus have to be taken care of by the G men so they don’t end up at night in the City that never sleeps. But wait, the festival is far from over. We still have many more nights of this to enjoy. We all know how it ends.

Myth Recognition

October 21, 2012

After the startling conclusion to my last post, watching Bill Moyers was noticeably different. Bill’s guests were Matt Taibbi and Chrystia Freeland. Most of what was covered has appeared before on the show, as well as the guests, and this blog has written on these subjects before (OK so Freeland uses “cognitive capture” whereas Jameson et al use “hegemony”). But the ending to the previous blog posting generated an unanticipated critique. Though well-versed in the disparities of income and wealth through her journalistic experience, Chrystia Freeland is a staunch advocate of capitalism and the market though she is no apologist. Her doxa was definitely the Judeo-Christian one of the weeds and grain growing up together, entwined, ultimately to be separated by the Big Other at harvest time. Her underlying assumption was that politics (democratic governance) and economy are separate, using the Canadian experience of the past 10 years as an example of how politics can check economics. Particularly unnerving was her associating plutocrats with community though the pervasive ethic is one of “winner take all.” This left ambiguity as the connotations of the word are so various, from the past experience as a “community organizer” of our current president to the “gated community” enjoyed by only the elect yet continuously serviced and maintained by the disavowed many (kinda sounds like our gov’t).  Taibbi’s take was more of the encroachment and dominance of the political by mega wealth, comparing what is happening here with what happened in the former Soviet Union. Neither wanted to go back to what happened in El Salvador, nor to revise their nostalgic take of the 1950’s by referencing the Rockefeller Plan (bringing to mind Zizeks quoted “happiness is “a commodity that was imported from America in the Fifties,”” The Parallax View pg. 297). What’s to blame? What’s to do? asks Moyers. The progressives need to start presenting alternatives was the astute reply. Instead of hoping to inherit the earth through their meekness, they need to actively voice alternate plans. October 14th’s blog posting shows that the revolution of Capitalism IS progress, or the progressive’s alternate plan. The progressive (alternative) remedy is a dollars and cents valuation seeping into every accessible nook and cranny of human life, social exchange.  The lack of alternative “solutions” generates the desire so necessary for the expansion of this progressive revolution, and its financial return. Are Taibbi and Freeland advocating more of what already is in play? As creative journalists, they feel completely justified in working hard for their paychecks by digging into what comprises and drives the current plutocratic state of the world. But does this certify them as professional voyeurs, exempt them from using their education, knowledge and expertise to present alternative possibilities? The ground they covered was considered extensively, through theory, by Hardt and Negri while Taibbi and Freeland were “discovering” the Soviet Union’s transformation. Hardt and Negri at least ventured forth with alternate scenarios for social interaction. Bill’s guests left that for other experts (progressive ones) to detail. I didn’t see them squirming around while seated on their hands discussing this. Lacanian transference became materially manifest through this deferral of solutions to “someone who should know.” So the myth of separate but equal, of church and state, of government and business, etc. reproduces and grows. The everyday manifestation reveals the “Randian” revolution with its “winner take all dynamic” producing “wealth creators and parasites”. Did Moyer’s guests succeed in dispelling this myth, revealing it, or simply perpetuating it?


Yet Again From Another Direction

I had a long conversation with someone easily (self) identified as a “progressive” and activist; someone agitating for change through their practice. This practice involves solar photovoltaic energy generation. Their original motivation came from undergrad involvement in a university sponsored and organized sustainable living “laboratory” (student housing space at that time one step removed from becoming Amish). In our talk I compared his involvement with that of the bees. Scientists in the UK are studying bee brains to synthesize robotic  pollinators, anticipating the eventual demise of honeybees. Energy, generated from a multitude of sources, is the future. Reliance on animals, whether horses for transportation or insects for pollination, is the past. When asked about his reengagement with his alma mater (the sustainable living unit) he furthered this insight, unwittingly reinforcing the perpetuated myth. The university’s liability underwriters insist the student sustainable living residency experience has got to go, too much risk. The sustainable living unit has to be brought into the 21st century (his words) if it is to remain and continue. So he was all excited about another outlet for his progressive activism. Little did he question the university’s motivation for such “revolutionary” change, nor did he critique the underlying “cognitive capture” (hegemony) that all must fall within the parameters of capitalist valuation (overall worth based on cost/risk analysis), or face extermination. The myth of inevitability, of naturalness, accompanies all revolution. The university had sown the seeds of this long before my friend was a student by exempting itself from community involvement (remember the “ivory tower” references?). This was continuously and actively reaffirmed and nourished through controlling and restricting on campus/off campus residencies and engagements, creating total on campus living experience (bars, entertainment, security, etc.), vigorous and extensive copyright and intellectual property enforcement, branding, etc. The university has been (re)valuing its good (and the benefit it offers society) through a Capitalist lens since before happiness was imported as a commodity. As Steve Kurtz pointed out: resistance is futile, if possible at all.

A Digression: One Grand Narrative

October 14, 2012

No, this will not be about the latest opening of your shiny, new neighborhood casino. But that may well be part of it. Grand narratives are these ego inspired attempts at suturing the disparities of history, theory, and the contemporary to try to make sense out of what someday will be meaningful only to a machine. I mean, it is sort of getting to that point already today where even the umps and refs at sports events are undermined by what the “official” replay machine “sees”. Someday, maybe the athletes will only compete before the “official” view of automated, calibrated machines, with the rest of us designated as pure spectators, for entertainment value only. But I digress. To a certain extent grand narratives are going that way also. No one is much interested in Homer’s tale of the Trojan conflict. Show us the real Troy and have LiLo or Angelina as Helen, to enhance the info/entertainment value. It takes imagination to read the Odyssey. Grand narratives require active readership. Distraction addicts need not apply. Speaking of which yours truly was distracted while listening to an interview with the author of a neuroscience study on the difference in brain activity between reading while distracted and reading as an exclusive activity. The study concerned reading Jane Austin while having earbuds plugged in, or texting/checking the phone, or having video/video games in the environment. Reading Pride and Prejudice without any other (distracting) stimulation found the various parts of the brain much more active and involved, even the parts that discern body placement in space. According to the authors, it is almost as though the reader were “living” the experience, at least from the perspective of brain activity whereas the distracted readers were primarily utilizing the parts of the brain that specifically process information. Junk in, junk out. But I digress again. A grand narrative sometimes can jog a different imagining as to what has been assumed to be, present a different perspective, an opening to what a more sophisticated thinker like Alain Badiou would describe as an event, a catalyst of change (not as a direct experience of course but probably more as the Austin study in lighting up parts of the brain that otherwise would not get engaged). So a grand narrative may have some self-worth, but as that Poppins woman insinuated: it wouldn’t hurt to have some sugar with it.

This blog’s recent postings have been following a thread that reveals a narrative’s toe from beneath the drapery. Zizek’s use of fitness indicators to invert the assumed primary/secondary hierarchy of utilitarian/aesthetic combined with the contemporary politics exposed by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling reveals what lurks behind that curtain. Many have adumbrated parts of this narrative, and stressed its ongoing nature (so no uniqueness here). Many have also pointed out, on the basis of Hardt and Negri’s work (as well as others), the “police” function of governments (to ensure market access and functioning). It is only a skip and a jump from there to realize the utter inconvenience of maintaining the sham of populist democracy when corporate leadership could also be actual functioning government leadership; the redundancy required of machines now can be applied to institutional management (doubly guaranteeing market access and function). Evidence of this is not only within the current US election but also the recent one in Georgia, as well as various other democratic leadership positions worldwide.  Suffice to say, corporate leadership morphs into democratic leadership.  The transition appears to be seamless (no violent upheavals as in the 60’s). Considered historically, fitness indicators may also present more than a sociological/psychological understanding of human sexuality. They contribute to an equally inverted narrative with regard revolution/change. All of which could benefit an imaginative student of current events. The American, French, and other revolutions may have been more about establishing Capital as a “fitness indicator” than about populist democratic aspirations. Marx may have been a distracting digression. Indeed, some speculate this revolution of the priority and supremacy of utilitarian economy (Capitalism) as a “fitness indicator” over the primordial one of potlatch and waste actually began with the religious Reformation in Europe (others make an even stronger link between Capitalism and religion citing the Catholic Church’s theology of “The Mystical Body” as the basis of corporate organization, yet again, I digress). The current Romney/Ryan ticket, along with the boss hog politics of Karl Rove is only the latest struggle in this revolution begun in the 1700’s, or 1500’s depending on your willingness to take on complexity (If you want to do business with our political party, you must support our agenda exclusively. David Siegel, owner of Westgate Resorts, threatening to fire his 7,000 employees and shut down his company if Obama retains his presidency would lie in that same logic, still again I digress). The “real” revolution may be that of establishing Capital as the exclusive and singular “fitness indicator”, bar none. These other “leftist” or “progressive” ideologies are merely resistance holdovers of an archaic (and primordial) valuation.

Who Will Pay Your Debt?

September 27, 2012

Ai Weiwei returned to the news today. He lost his “tax evasion appeal”. His latest act of resistance is to refuse to pay the extra $1 mil plus over which he had appealed. Everyone will be watching to see how much voice he will have now that the issue has been transformed into a dispute over debt. Yesterday also saw an article on MoneyWatch by David Weidner entitled How Obama failed to rein in Wall Street (AP 9/26/12). Suffice to say it insightfully details how any response to the criminality which led to the near catastrophe of 08-09 is a non-event. The Obama administration not only is loaded with Wall Street insiders, but legislation like Dodd Frank or the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are designed to fail. Walls Street owes no debt to any nationality (truly non-partisan!). And then today, the presidential candidate with the largest campaign coffer has released a 2 minute ad touting “economic patriotism” (for a drowning populace already inundated by back to back 30 second political ads). I guess the outcome of Citizens United is becoming increasingly transparent. Not wanting to be the number 2 economy means we will just have to outdo the Chinese in our economic fervor. Either way, political governance has become capitalized.  What you pay will determine your political engagement. Economic sanctions will be used to suppress. Economic largesse will determine outcome. Being in or out of debt produces the contemporary “sense” of Ranciere’s dissensus politic. Demanding to be included essentially means going in debt. Who Will Pay Your Debt?