“Cultural Marxism” (videos by Anekantavad)

“Cultural Marxism”:

“Cultural Marxism II”:

“Cultural Marxism III”:

Skipping part 4 in the series and heading on to “Cultural Marxism V” (including actual quotes from Karl Marx):

“Cultural Marxism VI”:

“Re: A Brief History of Feminism (Cultural Marxism VII?)”:

“Cultural Marxism VIII”:

Those were the best videos, IMO, out of a series created by Andy back in 2011.

I present these videos here simply as another perspective on the matter, considering how frequently I hear and read the term “cultural marxism” lobbed around these days online. Andy’s views don’t necessarily encapsulate my own views on this topic entirely, though I do share his recognition that this term is used so broadly and vaguely (plus has very little to do with Karl Marx’s actual expressed views) to where it’s rendered nearly nonsensical and is incapable of being accurately descriptive. It’s become a popular buzzword (at least in certain circles) lacking in clear content, which of course leads to the term obscuring more than it illuminates.

Tangled paradoxes

In each corridor I go in search of answers another paradox shows itself. Was just chatting last night with a buddy and this topic arose, since I can’t shut up about it. I’m always left frustrated by how all seemingly good ideas still wind us humans up in what appear to be unwinnable conundrums.

If we fight some other power to keep it from overtaking us (as in the cases of countries waging war), we risk our own society becoming damaged in the process. In the case of warfare: through maintaining standing armies and the risks (and empire-building) that go along with that; through attacking foreign nationals who very often are mere civilians not belonging to the extremist groups said to be presenting a direct threat to us (which then diminishes people’s respect for our nation’s military actions and gives rise to protests among our own citizens); through the exorbitant costs associated with waging war and how that impacts our economy overall, including how the military wound up transformed into a permanent employment sector in its own right; through soldiers potentially winding up psychologically or physically impacted as a result (and how that then impacts their families and the morale of the nation); through corporations finding ways to cash in on the war games via State contracts, which then provides them with an incentive to further lobby to keep us engaged in war where it can prove profitable; etc.

That’s just a cursory look at how ongoing warfare has led to negative consequences with lasting impact on a nation and its people and their way of life. And that’s not even going into how militarization has seeped into domestic police forces and influenced their tactics used.

See, the problem here for me is that I cannot figure out how we’re not ultimately going to wind up in a totalitarian setup eventually, somehow, some way. All roads appear to lead in that direction, regardless of people’s good intentions or what great ideas they might originally be operating with. Because technologies have changed the way the whole game of Life is played anymore, as have modern economics. The complexity is inescapable at this point, and yet history has taught us that the devil is in the details. What this might mean here is that the means employed determine the end outcome, unrealistic utopian fantasies set aside since they hold no real bearing. And it also means that any highly complex setup is vulnerable to corruption and ‘siphoning’ at various levels therein (as in the case of corporations getting into the mix and seeking ways to profit, even though through doing so they add greater complexity, which then further obscures the total reality of the situation, making it all the more cumbersome to apply necessary and effective checks and balances). Economic efficiency becomes a high priority, which comes with its own drawbacks in terms of how we humans are expected to mold ourselves to fit these demands. Before we know it, maintaining the system in question at all costs becomes a primary focus, because we’ve come to depend upon it and are accustomed to it and basically form an irrational attachment to it, even when it’s demonstrably creating more problems than it’s capable of solving.

The dog days are over…

If we minimized the size, scope and roles of our government, we’d potentially leave ourselves open and vulnerable to other nations that fortify and strengthen their own. And if we further strengthen and enlarge our own, this cycle of ramping up never ends — forward to totalitarianism. Can’t truly opt out or escape since the problem’s gone global and shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. This places us in the precarious situation of forcing all other nations to stand down against our demands, lest we wind up being made to stand down to theirs. MAD (mutually-assured destruction) is still with us — it never left and it likely never will.

If we don’t secure our borders, we risk being invaded, if only by an onslaught of immigrants who then wind up dramatically impacting our culture. But if we close our borders, we’re trapping ourselves inside every bit as much as we’re working to keep others out. And, realistically speaking, how does one truly and sufficiently go about securing a nation’s borders? The most determined will likely still find a way, especially along coastlines. This leads back to a massive top-down operation which is only possible under a powerful government. Which then, again, helps pave the way toward totalitarianism.

Another buddy and I were discussing the other day his concerns over climate change and what possible options people have at this point for reversing this trend (if one accepts climate change as a human-exacerbated phenomenon). He speaks of wind and solar power and people growing their own food and living simply. That all sounds well and good, BUT, again, climate change is only one concern among many that humans face today. We can’t put all of our energy toward addressing that, not when that’d leave us wide open in other areas. (See what I said above already about warfare and immigration.) Not to mention that the vast majority of people, here in the U.S. and elsewhere worldwide, don’t view this issue as being the numero uno concern to tackle. Plus, plenty of people are open to nuclear power because they’d rather that than accept drastic changes to their lifestyles and be forced to make sacrifices. Beyond that, these massive wind turbines and complex solar panels are sophisticated technologies requiring corporate manufacturing. Keeps us tied into the money game, which then keeps us supporting this global economic situation, whether we want to or not and likely to humanity’s detriment in the long-run. But it’s inescapable at this juncture.

In continuing our conversation on the matter, I told this buddy that if it came down to jumping on board with a top-down scheme that claims to be capable of handling administering such an undertaking as retooling our energy infrastructure, I’ll personally have to side with not. Not that I don’t care about the environment and not that I don’t think renewable energy is something worth striving toward (or getting back to), but the top-down scheme is yet another avenue toward totalitarianism. It helps pave that road to hell, all good intentions aside. This depresses him to think about, understandably so. But consider how China behaves as if its manufacturing base doesn’t care and how our nation cannot do much to change that. Even if we boycott their products, at this point they’re too powerful and it’s already too late (Thanks WALMART and other big-box stores). Probably shouldn’t have shipped so much of our manufacturing infrastructure to that country in the first place. But what’s done is done — our lack of foresight has screwed us once again.

This all ties in with conversations on how “Leftists” talk the talk when it comes to “green living,” but in reality they’re as tied in and dependent on the current status quo as the rest of us. Driving a Prius doesn’t really change a thing. Small drops in the bucket might make us feel better, like we’re at least doing our part to try to improve environmental conditions, but very often it’s just another illusion. Why? Because we live in a massive infrastructure, a concrete jungle, powered by heavy dependence on oil and coal, and even if we switched over to nuclear power that wouldn’t imply our biggest worries are behind us. Possibly Chernobyl-izing more arable land sounds every bit as folly as anything else humanity has managed to step in thus far.

Sound pessimistic? Yeah, I know. Yet another reason for why I’m not having kids.

Any and all attempts to reverse these trends or to take an alternative path is fraught with equally bad, if not much worse, consequences. We have a massive global population and must contend with the competition that arises over resources as a result. And the complexity of the technologies we in developed nations rely most on are fueled by the big money game. One way or another, major corporations are here to stay (unless we manage to across-the-board knock ourselves back into the Stone Age somehow). Government can either attempt to regulate them or become enmeshed and intertwined with them, the latter already being the case. So big government’s here and big business is here and neither are going anywhere. Any ideas we come up with to try to overhaul life as we know it will depend on these entities aiding us. Because asking them to stand aside and not obstruct us just isn’t realistic anymore. All possible solutions will be handled by some sort of centralized power, top-down system. These entities indeed intend to maintain the power they have already and to expand it where possible. That is their driving goal, for better or worse.

And this is where someone like me can’t sufficiently adapt. Have to so long as I’m here, but really resenting where it all appears to be heading. What other alternatives are feasible? Split this country into several sovereign communities (as it once was intended to be) where each does as it wishes and no centralized power can dictate, and we’ll probably wind up invaded by both Mexico and Canada by next week. Simply because then they could. We’d be rendered defenseless. So the “traditional” dream is dead, folks. I too like the idea of people living on the land and staying out of the muck so long as they’re able. Best of luck to them! I don’t begrudge people for doing what they think is best during what time remains that they can get away with it. But I see limits on the horizon. Eventually the old ways won’t be allowed to fly any longer, and they won’t prove sustainable or practical for most. Not in this setup.

Welcome to modern life.

I don’t know what to say to us right about now. Feels like nearly all advice is pointless. People are going to do what people are going to do. And I suspect some of those unable or unwilling to adjust will turn destructive as a result. That’s to be expected from obstructed people whose lives feel devoid of meaning, made to compete with machines that grow more sophisticated by the year, made to play a game that not everybody can win at (or even nominally succeed at). Such is modern life. Some will give up before even leaving the starting line. And I won’t be surprised if a growing number of people choose not to have children as well…kind of like caged animals in a zoo reacting to being kept in captivity. Won’t surprise me a bit. And there’s where we get into another arm of what will pave the way toward totalitarianism. The trend is already being labeled as “domestic terrorism,” though I prefer to simplify it by calling it what it is at root: insanity.

Insanity, as I prefer to refer to it as, can (and will) take many forms. People today sure do love to diagnose one another with various psychiatric labels, but in truth we’re all struggling to various degrees, pseudo-scientific explanations aside. Some cope better than others, but it’s mostly a matter of putting on an acceptable facade. We really have no idea what goes on behind the masks others show to the world, much as we love to speculate. Some insanity plays out in rather benign ways and is being catered to and exploited by Big Pharma. More severe cases warrant lock-up in mental institutions or prisons (which are fast becoming the same thing). All of that already plays into the power-structure-that-be. And when someone flips out and decides to go psycho on some random group of people, this reinforces the necessity of expanding domestic police forces and is then also used to justify them beefing up their security measures. Which corporations exploit by peddling wares to law enforcement agencies that allow for greater surveillance of the citizenry. This paranoid panic drummed up among the citizens through the popular media encourages us to turn on one another and to snitch to authorities, seeing as how we’re not all on the same team and regard one another more often than not as strangers worthy of suspicion. So we feed the beast, through our own actions or through alerting authorities to “questionable suspects,” and around and around it all spirals.

Where it ends, nobody knows…

Sound like a happy and productive future? Sound like something worth celebrating? Sound like a cause for optimism?

People say that we somehow need to regain the reins of this System, to figure out a way to subdue it and overhaul it, but time for that has passed. We’re now committed to it. We necessarily depend on it while simultaneously fearing its scope and power. The System is entrenched, and we’re entrenched within it, both as employees and citizens dependent on everything it offers in order to maintain our livelihoods. And what alternative is there?

Fight it how? Lobby to change a few laws? ha  Go for it, folks. Try that. As was brought up in a recent conversation, the moderate people do indeed wind up making concessions and compromises that inevitably just dig them deeper into this mess. The so-called “radicals” on the fringes, misguided as they may seem and indeed be, are the only ones willing to make a big stink, and how many do you imagine will wind up imprisoned for their troubles? But, then again, what alternative can the radicals bring to the table either? Thousands of communities going their own ways apparently won’t work anymore. A break in law and order would just result in opposing groups taking advantage of one another and seizing key resources for themselves. Because that’s where we stand today — saturated with several decades of easy living, forever seeking the easy way out, competing and pushing boundaries where we think we can get away with it — yet still up against other powers-that-be.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of good people in the world. But it only takes a calloused, self-serving, social-contract-dismissing minority interest to fuck it up for everybody else.

So there we have it. Where can we as individuals go from here when this is the outlook? Is this merely a problem in my own perception? What is still worth looking forward to and striving toward?

Anyway, my break is over and I need to head back to work.

[Lightly edited since for punctuation and greater clarification.]

Because somehow, some way, it’s always fundamentally the fault of womankind…

Slept for a few hours and am now back up again. Gonna record a few thoughts here to pass the time until I feel like lying down again.

One thought that perennially bugs me has to do with double standards between the sexes. In this instance, I’m thinking about the double standards a good many males harbor in relation to females and how contradictory they tend to be. An obvious one I’ve grown up hearing and still find floating around online is the notion that females should treat sexuality in a different manner than males commonly are expected to. Some back this with biological claims, others with moral arguments, but always the idea is that we females should rightfully check our own sexual impulses in a way that isn’t typically required among males. To not do so is to be viewed as low in the eyes of plenty.

Another common double standard relates with alcohol consumption and hitting the bar-scene. For some reason this has been viewed as the domain of males and not something females ought to engage in to the same extent, lest that say something horrendous about our moral character. Though this double standard holds less sway over parts of the population nowadays.

What I find interesting about all of this is how the idea seems to be that we females have an obligation to check ourselves so as to provide contrast against male tendencies. But, at the same time, there’s also the belief that we females should rightfully follow where mankind leads. This creates a double-bind where, on one hand, the idea seems to be that we females can and should be held to higher “moral” standards than our male counterparts, though, on the other, we’re denigrated for not possessing more individual initiative to navigate life for ourselves on our own individual terms (i.e., we’re chided for being too prone toward following rather than leading ourselves). But if one leads herself though is influenced by the examples set by males she’s known and grown up around, that’s somehow wrong too. Almost as if when it comes to certain matters there’s this crazy idea that women (generally speaking) should be completely separate and different than males, going so far as to deny our own complex biological, hedonistic, and moral tendencies, in some sort of effort to set ourselves apart from males — presumably for the best for all involved. But is this not asking women to be more human than human as compared to males?

I realize this isn’t coming out as clearly as hoped. It just seems to me sometimes that males can harbor views that almost seek to set females apart as though we were somehow belonging to a separate species. At least to the extent that one idealizes such contrast between the sexes. And what purpose does this serve? Is this linked in with the idea that female nature is somehow supposed to ground and rein in male nature? Is that intended to suggest that when it comes to morality and impulse control, females are meant to lead?

Well, if that was the dream, it couldn’t be maintained, for a variety of reasons. One being that females aren’t raised anymore to see life in such a way, which I see as part of the breakdown of the human domestication project that’s been underway the last few thousands of years. For whatever reasons, that didn’t work out as people once hoped it might, and I don’t think there’s a way to force it back to being any which way. Nature, through the biological differences bestowed upon the sexes, was the original gatekeeper. And now we all live in a complex world of our own (human) creation, attempting to cast off the shackles naturally tethered to us. One could argue that this has led to moral failings for all of us, depending on what moral codes one subscribes to.

But I look back and see where women have tried to act as moral leaders and gatekeepers in contrast to males—as with ushering in the Prohibition Era in the early 20th century—and such attempts have roundly been criticized as overly restrictive and domineering and controlling. Perhaps rightfully so. Females still remain more inclined to follow and become actively involved in religions, and this too is criticized as we head into a secular future. And now we see where “traditional”-minded females are lambasted for accepting stricter and more dichotomous gender roles and viewed as little more than “parasites” leeching off a male host in that regard, even if her sole intent is to help raise a family according to what was once an esteemed social script.

Then we have the so-called “trollops” and “whores” and “bad girls” who buck such conventions and decide to go another way. boo_whoreThere too we see these females given grief for being “loose” of morals, despite there being no shortage of males willing to participate (though some of these same males otherwise like to snidely deride such actions, at least in terms of the female end). I’ve always viewed this as a strange situation. Like people want two contradictory things simultaneously and can’t make up their minds, and so they berate others endlessly no matter which way they might turn or how they might try to navigate in this life.

If you’re a woman with a career of your own and the ability to afford your own lifestyle without outside help, you’re labeled a “feminist” and chided for being in competition with males in the workforce. If you instead decide to play the “traditional” game and become the primary caretaker of children and the home, as mentioned above, you’re viewed as little more than a manipulative snake trying to get some sort of “free ride.” If you revel in your sexuality and aren’t afraid to explore it with others, you’re a “slut” and considered a problem, no matter how you might go about your exploration. However, if you’re into upholding your chastity and choose to be very selective over whom you grant sexual access to, once again you’re given a hard time for being a “cold fish” and “frigid” and a “prude” and basically dismissed as a killjoy (if not also considered a manipulative type who’s derogatorily denounced for being a “sexual gatekeeper”).

Can’t win for losing, so far as I can tell.

I get to thinking that this isn’t so much about females as it is about males and their own views on life and their own internal struggles with moral concepts. The contrast they seek is already naturally occurring, and yet they seem hell-bent on adding an artificial layer on top of that via restrictive gender roles. And yet it’s these very gender roles that they themselves have come to despise as well. They say they don’t want to go back to some sort of traditional setup, and yet they seem extremely uncomfortable with how the future is unfolding. What they seem to want and what they are capable of respecting appear to be in conflict on a fundamental level. And what use are standards projected onto the female that aren’t also embraced by oneself? If she does appear morally righteous in comparison, then he might try to cut her down; and if she is already deemed lower than him according to some standard set, he’s liable to bemoan her failings and treat that as an excuse for his own.

Wherever males lead, there are females who will follow them, whether heading down or up. That’s an obvious given. Simply standing around and projecting standards outwardly onto others doesn’t really change a thing, other than driving females more neurotic over time. We seem to always lose sight of how no human is an island unto ourselves and how our (sub-)cultural setup plays a major role in how we’re each socialized and what roles we wind up having access to and might more easily adopt. Times have changed. Technologies have overhauled all of reality as we humans know it. And yet we still play these strange blame games when it comes to sexual differences and similarities and this notion that it somehow must be kept separated, even after the levee’s already broken.

I don’t have any answers for us on this. Just pondering. We appear to be caught in a mental trap here. Women do not belong to a separate species and will not no matter how much one might wish that could be the case in terms of certain aspects that people wish were strictly divided between the sexes. The only divisions that ever naturally arose did so due to biological limitations and/or advantages, plus psychologies molded by the interplay between body and environment (including one’s culture). All else has been the product of human beings — our social constructs. Yet now we like to rail against these social constructs and our biological heritages, to boot. Well folks, we can’t have it every which way all at once, and a lot of what came before lies behind doors that have since been closed as humans traverse forward into Modern Life.

Maybe it’s a case of the grass always appearing greener on the other side. And maybe when men feel lost they have a tendency to berate women for ultimately being the cause of it (as became popular at least since the rise of Abrahamic religions). People do like to take out what they can on those whom they think they can get away with it. Not that it does any of us much good to stay stuck in the muck, flinging poo at one another and casting blame for a Trajectory everybody alive today was simply born into the latest stages of.

Not sure what to tell people, other than that you’ll likely wind up blamed no matter what you do. So, we each have little choice or reason to act in any way other than how we individually feel driven. But that then leads us back to another paradox where it turns out that following one’s own individual interests doesn’t automatically wind up benefiting the whole group. Guess it depends on one’s priorities, and that unavoidably will divvy up in countless ways across the human spectrum. I don’t honestly know what one could say about any of this going on today that might make a lick of difference to the outcome we’re all “progressing” toward. I see where hostilities are mounting and how aggression plays out as a result, and I recognize that love is an integral part of the answer to what ails us. But I can’t claim to know much beyond that right now.

[Lightly edited on 3/2/2015 for greater clarity]

On capitalism, corporatism, and my own personal views on modern life

Chatted with someone online recently about economics and American life, though admittedly in the wee hours of the night and after consuming several brews isn’t a good time for me to try to unpack my thoughts and ideas on such a vast series of topics. So today I’m dragging the inquiry back to my blog to see what can be addressed more clearly.

It’s not uncommon for people to be quite attached to the concept of “capitalism” and to to take issue with those of us who critique it. But I want it understood that I am not necessarily entirely anti-capitalist; furthermore, by being a critic of what I refer to as the modern economic setup in the U.S., this does NOT imply I am any less critical of communist strategies. It’s tricky because I personally see ALL of these centralized top-down economic systems as inherently problematic and worthy of scrutiny, yet some people seem to see such matters as if a competition between two opposing teams where one must choose a side and declare loyalty. I reject that notion and see it as folly. While I recognize that’s not a popular view of things, it’s what I’m operating with, and I’ve given a lot of thought to these matters and will continue doing so for as long as I remain in existence.

Now, part of the issue it appears I’m having with folks comes down to simply agreeing on what all capitalism comprises. It’s very important that we get our terms defined more clearly here, since otherwise we just wind up mired in confusion and any debate winds up getting us nowhere. I’ve noticed that it’s not uncommon for some folks to equate virtually ALL trade and barter schemes with capitalism, but that’s a falsity. Commerce existed long before capitalism came on the scene. I have stated many times that I support a true free market economy, HOWEVER, that is not what we have today, nor is that what capitalism originated as.

This is where it gets very sticky, because my present view on the matter is that capitalism allowed to exist without proper government regulation has demonstrated that it will behave in a coercive, monopolistic/oligopolistic fashion that eventually undermines capitalism itself, turning the system into something else that actually winds up being anti-capitalistic in nature. We’ve observed how capitalist entities can rise in power to the point where they have a disproportionate amount of power compared against the people, and they have then used this economic power to sway laws and legislation in their own companies’ favor, at the expense of the small businesses rendered unable to compete in such a scheme. And through this we’ve seen the rise of Corporatism. Corporatism is not capitalism, per se — one might consider it a bastardization of that original concept since it winds up restricting free competition if legally allowed to do so. And really, at a time of extreme specialization and high financial barriers to entry in a growing number of sectors (particularly those involving advanced technologies), how can it realistically be any other way?

Now, some like to argue that corporatism somehow isn’t directly related with capitalism, and frankly, such claims blow my mind. So let’s take a moment to look at what each of these economic setups are and what they originated from.

[Jesus. I just wrote out this WHOLE frickin’ piece and lost it all the way back to this point. DAMMIT! So let’s try this again, maybe breaking it into two parts this time.]

On the topic of capitalism, the Encyclopædia Britannica had this to say:

The development of capitalism was spearheaded by the growth of the English cloth industry during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The feature of this development that distinguished capitalism from previous systems was the use of the excess of production over consumption to enlarge productive capacity rather than to invest in economically unproductive enterprises, such as pyramids and cathedrals. This characteristic was encouraged by several historical events.

In the ethic encouraged by the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, traditional disdain for acquisitive effort was diminished, while hard work and frugality were given a stronger religious sanction. Economic inequality was justified on the grounds that the wealthy were also the virtuous.

Another contributing factor was the increase in Europe’s supply of precious metals and the resulting inflation in prices. Wages did not rise as fast as prices in this period, and the main beneficiaries of the inflation were the capitalists. The early capitalists (1500–1750) also enjoyed the benefits of the rise of strong national states during the mercantilist era. The policies of national power followed by these states succeeded in providing the basic social conditions, such as uniform monetary systems and legal codes, necessary for economic development and eventually made possible the shift from public to private initiative.

Beginning in the 18th century in England, the focus of capitalist development shifted from commerce to industry. The steady capital accumulation of the preceding centuries was invested in the practical application of technical knowledge during the Industrial Revolution. The ideology of classical capitalism was expressed in Adam Smith’s Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), which recommended leaving economic decisions to the free play of self-regulating market forces. After the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars had swept the remnants of feudalism into oblivion, Smith’s policies were increasingly put into practice. The policies of 19th-century political liberalism included free trade, sound money (the gold standard), balanced budgets, and minimum levels of poor relief.

World War I marked a turning point in the development of capitalism. After the war, international markets shrank, the gold standard was abandoned in favour of managed national currencies, banking hegemony passed from Europe to the United States, and trade barriers multiplied. The Great Depression of the 1930s brought the policy of laissez-faire (noninterference by the state in economic matters) to an end in most countries and for a time cast doubt on the capitalist system as a whole.

Here we see capitalism as being composed of many aspects, none of which could’ve existed within a vacuum and all of which have proven necessary over time as this type of system dynamically “evolved.” We see that capitalism isn’t a static concept and has changed since its inception during the fall of feudalism on into the rise of the Industrial Era and on through into our post-industrial setup.

And when it comes to capitalism or a “free market economy,” as mentioned already, I think a lot winds up ascribed under that heading that existed long before and is really a matter of free commerce and exchange (historically known as trade and barter). That’s a point of contention that I may try to flesh out in greater detail another time.

The definition of “corporatism” is a bit hazier. But for my purposes today I wish to focus in on the American system primarily.

In an article written by Robert Locke for FrontPage Magazine (2002), he had this to say:

What is corporatism? In a (somewhat inaccurate) phrase, socialism for the bourgeois. It has the outward form of capitalism in that it preserves private ownership and private management, but with a crucial difference: as under socialism, government guarantees the flow of material goods, which under true capitalism it does not. In classical capitalism, what has been called the “night-watchman” state, government’s role in the economy is simply to prevent force or fraud from disrupting the autonomous operation of the free market. The market is trusted to provide. Under corporatism, it is not, instead being systematically manipulated to deliver goods to political constituencies. This now includes basically everyone from the economic elite to ordinary consumers.

Unlike socialism, corporatism understands that direct government ownership of the means of production does not work, except in the limiting case of infrastructure.1 But it does not represent a half-way condition between capitalism and socialism. This is what the West European nations, with their mixed economies in which government owned whole industries, tried to create until Thatcherism. Corporatism blends socialism and capitalism not by giving each control of different parts of the economy, but by combining socialism’s promise of a government-guaranteed flow of material goods with capitalism’s private ownership and management.

What makes corporatism so politically irresistible is that it is attractive not just to the mass electorate, but to the economic elite as well. Big business, whatever its casuists at the Wall Street Journal editorial page may pretend, likes big government, except when big government gets greedy and tries to renegotiate the division of spoils. Although big business was an historic adversary of the introduction of the corporatist state, it eventually found common ground with it. The first thing big business has in common with big government is managerialism. The technocratic manager, who deals in impersonal mass aggregates, organizes through bureaucracy, and rules through expertise without assuming personal responsibility, is common to both. The second thing big business likes about big government is that it has a competitive advantage over small business in doing business with it and negotiating favors. Big government, in turn, likes big business because it is manageable; it does what it is told. It is much easier to impose affirmative action or racial sensitivity training on AT&T than on 50,000 corner stores. This is why big business has become a key enforcer of political correctness. The final thing big business likes about big government is that, unlike small government, it is powerful enough to socialize costs in exchange for a share of the profits.

The key historical moments in the development of American corporatism can be easily traced. It got its start from the realization, during the Progressive period around 1900, that the night-watchman state was too weak to make the large corporate actors of the economy play fair. The crucial premise that enters here is that the capitalist economy cannot be trusted to be self-regulating, as it previously had been. This collapse of trust was also implicit in the 1913 creation of the Federal Reserve system. What the Great Depression did was destroy a second kind of trust: that the economy would reliably deliver material goods without government intervention. With these two different kinds of trust gone, corporatism becomes not only worthwhile, but necessary. Crucially, it becomes psychologically necessary, independently of whether government can deliver on its promises, because people instinctively turn to government as their protector.

[…]

Clearly, the New Deal was the biggest jump forward into corporatism, though this was not fully understood at the time. […] But the fundamental proposition, that government should take responsibility for ensuring the flow of material goods to the people, was rapidly embraced by the American people, which continues to embrace it today whether it admits it or not.

[…]

The economic Left likes corporatism for three reasons:

  1. It satisfies its lust for power.
  2. It makes possible attempts to redistribute income.
  3. It enables them to practice #2 while remaining personally affluent.

The economic Right likes corporatism for three different reasons:

  1. It enables them to realize capitalist profits while unloading some of the costs and risks onto the state.
  2. The ability to intertwine government and business enables them to shape government policy to their liking.
  3. They believe the corporatist state can deliver social peace and minimize costly disruptions.

[…] Most economic arguments today are not between a socialistic ideal and a capitalistic one, as many seem to believe, but are arguments within the corporatist consensus.

[Bold emphasis mine.]

That’s an interesting article worth checking out in length if you have the time (link above).

That last sentence I quoted there is key, I do believe. And this leads back to my thoughts about how much the political “Right” and “Left” ultimately wind up sharing in common.

Now, if we’re to try to claim corporatism somehow did not arise out of capitalism, then that just appears to defy reality. It did, partly as a reaction to it, partly as a means of attempting to stabilize it. And partly this was due to the will of the people.

So now I’ll switch focus onto my own personal stance since that seems to be what’s causing the greatest confusion with those I interact with. [This being a shorter version since I already typed this all up for 2 hours earlier before WordPress decided to delete it all without saving the full draft.  banghead_smilies  I likely will revisit the topic another day to go into greater detail.] The so-called “Luddite-ness” of my own viewpoint is noted, but I want to stress that my position isn’t anti-capitalist necessarily. While I am indeed very critical of the capitalist system, I’m also critical of all centralized-scheme alternatives proposed as well (including communism and big-scale, top-down socialism). So I am unable to view this as an “either/or” situation where I must profess loyalty to one camp or the other — no, that’s not called for here. It appears more beneficial for me at this time to simply observe what’s unfolding and to record my thoughts and concerns about it, because I do not have a dog in this fight going forward. That’s part of the beauty of remaining child-free and self-employed in that I am afforded time and energy to try to make sense out of what’s occurring without feeling like I must succumb to pressures to completely immerse myself in this game. And I understand that may sound a bit bizarre to someone who’s chosen to take his life in an entirely different direction through pursuing a career and raising a family.

Look, part of the trouble with this is that from what I read, hear, and observe I’ve come to see this whole ordeal as unavoidable, especially by this stage. But that’s not to say that this scheme is automatically or inherently evil necessarily either. It’s simply part of the process of humans unfolding their potential. And through doing so we’ve pushed our backs against a wall where any other alternatives seem implausible by this point, largely because of how much we have emotionally, psychologically, and materially invested in this current setup. While the system will continue to shift and change, it will not be fundamentally undermined, not if the majority has any say in the matter. And so this becomes one more thing I must accept because I am powerless to change it. And you have asked what “solution” I would offer instead. This system, as it stands now, was created through hodge-podged efforts spanning back hundreds of years, underpinned by Christian ethics, and so any alternatives that possibly could come into being likely would have to arise just as organically. I don’t believe any one person is capable of concocting a vision of such magnitude, partly because there are always unforeseen variables that play a role in how any system “evolves” over time.

My next point is that I recognize it is not my place to force my will onto others, while I recognize plenty of others out there do indeed wish to force their will(s) onto the rest. My aim primarily at this point is to dodge such attempts so as to maintain as much freedom as possible, for however long that lasts. Because my own aim is to live and learn and ponder and explore, and I see no reason that I shouldn’t be free to do so. By being conscious of not getting tied down to obligations and expectations, this has provided greater flexibility. Though yes, everything is a tradeoff, as always. But my own goal for many years has been to establish a perch on which I’m able to explore as I see fit, and this I’ve managed to accomplish, as someone who no longer desires a great deal of money or material goods. I say all this in an attempt to demonstrate how my viewpoint has been shaped and why it may differ from people pursuing other ambitions.  In short, I choose to be less invested in this Game and am not attached to its eventual outcome.

Let me re-state that to make sure it hits home: I understand and accept that the eventual outcome is out of my hands. C’est la vie.

What power I do have is very limited and fairly localized. As is true of most of us. And I do feel an obligation to act on that in accordance with my own moral code, though that does not entail playing the game as others may choose to do so. Some may consider critics of little value, and that’s fine. They may be right, but it is what it is at this point. And a big reason for why it must go this way is that I also understand that humans aren’t as malleable as we like to think we are. Oh sure, we can flex to great extents, but not without consequences, whether we’re aware of them or not. Humans have biologically evolved for ways of life that did not involve big centralized governments or living in concrete jungles or experiencing high stress levels daily due to the modern economic imperative, all while residing in unprecedentedly highly-populated urban areas among strangers with countless conflicts in interests.

While I understand that this is all traceable back to our earliest human strivings and is natural in that regard, what humans have managed to construct is quite unnatural. Not all are capable and/or willing to psychologically adapt to what is unfolding. Sometimes it gets me thinking about animals in a zoo and how some cease breeding while in captivity. That’s a natural response past some point, for whatever reasons, and I feel it within myself as well, long before I understood it for what it is. There are psychological needs required to be met if humans are truly to thrive, and yet we seem to be experiencing a shift away from that (which would be away from what Erich Fromm would refer to as “life-affirming”). From this psychological conundrum suicides also arise due to existential crises. Not all can adapt the way some others apparently can or at least aim to. So this pressure to get people like myself to find a way to adapt so as to play the game and prove “successful” according to standards set by others will prove to be a waste of time and energy. Any alternatives sought come from within the individual, and these are not the sort of things one can clearly convey to another much of the time.

My way of maintaining sanity is to distance myself so far as I’m able from the rat race and to observe aspects of it. Because learning gives me pleasure. That might not prove very beneficial to others, and so be it. This is part of the reality created when humans become so atomized and feel alienated. I’m not sure how to put this in a way that doesn’t sound like I’m heavily lamenting this fate. Some days I indeed do, but many others I just try to accept it for what it is, recognizing that my goal isn’t to live a long life but rather to enjoy experiences from day to day so far as I’m able. And, admittedly, I am twisted up currently and seeking new ways of navigating in my journey going forward, but that’s a personal matter and another topic for another time. My point here is that I believe we’re all impacted to various degrees, though some have buffers (internally and externally) that aid them in coping and navigating, but that is not a luxury afforded to all, if not even most. Not that anyone should feel guilty about this, seeing as how individual lives shake out as they do. But the same holds true running in the other direction in terms of one’s psychological and emotional faculties and how all of that’s expressly influenced by the very type of society one is expected to fit the mold(s) of. To minimize the importance of this is to miss out on why so many people out here are struggling to come to grips and/or rebelling.

It’s indeed a tangled web we humans have managed to weave…

Another point worth mentioning when it comes to possible alternatives is how we’re commonly led to accept this current fate due to propaganda that vilifies our human history, denigrating past ways of life as “barbaric” and “savage” so as to present this modern way as “progress.” And people buy into it. Now, we all could point to modern comforts and life-saving technologies that have eased many of our burdens, and all of that would be true; but there’s another side to this “progress” that we fail to give as much weight, that having to do with major centralized schemes and advanced warfare and an ever-greater push toward some new type of conformity in order to accommodate what’s come into being. In a sense, we’re out of our element, and understanding that alone helps shine light on the psychological conundrum that goes hand in hand with what we esteem as “progress.”

We’re dealing with a progression, most definitely. And everything in life comes with tradeoffs, with pros and cons, and not all in equal measure. I am unable to choose a side within this debate since it’s all beyond me, beyond what I’m able to solidly back and promote and accept as a higher order. Because from where I stand it looks like we’re taking flight from our natural origins and are attempting to transcend that with something of our own design. It’s certainly a lofty ambition, but I’m not one of those who sees humans as having evolved as far as we like to think we have. Furthermore, I don’t see transcendence on the horizon — no, rather, it appears what’s coming is greater sublimation (or, more accurately, subjugation), this time not only to a wide collective but also to the fruits of our own labors, our own technologies and the economic imperative that allowed all of this to be possible. It’s a double-edged sword, as so much in life turns out to be. We have created a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself by this point, which also makes it possible for so many people to simply fall asleep at the wheel, knowing they’ll likely wind up provided for in the end regardless. Thanks to the political game and its direct ties with the economic game and the technologies that have reinvented our habitats and world.

While it’s all fascinating to behold, it’s not something I can feel morally secure backing. So I have to carve out my own way and make do, and that’s fine. It’s all a big, ongoing inquiry so far as I’m concerned. Parts of it are tragic, parts of it are amazing; some is within our control but plenty appears no longer to be, being either the domain of Nature or of the centralized power scheme and its workings. I can choose not to feed the beast more than absolutely necessary — that’s one form of power that I do try to exercise. But I do not kid myself that any utopian scheme will arise from the route we’re currently on. This is an age-old trajectory that has to run its course apparently. If for no other reason, because humans have to learn everything the hard way. But those who wish to branch off and try something else, so far as they’re able to, I support as well. I’m interested to see how humans manage to navigate this maze we’ve constructed, though we of today will only be around to see but a small sliver of the big scope.

Hard to “pick a side” when this is how one approaches such matters.

Much of what influences my own worldview is probably best expressed by others whose work and ideas I try to point to (when feeling up to transcribing or able to find relevant clips). And I’ll aim to continue doing so going forward, in case others might get anything out of it.

[And next time I will copy and save my work before uploading a post since this all came out very differently the second go-round. Ugh.]

“There is NO HONOR in this shit!” . . .

“Let Your Life Be a Friction to Stop the Machine”:

A very worthwhile video I recommend to all, most especially my fellow Americans.

A comment was left on the video’s comment section if anyone cares for my elaboration on the topic.

Thanks to Janet (known on YT as Janet OntheSpot) for bringing this channel to my attention through her feed.

Further thoughts on what’s logical vs. what’s life-affirming

I was worried writing the post directly before this one would be opening up a can of worms that requires a lot more time to explore and break it down. Just a pondering agnostic here, so don’t no one get it twisted. The metaphors that strike me as useful and descriptive I go ahead and borrow for my own purposes (or to expand on purposes introduced by others).

Let’s put it this way: The U.S., Great Britain, China, Russia, Israel, among other countries, all comprise the global System. This is the New Rome. Undoubtedly this isn’t a controversial claim. And most people alive today are rendered dependent on them in one way, shape, or form (especially us Americans since most of us barely know how to do anything to provide for our basic needs anymore aside from acquiring and waving around money).

How does the story end? Who knows? Don’t even know if it will end. What worries me isn’t an ending, it’s the trap humans find themselves in in recent times, particularly dating back over the last century. So much has changed so rapidly and on such a scale that the System created has overshadowed common people. Our power, both as individuals and as communities, has been trumped. We’re like birds in a cage with clipped wings. And what power people do possess is funneled by way of overhauled social customs and economic demands toward servicing the System somehow, some way. That is to say that people no longer work toward satisfying their own ends but rather service the ends of something bigger and stronger than ourselves and our communities. People have long been beasts of burden out of necessity, but the difference today is that much of the work undertaken isn’t honestly productive or fully within our own control. The slavemaster of old was Nature — the slavemasters of today are other people and the companies and institutions they are cloaked within. Our means of caring for ourselves is no longer a direct relationship with Nature or free exchange between people, but rather it’s filling positions like cogs within a wheel in order to earn enough money to pay companies to provide what we need and want. We can thank specialization for this radical overhaul in labor — a double-edged sword like most else.

What is “sin”? Besides being a word signifying a concept I’ve long shied away from—having so many quibbles over its interpretation that it would take a week to lay out my objections—I’ve come to understand it as representing that which winds up being life-negating and leads toward psychological chaos. So, in my view, it isn’t what a lot of people like to assume it is, or at least not for the reasons they claim. Very often parrot claims of what’s sin and what isn’t without considering the matter critically for themselves. And I do believe there are shades of grey there, most definitely — it’s rarely all or nothing when it comes to moral matters. Sin represents what does harm to us as individual persons and/or an honestly life-affirming way of life. What I mean by that isn’t simple to explain and I can see where different opinions on this matter can make sense despite conflicting, making it all the more clear that we’re not dealing with solid objective truths here. Different societies and communities operate in different ways, so naturally people can and will determine these things in ways that won’t prove compatible if all were suddenly jammed into one society (as we’re figuring out in our melting pot called the U.S.A.).

Does examining what’s logical always prove life-affirming? This I’ve been wondering a lot about in recent times, and I’m settling on the conclusion of “no.” Because an argument proves logical doesn’t imply it’s life-affirming or sane, as plenty of thought exercises bandied about out there suggest. Logic is another one of those amoral aspects of human thought. What is life-affirming very often is (or perhaps always is) logical (at least on one level or another), but all that is logically sound isn’t necessarily life-affirming nor is it guaranteed to be compatible with healthy human living.

For example, because the System does provide for many humans’ needs and has allowed for unprecedented population growth to the point where many (if not most) of us now depend on it in order to survive, it may be argued that maintaining this System is logical. However, if this way of life produced under this System is creating so much psychological distress to humans to where suicide rates and destructive impulses are on the rise and the vast majority experience feelings of depression and anxiety on a regular basis, not to mention the corruption inherent in such a System, can we reasonably consider it just and moral for humans to remain subjected to and dominated by it? And this is where people tend to say that it doesn’t matter either way since this is what we have and this is where we stand today, so get used to it.

If we’re unhappy enough that plenty of us complain daily, then that’s a sign that something has to give. And because the System itself won’t give, I expect more people will be the ones who wind up giving, in the form of suicide or mentally breaking down or growing extremely apathetic. And that leads to the psychological chaos I’m talking about. When power is obstructed from working toward honestly productive ends, it does not simply fade away — instead, it winds up diverted toward self-destructive and/or destructive ends. In short, power always seeks an outlet, and humans are creatures of power. This is a condition of our very nature at the core.

So, what do we do about it? I don’t know. But I suppose seeing it for what it is and examining what isn’t working is a step in the right direction of imagining what truly might work or at least allows us to consider our individual options in response.

Societal hysteria (morning thoughts on groups, politics and the power of people)

Some thoughts on my mind today. Work is slow this week so I have a lot of free time, so this morning I got up early and researched some topics of interest. Looked more into this whole “histrionic” label, whether applied casually or as a psychiatric term, and read on a couple forums that swiftly reminded me why I cannot stand the psychiatric movement. Creates a huge clusterfuck when people start trying to pigeonhole and then categorically label human behaviors as “disorders,” begging the question of what truly can comparably be considered “normal” and who sets this standard? Normal = functional? Okay, but in what way? Functional in terms of keeping a job and paying bills on time? Functional in terms of maintaining long-term relationships with people? But what about when those we’re in relationships with are screwed up in their own ways as well?  lol  And really, who isn’t, or at least who couldn’t be perceived as such depending on who’s doing the scrutinizing?

Humans are a funny animal. We create these elaborate languages and complex social systems, but now awaken to being caged in by our own complicated constructs. We’re natural game players, but once the game is wholesale rigged we find ourselves competing over nonsense. People follow the money and then rationalize the ethics (or lack thereof) involved to match our decisions and choices. And we’re tribal-minded as a consequence of our evolutionary history, yet today tribes increasingly are big-scale, abstract political/ideological concerns where each “community” is composed of far-flung strangers who doubtfully will ever meet in person.

Game-changing times we live in. Yet there’s this pressure, this expectation that we each should be adapting without any hitch and rationality should rule the day. Nevermind that it’s an unrealistic prospect unbefitting of emotional, social creatures.

One thing I find interesting there is how tolerant we tend to be toward emotions that we appreciate or personally experience or that seem to further our own cause(s). Take, for instance, anger. It’s a volatile emotional response that can drive us toward taking action, though the actions we’re propelled toward in that state of mind very often do wind up being impulsive and even destructive. But people don’t mind so long as it seems to be pushing their own little cart on down the street. Movements tend to rely heavily on the anger of constituents to spread memes and to take a challenging stance against perceived opposition. Movements are also famous for playing on people’s emotions when it comes to in-group concerns, stoking a sense of injustice perpetrated specially against their members. That’s how movements gain and maintain momentum, and it’s one reason why feminism actively encourages its followers to perceive nearly everything as oppressively calculating against them — anything to keep the political movement appearing relevant.

Now we see men attempting to play that same sort of game. Outside of gender politics we see all other political groups operating in a similar sort of fashion, as well as religions. People screaming all over the place about being unfairly persecuted. Yet each group directs the focus of its members on blaming the members belonging to some other group, as if shutting them down would be the answer to all or at least most of our problems.  lol  Not likely, folks.

Maybe humans truly aren’t so good at comprehending complexities, not when there’s such a wide assortment bearing down on us. We like to pride ourselves in thinking we’ve achieved “progress” due to life being fundamentally overhauled, living in concrete jungles surrounded by technologies never before seen or even imagined. But where has it really wound us up at? Bunch of disconnected strangers frustrated by the feeling of having to compete with so many others in order to direct this mammoth vehicle we call a society. Not knowing who or what to trust or believe in, working to protect our own interests from being trampled by opportunists. Instructed that our primary role in life is to earn money, first and foremost, and then to spend it all on bills and bullshit. Experiencing a sense of powerlessness that grows more and more with each passing decade as millions more people are produced around the world, all of which represent more competition in this global playground. If you don’t want to play ball, rest assured that one of them will, so get back in line and learn to conform. That’s the message, loud and clear.

And what do we do about it? Well, we entertain ourselves to death in the face of it if we’re privileged enough to get away with doing so (as plenty of Westerners are). We attempt to psychoanalyze one another because so much of our attention has turned toward gaining control over and influencing one another, because one individual isn’t too powerful on his/her own. Gotta get others to walk and talk our way and to strive alongside us toward reaching aspirations (outlined and explained by the most charismatic amongst us). And if they won’t, then FUCK THEM — THEY’RE THE ENEMIES! So goes the mantra. They’re the obstruction in our path to imagined prosperity and equality or whatever it is we might esteem. Even if they’re not capable of stopping us, their inaction is unnerving to those with a plan to wage battle and push societal changes. Can’t suffer ignorant, lazy fools…

Hysteria ensues on many levels. People go ape in clamoring for what the want and feel they deserve. Horns are locked and blame is cast.

But when do we ever take the time to stop and look up and around, to take in a bigger view of what all is going on here? And even when we do, are we not left feeling powerless to do much about it? So then we may retreat and take solace in what comforts are at our disposal, doing our best to close our ears and eyes to the storm brewing outside our windows. Because can we really do to stop it? Pick a side and jump on board and pray these battles don’t lead to intensified forms of tyranny on down the road? Holler into the wilderness about what we see happening, only to be ignored or, once again, mistaken as an enemy of one faction or another? Hole up and refuse to produce kids since the future looks so worrisome and increasingly exploitative?

It’s a tough call that I suppose we each have to arrive at on our own accord. Been thinking lately about the role of activist and what that might mean for those of us disinterested in adopting some group identity. It begins with a question of what is worthy action and why, then how to go about it. But nowadays the only activism anyone seems to comprehend is squarely political, as if all must revolve around that sphere or otherwise be deemed an ineffective waste of time. Hmmm…

I’ll think more on it.

On the dual strivings of human nature and power — an excerpt from “The Heart of Man” by Erich Fromm

I’m still in the mood to reflect back on Erich Fromm’s writings, so I’ll continue on with transcribing, this time picking up his book The Heart of Man: Its Genius For Good and Evil (1964), beginning on page 7:

Man—Wolf or Sheep?

There are many who believe that men are sheep; there are others who believe that men are wolves. Both sides can muster good arguments for their positions. Those who propose that men are sheep have only to point to the fact that men are easily influenced to do what they are told, even if it is harmful to themselves; that they have followed their leaders into wars which brought them nothing but destruction; that they have believed any kind of nonsense if it was only presented with sufficient vigor and supported by power—from the harsh threats of priests and kings to the soft voices of the hidden and not-so-hidden persuaders. It seems that the majority of men are suggestible, half-awake children, willing to surrender their will to anyone who speaks with a voice that is threatening or sweet enough to sway them. Indeed, he who has a conviction strong enough to withstand the opposition of the crowd is the exception rather than the rule, an exception often admired centuries later, mostly laughed at by his contemporaries.

It is on this assumption—that men are sheep—that the Great Inquisitors and the dictators have built their systems. More than that, this very belief that men are sheep and hence need leaders to make the decisions for them, has often given the leaders the sincere conviction that they were fulfilling a moral duty—even though a tragic one—if they gave man what he wanted: if they were leaders who took away from him the burden of responsibility and freedom.

But if most men have been sheep, why is it that man’s life is so different from that of sheep? His history has been written in blood; it is a history of continuous violence, in which almost invariably force has been used to bend his will. Did Talaat Pasha alone exterminate millions of Armenians? Did Hitler alone exterminate millions of Jews? Did Stalin alone exterminate millions of political enemies? These men were not alone; they had thousands of men who killed for them, tortured for them, and who did so not only willingly but with pleasure. Do we not see man’s inhumanity to man everywhere—in ruthless warfare, in murder and rape, in the ruthless exploitation of the weaker by the stronger, and in the fact that the sighs of the tortured and suffering creature have so often fallen on deaf ears and hardened hearts? All these facts have led thinkers like Hobbes to the conclusion that homo homini lupus (man is a wolf to his fellow man); they have led many of us today to the assumption that man is vicious and destructive by nature, that he is a killer who can be restrained from his favorite pastime only by fear of more powerful killers.

Yet the arguments of both sides leave us puzzled. It is true that we may personally know some potential or manifest killers and sadists as ruthless as Stalin and Hitler were; yet these are the exceptions rather than the rule. Should we assume that you and I and most average men are wolves in sheep’s clothing, and that our “true nature” will become apparent once we rid ourselves of those inhibitions which until now have prevented us from acting like beasts? This assumption is hard to disprove, yet it is not entirely convincing. There are numerous opportunities for cruelty and sadism in everyday life in which people could indulge without fear of retaliation; yet many do not do so; in fact, many react with a certain sense of revulsion when they meet cruelty and sadism.

Is there, then, another and perhaps better explanation for the puzzling contradiction we deal with here? Should we assume that the simple answer is that there is a minority of wolves living side by side with a majority of sheep? The wolves want to kill; the sheep want to follow. Hence the wolves get the sheep to kill, to murder, and to strangle, and the sheep comply not only because they enjoy it, but because they want to follow; and even then the killers have to invent stories about the nobility if their cause, about defense against the threat to freedom, about revenge for bayoneted children, raped women, and violated honor, to get the majority of the sheep to act like wolves. This answer sounds plausible, but it still leaves many doubts. Does it not imply that there are two human races, as it were—that of wolves and that of sheep? Furthermore, how is it that sheep can be so easily persuaded to act like wolves if it is not in their nature to do so, even providing that violence is presented to them as a sacred duty? Our assumptions regarding wolves and sheep may not be tenable; is it perhaps true after all that the wolves represent the essential quality of human nature, only more overtly than the majority show it? Or, after all, maybe the entire alternative is erroneous. Maybe man is both wolf and sheep—or neither wolf nor sheep?

The answer to these questions is of crucial importance today, when nations contemplate the use of the most destructive forces for the extinction of their “enemies,” and seem not to be deterred even by the possibility that they themselves may be extinguished in the holocaust. If we are convinced that human nature is inherently prone to destroy, that the need to use force and violence is rooted in it, then our resistance to ever increasing brutalization will become weaker and weaker. Why resist the wolves when we are all wolves, although some more so than others?

The question whether man is wolf or sheep is only a special formulation of a question which, in its wider and more general aspects, has been one of the most basic problems of Western theological and philosophical thought: Is man basically evil and corrupt, or is he basically good and perfectable? The Old Testament does not take the position of man’s fundamental corruption. Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God are not called sin; nowhere is there a hint that this disobedience has corrupted man. On the contrary, the disobedience is the condition for man’s self-awareness, for his capacity to choose, and thus in the last analysis this first act of disobedience is man’s first step toward freedom. It seems that their disobedience was even within God’s plan; for, according to prophetic thoughts, man just because he was expelled from Paradise is able to make his own history, to develop his human powers, and to attain a new harmony with man and nature as a fully developed individual instead of the former harmony in which he was not yet an individual. The Messianic concept of the prophets certainly implies that man is not fundamentally corrupt and that he can be saved without any special act of God’s grace. But it does not imply that this potential for good will necessarily win. If man does evil he becomes more evil. Thus, Pharaoh’s heart “hardens” because he keeps on doing evil; it hardens to a point where no more change or repentance is possible. The Old Testament offers at least as many examples of evil-doing as of right-doing, and does not exempt even exalted figures like King David from the list of evil doers. The Old Testament view is that man has both capacities—that of good and that of evil—and that man must choose between good and evil, blessing and curse, life and death. Even God does not interfere in his choice; he helps by sending his messengers, the prophets, to teach the norms which lead to the realization of goodness, to identify the evil, and to warn and to protest. But this being done, man is left alone with his “two strivings,” that for good and that for evil, and the decision is his alone.

The Christian development was different. In the course of the development of the Christian Church, Adam’s disobedience was conceived as sin. In fact, as a sin so severe that it corrupted his nature and with it that of all of his descendants, and thus man by his own effort could never rid himself of this corruption. Only God’s own act of grace, the appearance of Christ, who died for man, could extinguish man’s corruption and offer salvation for those who accepted Christ.

But the dogma of original sin was by no means unopposed in the Church. Pelagius assailed it but was defeated. The Renaissance humanists within the Church tended to weaken it, even though they could not directly assail or deny it, while many heretics did just that. Luther had, if anything, an even more radical view of man’s innate evilness and corruption, while thinkers of the Renaissance and later of the Enlightenment took a drastic step in the opposite direction. The latter claimed that all evil in man was nothing but the result of circumstances, hence that men did not really have to choose. Change the circumstances that produce evil, so they thought, and man’s original goodness will come forth almost automatically. This view also colored the thinking of Marx and his successors. The belief in man’s goodness was the result of man’s new self-confidence, gained as a result of the tremendous economic and political progress which started with the Renaissance. Conversely, the moral bankruptcy of the West which began with the First World War and led beyond Hitler and Stalin, Coventry and Hiroshima to the present preparation for universal extinction, brought forth again the traditional emphasis on man’s propensity for evil. The new emphasis was a healthy antidote to the underestimation of the inherent potential of evil in man—but too often it served to ridicule those who had not lost their faith in man, sometimes by misunderstanding and even distorting their position.

As one whose views have often been misrepresented as underestimating the potential of evil within man, I want to emphasize that such sentimental optimism is not the mood of my thought. It would be difficult indeed for anyone who has had a long clinical experience as a psychoanalyst to belittle the destructive forces within men. In severely sick patients, he sees these forces at work and experiences the enormous difficulty of stopping them or of channeling their energy into constructive directions. It would be equally difficult for any person who has witnessed the explosive outburst of evil and destructiveness since the beginning of the First World War not to see the power and intensity of human destructiveness. Yet there exists the danger that the sense of powerlessness which grips people today—intellectuals as well as the average man—with ever increasing force, may lead them to accept a new version of corruption and original sin which serves as a rationalization for the defeatist view that war cannot be avoided because it is the result of the destructiveness of human nature. Such a view, which sometimes prides itself on its exquisite realism, is unrealistic on two grounds. First, the intensity of destructive strivings by no means implies that they are invincible or even dominant. The second fallacy in this view lies in the premise that wars are primarily the result of psychological forces. It is hardly necessary to dwell long on this fallacy of “psychologism” in the understanding of social and political phenomena. Wars are the result of the decision of political, military, and business leaders to wage war for the sake of gaining territory, natural resources, advantages in trade; for defense against real or alleged threats to their country’s security by another power; or for reason for the enhancement of their own personal prestige and glory. These men are not different from the average man: they are selfish, with little capacity to renounce personal advantage for the sake of others; but they are neither cruel nor vicious. When such men—who in ordinary life probably would do more good than harm—get into positions of power where they can command millions of people and control the most destructive weapons, they can cause immense harm. In civilian life they might have destroyed a competitor; in our world of powerful and sovereign states (“sovereign” means not subject to any moral law which restricts the action of the sovereign state), they may destroy the human race. The ordinary man with extraordinary power is the chief danger for mankind—not the fiend or the sadist. […]

[Bold emphases mine]

Stopping on page 14.

[Edited for typos on Dec. 11th, 2014. Apologies for the delay in re-proofreading.]

An intro into Erich Fromm’s book “Psychoanalysis and Religion”

Transcribing today from Erich Fromm’s book Psychoanalysis and Religion (1950), beginning on page 1:

THE PROBLEM

Never before has man come so close to the fulfillment of his most cherished hopes as today. Our scientific discoveries and technical achievements enable us to visualize the day when the table will be set for all who want to eat, a day when the human race will form a unified community and no longer live as separate entities. Thousands of years were needed for this unfolding of man’s intellectual capacities, of his growing ability to organize society and to concentrate his energies purposefully. Man has created a new world with its own laws and destiny. Looking at his creation, he can say, truly, it is good.

But looking at himself what can he say? Has he come closer to the realization of another dream of mankind, that of the perfection of man? Of man loving his neighbor, doing justice, speaking truth, and realizing that which he potentially is, an image of God?

Raising the question is embarrassing since the answer is so painfully clear. While we have created wonderful things we have failed to make of ourselves beings for whom this tremendous effort would seem worthwhile. Ours is a life not of brotherliness, happiness, contentment but of spiritual chaos and bewilderment dangerously close to a state of madness—not the hysterical kind of madness which existed in the Middle Ages but a madness akin to schizophrenia in which the contact with inner reality is lost and thought is split from affect.

Let us consider only some of the news items which we read every morning and evening. As a reaction to the water shortage in New York prayers for rain are suggested in churches and simultaneously rainmakers attempt to produce rain by chemical means. For over a year flying saucers have been reported; some say they do not exist, others that they are real and a new part of our own or a foreign power’s military equipment, while others quite seriously claim that they are machines sent from the inhabitants of another planet. We are told that never has America had such a bright future as in the mid portion of the twentieth century, while on the same page the probability of a war is discussed and scientists argue whether the atomic weapons will or will not lead to the destruction of the globe.

People go to churches and listen to sermons in which the principles of love and charity are preached, and the very same people would consider themselves fools or worse if they hesitated to sell a commodity which they knew the customer could not afford. Children in Sunday school learn that honesty and integrity and concern for the soul should be the guiding principles of life, while “life” teaches us that to follow these principles makes us at best unrealistic dreamers. We have the most extraordinary possibilities for communication in print, radio, and television, and we are fed daily with nonsense which would be offensive to the intelligence of children were they not suckled on it. It is proclaimed by many voices that our way of life makes us happy. But how many people of these times are happy? It is interesting to remember a casual shot in Life magazine some time ago of a group of people waiting on a street corner for the green light. What was so remarkable and so shocking about this picture was that these people who all looked stunned and frightened had not witnessed a dreadful accident but, as the text had to explain, were merely average citizens going about their business.

We cling to the belief that we are happy; we teach our children that we are more advanced than any generation before us, that eventually no wish will remain unfulfilled and nothing will be out of our reach. The appearances support this belief, which is drummed into us endlessly.

But will our children hear a voice telling them where to go and what to live for? Somehow they feel, as all human beings do, that life must have a meaning—but what is it? Do they find it in the contradictions, double talk, and cynical resignation they encounter at every turn? They long for happiness, for truths, for justice, for love, for an object of devotion; are we able to satisfy their longing?

We are as helpless as they are. We do not know the answer because we even have forgotten to ask the question. We pretend that our life is based upon a solid foundation and ignore the shadows of uneasiness, anxiety, and confusion which never leave us.

To some people return to religion is the answer, not as an act of faith but in order to escape an intolerable doubt; they make this decision not out of devotion but in search of security. The student of the contemporary scene who is not concerned with the church but with man’s soul considers this step another symptom of the failure of nerve.

Those who try to find a solution by returning to traditional religion are influenced by a view which is often proposed by religionists, that we have to choose between religion and a way of life which is concerned only with the satisfaction of our instinctual needs and material comfort; that if we do not believe in God we have no reason—and no right—to believe in the soul and its demands. Priests and ministers appear to be the only professional groups concerned with the soul, the only spokesmen for the ideals of love, truth, and justice.

Historically this was not always so. While in some cultures like that of Egypt the priests were the “physicians of the soul,” in others such as Greece this function was at least partly assumed by philosophers. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle did not claim to speak in the name of any revelation but with the authority of reason and of their concern with man’s happiness and the unfolding of his soul. They were concerned with man as an end in himself as the most significant subject matter of inquiry. Their treatises on philosophy and ethics were at the same time works on psychology. This tradition of antiquity was continued in the Renaissance and it is very characteristic that the first book which uses the word “Psychologia” in its title has the subtitle Hoc est de Perfectione Hominis (This is of the Perfection of Man). It was during the Enlightenment that this tradition reached its highest point. Out of their belief in man’s reason the philosophers of the Enlightenment, who were at the same time students of man’s soul, affirmed man’s independence from political shackles as well as from those of superstition and ignorance. They taught him to abolish those conditions of existence which required the maintenance of illusions. Their psychological inquiry was rooted in the attempt to discover the conditions for human happiness. Happiness, they said, can be achieved only when man has achieved inner freedom; only then can he be mentally healthy. But in the last few generations the rationalism of the Enlightenment has undergone drastic change. Drunk with a new material prosperity and success in mastering nature, man no longer has considered himself the primary concern of life and of theoretical inquiry. Reason as the means for discovering the truth and penetrating the surface to the essence of phenomena has been relinquished for intellect as a mere instrument to manipulate things and men. Man has ceased to believe that the power of reason can establish the validity of norms and ideas for human conduct.

This change in the intellectual and emotional climate has had a profound impact on the development of psychology as a science. Notwithstanding exceptional figures like Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, the tradition in which psychology was a study if the soul concerned with man’s virtue and happiness was abandoned. Academic psychology, trying to imitate the natural sciences and laboratory methods of weighting and counting, dealt with everything except the soul. It tried to understand those aspects of man which can be examined in the laboratory and claimed that conscience, value judgments, the knowledge of good and evil are metaphysical concepts, outside the problems of psychology; it was more often concerned with insignificant problems which fitted an alleged scientific method than with devising new methods to study the significant problems of man. Psychology thus became a science lacking its main subject matter, the soul; it was concerned with mechanisms, reaction formations, instincts, but not with the most specifically human phenomena: love, reason, conscience, values. Because the word soul has associations which include these higher human powers I use it here and throughout these chapters rather than the words “psyche” or “mind.”

[Bold emphases mine.]

Stopping there on page 6.

Welcome to the machine: The Administered Society (an excerpt from the book “Habits of the Heart”)

Reposting a section that I previously transcribed from the 1996 book Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (updated edition) by Robert N. Bellah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven M. Tipton, beginning on page 267:

The Administered Society versus Economic Democracy

The Administered Society and Economic Democracy represent the two boldest efforts to imagine a next step beyond the stalemated efforts of Welfare Liberalism and Neocapitalism to solve the problems of our society. The advocates of these new visions strongly reject the notion that the United States can return to anything like the situation that prevailed before 1929. In accepting the interpenetration of private and public power, they represent a crucial break with the assumption that fundamental economic interests can be effectively integrated either through the market alone or through informal alliances among interest groups. Rather, these two visions declare the need to go beyond exclusive reliance on voluntarist strategies for integrating major sectors of society such as business, labor, and government. They propose a more visible, public institutionalization, expanding the linkages between sectors and placing them in a more encompassing national framework.

There is a similarity between the proponents of these still inchoate visions. Both announce that something new to American politics is required because of the failure of older visions. Proponents of these new views join others in a widespread criticism of Neocapitalism and Welfare Liberalism as alike sacrificing the general welfare to “special interests.” Welfare Liberals such as Walter Mondale are thought to give too much attention to labor, ethic and racial minorities, and other special constituencies, and Neocapitalists such as President Reagan are criticized as agents of the corporations and the selfish rich. The proponents of the Administered Society and Economic Democracy present their visions as efforts to incorporate and transcend contending interests. Like earlier reformers, they do so with confidence in expertise as the way to extricate our society from its apparent impasse.

As yet, major politicians have embraced only fragments of these new visions as they seek to update fundamentally older conceptions. For coherent expression of these visions we must turn to theorists rather than politicians. We may consider first a vocal advocate of an administratively more integrated national society, the well-known investment banker Felix Rohatyn. In the 1970s, Rohatyn figured prominently in the rescue of New York City from bankruptcy, a rescue carried out by placing fiscal authority in the hands of an appointed board of the city’s creditors, employees, bondholders, and bankers, operating outside ordinary legislative channels. Rohatyn proposed in the early 1980s that the United States, confronting an increasingly competitive international economy, needed a similar rescue that would produce “stable growth, low unemployment, reasonably balanced budgets, and reasonably valued currency.” Such a policy would need to be “committed to maintaining our social gains by promoting economic growth and full employment,” which Rohatyn argued could not be realized by the kinds of political compromises characteristic of congressional politics. “Only institutions that can take the long view and act accordingly will be able to bring about the kinds of changes that are required,” he contended.

In arguing for the necessity for such new institutional arrangements, Rohatyn spoke in a language strong in technical economic and administrative terms, as Welfare Liberalism and Neocapitalism have done for a long time, but with a weaker evocation of the moral tradition of American politics than even these long-dominant positions usually contain. Rohatyn’s specific proposal was for a “tri-partite economic development board,” made up of representatives of “business, labor and government,” appointed by the president and the Congress, in order to intervene in the economy to promote the economic goals described above. The board, the centerpiece of Rohatyn’s “industrial policy,” was modeled after the New York City rescue board and drew inspiration from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation designed by Herbert Hoover to fight the 1929 depression. To bring so massive a reorganization into being, Rohatyn called for strong national leadership by a “bipartisan administration in which a Republican or Democratic president would include opposition leaders in his cabinet” and which would select members of the economic board in a similar spirit.

The Administered Society is above all a vision of social harmony among different and unequal groups cooperating for the goals of improved individual security and widely shared economic growth. To accomplish these ends, it would link private groups, especially business and labor, with governmental agencies to steer economic development through this period of technological and international change. At the same time, traditional Welfare Liberal programs such as improved opportunity and assistance for those dislocated by major change would be continued. One key to this vision is the idea of “partnership” among various sectors of the economy and society, brought together through governmental boards, commissions, and agencies. Such a policy would depend heavily on the administrative structure of government, rather than on popular representation, and would thus bring technical and managerial experts to increased prominence. Yet the basic understanding of work as a means toward private goals would remain the same as in Neocapitalism and Welfare Liberalism. The “permanent and aggregate interests” of the nation would receive more focused and perhaps more expert attention, but presumably only by those at or near the summits of their respective institutions. The ironic result of the Administered Society is very likely to be an increase of privatized attitudes for the many, now more securely provided for.

Unlike the proponents of the Administered Society, advocates of Economic Democracy consciously worry about how to empower citizens to take part in the array of new integrating institutions that they, too, see as necessary to a more humane, as well as a more abundant future. An important voice of this developing position in the early 1980s was Michael Harrington, a long-time advocate of what he has termed “democratic socialism.” To Harrington, neither Welfare Liberalism nor Neocapitalism will do: “We have entered a decade of decisions, a crisis of the system, whether we like it or not.” As an alternative to the failed policies of the past, Harrington endorses a part of Rohatyn’s logic on the grounds that conscious centralization in economic policy is the precondition for more citizen participation in economic decisions—for “decentralization.” Seeing corporate domination of the economy as the chief obstacle, Harrington proposes an active government role to bring about a “democratization of the investment function.” Such a policy would lead eventually to “introducing democracy from the shop floor to the board room.”

While a planner such as Rohatyn can be sanguine about the benevolence of centralized institutions, Harrington thinks the situation requires more ingenuity. Rohatyn defends his proposals as ultimately likely to enhance democracy, saying that “far from being undemocratic, the work of such a board could add to the democratic process an element of consultation with the major forces of our society.” In contrast, Harrington sees public as well as private bureaucracies as threats to freedom. But, he asks, “What if there were legal provisions of funds for any significant group of citizens who wanted to hire their own experts to put together a counter-plan?” For Harrington, the element that divides Economic Democracy and the Administered Society is the notion of citizen empowerment.

Yet Harrington shares the same universe of discourse with Rohatyn to such an extent that he turns to the provision of funds to citizens “to hire their own experts” as the major defense of the democratic nature of his proposed reforms. But experts, no matter how “democratic” in spirit, are neither moral exemplars nor prophets nor political leaders, and the politics of competing experts sounds like a “high tech” version of the politics of interest. Harrington’s vision of Economic Democracy intends to evoke a political vision greater than the sum of competing interests, and it recognizes that this vision would require the support of a widespread social movement. Harrington even recognizes something Rohatyn gives no hint of—that the new vision requires a major cultural transformation as well as institutional innovation. But when it comes to suggesting the substance of that cultural transformation, Harrington’s vision falls as silent as Rohatyn’s. They mutely reveal a lack of a moral basis for their political purposes, the end point of a discourse of means without ends.

This is not to say that there is no difference between these two more recent visions, any more than it could be said that there is no difference between Welfare Liberalism and Neocapitalism. Though Rohatyn may not intend it, it is certainly possible that the Administered Society as he envisions it would only tighten the hold of corporate business on our collective life and result in the administrative despotism that Tocqueville warned against. The vision of Economic Democracy continues the long struggle to bring the corporate economy under democratic control that we alluded to in chapter 8. But can we not imagine that without a cultural and moral transformation, the experts—on whom the Economic Democrats, too, rely—would succeed in bringing about an administrative despotism, or what Tocqueville also called a “democratic despotism,” just as surely under Economic Democracy as under the Administered Society?

 The Unresolved Tension

Earlier in this chapter, we spoke of the belief of Madison and the other founders that our form of government was dependent on the existence of virtue among the people. It was such a virtue that they expected to resolve the tension between private interest and the public good. Without civic virtue, they thought, the republic would decline into factional chaos and probably end in authoritarian rule. Half a century later, this idea was reiterated in Tocqueville’s argument about the importance of the mores—the “habits of the heart”—of Americans. Even at the end of the nineteenth century, when Establishment and Populist visions were the chief antagonists in the continuing argument about the shape of our society, Madisonian ideas were still presupposed. The tension between private interest and the public good is never completely resolved in any society. But in a free republic, it is the task of the citizen, whether ruler or ruled, to cultivate civic virtue in order to mitigate the tension and render it manageable.

As the twentieth century has progressed, that understanding, so important through most of our history, has begun to slip from our grasp. As we unthinkingly use the oxymoron “private citizen,” the very meaning of citizenship escapes us. And with Ronald Reagan’s assertion that “we the people” are “a special interest group,” our concerns for the economy being the only thing that holds us together, we have reached a kind of end of the line. The citizen has been swallowed up in “economic man.”

Yet this kind of economic liberalism is not ultimately liberating, for, as became quite clear with the final two visions of the public good described, when economics is the main model for our common life, we are more and more tempted to put ourselves in the hands of the manager and the expert. If society is shattered into as many special interests as there are individuals, then, as Tocqueville foresaw, there is only the schoolmaster state left to take care of us and keep us from one another’s throats.

But if the fears of Madison, Tocqueville, and Debs seem today to be becoming alarmingly true, then perhaps their hopes can speak to us as well. They believed that the survival of a free people depends on the revival of a public virtue that is able to find political expression. The way a free society meets its problems depends not only on its economic and administrative resources but on its political imagination. Political vision thus plays an indispensable role in providing understanding of the present and of the possibilities for change. Is it possible that we could become citizens again and together seek the common good in the post-industrial, postmodern age?