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We can change society in the (sociological) blink of an eye. Unfortunately, it is usually in service of making a buck. Highlights from JSTOR’s public section.
“For caffeine addicts, a morning without a pot of coffee is a no-go. But it hasn’t always been as convenient to make coffee as it is today—and as Rebecca K. Shrum writes, the dawn of coffee machines came along with a massive dose of manly marketing.
Mr. Coffee, the first electric-drip coffee machine for home use, debuted in 1972, forever changing the way Americans made coffee. Before its rise, women used percolators to brew their coffee on the stovetop or on the counter—a method that produced bitter, scorched coffee. Despite the availability of complicated, non-electric drip systems, percolators ruled American kitchens.
Mr. Coffee looked and worked differently than percolators. It also made better coffee. Since it automated the superior drip coffee technique, it gave even groggy consumers the chance for a good cup. It was also dramatically more expensive than a percolator.
In a bid to get consumers to give up their familiar percolators for this expensive new product, Mr. Coffee included something unexpected in its marketing: men. Not only was it given a masculine name, writes Shrum, but its marketing suggested that it would produce a man’s preferred brew. The company hired Joe DiMaggio to give his masculine endorsement to the product—adding an additional layer of masculine advice to a product that purported to teach women how to make a better brew.
But Mr. Coffee did more than mansplain. It played into stereotypes of men as arbiters of coffee quality, and encouraged men to get into the kitchen themselves. Since it was so easy to use, men no longer had an excuse to cede coffee-making to their wives. This corresponded with women’s increased entry into the workforce and helped men contribute more to their households.
Today, the thought of a man unwilling to brew a pot of coffee (or so upset about his coffee’s quality that he abuses his wife) seems preposterous. Mr. Coffee changed those cultural expectations, even as it played into existing stereotypes about gender and domesticity.”
The excerpt is from a great piece by Christopher Lasch writing in the short lived journal “Democracy”. Written in the 80’s, details the systemic problems facing US democracy. The situation described shows the roots of where we are now, and how (unfortunately) we have arrived here.
“The centralization of power in the United States and the decline of popular participation in community life have become dramatically visible only in the
period since World War II. The roots of these conditions, however, go back to the formative period around the turn of the century. We have been living ever since then with the long-term consequences of the momentous changes inaugurated at that time.
The most important of these changes, of course, was the emergence of the corporation and the spread of the corporate form throughout
American industry. Often misunderstood as a shift from entrepreneurial to managerial control, the corporation emerged out of conflicts between capital
and labor for control of production. It institutionalized the basic division of labor that runs all through modern industrial society, the division between brainwork and handwork-between the design and the execution of production.
Under the banner of scientific management, capitalists expropriated the technical knowledge formerly exercised by workers and vested it in a new
managerial elite. The managers extended their power not at the expense of the owners of industry, who retained much of their influence and in any case tended to merge with the managerial group, but at the expense of the workers.
Nor did the eventual triumph of industrial unionism break this pattern of managerial control. By the 1930s, even the most militant unions had acquiesced in the division of labor between the planning and execution of work. Indeed the very success of the union movement was predicated on a strategic retreat from issues of worker control. Unionization, moreover, helped to stabilize and rationalize the labor market and to discipline the work force. It did not alter the arrangement whereby management controls the technology of production, the rhythm of work, and the location of plants (even when these decisions affect entire communities), leaving the worker with the task merely of carrying out orders.
Having ·organized mass production on the basis of the new division of labor-most fully realized in the assembly line-the leaders of American industry
next turned to the organization of a mass market. The mobilization of consumer demand, together with the recruitment of a labor force, required a far-reaching series of changes that amounted to a cultural revolution; The virtues of thrift, avoidance of debt, and postponement of gratification had to give way to new habits of installment buying and immediate gratification, new standards of comfort, a new sensitivity to changes in fashion. People had to be discouraged from providing for their own wants and resocialized as consumers. Industrialism by its very nature tends to discourage home production and to make people dependent on the market, but a vast effort of reeducation, starting in the 1920s, had to be undertaken before Americans accepted consumption as a way of life.
As Emma Rothschild has shown in her study of the automobile industry, Alfred Sloan’s innovations in marketing-the annual model change, constant upgrading of the product, efforts to associate it with social status, the deliberate inculcation of an insatiable appetite for change-constituted the necessary counterpart of Henry Ford’s innovations in production. Modern industry came to rest on the twin pillars of Fordism and Sloanism. Both tended to discourage initiative and self-reliance and to reduce work and consumption alike to an essentially passive activity. […]
When I read this section I was immediately drawn to the sections highlighted in purple. What I hear from conservative commentators and business commentators is that what it takes to succeed in society is to get out there and play the market, or innovate, or work hard and save money and improve yourself et cetera. Usually, along with their sprightly commentary on how bootstrapping oneself to greatness, is another piece on the evils of the nanny state and how those damn social programs (WELFARE *clutches chest* *dies*) are making people into lazy dependent sloths who do nothing but keep the productive people down.
Of course, like most capitalistic propaganda, it is utter shite. The message retains its ubiquity and longevity in our society only because of its constant repetition in the business press and media.
“The virtues of thrift, avoidance of debt, and postponement of gratification had to give way to new habits of installment buying and immediate gratification, new standards of comfort, a new sensitivity to changes in fashion.“
I quote this again because damn, if this isn’t an indictment of how capitalism has malformed our society, I’m not sure what is. This way of life we now live was a choice made by the elite classes, as to how society was to be run. Clearly, attributes like avoiding debt and postponement of gratification have no place in a modern civilized society (!).
Racking up debt, conspicuous consumption, becoming dependent on the market – didn’t just *happen* – they were orchestrated to feed the industrial elite’s needs and as always, at the expense of the working class.
So, the business class essentially builds/nurtures a culture of dependency – that is, actively discourages self production and self-reliance – and then has the temerity to bluster about Big Government creating a welfare state chock full of slothful, gormless, dependent people.
Create a society where dependency is rewarded, and then proceed to blame the people for becoming dependent. Fascinating stuff this capitalism is.
Should we besmirch this plucky rodent’s escutcheon by associating Lemmings as the embodiment of greed and feral-consumerism known to a good chunk of the western world as ‘Black Friday’? It isn’t really fair (hey, just like capitalism) to play on the misunderstood ‘suicidal tendencies’ of the much maligned lemming. For the record:
“Lemmings have become the subject of a widely popular misconception that they commit mass suicide when they migrate, by jumping off cliffs. It is in fact not a mass suicide but the result of their migratory behavior. Driven by strong biological urges, some species of lemmings may migrate in large groups when population density becomes too great. Lemmings can swim and may choose to cross a body of water in search of a new habitat. In such cases, many may drown if the body of water is so wide as to stretch their physical capability to the limit. This fact, combined with the unexplained fluctuations in the population of Norwegian lemmings, gave rise to the misconception.“
The answer, dear friends, is of course we should – appropriating and exploiting nature is a zesty analog for capitalism and the consumer culture that feeds the satanic mills that are grinding our planet into dust. (Not enough sleep and too much coffee during this particular writing stint.)
It’s hard to believe, but sometimes your dear host finds it necessary to perch upon a perfectly precarious high horse in order to dispense the needed wisdom to the unwashed massess, the hoi polloi, the basket of deplorables, et cetera. I remember making a post about Black Friday expressing my disgust with scenes that seem to happen around this time of year.
As noted in the video above – we’re still mired in this terrible consumerist extravaganza. The problem is that, I’m not disgusted, but rather saddened by the whole, often gory, spectacle. The lengths people will go to, to get stuff, that they think will bring them happiness in their life.
Their association of “happiness = stuff” is no mere coincidence, but rather the endgame of a society, while drunk on capitalism, that measures success, status, and happiness with the amount of material goods acquired. Of course, the needs are manufactured (followed by the goods to meet those ‘needs’) so that the prospect of new shiny baubles will be the next ‘true’ indicator of having ‘made it’ in life. The process of chasing after material goods in the vainglorious pursuit of happiness is a nasty positive feedback loop that reduces citizens in a democratic state to mere consumers always hungry for their next fix and thus justifying the exploitative system that feeds them their drug.
I can’t help thinking that if we had a guaranteed minimum income and housing for everyone people might start to stray from the consumption paradigm. People might start renewing connections with others and engaging in pursuits that they actually want to do instead of what they have to do in their struggle to avoid the depredations of abject poverty.
We’ve lost reverence for the security and connectedness a strong community provides – and it is only way back from the abyss that we continue to create for ourselves.
Make no mistake – capitalism in its current incarnation requires the exploitation of people and resources to make it work. Exploiting people and natural resources inevitably leads to war (see Iraq for instance) and this in this zeal for feeding our doom-systems we often forget that eventually
Start with lemmings and end with Lord of the Rings references, you’ll only see it here at DWR (for better or worse).
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This excerpt is from an essay by Bill Moyers titled “Money and Power in America”.
“The movers and shakers — the big winners — keep repeating the mantra that this inequality was inevitable, the result of the globalization of finance and advances in technology in an increasingly complex world. Those are part of the story, but only part. As G.K. Chesterton wrote a century ago, “In every serious doctrine of the destiny of men, there is some trace of the doctrine of the equality of men. But the capitalist really depends on some religion of inequality.”
Exactly. In our case, a religion of invention, not revelation, politically engineered over the last 40 years. Yes, politically engineered. On this development, you can’t do better than read Winner Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson of political science.
They were mystified by what had happened to the post-World War II notion of “shared prosperity”; puzzled by the ways in which ever more wealth has gone to the rich and super rich; vexed that hedge-fund managers pull in billions of dollars, yet pay taxes at lower rates than their secretaries; curious about why politicians kept slashing taxes on the very rich and handing huge tax breaks and subsidies to corporations that are downsizing their work forces; troubled that the heart of the American Dream — upward mobility — seemed to have stopped beating; and dumbfounded that all of this could happen in a democracy whose politicians were supposed to serve the greatest good for the greatest number. So Hacker and Pierson set out to find out “how our economy stopped working to provide prosperity and security for the broad middle class.”
In other words, they wanted to know: “Who dunnit?” They found the culprit. With convincing documentation they concluded, “Step by step and debate by debate, America’s public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefitted the few at the expense of the many.”
There you have it: the winners bought off the gatekeepers, then gamed the system. And when the fix was in they turned our economy into a feast for the predators, “saddling Americans with greater debt, tearing new holes in the safety net, and imposing broad financial risks on Americans as workers, investors, and taxpayers.” The end result, Hacker and Pierson conclude, is that the United States is looking more and more like the capitalist oligarchies of Brazil, Mexico, and Russia, where most of the wealth is concentrated at the top while the bottom grows larger and larger with everyone in between just barely getting by.
Bruce Springsteen sings of “the country we carry in our hearts.” This isn’t it.”
The points of view put forward here represent the thinking of an individual that does not believe in the political process, and one that believes that change can come from inside the process. Fascinating stuff.
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, that’s precisely what we’re trying to do. There is a point where you have to—do I want to keep quoting Ralph?—but where you have to draw a line in the sand. And that’s part of the problem with the left, is we haven’t.
I covered the war in Yugoslavia, and I find many parallels between what’s happening in the United States and what happened with the breakdown of Yugoslavia. What is it that caused this country to disintegrate? It wasn’t ancient ethnic hatreds. It was the economic meltdown of Yugoslavia and a bankrupt liberal establishment that, after the death of Tito, until 1989 or 1990, spoke in the language of democracy, but proved ineffectual in terms of dealing with the plight of working men and women who were cast out of state factories, huge unemployment and, finally, hyperinflation.
And the fact is that these neoliberal policies, which the Democratic Party is one of the engines for, have created this right-wing fascialism. You can go back—this proto-fascism. You can go back and look at the Weimar, and it—Republic—was very much the same. So it’s completely counterintuitive. Of course I find Trump a vile and disturbing and disgusting figure, but I don’t believe that voting for the Democratic establishment—and remember that this—the two insurgencies, both within the Republican Party and the—were against figures like Hillary Clinton, who spoke in that traditional feel-your-pain language of liberalism, while assiduously serving corporate power and selling out working men and women. And they see through the con, they see through the game.
I don’t actually think Bernie Sanders educated the public. In fact, Bernie Sanders spoke for the first time as a political candidate about the reality the public was experiencing, because even Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address, was talking about economic recovery, and everything was wonderful, and people know that it’s not. And when you dispossess—
ROBERT REICH: Well, let me—let me—
CHRIS HEDGES: Let me just finish. Let me finish. When you dispossess that segment, as large as we have—half the country now lives in virtual poverty—and you continue to essentially run a government that’s been seized by a cabal, in this case, corporate, which uses all of the machinery of government for their own enrichment and their own further empowerment at the expense of the rest of the citizenry, people finally react. And that is how you get fascism. That is what history has told us. And to sit by—every time, Robert, you speak, you do exactly what Trump does, which is fear, fear, fear, fear, fear. And the fact that we are going to build some kind of—
ROBERT REICH: Well, let me—let me try to—
CHRIS HEDGES: —amorphous movement after Hillary Clinton—it’s just not they way it works.
ROBERT REICH: Let me try to inject—let me—let me try to inject—
AMY GOODMAN: Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich?
ROBERT REICH: Let me try to inject some hope in here, in this discussion, rather than fear. I’ve been traveling around the country for the last two years, trying to talk to tea partiers and conservatives and many people who are probably going to vote for Donald Trump, to try to understand what it is that they are doing and how they view America and why they’re acting in ways that are so obviously against their self-interest, both economic self-interest and other self-interest. And here’s the interesting thing I found.
This great antiestablishment wave that is occurring both on the left and the right has a great overlap, if you will, and that overlap is a deep contempt for what many people on the right are calling crony capitalism—in fact, many people on the left have called crony capitalism. And those people on the right, many, many working people, they’re not all white. Many of them are. Many of them are working-class. Many of them have suffered from trade and technological displacement and a government that is really turning its back on them, they feel—and to some extent, they’re right. Many of them feel as angry about the current system and about corporate welfare and about big money in politics as many of us on the progressive side do.
Now, if it is possible to have a multiracial, multiethnic coalition of the bottom 90 percent that is ready to fight to get big money out of politics, for more equality, for a system that is not rigged against average working people, where there are not going to be all of these redistributions upward from those of us who have paychecks—and we don’t even realize that larger and larger portions of those paychecks are going to big industries, conglomerates, concentrated industries that have great market power, because it’s all hidden from view—well, the more coalition building we can do, from right to left, multiethnic, multiracial, left and right, to build a movement to take back our economy and to take back our democracy, that is—
CHRIS HEDGES: I don’t think it makes any difference. The TPP is going to go through, whether it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Endless war is going to be continued, whether it’s Trump or Clinton. We’re not going to get our privacy back, whether it’s under Clinton or Trump. The idea that, at this point, the figure in the executive branch exercises that much power, given the power of the war industry and Wall Street, is a myth. The fact is—
Can a compromised system produce results that benefit the non-elite portions of society. I’m thinking no.
David Cromwell excels at identifying key points of friction between public and private interests. In this excerpt he examines how higher learning is being bent to fulfil its corporately mandated responsibilities to society.
“This [Academia] is a privileged sector where critical thought and enquiry into human society, the natural world and the cosmos ought to be the norm; not where overwhelming pressure to conform to state-corporate interests should be exerted on teaching and research agendas.
How can academic ‘collaboration’ with large corporations which are, after all, centralised systems of illegitimate power, not lead to compromise, distortion or worse? It is clearly not in the interests of such institutions to promote rational and honest study into the problems of a corporate-shaped society. It is in their interests to commandeer the publicly-funded research while co-opting supposedly neutral and objective academia as ‘partners’. And all the better if highly trained university researchers working in narrow, focused disciplines remain disconnected from the interests in other disciplines, or more importantly, from the concerns of the general populace.
‘To work on a real problem (like how to eliminate poverty in a nation producing eight hundred billion dollars’ worth of wealth each year) one would have to follow that problem across many disciplinary lines without qualm, dealing with historical materials, economic theories, political obstacles’, observed historian Howard Zinn, author of The People’s History of the United States, who died in 2010. ‘Specialisation ensures that one cannot follow a problem through from start to finish. It ensures the functioning in the academy of the system’s dictum: divide and rule.’ Zinn provided a potent example: ‘Note how little work is done in political science on the tactics of social change. Both students and teacher deal with theory and reality in separate courses; the compartmentalisation safely neutralises them.’
Any management vision of how the university sector, or any place of higher education, ought to develop that does not recognize the nature of the iniquitous capitalist society in which the university finds itself embedded, is short-sighted. And, moreover, any such ‘vision’ that is not committed to making radical changes in the way society is structured is tacitly, if not actively, supporting the status quo. The same argument applies to any major institution in society.”
-David Cromwell. Why Are We The Good Guys? pp. 216 – 217
So, great you have a degree, well done sport! Did they teach you to comply or to question the society that you inhabit?