Saul, John Ralston. The Unconscious Civilization. Simon and Schuster, NY NY. 1995.
Corporatism: control/governing of society by economic groups driven by ethic-free self interest.
Equilibrium: the balancing of the qualities of the human psyche, particularly the..
The six qualities common to all people: common sense, ethics, imagination, intuition, memory, and reason. The point here is that reason has risen to a pathological level of power in Western human society.
Ch 1. The Great Leap Backwards
(2) That idea of individualism, dominant today, represents a narrow and superficial deformation of the Western idea. A hijacking of the term and - since individualism is a central term - a hijacking of western civilization.
One of the things I am going to do over these five chapters is describe that hijacking. The end result will be a portrait of a society addicted to ideologies - a civilization tightly held at this moment in the embrace of a dominant ideology: corporatism. The acceptance of corporatism causes us to deny and undermine the legitimacy of the individual as citizen in a democracy. The result of such a denial is a growing imbalance which leads to our adoration of self-interest and our denial of the public good. Corporatism is an ideology which claims rationality as its central quality. The overall effects on the individual are passivity and conformity in those areas which matter and non-conformism in those which don’t.
(4) If economists were doctors, they would today be mired in malpractice suits.
(5) Our actions are only related to tiny, narrow bands of specialist information, usually based on a false idea of measurement rather than upon any knowledge - that is, understanding - of the larger picture. The result is that where a knowing woman or man would embrace doubt and advance carefully, our enormous, specialized, technocratic elites are shielded by a childlike certainty. Whatever they are selling is the absolute truth. Why link childishness to certainty? Quite simply, as Cicero put it: “He who does not know history is destined to remain a child.”
(7) The technocracy has developed has developed an argument that now dominates our society according to which “management” equals “doing,” in the sense that “doing” equals “making.” They have based this argument on a new economic mythology. This in turn is dependent on such things as the glorification of the service economy, a legitimization of financial speculation and the canonization of the new communications technology.
(9) Truth is not in the world, it is the measurements made by professionals.
(16) The corporatist movement was born in the nineteenth century as an alternative to democracy. It proposed the legitimacy of groups over that of the individual citizen.
(18) We suffer from an addictive weakness for large illusions. A weakness for ideology. Power in our civilization is repeatedly tied to the pursuit of all-inclusive truths and utopias. At the time of each obsession we are incapable of recognizing our attitude as either a flight from reality or an embracing of ideology. The unshakable belief that we are on the trail to truth - and therefore to the solution to our problems - prevents us from identifying this obsession as an ideology.
- Berman, Wandering God
(20) In a society of ideological believers, nothing is more ridiculous than the individual who doubts and does not conform.
(21) …passivity remains an expression of true belief.
(29) Take a look at Newt Gingrich’s list of “seven essential personal strengths for Americans,” you will discover that ‘work’ is at the top of the list. ‘Family’ takes up four self-righteous variations on that theme in the middle. And at the bottom is an even more self-righteous version of ‘nation.’ Six out of seven comes pretty close. For that matter, three of his “Five Principles of American Civilization” deal with business, technology, and organization - all characteristics or work. There is no mention of liberty or equality or, for that matter, democracy. And that is because Gingrich is a fairly typical example of a corporatist who is disguised - at least in part unconsciously - behind the rhetoric of crude - that is to say false - individualism and false modernism.
(30) The larger question that intrigues me is whether or not we can ever escape this utopian nightmare. Remember, utopia is a word coined by Thomas More in 1516 from two Greek words: no + place. To live within ideology, with utopian expectations, is to live in no place, to live in limbo. To live nowhere. To live in a void where the illusion of reality is usually created by highly sophisticated rational constructs.
- the central issue to the idea of linear progress, the way things are now are not as good as they could be, but by definition and media/ corporate elite manipulation, they are better than they used to be. the anxiety of progress, the crisis culture, always about to hierarchically topple over, therefore the craze to keep going faster to temporarily alleviate the imminent “crisis.”
- rationalism is dominated by sophistry: the ancient greek “virtue” and “excellence” of persuasive argument, regardless of truth.
(32) I can identify only four real options in Western history as the sources of legitimacy. A God. A King. Groups. Or the individual citizenry acting as a whole. There are many variations on these sources. Many kings have claimed direct inspiration from God and so combined the two. Modern dictators, from Napoleon on through Hitler, have claimed to inherit the legitimacy of a king. The groups have ranged from medieval guilds to modern corporatism.
Now, the peculiarity of the first three sources - God, king, and groups - is that, once in power, they automatically set about reducing the fourth, the individual, to a state of passivity. The individual citizen is reduced to the state of a subject. That is, he is subjected to the will of one or more of these other legitimacies.
In other words, gods, kings, and groups are not compatible with the fourth source because they require acquiescence while individualism requires participation. Either one of more of the first three is in a dominant position or the fourth dominates.
I would argue that our society functions today largely on the relationship between groups. What do i mean by groups? Some of us immediately conjure up transnational corporations. Others think of government ministries. But this is to miss the point. There are thousands of hierarchically or pyramidally organized interest and specialist groups in our society. Some are actual businesses, some are groupings of businesses, some are professions or narrow categories of intellectuals. Some are public, some private, some well intentioned, some ill intentioned. Doctors, lawyers, sociologists, a myriad of scientific groups. The point is that society is seen as the sum of all the groups. Nothing more. And that the primary loyalty of the individual is not to the society but to her group.
Serious, important decision are made not through democratic decision or participation but through negotiation between the relevant groups based on expertise, interest, and the ability to exercise power. I would argue that the Western individual, from the top to the bottom of what is now defined as the elite, acts first as a group member. As a result, they, we, exist primarily as a function, not as a citizen, not as an individual. We are rewarded in our hierarchical meritocracies for our success as an integrated function. We know that real expressions of individualism are not only discouraged, but punished. The active, outspoken citizen is unlikely to have a professional career.
What I am describing is the essence of corporatism. Forget the various declared intentions of the successive generations of corporatists - from the old Catholic groups to the Fascists to the spokesman for the pyramidal technocratic organizations to the well-intentioned net-corporatist social scientists of today. What counts is what they have in common. And that is their assumption as to where legitimacy lies. In corporatism it lies with the group, not the citizen.
The human is thus reduced to a measurable value, like a machine or a piece of property. We can choose to achieve a high value and live comfortably or be dumped unceremoniously onto the heap of marginality.
To be precise, we live in a corporatist society with soft pretentious to democracy. More power is slipping every day over towards the groups. That is the meaning of the market place ideology and of our passive acceptance of whatever form globalization happens to take.
(35) I spoke earlier of three parallel oppositions or struggles - humanism versus ideology; balance versus imbalance; equilibrium versus disequilibrium. I can now add two more: democratic individualism versus corporatism; the citizen versus the subject. In the next chapter I’ll deal with language versus propaganda and consciousness versus unconsciousness.
(35) Are we truly living in a corporatist society that uses democracy as little more than a pressure release valve?
(36) What is the great leap backwards announced in the title of this chapter? It is our leap into the unconscious state beloved of the subject who, existing as a function in any one of the tens of thousands of corporations - public and private - is relieved of personal, disinterested responsibility for his society. He thus gives in to the easy temptation of embracing what I can only call the passive certitude offered by every ideology.
(37) The confronting of reality usually is a negative process. It is ideology that insists upon relentless positivism. That’s why it opposes criticism and encourages passivity.
- positivism: 1. a philosophical system that holds that every rationally justifiable assertion can be scientifically verified or is capable of logical or mathematical proof, and that therefore rejects metaphysics and theism. 2. the theory that laws are to be understood as social rules, valid because they are enacted by authority or derive logically from existing decisions, and that ideal or moral considerations (e.g., that a rule is unjust) should not limit the scope or operation of the law.
Ch 2. From Propaganda to Language
(40) It is also worth noticing a curious characteristic of ideologies. They usually insist, in their justifacatory argument, that humans once lived in a happy, if somewhat crude or innocent natural state. An Eden. By simply passing on through the inevitable steps proposed by whatever particular ideology is in question, we promised that we will re-enter Eden at a higher, more sophisticated level. Paradise is the first and the last destination. The origin and the end of the human cycle.
Marx promised this. The Nazis promised this. And indeed, the market-focused ideologies promise this. Suffering is inevitable in the short or medium term, but Paradise is the next stop.
- salvationist, millenarian, crisis cultures. every generation in the West since the time of Christ has believed that Christ is coming back in their generation.
(43) Knowledge is owned and controlled, bought and sold, in a corporatist society - knowledge that matters, that is [vs “pop media” nightly news information].
(47) There is public language - enormous, rich, varied, and more or less powerless. Then there is corporatist language, attached to power and action [vs education and contemplation]. corporatist language breaks down into three types. Rhetoric, propaganda, and dialect…for the moment let’s concentrate on dialects. Not the old-fashioned regional dialects, but the specialized, inward looking verbal mechanisms (I’m avoiding the word language because they are not language; they do not communicate) of the tens of thousands of monopolies of fractured knowledge. These are what I would call the dialects of individual corporations. The social science dialects, the medical dialects, the science dialects, the linguistic dialects, the artistic dialects. Thousands and thousands of them, purposefully impenetrable to the non-expert, with thick defensive walls that protect each corporatist’s sense of importance.
- the need for certainty, pinpoint precise meaning, ends up creating artificial meaning (propaganda). all specialized dialects result in proselytizing.
(48) Economists, political scientists, and sociologists in particular have attempted to imitate scientific analysis through the accumulation of circumstantial evidence, but, above all, through their paradise of the worst of the scientific dialects. As in business and governmental corporations, the purpose of such obscure language could be reduced to the following formula: Obscurity suggests complexity which suggests importance [which suggests legitimacy]. The dialects are thus more or less conscious weapons of self-protection and unconscious tools of self-deception.
- “science is a series of anecdotes,” Montaigne. - non geologists/scientists misusing science-specific terms like “epicenter,” which means above the center. So when a news reporter says, “I’m at the epicenter of the riot,” she is saying she is above the ground, presumably floating in air.
(50) Jung warned, “Most people confuse ‘self-knowledge’ with knowledge of their conscious ego personalities.”
(51) This flight into the unconscious [due to Freud and Jung] has gone far beyond formal therapy into the general Western myth of what an individual is and - more importantly - what properly should interest an individual. The answer? Himself. Herself. Not society. Not civilization. The particular versus the whole. The narrowly examined life of the passive citizen versus the unexamined life of the twentieth century.
- obsession with analysis, rather than balancing with synthesis. the urge to tear things apart, rather than unite together. Plato’s “the one and the many,” the one idea, the one god, the one ‘ism’ has won out.
(51) The other misfiring of the Freud-Jung [and Campbell?] breakthrough has been the effect on society of its use of the eternal myths. We think of Jung in particular as being concentrated on the Gods and Destiny. But Freud’s obsession was only slightly different. Sex, the Gods, and Destiny.
Why am I going on about this? Because the Gods and Destiny are the two central characteristics of all ideologies. They are called different things by each new faith. But they are the totems of inevitability.
- when conquest, war, genocide is understood as inevitable in history and God ordained, as is the Biblical tradition, if it is inevitable and God ordained that we will have “dominion over the earth,” then all atrocities are accepted, from reluctantly in public to eagerly in private. - “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.,” (Gen 1:28).
(53) At a time when people feel betrayed or abandoned by their civilization, they have been presented with an explanation of their sense of impotence: the archetypes, the eternal myths, the unchangeable [unchangeability of human nature, as defined by mechanistic science and idealistic philosophy]. Instead of giving them a new sense pf power, the explanation gives comfort to passivity - particularly public passivity - faced with the reigning ideologies.
(55) The deeper we go into the written, the deeper we go into mistaking the snake for the apple - the messenger for the message. I’ve said before that one of the signs of a healthy civilization is the existence of a relatively clear language in which everyone can participate in their own way. The sign of a sick civilization is the growth of an obscure, closed language that seeks to prevent communication.
- see Russell Means article in Links (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/10/russell-means-mother-jones-interview-1980). “Writing…is one of the white world's ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.”
(57) Plato, the father of ideology. Plato’s greatest flaw is also the secret of his ongoing political success. He managed to marry Homer’s inevitability of the Gods and Destiny to the newly discovered mechanisms of reason.
(61) Rhetoric, propaganda, and dialect are the three ideological tools used for preventing communication. It is difficult to separate the first two. Rhetoric describes the public face of ideology. Propaganda sells it. They are both aimed at the normalization of the untrue.
(63) As for propaganda, the selling device aimed directly at the public, it is essentially the same as advertising. Indeed, we tend to forget that the methods of private advertising, like those of public propaganda, were developed as on in Germany and Italy during the 1930s and 1940s.
“The crowd doesn’t have to know,” Mussolini often said. “It must believe…If only we can give them faith that mountains can be moved, they will accept the illusion that mountains are movable, and thus an illusion may become reality.” Always, he said, he “electric and explosive.” Belief over knowledge. Emotion over thought.
(65) Propaganda is the negation of language [therefore truth-meaning]. It destroys memory and therefore removes any sense of reality.
(67) Interestingly enough, the evidence indicates that producing the best educated elite in the world doesn’t actually help a country. The two nations in the West most devoted to this approach - Britain and the United States - also have the most persistent and widespread social and economic problems.
(68) The universities have become to a great extent the handmaidens of the corporatist system.
(71) While the universities ought to be centers of active independent public criticism, they tend instead to sit prudently under the protective veils of their own corporations.
(72) What the corporatist approach seems to miss is the simple, central role of higher education - to teach thought [how to think critically]. A student who graduates with mechanistic skills and none of the habits of thought has not been educated. Such people will have difficulty playing their role as citizens. The weakening of the humanities in favor of profitable specialization undermines the universities’ ability to teach thought.
- there is not time to think critically. someone will take the job that you frantically applied for if you stop to think. if you do not learn specialized skills - computers, business, technology, etc - you will not be able to buy a house or a nice car, or generally live comfortably, as comfortably as your peers. plus, there is the ridicule of not keeping up with them, with the Joneses. crisis culture of fear. go faster, make more money, work harder, or miss out.
Ch 3. From Corporatism to Democracy
(76) If individuals do not occupy their legitimate position, then it will be occupied by a god or a king or a coalition of interest groups. If citizens do not exercise the powers conferred by their legitimacy, others will do so.
(77) It is therefore naive or disingenuous for those leading the fight against government to suggest that society will be reinvigorated by smaller government. Responsibility will simply have been transformed to an equally if not more sluggish bureaucracy in the private sector [but much more corrupt, we can assume, and entirely not accountable to the values of the majority, we can be sure of].
(79) God has been replaced today by another ideology called the marketplace.
(80) My point is that the individual and the government are linked together by an artery. If we act to sever that artery by replacing or opposing a central role for government, we cease to be individuals and revert to the status of subject [of the capitalist monolith]. If democracy fails, then it is ultimately the citizen who has failed, not the politician. The politician can always find a new place in a new configuration of power…we have allowed ourselves to be convinced by our own elites that the democratic system is a secondary product of the free market system.
(84) The revolution in England in the middle of the seventeenth century brought a whole new class to the fore as Cromwell was supported neither by money nor the big families, but by the yeoman and the gentry. The decline, later in the century, of the whole idea of hell - with its threats of eternal fire - led to the rise of the idea that the majority had the right to heaven. That, in turn, led to theories of democracy.
(86) This is a standard ideological approach - a star crosses the sky, a meteor explodes, and history begins anew.
(87) What I am describing is not a new problem. I’ve mentioned Dante, in the late thirteenth century, castigating the elites of Florence for being “all too intent upon the acquisition of money.” In 1993, the retiring head of the French secret service (the DGSE) spoke to his assembled agents. He said the most dangerous situation they had to deal with was “the extraordinary rush for money in all its forms” and “the corruption of the elites.” He said “the governing classes - political and economic - in much of the world, now treated money as if it had no dour,” so that the clean is mixed with the criminal. This surprisingly extreme statement from a public official - mind you, on his last day in the office - is nevertheless not a surprising description of a society that believes only in self interest.
- “the lust for possessions is a disease among them,” Sitting Bull.
(88) Corporatism limits society to self interest.
(89) The origin of corporatism in the second half on the nineteenth century lay in two things - the rejection of citizen-based democracy and the desire to react in a stable way to the Industrial Revolution. These original motives would evolve into he desire for a stable managerial, hierarchical society.
Listen to Emile Durkheim. The corporations are to become the “elementary division of the state, the fundamental political unit.” They will “efface the distinction between public and private, dissect the democratic citizenry into discrete functional groupings which are no longer capable of joint political action.” Through the corporations, “scientific rationality (will) achieve its rightful standing as the creator of collective reality.”
- industrialization: from agrarian to manufacturing, with the focus on production. (from Nature to factory, from outside to inside, from spread out to confined).
- capitalism: free market, private ownership, Nature as commodity
- corporatism: organization/control by interest groups/monied elite
(89) One third to one half of the population who are part of the managerial elite are indeed castrated as citizens because their profession, their employment contracts, and the general atmosphere of corporate loyalty make it impossible for them to participate in the public space.
(91) Certainly corporatism is creating a conformist society. It is a modern from of feudalism with none of the advantages of the early urban guild system, where obligation, responsibility, and standards played a role.
(92) We are, almost all of us, employees in some sort of corporation, public or private. Increasingly, those who follow orders are being acquitted. Why? Because increasingly our society does not see social obligation as the primary obligation of the individual. The primary obligation is loyalty to the corporation. It is, as Jung described it, “that gentle and painless slipping back into the kingdom of childhood, into the paradise of parental care.” Why? Because “all mass movements slip with the greatest ease down an inclined plane made up of large numbers. Where the many are, there is security; what the many believe must of course be true,” (The Essential Jung, A Storr).
(93) Flaubert wrote of the “mania of conclusions” as “one of humanity’s most useless and sterile drives.” He saw this - now one of the manager’s most desirable attributes - as a minor expression of religion.
(98) Robert McNamara, near the beginning of a long tome designed to deal with his blunders in Vietnam, nevertheless pauses to talk about quantification as a revelation. “To this day, I see quantification as a language to add precision to reasoning about the world.” Given his record on the counting of body bags, among other statistics, I should have thought he might have considered softening the sentence. But then an obsession with quantification does tend to end up in superstition.
- “science is a series of anecdotes,” Montaigne.
(99) “If it is not reason that rules man, then man falls short of his potential,” R McNamara.
The key word here is “rules.” Man must be ruled. This is the Hobbesian, corporatist view. If not kept under control, man and woman will run amok.
- Freudian myth. Denounced by modern, particularly non-xenophobic anthropology, (see Man the Hunter, Richard Lee and Irven Devore, Don’t Sleep There are Snakes, Stone Age Economics, Stranger in the Forest, The Tender Carnivore and The Sacred Game, etc).
(100) There is nothing new about bureaucracies - as opposed to management. Since the Roman Empire they have tended to grow uncontrollably and to lose purpose. This is not evil. It’s just characteristic.
What is new is the devotion of the whole elite to the bureaucratic ethic - that is, to management - as if it were a primary skill. The is the product of corporatism. It is what happens when you rank reason and method over content.
(100) Whatever they claim, these fights are rarely over policy. Corporatism is about interests and the division of those interests. Their fight is over who gets what.
(100) I am not attacking reason per se. I am attacking the dominance of reason. Reason as an ideology. Sensibly integrated along with our other qualities, reason is invaluable. Put out on its own as a flagship for society and for all of our actions it quickly becomes irrational.
- Six qualities common to all people, according to J.R. Saul: common sense, ethics, imagination, intuition, memory, and reason.
(101) From Plato’s Republic on, reason and utopia have been inextricably linked. This has been more than a marriage of convenience. It is reason that is used to explain why each successive utopia - I should say ideology - is inevitable. And it is reason that, we are told, will make it run.
(101) “The new order of fascism,” wrote Max Horkheimer, “is reason revealing itself as unreason.”…Reason knows no doubt. It is strong because it finds the answers [even if they are the wrong answers].
(105) If the religion is self-interest, then no one is paid of encouraged to take the distance that disinterest [non self-interest] requires. And only with a certain distance can you identify fundamental problems. Just as the characteristics of religion pass from one ideology to another, so too the superstitious belief that suffering is necessary to pay for our sins has been passed on and reformulated as the cutting process.
- a la Calvinism, Max Weber, Marcuse
(106) The failure of an elite to lead effectively drives them further into the arms of ideology where everything is inevitable. The suffering of the public sector certainly provides some twisted comfort to those who came to grief in the private.
Clearly, what is needed is not cutting, but the consolidation of years of incremental growth in services. This ability to stop periodically, reexamine and consolidate progress is easy if people are able to deal with problems in a calm way through an overview. The corporatist atmosphere makes this almost impossible.
- impossible in the mad dash to progress; stop to evaluate for a second, and you get squashed by someone who isdoing, and not evaluating.
- “stopping periodically” is unfortunately not possible in the scheme of maniacal progress. It’d be like shutting off the plane at 30,000 feet to check the oil dipstick. “Progress” does not allow us to land the plane and ask, “should we really be going in this direction?”
- symptom of the illusion of linear progress, rather following the only sustainable life model on planet earth, which is cyclical return/eternal cycles.
(108) Whenever governments adapt a moral tone - as opposed to an ethical one - you know something is wrong.
(110) The key to the referendum society is that it turns on a mystic evocation of past grievances, gathered together into a churning, aggravated spleen, where they are magnified and isolated from [everyday] reality. Everything that is not a grievance disappears. This anger is then dovetailed into an heroic solution. Simple, absolute, salutatory. An answer.
The modern referendum, as Napoleon understood when he invented it, is the ideal consummation of the rational as irrational, of the anti-democratic posing as democracy. The complex issues of reality, which democracy can deal with in its own slow, indirect [organic] way, are sweet aside by single, clear issues, often modeled on single human qualities - either we must have common sense, or we must have reason, or must have memory. It is as if any combining of human qualities is impossible.
- “mystic turn of past grievances,” resulting, for example, in the back and forth presidents elected from republican to democrat, since Bush Sr. in 1989 to present.
- the singularity nature of abstract ideals subsumes/degrades the plurality of real, everyday life.
(110) Henry Kissinger used to talk of historic destinies being changeable only in moments of white heat. He claimed to have taken the idea from Metternich. In fact, Mussolini said it best: “Only blood…makes the wheels of history turn.” Referenda and direct democracy provide the sensation of blood without the reality; what George Grant called “decisiveness…at the expense of ‘thoughtfulness’.”
- crisis culture breeds abstract/ideal fanaticisim (unthinking faith in favored over critical thinking) breeds crisis culture..
(111) Alvin Toffler and his wife - and apparently their disciple, Newt Gingrich - seem to have understood all of this, consciously or unconsciously. A pamphlet written by the Tofflers and introduced by Gingrich adds the Dada of technology to the Napoleonic methods of manipulation through referenda and direct democracy. The message in their pamphlet, Creating a New Civilization, is that technology makes not only possible but inevitable - that old ideological characteristic - government by semi-democracy and referred.
Majorities will soon be looked upon, the Tofflers claim, as “an archaic ritual engaged in by communicational primitives.” They propose an “heretical” leap forward into “minority power.” The suggestion is that we, the alienated citizens, are the minorities. In reality they are proposing: (1) a return to the medical system of qualitative in place of quantitative majorities; that is, a hierarchical society; and (2) the legitimization of the corporatist system, of rule by interest groups.
Technology, the Tofflers say, makes traditional democracy archaic.
(113) The problem we face is not one of incomprehensible complexity. Unlike the tortured unconscious acts with which Freud dealt and that respond only marginally to self-knowledge, societies can quite easily use consciousness to provoke action. Nothing in our current crisis is untouchable because of great mystic forces of inevitability. Technology and the market are useful phenomena to be respected. But they are neither gods nor wild animals. Legitimacy itself is not a matter of mystics but of practicality, as are the actions of a healthy democracy.
Ch 4. From Managers and Speculators to Growth
(120) The technocratic management, produced mainly by business schools and departments of economics, is most comfortable functioning in large management structures.
Today the most obvious vessel in which to release their desires is the transnational or the very large national corporation. Their training and these structures have very little to do with capitalism or risk. They are reincarnations of the seventeenth century royal monopolies. They are, if you like, a modern version of mercantilism.
(121) Our belief in salvation through the market is very much in the utopian tradition. The economists and managers are the servants of god. Like the medieval scholastics, their only job is to uncover the divine plan. They could never create or stop it.
(129) There is an old management rule that one man can’t administer more than twelve people. That number has many mystical, pre-Christian roots, but the unconscious origin in this case is probably Christ and his disciples. As the New Testament explains, even the son of God couldn’t manage twelve. Eleven was his maximum and the one-too-many brought down his whole enterprise.
(133) There are four economic pillars at play in accentuating or reducing our unconscious, troubled state: the marketplace, technology, globalization, and money markets.
(135) We live in a corporatist society where the public good is minimized and governments through their managers are expected to concentrate on “interest mediation,” as the neo-corporatists put it. There is no room for thought at any level because there is no room for disinterest [ie non self interest/group (public good) interest over self interest]. A sever crisis seems to be required to shake up governments and remind them of their responsibility to lead. Only in these crises do the corporatist groups lie low and allow the governments to do their proper job.
The problem of industrial pollution is very much the same. As Robert Heilbroner put it in the 1992 Massey Lectures:
“Steel producers have no incentive to cut down on pollution, insofar as they do not pay the laundry or health bills to which it gives rise. As a result the market mechanism does not accurately serve one of the purposes that it purports to fulfill - namely, presenting society with an accurate assessment of the relative costs of producing things.”
In other words, the marketplace is capable only of calculating exclusive costs; that is, excluding all possible costs that interfere with profit. Leadership of society requires the calculation of inclusive costs.
To invoke the marketplace, as if calling upon the Holy Spirit, is to limit ourselves to the narrow and short-term interests of exclusion.
(139) An increasing number of schools are spending large parts of their budgets on computers and computer programs. Once in possession of enough equipment they can line up a classroom full of students behind machines where they can be educated in isolation by something less intelligent than a human. This sacrifices one of the primary purposes of education, particularly in a democracy - to show individuals how they can function together in society.
(143) With globalization we are deep within the will of more than the gods. This is pure Destiny, the most acute form of ideology. It doesn’t matter what the effects are. Destiny must reveal itself.
(149) Every day, currency traders move $1 trillion around the world. This would seem to suggest that a lot of money is available. And that if a very small part of it were paid in taxes most of our public-financing problems would be solved.
There are, unfortunately, two impediments. This money is not available for taxation. And more importantly, it doesn’t really exist. Money that bears no relationship to reality is imaginary. It is pure inflation. Hume:
“Money is not, properly speaking, one of the subjects of commerce; but only the instrument which men have agreed upon to facilitate the exchange of one commodity for another. It is none of the wheels of trade. It is the oil which renders the motion of the wheels more smooth and easy,” (“Of Money,” Essays).
“Money is neither a material to work upon, nor a tool to work with,” (An Inquiry).
(150) In the matter of money markets, it is Smith and Hume who are right. The explosion in these markets does not finance growth because money markets unrelated to financing real activity are pure inflation. And for that matter, they are a very esoteric, pure form of ideology.
(152) Note that although corporatist society discourages creativity, it encourages delusion. And on the subject of growth, what we are experiencing is a feeding frenzy of delusion. The money markets are a prime example. But so also are the commercial property booms: the endless investment in management structures; and our embroidering of consumerism which ranges from highly baroque to the outright lunatic.
The deeper we plunge into this false growth, the more the economy itself becomes innately inflationary.
I would suggest that we are in desperate need of a reformulation of the idea of growth. The early industrial model is not working. Applied to our society it is an exclusionary formula. And the false growth encouraged by the technocracy is dragging us even deeper into crisis. Yet the ideals of sustainable development remain far removed from the realities of applied power.
For example, growth, as we currently understand it, classifies education as a cost, thus a liability. A golf ball, on the other hand, is an asset and the sale of it is a measurable factor of growth. A face lift is an element of economic activity while a heart bypass is a liability which the economy must finance. Holidays are among the pearls of the service industry, while child care is a cost.
In other words, our concept of assets and liabilities, of goods versus expenses, has a negative effect on the realities of growth. We are unable to take into account the needs of a sophisticated society. Investment in training and in the care of citizens cannot be treated as an asset. Yet the illusion of growth through the sale of golf balls remains firmly in place.
It is difficult to imagine how we might escape our ongoing economic crisis unless we can reconsider the nature of growth. As you would expect in a corporatist society, our current narrow view is focused tightly on short term interests. By reconsideration I mean that we must attempt to draw back far enough to see where value lies in the society. The more sophisticated the civilization, the more probable it is that value will lie in areas which are not of direct interest. If growth can be conceived in a wider, more inclusive form, then it will abruptly become possible to reward those things which society finds useful.
Our current obsession with the invisible hand of the marketplace is of no help in such a situation. It merely exacerbates our state of economic illusion and imbalance.
That which you are told today is the inevitable product of economic truth and globalization is more accurately the passive assertion of superstitious men waiting for Destiny to fell them. It is an attitude that most sensible people can easily reject. But rejection means assuming responsibility. And in our elites there is no desire to initiate changes which would insert the concept of responsibility into that of power. Only a persistent public commitment by the citizenry could bring such a thing about.
- short term progress at the expense of lost term progress is short term and long term decline in disguise.
- pathological myopia is at the heart of modern progress. we cannot see, literally.
Ch 5. From Ideology to Equilibrium
(154) Practical humanism is the voyage towards equilibrium without the expectation of actually arriving there…[like] Socrates’ initial voyage - towards knowledge without the expectation of finding truth.
- see “asymptotic” in On Aggression: becoming increasingly exact (or corroborative) as a variable (or variables) approaches a limit, usually infinity.
(155) I have already mentioned a number of opposites central to this daily effort [toward equilibrium]. We can add to the list such simple battles as that for consciousness versus the comfort of remaining in the unconscious; responsibility versus passivity; doubt versus certainty; delight in the human condition or sympathy for the condition of others versus self-loathing and cynicism regarding the qualities of others.
This idea that sympathy for others is the essential characteristic of the human condition was, incidentally, central to Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, a treatise that is rarely mentioned by the false disciples of his economic theories. By this he meant propriety or the appropriate control and directing of our affections; prudence or the judicious pursuit of our own private interest; and the benevolence or the exercise of only those affections that encourage the happiness of others. How poor Adam Smith got stuck with disciples like the market economists and neoconservatives is hard to imagine. He is in profound disagreement with their view of society.
Perhaps there is one other essential opposition that should be added to the list; the acceptance of time versus the fear of it. Ideology uses time as a weapon. It plays upon our fears of death or of ceasing to exist, which are largely unconscious. It scratches away indirectly at those fears by turning time into a recurrent bogeyman of the most practical aspects of the human condition. Time is limited. There’s no time to lose.
The recurring delusion of a safe haven in both the grandiose and the microscopic aspects of our lives is tied to defeating time or at least to controlling it. The whole discourse of necessity and inevitability that surrounds the ideologies - from corporatism on down to the payment of debts - is constructed around a “now or never” threat. Time, the great enemy, will defeat us if we hesitate for a moment to think or to doubt it. Panicked, we flee toward certainty.
At the very origin of management theory lies the falsely scientific Taylorist model of the mechanistic human. The uncertainty of time, which surrounds human activity, is to be removed by encasing us in a structure fit for machinery. Machines may deprecate, but they do not fear death. As for the hierarchical structures of corporatism, they create an illusion of time eternally fixed inlace. Here, in the role of a function, the human escapes the threat of time passing, except on an institutional level.
In the twentieth century there is a curious, highly practical sidebar to this problem. Individuals have never had so much time. In this century alone Westerners have added some 25 years to their life expectancy. We now have 50 percent more time in which to do whatever we wish. Given our general standard of living and our education, we could be using at least some of that time to think more and to replace the race to certainty with a more relaxed approach towards doubt.
- the anxiety of progress, Berman’s “radical acceptance of death”
(164) Real individualism is the obligation to act as a citizen. This has nothing to do with conformism or obedience to interests outside of the public good. Let me repeat for a last time a few lines from Socrates’ self defense:
“Perhaps someone may say, ‘but surely, Socrates, after you have left us you can spend the rest of your life in quietly minding your own business.’ This is the hardest thing of all to make some of you understand. If I say that…I cannot ‘mind my own business,’ you will not believe me.”
Now the very essence of corporatism is minding your own business. And the very essence of individualism is the refusal to mind your own business.
(170) It would be a major accomplishment if we were able to focus on the tendency of those, who make the arguments for corporatism, to also praise the rural idyll - italia rural, as Mussolini put it. Or small town America. Or common sense conservatism. Always behind these simplistic utopias is a sense of moral cleanliness, deep roots, local belonging, clarity of shared vision; all the things which the proposers of these simple utopias are removing with their other hand through corporatism.
Such a two handed approach is so contradictory as to be ridiculous. But the difficulty of expressing the corporatist problem, as against the simplicity of expressing the false utopia, makes one a perfect foil for the other. As a result we seem unable to identify the comic nature of the official discourse.
(171) It is though language that we will find our way our of our current dilemma, just as a discovery of language provided a way our for Westerners during the humanist breakthrough that began in the twelfth century. For those addicted to concrete solutions, this call for a rebirth or rediscovery of meaning may well seem vague and unrelated to reality. But language, when it works, is the tool that makes it possible to invoke reality.
(172) The difficulty with many of the arguments used today to examine reigning fallacies is that they have fallen into the general assumptions of deconstructionism. They do not seek meaning or knowledge or truth. They seek to demonstrate that all language is tied to interest. The deconstructionists have argued against language as communication in order to get at the evils of rhetoric and propaganda. But if language is always self-infests, then there is no possibility of the public good. The net effect has been to reinforce the corporatist point of view that we all exist as functions within our corporations.
To rephrase this problem in terms of my argument, the deconstructionists have effectively attacked our addiction to answers, but in such a way as to undermine the validity of our questions. And so the [status quo] answers, assertive as they are, stand reinforced.
(173) The universities are also in crisis because the historic process of learning has slipped, once again, back into the comfortable cubbyhole of sophism and scholasticism. In the fifth century BC, the Sophists aimed at producing not wisdom or goodness, but efficiency and cleverness. This may sound familiar; these are characteristics vaunted by the business schools and those parts of the social sciences that feed the think tanks and foundations.
(175) I spoke earlier in this chapter about our panicked front-end loading of education and careers onto relatively long lives. Not only does the system demand a rushed process, it demands an increasingly specialized process.
We are already suffering from the effects of university graduates who have little or no basic education because the requirements of the job market were so directly quantified in the coursed required for their degrees. Now that same phenomenon is reaching down into pre-university education.
Yet our real problem is not one of time. It will be increasingly one of finance. Over the long term, no society will be able to finance 25 to 35 years of retirement. It would be far more sensible - and far more livable for the individual - re-examine our outdated patterns. Why not take five to ten years from the end of life and transfer it to the beginning? In other words, why not actually make some use of the time won through longer life expectancy? And I don’t mean mere utilitarian use. If a 50 percent increase in longevity is a victory for civilization, then it is civilization which should gain some advantage from it. For example, there is absolutely no need to narrow the spectrum of pre-university education in order to focus on structural elements such as management and technology. And there is no need for universities to turn out 21 year old specialists equipped with no memory of their civilization’s experience, no ethical context, no sense of the larger shape of their society. At both levels there is ample time for a general education before turning to specialization. There is also ample time for serious periods of experience in public service before entering into 30 or 35 years of career.
The technocrat will say that we can’t afford more education and more public service. The truth is that neither, from a humane or financial point of view, can we afford to dump ourselves as individuals into limbo at age 55 or 60. As i have already pointed out, education is an asset not a liability. We see it as an unfinanceable cost only because of our narrow, outdated definition of growth.
(178) The problem is not what science can discover, or applied science can develop, but whether we are willing to blindly subject our civilization to the abstract demigod of inanimate objects.
(181) “We know the good,” Euripides wrote, “but we do not practice it.” The true characteristic of consciousness if therefore not simply knowledge, but a balanced use of our qualities so that what we know and say is related to what we do. The humanist at his best proceeds through the best possible equilibrium. It is a balancing act that makes the narrow certainty of ideologies impossible.
- the six qualities to be balanced: common sense, ethics, imagination, intuition, memory, and reason (“filters of public action,” pg 189).
(185) Emile Durkheim: “The other task for the corporation consists in the delegitimization of common sense.” In favor of what? In favor of reason, which is the invoked deity of corporatism.
(186) Giambattista Vico complained in the early eighteenth century that reason was “a philosophy of judgement.”
(186) [summary] What I have described in these five chapters is a civilization - our civilization - locked in the grip of an ideology - corporatism. An ideology that denies and undermines the legitimacy of the individual as the citizen in a democracy. The particular imbalance of this ideology leads to a worship of self interest and a denial of the public good. The quality that corporatism claims as its own is rationality. The practical effects on the individual are passivity and conformism in the areas that matter and non-conformism in the areas that don’t.
(189) Equilibrium, in the Western experience, is dependent not just on criticism, but on non-conformism in the public place. The road away from the illusions of ideology towards reality is passable only if that anti-conformism makes full use of our qualities and strengths in order to maintain the tension of uncertainty. The examined life makes a virtues of uncertainty. It celebrates doubt.
(190) The virtue of uncertainty is not a comfortable idea, but then a citizen based democracy is built upon participation, which is the very expression of permanent discomfort. The corporatist system depends upon the citizen’s desire for inner comfort. Equilibrium is dependent upon our recognition of reality, which is the acceptance of permanent psychic discomfort. And the acceptance of psychic discomfort is the acceptance of consciousness.