Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"A Point Of Resistance"

Sharon Astyk (via Rod Dreher):

The economy is a game of music chairs, and the chairs are disappearing. When the music stops for each of us, and our chair is gone, for a time we will rely primarily on the resources we've built up now. Those of us left holding the big screen tvs and the designer handbags will have them - or whatever their resale value is. And those who have ties - biological or chosen - will have those. The truth is that our consumer culture needs us to be isolated, fragmented, alone, empty - or advertising wouldn't work, the nonsensical reasoning that we have to have this year's big thing wouldn't work. The primary project of consumer culture is to drive us apart, to make sure we do not share, we do not combine resources, or even consult on how ridiculous the things we are being told are. And it has worked magnificently.

The music is hectic, the chairs are disappearing, we're going faster and faster. And pretty soon it stops. What will you have when it just...STOPS?

Rod adds:

John Taylor Gatto, a lapsed Catholic and education reformer, wrote that one good thing religion has going for it is that it gives you a point of resistance against the manipulators. A spiritually content person, he said, is a lot harder to manipulate.

If spiritual contentedness and strong family ties are threats to the culture of consumerism -- and I think they are -- what does that say about the basic nature of institutions like the Federal Reserve and about broader economic policy during the past eight years? Robert McTeer, then head of the Dallas Fed, said in 2001, "If we all join hands and go buy a new SUV, everything will be all right...Just go out and buy something - maybe a Navigator." Richard Fisher, his successor, said in 2005:

Where would the world be if Americans did not live out their proclivity to consume everything that looks good, feels good, sounds good, tastes good? We provide a service for the rest of the world. If we were running a current account surplus or trade surplus, what would happen to economic growth worldwide and what would be the economic consequences? So I think we are doing our duty there.

And of course Bush's various exhortations to "go shopping" are well-known.

I wonder how many on the Religious Right understand the irony in supporting an administration that unabashedly promotes an almost demonic obsession with the material world on display in incidents like this. Or is it really all about "the fags"?


Anonymous WSP said...

Hint: It's all about the fags.

Thank God someone else is about to be in charge.

12/02/2008 2:20 AM  
Anonymous Jason Lefkowitz said...

"I wonder how many on the Religious Right understand the irony in supporting an administration that unabashedly promotes an almost demonic obsession with the material world."

Probably not many, given that lots of evangelical Christians have embraced the so-called "prosperity gospel", which teaches that Jesus wants you to buy a Navigator too.

12/02/2008 6:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really do trace this back to the Reagan era - that administration legitimized greed. At least, prior to that, the greedy felt sufficient guilt to hide it, or pretend otherwise in public.

We have become materially rich and spiritually impoverished. And the transition we're just beginning now (the "beginning of the beginning") is going to be tough.

12/02/2008 7:55 AM  
Anonymous efrex said...

There's a related issue, one which I have not seen anyone addressing:

As individuals, we should be saving our money in retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s: after all, the "free market" will provide better returns over time than "socialized" plans like pensions and social security. Unfortunately, if everybody actually followed a reasonable financial plan, then spending would plummet, as would the investments in the aforementioned "free market" accounts.

Our system is predicated on a small number of fiscally intelligent people bamboozling the majority into acting against their best interests. Go ahead: run up your "low interest rate" credit card, buy houses you can't afford, and spend, spend, spend, because if you don't, our house of cards comes tumbling down.

We're screwed because the sensible thing for individuals to do can't be universalized across the national society (there's probably a good philosophical reference to Kant and the Categorical Imperative in there someplace, but I'll leave that for the philosophers in the audience).

12/02/2008 9:54 AM  
Anonymous Kilfarsnar said...

Good points efrex! A system based on ever increasing debt can't remain stable over time.

I think the people in this country know something is wrong. They just don't know what it is. We are (or live like) the richest country in the world. But we are not happy. There is a quiet desperation; a silent rage that is just below the surface. Our popular culture is leading us away from the things that could make us truly happy. Those things cannot be bought, and no one can get rich off of them.

The "free market", our system, our god, is based on self interest; often narrow self interest. We thought that would somehow provide for the common good. But it has led us to confusion and isolation. And that leaves us all the more vulnerable to the wolves among us.

As Anon@7:55 said, we are spiritually impoverished. America is sick in its soul. We have been enamored with shiny objects while our foundation has crumbled underneath.

Much of my reading lately has included the idea that the world is on the cusp of a great awakening. I don't know exactly what that means. But perhaps this crisis will give us the opportunity to realize how we have gotten off track, and try to right things. I hope so, but it will be a lot of work.

12/02/2008 11:51 AM  
Blogger Fionnghal said...

This post has shown me that this may be why pirating music and software seems so popular and such a bane to corporate consumerism. To share is human nature. We naturally share things we enjoy and we don't see it as wrong because it is in our nature to share. Sharing makes us all feel good and we cannot help ourselves. Until the music industry figures that there is no way they can fight human nature and change their business models to accommodate this, I don't see how they can succeed.

12/02/2008 11:54 AM  
Anonymous e. nonee moose said...

Mob psychology had to play a huge role in what happened in New York and it was predictable that a tragedy like this eventually would occur. Any time you allow a mob to gather and then work themselves up to near hysteria, something bad is bound to happen. Whether at a political rally or at the capitalistic equivalent of a feeding frenzy, mobs can turn ugly real quick.

12/02/2008 1:38 PM  
Anonymous Thomas Daulton said...

Wow, TCR, it's a little bit of a departure from your usual, to consider the spiritual side of Capitalism. But what an excellent post, and the comments are also very incisive.

If you're interested in pursuing this line of thought, I recommend a blog called "After the Future". My interpretation of his central thesis -- which no doubt differs from the way he'd describe it -- is that the Right wing reactionary masses are swayed by paeans to old traditions: such as, unquestioning patriotism, faith in the stability of commerce, and also, religion. But the substance of many of these traditions is hollow, empty, the substance did not survive the passage into the modern era and is now a counterproductive farce. This causes them to feel un-rooted, confused, vertiginous, so they cling to the buzzwords of the hollow traditions even more. But they don't realize that many of the people they support (e.g. modern businessmen) have a major hand in destroying the old traditions that they cling to, even while the destroyers pay lip service to the buzzwords. Instead the reactionary masses blame only their political opponents, who call themselves "progressives", because the reactionaries are anti-progress. The blog refers to these people and traditions as "Zombie Traditions" and "Zombie Traditionalists". The "After the Future" blog seeks to understand whether and how the old traditions can be transitioned or replaced with a moral basis of some kind, a new tradition, which keeps its substance in the lightspeed modern era.

The excellent "Slacktivist" also touches on these issues, but generally talks much more specifically about a range of religious dogma rather than confining himself to tradition or Capitalist/wealth issues.

Both of these bloggers are rare treasures: religious people with the perspicacity to question and analyze religious issues, rather than accepting their own without question and shrieking anathema on everybody else.

12/02/2008 2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, Fionnghal, but pirating music and software isn't "sharing", it's "stealing."

Sharing requires the consent of the owner, the developer, or someone who has rights to the thing.
Like, open source software for example.

If I'm at the cafeteria and the sandwich is marked at $5, and the owner gives it to me because I look hungry, that's sharing.

If I take half a sandwich for myself, or for someone else, without telling the owner I did it, that's stealing.

I completely agree that the music industry needs some updates to handle new media, but let's not confuse the terms here.

The new model for media and for the human race needs to respect the creative in some concrete way, not just let folks take whatever entertainment they feel entitled to.

12/02/2008 6:17 PM  
Anonymous Exhibit_B said...

Ahhhhh, but piracy is not "stealing" either, because no illegal download or copy actually deprives anyone else of the physical product. The actual CDs are still right there on the shelves to buy. The original file still remains in your friend's iPod to use. Hence any argument alleging "financial loss" is murky even at best. Piracy isn't theft, despite the authorities' use of a word that hearkens back to an era when people murdered each other and dragged ships or gold away, thus depriving the lawful owners. It's completely different. The word itself is propaganda.

12/02/2008 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Exhibit_B said...

...What's that you say? I can't quibble without proposing some kind of constructive solution? Fine, fine, I happen to like this one:


Note that, like all Dean Baker's solutions, his proposed solution simply takes advantage of economies of scale and then lets consumers freely choose in the free market between the expensive, inefficient proprietary brand versus the populist solution. No coercion involved.

12/02/2008 6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: the evangelical Right, yes: the joke's on them.

12/02/2008 7:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I wonder how many on the Religious Right understand the irony in supporting an administration that unabashedly promotes an almost demonic obsession with the material world....?"

I'm surrounded by friends/family/neighbors of said RR, and it's only a tiny minority.

These folks don't spend a lot of time reconciling the cognitive dissonance that surrounds them.

By the way, these are the same people that were blowing up my inbox with emails about the evil threat of Obama's socialism, even as the Bush Administration transferred Trillion$ from my kids and grandkids.

It won't be long before this same segment looks back wistfully upon the never in doubt Bush, who just told Charlie Gibson he never waivered.

No coincidence, it's an old Preacher technique: never show doubt.

12/02/2008 9:33 PM  
Blogger Mrs Panstreppon said...

If you weren't alarmed when you heard the phrase, "Trickle Down Economics", you are getting what you deserve.

Ronald Reagen is the most honest president in history. He sent Arthur Laffer around to tell everyone that under his economic plan, the rich would get richer and the rest of us would get whatever slipped by them.

Why anyone who is not rich admires Ronald Reagen is beyond me.

12/02/2008 10:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Exhibit B:
Great link, and in the current climate, linking intellectual property as applied to music to patent protection on drugs makes a more interesting argument.

I make my living as an hourly consultant, not based on the number of copies of my work that are sold. So, I'm paid for every hour I worked, and the "popularity" of my product isn't relevant... at least not beyond the number of bosses I have at the time.

BUT - I never work for free, and (by contract) the products I deliver belong to them on payment of the invoices.

I guess I fundamentally believe in the right of people to choose the terms on which they offer up their effort. And the marketplace is free to reward them or not. But, it's not right for me to unilaterally decide that the commercially published terms don't suit me and I will take the benefit without bothering to negotiate other terms.

The fact that it's a 99 cent song track vs a $3000 prescription doesn't change that principle.

What does change for me is the degree to which the product was made possible by taxpayers (NIH grants, anyone). But, then, I'm the guy who said "If GM/FNMA/Etc. are too big to fail, then they're too big to run unregulated."

12/02/2008 11:13 PM  
Anonymous Exhibit_B said...

Ahhhh, now you're making an actual _argument_, and the argument is much different than "IP Piracy = Stealing". Much better. So long as the entertainment industry keeps pushing the "Piracy = Stealing" canard, I think it inhibits the development of new commercial models appropriate to the new technology. I think they're gonna have about as much luck as the Religious Fundamentalists pushing the "Abstinence Only" line.

[Just for people who didn't click the link, my link's argument boils down to: the government and industry spend titanic amounts of money and effort protecting IP, and these measures carry all the disadvantages of an economic monopoly and restrict consumers. Their money and effort would be better spent promoting these same pursuits directly, on the condition that the artists receiving the promotion couldn't patent or copyright their work; those who disagreed could still patent their work, but the non-patented stuff would be a lot cheaper for consumers.]

But just to be insolent here, there are plenty of viable industries where the creators of a product don't really have control over the terms of their sale. Any "used-goods" marketplace, from E-Bay to a used clothing store, for example. If all those used-goods marketplaces were forced to obey the producers' terms, most would disappear, and our society would waste mountains of materials and effort throwing things away which could still be shared.

Universities don't control how their students use their Intellectual product, knowledge. Plenty of nuclear weapons experts have come from peacenik University of California at Berkeley. What would the world be like if universities controlled their Intellectual Property? (Sure, facts are in the public domain, but there's so much more to an education than rote memorization of facts.) Well for one thing, the education system wouldn't lack money, just imagine if universities insisted that a 0.1% "Royalty" be paid to them from out of the salaries of all their graduates. But what would the hiring corporations say to _that_??

Buy any book and you'll see on the inside cover that you are technically prohibited from reselling or lending it, or even quoting large passages. The publisher [[**snicker**]] expects that, if you enjoy a book, you will keep it locked up in a safe and insist that your friends buy their own copy before discussing it with you. These are the sort of inefficiencies that my link from Dean Baker says could be smoothed out.

12/03/2008 4:27 PM  
Anonymous Exhibit_B said...

P.S. when you talk about "the right of people to choose the terms on which they offer up their effort," and then talk about musicians, I am reminded of how Hitler and other dictators used classical music, or more recently, skinheads beating up gays while singing Nirvana. (Kurt Cobain explicitly disavowed those fans at his concerts: "If you do that, then we don't want you to listen to our music," he said, but just what could anyone really do to enforce that position?)

I'm not convinced that entertainers have control over the "terms on which they offer up their effort" in the same way that a welder, for example, signs a contract for a steel building. It's arguable that entertainers are offering their goods to the entire world, in a way that welders are not. Conversely, entertainers have certain freedoms in the standards their deliverables are held to, that a welder does not. Entertainers have the inherent right to free speech, but a welder has to stick to certain safe types of welds. It's not the same animal, and attempts to hold entertainment to an assembly-line model always seem to be counterproductive.

12/03/2008 4:39 PM  
Anonymous Exhibit_B said...

[... not that I'm sayin' Hitler using Wagner was a "good" thing, just that, this is the real world we're talking about here]

12/03/2008 4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We no longer live in a society, we live in an economy, where right and wrong is determined not by fairness, but by profitability -- and where the law no longer dictates corporate behavior, but corporate behavior dictates the law." - Kelly Overton, Executive Director of People Protecting Animals & Their Habitats

I keep scratching my head, wondering why folks believe Pat Robertson, and donate to his appropriately called "club". Surely, what constitutes mainstream religion, the kind that drives the GOP, is more self-serving for the educated, and a blanket for the less educated, and an excuse for both. They pick and chose what they will follow in order to make themselves feel something, and so they get something.

In one of Zig Ziglar's (salesperson, author, southern evangelical) books he says, "Help enough other people get what they want, and you'll get what you want." I thought he meant help people by giving them a hand up, so we are all raised. But evidently there is a dark side to this saying, and it includes war, telling lies, being mean, being self-centered. During the 2000 election, Ziglar used his business email list to enlist war on Democrats and fight for Bush. He got a lot of heat from people who thought they were signed up to a positive motivational business email list. Zig apologized, and created a new email list to fight the "now is the time" fight. That explains it. They are willing to sell their souls, so the GOP gets something, and they get something. I'm not sure the loving Christian values has anything to do with it. A lot of people who say they are Christians, sure don't act like it. I'm not sure this is anything new. During k7-k12 those in church on Sunday were the biggest party animals (could find them in the back pews bowing their heads to prevent them from puking) and could be the meanest. There seems to be a discussion that some Evangelicals want a church run state (i.e., no separation of church and state for them), and they are willing to do anything today, to get it tomorrow. And if that means letting the GOP ruin the country and run it into bankruptcy so be it. I think like all religious conquests, this is not going to end well. I hope with more emphasis on quality education that things will improve in the future.

12/04/2008 2:02 AM  

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