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Friday, July 23, 2010

Don´t Read This Unless You´re a Nerd

Post dated from July 13, 2010

I guess this is the sort of thing I think about while sharpening a machete for an hour while on standfast due to riots…

It just occurred to me that the only reason that the church, the party, the government, empires, the corporation – the reason that these have all been the dominant social institution of their time is because they have all been very effective at organizing people (although I guess resources secondarily) along different lines. In order to increase their effectiveness, they each promote a value system that allows them a greater degree of influence. Corporations’ propaganda surrounds material well being. The propaganda of the church revolves around faith. The propaganda of empire is centered on conquest. The government, nationalism obviously. Party control is based on group affiliation or in group/out group politics. Propaganda of each is intended to actively influence the behavior of individuals on a personal level by changing what they spend their time thinking about and by changing their basic assumptions. That is the purpose and nature of propaganda.

The corporation in its present form was proposed as a way to solve technical problems and their social consequences through organizing labor according to a market economy. The market, an accumulation of people’s individual choices (at least people that have equity in the market), chooses the products that it wants, that people think will make their lives better. Through people’s individual desire to attain those products they are motivated to work together in a social hierarchy to attain a better material life with equity (within the context of the whole market system of organization) measured in salaries paid to labor. The idea that this organization of labor makes the lives of all stakeholders on the whole better is what gives it the moral authority to operate (if you have no individual bias which no morality is without). The idea that it works that way for a majority of people is what gives it the social and subsequent legal authority to exist in a liberal democracy based upon individual liberties.

The corporation is a very effective organizing machine because, like the church, it speaks to people on an individual level. It, unlike the church though, focuses on immediate material needs or wants that it proposes to be needs. The party, the government, Empire, only really ever speak to individuals when addressing their collective needs… or taxes. Taxes have proven to be a very effective method of organizing people… like a market economy.

It is important to note that these methods are only effective at organizing because they motivate by speaking to a human need or desire that is not satisfied, that is not completely fulfilled, whether it be camaraderie, prestige and pride, material want, hope/spirituality. During the present age of wealth, most material wants of the classes with any productive resources are met. Thus, the commodification of other human desires (especially prestige which is ipso facto an arms race), or the normalizing of greed is looked to as a way of maintaining the institutions dominance over individual behavior and thus as a way of controlling resources (both in terms of labor and assets.)

Those with productive assets are in better shape that those without, but nobody that is plugged into the network economy is really immune to its influence. In other words… no matter what line of work you are in, if I own the productive assets… you work for me as long as I can convince you to want the things that my productive assets are making. As long as I can convince you to value what I am making, even if it is shit, I am creating “social value” as measured in dollars. This is the reason that the advertising end of marketing undermines the integrity and moral authority of a market economy as the principal method of organizing people. There ceases to be a co-authored relationship between producer and consumer with the principal responsibility of value creation falling on the producer. The consumer has no real opportunity to assign a value based upon a personal “value system.”

But why would any of this matter to those of us that possess equity within the market already? Why would we, who have equity shares in large corporations as our primary productive asset be bothered by this state of affairs? A rising tide raises all boats does it not? Even if it raises those that begin with more higher than it raises those that begin with less?

The answer lies in the dynamic of the Market. The market is the interface between the individual as a consumer making choices and the literally global production forces organized to cater to any desire that he is willing to pay enough equity for (read as work hard enough for or give up enough potentially productive assets for). That alliance of production forces will try to sway his desire in any direction that makes him more likely to pay. They do that by actively trying to change what he values. They actively try to commodify and change his values.

As of yet there are a few values that have not been internalized to the market. For example, as of yet the parent/child bond is more or less sacred even if the nuclear family isn’t. However, with the advent of marketing directly to children in the last decade or so, that may be changing. Does the empirical evidence support the hypothesis that kids are getting harder to raise?

Capitalism makes individuals out of every former group. With the market fulfilling virtually every need, why does any individual need any other individual other than through their role as a producer? Do not get me wrong, the market has done wonderful things. It, with the occasional governmental tutoring, has allowed an incredible standard of living for a portion of the population never before even dreamed of. It has organized labor is such away as to not only produce, but to allow for a considerable amount of equity and reinvestment.

However, it has also made individuals out of everybody. It has changed our values with neither our permission nor our reflection. When we bought that last cell phone out of a desire for more personal liberty, did we know that we were, ipso facto, buying ourselves less time to be home with our families specifically because we did not need to be? Do we really believe that it is, as a radio commercial I recall in Miami “so good it will make you a better person?” Do we know that we have been convinced that it is okay to work on average a 50 hour work week for our standard of living? We have been convinced that it should be worth it to us.

The reason why many traditional societies rebel against the market system (like many people in Bocas del Toro are doing as I write this(honestly I don’t know enough about it to say that)) is not because they disagree with a proliferation of a higher standard of living. It is because they disagree with a forced (if not insidious) surrendering of their sovereignty over their values. Forced surrendering of one’s values is the rape of one’s individual, and cultural dignity.

In the end, the question of capitalism is more about a choice of lifestyle. The community that I currently stay with is rather well off. They are much better off certainly than they were a half century ago, owing primarily to market forces and a maturing of the segment of the population with at least a primary education. However, they have been buffered from advertizing, and buffered even from those products that will not pay the largest dividends in terms of their well being. PVC pipe and Weed Eaters made it. McDonalds, plastic siding and doggie sweaters did not. They just weren’t worth the leg work. And for this reasonable standard of living that they enjoy now they work, on average, 5-6 hours a day, much of it work around the house (it’s hard to draw a line between home and office so to speak). When Marcilino was 25 (he just told me) they would work from literally sun up to almost sun down. There was more labor involved with living. One had to carry the cane or corn from the field on a basket on one’s back instead of putting it in the bed of a pickup truck. The weed eaters, PVC pipe, cinderblocks, and even cars have actually made their lives better and more productive. They are actually investments in well being based upon already held values as opposed to just consumables that the market has made a social norm.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Like I said… just a thought.
Thank you for the inspiration Mr. Martenelli.

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