the intensity valve: occupying hazards

Adbusters: “Cultural revolution is our business” That is exactly the problem. Culture jamming is a business model that fits cleanly into Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. Buy Nothing Day! but the rest of the years consume “cool” things that distinguish you. It’s difficult to make those responsible bear the burden of the pain when those most affected are fragmented. Effectively, that means 80% of the population spread over age, education and income which makes the task of organizing and establishing solutions complex and time consuming. Yet, with so many having just gripes why is the almost idyllic use of the word “change” so seemingly impossible to effectuate given the substantial evidence that perhaps radical and painful solutions are required? Why is passivity so marked?

---The noted psychologist goes on to note that pundits have missed the mark by saying there are no clear demands. “The protesters' basic message is quite clear: Rein in the influence of big business, which has cheated and manipulated its way to great wealth (in part by buying legislation) while leaving a trail of oppressed and impoverished victims in its wake.” Haidt concludes by suggesting that the protesters can really tap into greater national sympathy by focusing on on the “cheating” and “oppression” at the hands of Wall Street. They'll get much further with their message than with flag burning, destruction, or violence.--- Read More: image:

From being into having in the earlier stage, post-modern capitalism is the transition of having into appearance. The new “having” stage effectively derives its prestige from appearances and modern technology such as internet, broadband, social networks, have been tremendous in producing appearances, what Debord called the separation within human beings. In this respect, ni the Society of the Spectacle, publicity is the only ideology, and aided by traditional media interests, the Occupy movement has been a “spectacle” of a success, captivating the attention of the entire world and mediating and vaporizing its critical content; except for the likes of parachute dissenters like Susan Sarandon and Michael Moore. So, its to be expected that holders of slimy mortgages, food stamp users, near broke small business owners would not get their coverage. In terms of spectacle who cares?

John Sloan. The Haymarket. 1907. Read More:

If you are not an image-object in the service of the market, then you have no reason for existence and credibility. Perversely, its an inversion of Viktor Frankl’s invocation of the will to meaning. The image-object is a form of celebrity and the related publicity represents a whole attitude to life, the mediatizing of which reverts back to the old Edward Bernays, engineering of consent; a promotion of self-deception, a forfeiting of individuality, the creation of illusions and a disguising of the real.

Still, is there any usefulness of this sort of protest? Not really, except that income disparity is becoming an explosive issue; that is aggravated by the degree to which the very affluent have appropriated the financial system, and shaped government decisions as a private preserve. Think of them as a powerful NGO responsible to no one.  Then, Wall Street is a legitimate animal to be hunted, though to some extent they are a target of the downwardly mobile looking for someone to blame; as obstructing their perceived role as “therapeutic cops in the new bureaucracy.” The tyranny of the do-good liberal. So, with such diverse reason for dissatisfaction, its difficult to sustain this kind of movement, and it serves to sap the feeling there is a capacity to effectuate change. Entitlement system zealots are not going to dissuade banks from being avaricious.

---Homo Spectator is socially, culturally and economically dominant, as the Situationist Guy Debord argues. For him it is not clear that Homo Spectator is Homo Sapiens. In the society of the spectacle, we live in fantasy not in reality, and we are unable to distinguish them. As Debord writes, "the spectacle proclaims the predominance of appearances and asserts that all human life, which is to say all social life, is mere appearance. . . it is a visible negation of life. . . a negation of life that has invented a visual form for itself." "It turns reality on its head," even as "the spectacle is real." It establishes "the empire of modern passivity": the "image of the ruling economic order," it is "beyond dispute" and "demands. . . passive acceptance." Read More: image:

But, the system in place in whatever era has always been extremely resiliant to change. Some of the answers can be found in the work of Thorstein Veblen:

Pancetta: …and investigating instead the ‘first principle’ that maintains the existing order despite popular displeasure, namely the persuasive
power of conservative thought on reformist thought. The mitigation of reformist thought is in concrete terms the effect of the upper class aptitude for adequately stimulating and refreshing popular morality and docility. In order to clarify his arguments we refer to his The Theory of Business Enterprise (1904) where we find three particular institutional categories that can mitigate the intensity of reform, while generating a sort of inter-class solidarity. These are: a) politics  b) philanthropy  and, in more general terms, c) culture….

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…The intensity of reformist thought is mitigated by the “art of government” and by the juridical architecture of the State, in particular by the formal rules of social conduct, laws, and by a bureaucratic and normative structure aimed at the punish

of deviant behaviours, justice. Veblen points out both law and justice are naturally persuasive institutions of social conduct. The vast majority of the population is naturally inclined to respect laws because of innate docility and morality. So, when popular morality and docility are sufficiently stimulated, monitored and controlled, it becomes more difficult for conflict to exist with the existing order:

“The government commonly works in the interest of the business men [..] and [..] in some occult way, the material interests of the populace coincide with the pecuniary interests of [the same] business men. This persuasion is an article of popular metaphysics, in that it rests on an
uncritically assumed solidarity of interests, rather than on an insight into the relation of business enterprise to the material welfare of those classes who are not primarily business men [..]. Since the conservative element comprises [..] the effective majority of law-abiding citizens, it follows that [..] constitutional government has, in the main, become a department of the business organization and is guided by the advice of the business men. ” … is clear Veblen does not find any form of incompatibility between philanthropy and predation, the natural proclivity of the upper class (see also section 2). So any temptation to refresh reformist thought by playing on a hypothetical asocial sentiment among the upper class has no effect since the upper classes can incorporate humanitarian sentiment in the same way as the populace, and since the population valorises all humanitarian gestures, the intensity of its conflictual spirit tends to decrease as the number of observations of upper class humanitarianism increases.---Read More: image:

…To Veblen, the movement of popular discontent is thus prompted by psychological privations, namely the lack of esteem deriving from economic failure, rather than by the privation of the means of subsistence. The population’s material impoverishment is irrelevant – in spite of what he would say later  – and he tries to explain why in these terms: the machine era causes a substantial increase in the amount produced so the population cannot, at least in absolute terms, suffer physical privation since it has more goods at its disposal than previous generations; at the same time it constantly shows a state of dissatisfaction towards the existing order, why then? Because the modern era is not only the machine era, but also the era of “private property under free competition” .

---From this point Veblen aims at studying institutional inertia, going beyond the simple materialistic arguments of the popular status and investigating instead the ‘first principle’ that maintains the existing order despite popular displeasure, namely the persuasive power of conservative thought on reformist thought. The mitigation of reformist thought is in concrete terms the effect of the upper class aptitude for adequately stimulating and refreshing popular morality and docility.---Read More: image:

…Everyone is free to own and no formal constraint limits this freedom except for the amount of income possessed. So the population shows dissatisfaction when it sees the inadequacy of the income possessed to cover the necessities of life, mainly psychological, imposed by the prevailing institutions. The test of incongruity here is not objective and absolute. It is subjective because it depends on the prevailing institutions, and therefore on the behaviour of the dominant class, and it is relative since it results from comparison between incomes and
institutional necessities. Veblen constantly points out that the prevailing institutional necessity is esteem. Esteem is obtained through economic success which does not exist without emulation. A person obtains economic success when he is able to own more than the next man and when he ostentatiously displays this greater wealth. Note that the sense of economic success is always relative since it depends on the types, numbers and distribution of individuals with whom the economic comparison is made….

Paxman:Artists soon realised how their bread was buttered and, instead of recoiling from urban reality, began to celebrate it. Seasides, railway stations, street scenes all provided subjects for paintings. Read more:

…While in this first work Veblen limits himself to generally applying the emulation factor to all social classes, in subsequent years he specifically labels the social class, namely the leisure class, which is the provider of canons of esteem, and therefore of the prevailing institutions, for the whole of society. Let us quote Veblen on this point:

“The leisure class stands at the head of the social structure in point of reputability; and its manner of life and its standards of worth therefore afford the norm of reputability for the community. The observance of these standards, in some degree of approximation, becomes incumbent upon all classes lower in the scale ”. And then,

“The norm of reputation imposed by the upper class extends its coercive influence with but slight hindrance down through the social structure to the lowest strata. The result is that the members of each stratum accept as their ideal of decency the scheme of life in vogue in the next higher
stratum, and bend their energies to live up to that ideal” . … institutional evolution depends on disciplining tools and on mechanisms for inducing change. In this early Veblen, and in view of what has been said above, the disciplining tool that acts on the critical opinion of the institutions is that of emulation induced by ownership, which endogenizes the level of economic success reached, therefore the level of esteem obtained, therefore the level of psychological…

Frank Holl. Read More:

…privation suffered and consequently the state of popular dissatisfaction. Moreover, the main change-inducing mechanism is social “contact” – direct or indirect – of members of the collectivity with the leisure class. The institutional order not conforming to the habit of emulation is subject to critical evaluation and, if necessary, to modification. With reference to this particular mechanism of critical evaluation of the existing
order, the goal of the income “levelling policy” – emblematic of popular movements which interested the early Veblen – is not that of the fair allocation of the goods produced to members of the community, but that of the “fair” distribution of the possibilities of emulation among individuals. What is claimed by the population is the right to appropriate a part of the social income, as the upper classes do. As a result, the
populace endogenizes the fairness of exploitation. They want this not for the purpose of reclaiming the product of their labour unduly taken from them by the upper classes, but simply to obtain the means of payment owned by the upper classes, indispensable if they are to act like them. In this form of discontent Veblen does not link the reason underlying popular discontent to the people’s claim for a hypothetical and immutable
natural right to own in full the product of labor….

Read More:

…This is for two reasons, the first methodological and the second factual. On the methodological plane Veblen considers rights in institutional, not natural, terms. Since they are the product of institutions, and as institutions are in continuous evolution, the nature of a right claimed by the population is subject to modification in the course of time. Veblen himself modifies his theory of the nature of the rights claimed by the population in subsequent works, moving from emulation to machine discipline . On the factual plane, instead, Veblen observes that the contingent reason underlying popular discontent is simply the urge to emulate the upper classes, not the desire to reclaim something improperly removed by them. If the cultural weight of emulation is particularly felt by the collective, the population could be pushed towards the modification of those institutions that do not allow a concrete growth of the money available to them, which improves their level of
economic success, and in turn their self-esteem, thus decreasing their discontent. Popular discontent, driven by economic emulation, takes the following logic chain:

the higher the discrepancy between incomes, the lower the economic success of some individuals compared to others, the lower the capacity to emulate, the lower the esteem that some can receive. This produces psychological privation and popular discontent. If popular discontent accumulates in the community, institutions will be subject to modification, but since Veblen does not envisage automatism of results – either in the case of popular discontent prompted by emulation or when prompted by machine discipline  – we can only say when popular discontent reaches a critical intensity and a wide distribution – not foreseeable, not measurable and above all free of
counteracting forces  – only then can institutions change. V.Read More:

---One of my own favourites, George Elgar Hicks's The General Post Office: One Minute To 6, shows the desperate press to catch the post before the shutters come down at closing time. Porters carry rolled-up newspapers on their heads, a man wipes the sweat from his brow, relieved that he has beaten the deadline, a policeman arrests a low-browed pickpocket in the act of filching someone's purse. There is such an exuberance to it all. Read more:

…The intensity of reformist thought is mitigated by those values designed to spread a feeling of pride and sense of belonging to the group. The population is trained to put the interests of the group before their own interests through the rules of rank, authority and subordination. It follows the solidarity of national interests serves the conservatism of the status quo. Rank, authority and subordination were institutional categories affecting organizational structure of industrial firms in the years Veblen was writing so the critical thought generated by ‘machine discipline’ – via the institutions of creativity, proficiency and efficiency – did not find fertile ground for its full development because it was naturally restrained by the intensity of the working class’s docile proclivity to being commanded. Reformist thought is also mitigated by the appropriation of humanitarian sentiment and charitable behaviour by the upper classes. In the eyes of the population, humanitarian gestures are noble, independent from which social class is taking action to deal with social ills, so the population “sympathizes” with the upper class when the latter is sympathetic towards the population: Read More:

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