Category Archives: politics
Under present conditions, people are preoccupied with consumer goods not because they are brainwashed but because buying is the one pleasurable activity not only permitted but actively encouraged by our rulers. The pleasure of eating an ice cream cone may be minor compared to the pleasure of meaningful, autonomous work, but the former is easily available and the latter is not. A poor family would undoubtedly rather have a decent apartment than a new TV, but since they are unlikely to get the apartment, what is to be gained by not getting the TV?
Ellen Willis, “Women and the Myth of Consumerism”, Ramparts
I was reading this post on Megan McArdle’s blog at The Atlantic online yesterday. It’s one of several places of late where I’ve heard what seems to be the current mantra for dealing with stubbornly intractable unemployment rates: entrepreneurship. The idea is that jobs that are well-defined and routine–those that have traditionally been stable, well-paying jobs that, while not exciting, could make for long-term employment and careers–are either being automated or outsourced. Thus, the solution to this problem is said to be an increase in and encouragement of entrepreneurship, freelancing, and flexibility in the workforce. McArdle quotes Arnold Kling, at the Library of Economics and Liberty site:
The paradox is this. A job seeker is looking for something for a well-defined job. But the trend seems to be that if a job can be defined, it can be automated or outsourced. The marginal product of people who need well-defined jobs is declining. The marginal product of people who can thrive in less structured environments is increasing. That was what I was trying to say in my jobs speech.
The money quote from the end of the article, by McArdle herself, is ” I don’t think it’s unfortunate that progress is being made, and a lot of fairly boring jobs are being eliminated. I do think it’s unfortunate that people don’t like it.”
This is food for thought. Read the rest of this entry →
Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.
–Abraham Lincoln, First State of the Union Address (3 December 1861)
History will judge societies and governments — and their institutions — not by how big they are or how well they serve the rich and the powerful, but by how effectively they respond to the needs of the poor and the helpless.
–As quoted in Cesar Chavez : A Triumph of Spirit(1997) by Richard Griswold del Castillo and Richard A. Garcia, p. 116
Both courtesy of Wikiquote.
I’ve used a discussion of the novel A Double Shadow (which you really should read, if you have a chance) as a jumping-off point for discussing various issues in contemporary society–previous installments are here, here, and here. In this post (the penultimate, by the way), I’d like to bring the discussion to an element of the post’s title: postmodernism.
“Postmodernism” is one of those terms that is overused and abused, and which often becomes a bugaboo or a reflexive way of showing disapproval or even approval. Nevertheless, I think it is a useful term, particularly in this context. Thus, as long as we recall that the term covers a lot of (often conflicting) phenomena, I think we can give a rough definition that will guide our discussion here. Read the rest of this entry →
To recap briefly, the novel describes a terraformed Mars over a millennium and a quarter in the future, in which human technology has made practically anything possible. Death is strictly optional, and reversible, practically infinite resources are available, travel across space, time, and dimensions is instantly and easily possible, and no desires need go unfulfilled. The result is a society in which there is no concept of morality. Instead, the main values are aesthetic. Individuals are judged not as “good” or “bad” people, but in terms of how artistic their lives are and how fully they follow their own individual aesthetic choices in living their lives. The choices themselves are arbitrary, since there is no transcendent standard involved.
I would submit that such an ethos is not fictional, and that it has in fact been actualized (to a much lesser degree, of course) many times right here on Earth, and still is in places and degrees. Any class of any society that has sufficient power and resources tends to live by such values as described of the Martians in A Double Shadow. That is, wealth and power make anything possible, within the limitations of a society’s technology, and they also shield one to a large extent from undesired consequences of one’s actions. Members of such a class may not be able to teleport to the Andromeda Galaxy or to cheat death, but they can live their lives pretty much as they see fit. If problems occur in the process, money and power can sweep the pieces under the rug, and life goes on. Read the rest of this entry →