04 April 2007

The cure for mediocracy is more mediocracy?

Outside the blogosphere, the intellectual world seems to divide roughly into two camps.

1. The "optimists"
Those who think everything in our hitech-massified-yoofy-cheapo-liberated world is lovely.

2. The handwringers

Those who see something rotten in our society. We're unhappy, we're bored, we're angry, we're overwhelmed, we're mentally ill. The cause? Why, capitalism, of course. What else could it be?



"Capitalism" is such an easy, handwaving target. You don't even need to define your terms. The ability to get wasted every night on the tiles? Capitalism. (Not the ceaseless promotion of dumbed down mass culture by the il-liberal elite.) The increasing dominance of large corporations? Capitalism. (Not the snowballing red tape strangling smaller businesses.) The pathologisation of everyday life? Capitalism, of course — via evil drug companies. (Not the monopoly power of medical guilds, buttressed by state-sponsored technocracy.)

The other easy target is "individualism". The myth that we live in an "individualistic" age is one of the few pieces of phoney nonsense that unites Left and Right. (I mean the genuine Right, not the current Conservatives who, on the face of it, are as Left as New Labour.) So both Richard Layard and Melanie Phillips*, for example, writing from apparently different vantage points, assert that too much stress has been placed on the "individual".




To repeat myself from an earlier post: “individualism” used to mean self-reliance and respect for the individual, now it is incorrectly used to refer to rudeness, and spending power for the masses. People being able to express themselves in terms of clothes and hairstyles, in a culture which regards it as "fun" to humiliate and degrade others, is not individualism. The "questioning" and "scrutiny" which is sometimes attributed to our supposedly oh-so-critical postmodern world is largely confined to things which are pro-individual, e.g. capitalism. A citizenship which accepts that nanny state interventions are (a) ethical, and (b) likely to work, can hardly be described as “critical”.

Want to become a media intellectual and get your articles in the broadsheets? Write a book blaming all our ills on capitalism/individualism. We have already had Oliver James's Affluenza — nicely fisked by Tim Worstall. Now it's the turn of Barbara Ehrenreich, jumping on the communitarian bandwagon started by Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone. Ehrenreich seems to think we need less self, and more surrender to the group. It's sixties hippyism meets Maoist brainwashing.

A distinction typically not made by these anti-individualism critics is between community (small scale social formations) and Society (everyone in the country, or even the world). The two are not the same; in fact, their loyalties run in different directions. Contrary to what might be thought (given the rhetoric), the political Left — obsessed with Society as they are — actually come out more hostile to community than the Right. They don't like the family, they don't like private associations, they don't like small businesses. They want only one kind of social group to have power: the Collective.

* E.g. in All Must Have Prizes

6 comments:

Mister Anonymous said...

What if individualism was only for the few?

Aristocracy and royalty; the noble ones will lead the mass:

" Alle warten auf das Licht
fürchtet euch fürchtet euch nicht
die Sonne scheint mir aus den Augen
sie wird heut Nacht nicht untergehen
und die Welt zählt laut bis zehn"

And they will sing:

"Hier kommt die sonne
Hier kommt die sonne
Sie is der hellste stern von allen
Hier kommt die sonne"



(I'm sorry! I don't normally act like this)

Mister Anonymous said...

"Now it's the turn of Barbara Ehrenreich, jumping on the communitarian bandwagon started by Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone. Ehrenreich seems to think we need less self, and more surrender to the group. It's sixties hippyism meets Maoist brainwashing."

I must add, voluntary associations and business partnerships never seem to cross there minds..

Isn't this kind of what Green means by "the stupid authoritarian working class mind" or words to those effect.

Lacking any abilities or ideas of their own they can only surmise that "somebody or something must have taken them from me. All of modern society must die for the sake of me. It isn't enough if I go and live as a welfare hermit in Wales, everybody else has to as well; pride must be surfeited."

Magical thinking.

Fabian Tassano said...

Mister A, fess up, are you of German stock? BTW, your group title (is it a "group" or is it a global tech-based collective as befits the modern age?) sounds really corny in German - "Das chemische Kino".

"the stupid authoritarian working class mind" - I'm sure Celia never stooped to saying anything as vulgar as that. Not in public, at any rate.

Anonymous said...

Capitalism has moved on since Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital in the mid 1860s. In particular the rise of the joint-stock company (ie with shareholders) having a separate board of directors, has altered the motivating dynamic of companies. Now we have the board making decisions which suit their own interests - shareholders coming a practical second. John Galbraith alluded to a lot of this in his writings - they're worth a read.

Really, what Adam Smith said in the 1770s, and Marx in the 1860s, needs updating for the 2000s - the gravy train for a new generation of Economists!

Mister Anonymous said...

I'm not German, I'm simply quoting Rammstein lyrics.

We need a great leader to show the ailing masses the way forward!11

Or failing that, disenfranchise women and the lower orders because they keep voting for the Labour party . They don't know what's good for them. You can eat birthday cake and Easter eggs everyday; and it seems like a good idea at first but it soon makes you sick. They need their brocolli.

So it's obvious they don't know whats good for them LoL! We need to be led by a junta of hyper intelligent aristocrats/enlightened ones.

But haven't the Germans already been here? With both Communism and Fascism.

Rammstein writes in the great German tradition of being VERY VERY SORRY INDEED and being VERY LOUD about your SORROW and making sure that EVERYBODY KNOWS YOU ARE SORRY, about CERTAIN THINGS that happened in the NOT DISTANT PAST and then APPLAUDING how SORRY YOU ARE. Self abasement. Think of a testicular cancer support group; like on Fight Club - 'Remaining Men Together'.

"Go on, its okay, let it all out and cry, it takes a real man to cry" etc.

That's Rammstein. Well no I actually think Rammstein have an almost spiritual power - a window into Germanys tortured soul: moronic sexuality and childishness next to a fixation with technology, effiency and messianic redemption.

And are also very masculine in a campy gay way. Which is also, alas, quintessentially German.

Nietzsche considered the Germans hysterical and effeminate.

I rather like their tortured history and greatly enjoy german literature.

Especially Karl Kraus, the arch enemy of Freud! And a Libertarian.

"Das chemische Kino"

I'll remember that. My music project is mine entirely. But I don't ascribe an author to it. After all, we are all products of society dont u kno?

Its funny you should translate the name into German. Originally I was going to call the project 'Koma Kino' - as in Coma Cinema, taken from a Joy Division song. But the name has already been taken. Plus I wanted to play down the authoritarian overtones inherent in using German names to an English speaking audience. It's tasteless and insensitive in the extreme.

"the stupid authoritarian working class mind" - I'm sure Celia never stooped to saying anything as vulgar as that. Not in public, at any rate.

HA HA!

It's on her blog somewhere. Along with the quotes from 'Dysgenics'. Along with the mysogyny. And this:

"In just the same way, having flooded the country with terrorists and immigrants, legal or otherwise, there will be ‘justification’ for greater interference with the liberty of the respectable non-criminal middle class by such means as identity cards and databases. "

Although this is qualified by suggesting that the Labour Government opened up the borders so that society became more chaotic/unregulated and thus requiring intervention etc, using terrorists and immigrants in the same sentence - equating the outsider with violence when it is clear that the 7/7 bombings were home-grown, gives me a bad feeling.

I think Green also something along the lines of,

"They say men are more childish than women, this is a good thing because it means they are not held in thrall to society"

Oh and there's that link again : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJX-ty0nhpU

Misogyny: I once went on a ghost walk in my hometown. The speaker told story after story about the ghosts of women who hated other women and women who killed the children of other women. The speaker herself spoke of a haunted house she once lived in where she once woke up to find herself being strangled by the ghost of a shrieking old women who accused her of stealing her house.

Also, you know, when you think about it, why women call each other 'cow' when they get angry...

But this comment has just become extremely dark and if you don't want to display it I wont mind.

One day the author of 'The Human Evasion' will get the recognition she deserves.

The Beginners Guide to Nietzsche: "The ideas of Nietzsche, however, remain on the horizon* of modern conciousness: a disturbing, even frightening challenge which he knew would not be taken up in his lifetime"

*Humph, in modern society there are no longer any horizons, in a sphere, the media-sphere, there are no horizons, a horizon is inconceivable inside a perfect sphere [love] of humanity.

Green is the only person who can take a place next to Nietzsche, the only person who at least equals him - a tradition of one.

Nietzsche also noted: "Some are born posthumously."

Fabian Tassano said...

Dear Mr A

Your comment suffers from information overload. Which is a shame, as I thought you were making some excellent points in earlier comments. Could you organise your material a bit more?

You seem a bit uncertain what your attitude to Celia’s writings (and associated dangerous ideas of the Nietzschean variety) is or should be. I think that may be unavoidable for people who were brought up with all the standard PC attitudes, as you (like everyone these days) probably were. But don't be offended, I don't think anyone else writing today could discuss e.g. the Ubermensch idea without sounding defensive at best, or descending into distortion.

Yes, most people do behave pretty much like “products of society” and find it almost impossible to question their ideological conditioning.

But you’re right, Celia did say roughly what you quoted, I stand corrected. This is the full sentence, from Notes for an article on a newspaper item

It is typical of the stupid, authoritarian (dare we say 'working class'?) mind, proud of its ability to associate one or two factors in a situation, to wish to impose its pontifical judgements on people who may be less stupid themselves and [who may wish to] take a wider variety of factors into account.