Saturday, January 14, 2017

More Musings on Structural Inequality at Honest Weight...

Typically inequality has been and is defined as the differential access to power and the goods of a society whether economic, political, and cultural. Those who have power typically try to assure that they and their chosen successors maintain their power and, as a result, their greater access to the monies, power centres, and the status goods of a society. One of the ways they do this, at least in putative "democracies", is via the manufacture of a caricatured and stereotyped other that they can then use, in this caricatured and stereotyped form, to manipulate the masses to vote for them and support whatever actions they might take. This manipulation of the masses usually takes the form of a fear of the caricatued and stereoytped other.

Ever since agricultural societies arose in the river valleys of Mesopotamia, the Indian subcontinent, and China, inequality has been a human universal. Inequality has even been characteristic of institutions that were once reactions to, at least in part, the inequalities present in modern societies like the cooperative food movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. Once upon a time the vast majority 1960s and 1970s food coops were worker owned and controlled--only members could shop in them and only those who worked could be members--and were operated on the basis of cooperative decision making. Over time, however, and for a variety of economic, political, and cultual reasons, most of these coops expanded membership to include those who did not work and opened their doors to non-members. As a result cooperatives ceased to be cooperative, not to mention purveryors of healty food, and became, to use that contemporary catchphrase of the national cooperative movement, consumer cooperatives.

At Honest Weight, for instance, one of those coops that began as a reaction to bureaucratised America, power today ia centred in an elected Board and an elected judiciary, the GRC. As Honest Weight morphed from a small cooperative food buying club to a mass supermarket, a mass supermarket, by the way, which looks figuratively and literally just like any food corporation in the US, Honest Weight corporatised and hierarchicalised. Today hierarchical political and judicial structures of Honest Weight are central to the functioning of Honest Weight just as Weber noted they inevitably would be some one hundred years ago. Needless to say as the Board and GRC grew in power and authority so have the by-laws, the law code of Honest Weight which, like all law codes are a reflection of the ideology of the powers that be, just as Weber and Structural-Functionalist theorists said they must many years ago.

It has been fascinating to observe how the hierarchicalisation of power and differential access to economic, political, and cultural goods have been playing out at Honest Weight recently. Recently the Board, the legislative and exective structure at Honest Weight, decided to change the by-laws, the law code of Honest Weight, to limit working staff members of the corporation to only two seats on the nine member Board. The Board members who voted for this--I am told all but two voted for the change--are using the fear of a caricatured and stereoytped other, specifically the fear that staff members would rise up, take over the Board, and institute a workers coop "paradise" in the process, to justify and legitimise their action, an action which has created a two-tiered member worker hierarchy in which some, non-staff members, have greater access to power, Board seats, and the "goods" of Honest Weight, than others, staff members. The Board has created, in other words, an apartheid member structure of haves, themselves, and caricatured and stereoyped have nots, the member working staff of Honest Weight.

On a personal note if I hadn't already cashed in my $100 dollar membership chips at Honest Weight I would do so given the actions of the current Board. The current Board, by creating a system of member haves and staff member have nots, have told staff, of which I am one, exactly what they think of us. They have told staff that they think that staff members cannot be trusted with the governance of Honest Weight and they have told staff that they think that staff members cannot make "professional" decisions about the economics of Honest Weight. Can you say nasty caricatures and stereotypes? Well I can.

On a related note I don't want to give the impression in this short blog that old style worker coops are a thing of the past. Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn, for instance, is one of the last of dying breed, a traditional coop in which only members who work can shop at Park Slope. Additionally, elements of the old worker coops remain present in coops that have become consumer coops. At Honest Weight Food Coop in Albany, New York, for instance, only working members can vote, a reflection of the fact that in most countercultural coops of the late 1960s and 1970s worker control was the name of the game. Today, however, Park Slope is the exception to the general rule that coops since the 1970s have morphed into a mirror image of mainstream American and global corporations. Honest Weigbt, likewise, proves the general Weberian rule, namely that charismatic authority invariably declines in modern societies where modern mass means to end bureaucracies have become so central that alternative forms of organisation cannot even be imagined.

Almost forgot to mention this little nugget, another thing the current Board at Honest Weight Corporation appears to be engaged in is an attempt to disenfranchise staff members. This seems to be why the Board is contemplating making staff members work an additional three hours on top of the staff hours they already work. This strategy, like the others the Board appears to be using, of course, comes right out of the Lee Atwater guidebook on how to manipulate suckers and maintain power in the process school of political action.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Further Musings on Bureaucratic Power: The Case of the Coop

Anyone interested in questions of why have to ask why the Board of Honest Weight authored legislation on limiting the number of staff members on the Board. The previous powers that be talked about conflict of interest though when a dispassionate analysis of such rhetoric was undertaken it was clear that their argument did not hold water. We could also ask the question of why membership, or a percentage of the membership at Honest Weight voted for changes in the bureaucracies by-laws.

I have not been privy to why the present Board did what previous the previous Board and the "Coop" powers wanted to do but didn't or couldn't. I can offer hypotheses, however, hypotheses grounded in how powers that be in bureaucracies generally behave.

Hypothesis 1: the Board was concerned about potential conflicts of interest whatever those potential conflicts of interest might be or are. The problem with this argument is that one has to wonder what those potential conflicts of interest might be since the Board does not evaluate the vast majority of staff at Honest Weight. Additionally, those the Board hires do not evaulate the majority of staff at Honest Weight. All of this rhetoric about conflicts of interest, by the way, raises or should raise questions about other potential or real conflicts of interest such as whether a conformity of opinion among the ruling elite constitutes a conflict of interest, whether close relations serving on the governing bodies of the "Coop" constitutes a conflict of interest, whether too many lawyers in the governing bodies of the "Coop" constitutes a conflict of ideological interest, whether the culture of conforminty (see the Asch and Millgram studies) that develops among groups particularly ruling groups constitutes a conflict of interest, whether a conformity of interest among some on the Board constitutes a conflict of interest, and whether too close a relationship between members of the Board and those they hire constitutes a conflict of interest.

Hypothesis Two: Some members of the Board have a fear that too many staff on the ruling bodies of the "Coop" might propose and pass a living wage for "Coop" staff and/or return the "Coop" to what it onces was, a worker owned Coop in which only those who worked could shop at the Coop for quality and healthful food. This hypothesis is interesting because it is based on the notion that most staff, presumably non managerial and administrative staff, don't have the ability to comprehend the economic realities of the "Coop" and act rationally on that knowledge. If true, it also reveals just what the Board and their allies at the "Coop" think of most of the staff and that is, if this hypotheses can be confirmed or not found faulty, not much. It is also interesting because it assumes that it is considered perfectly acceptable for "professionals" to act on their interests but not for non-professionals to do so. Personally, I think this hypothesis has a lot of merit because it jibes with the social science literature on how bureaucracies really function, how a culture of conformity is created in corporations, how power really works, and on how ideologies of professionalism develop and influence the operations of bureaucracies.

Putting aside, for the moment, the rationale of the Board in making the decision to exclude staff from having more than two seats on the Board, the main governing body of Honest Weight, this decision, empirically speaking, creates a two tiered membership system at the fauxop. It creates a system in which there are members who are not staff and who can serve on the Board with no restrictions and members who are staff and who are limited to only two seats on the Board. Such a two-tiered system is not in any way, shape, or form, democratic and puts the lie to the notion proclaimed by Honest Weight that it is democratic.

In a related matter I have heard form several sources that the Board is considering or has already decided to force paid member staff, staff who work sometimes between 20 to 40 hours a week at the "Coop", to do, in addition to this, member hours in order to be able to vote at member meetings. Never mind that volunteer hours for the some 200 staff will be limited because of volunteer job limitations at the "Coop", something I am sure that the Board is aware of. This, along with the caricaturing and stereotyping of the staff by the Board, a staff that hasn't collectively unionised and whose few pro-union members can't agree on what union they want to be members of, this paranoia the Board and their fellow travellers have about the staff, and this scapegoating of the staff by the Board and their fellow travellers of the staff is beginning to assume McCarthyesque proportions. All of this, of course, is not new among powers that be. In fact, it is far too common. Just look at the history of stereoyping, caricaturing, paranoia, and scapegoating in nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries America. History ever repeats.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Confirmation of the Biff Complex

Dear Doctor, I am writing to inform you that during my five years of participation/observer on the social media site Facebook I have been able to confirm your hypothesis about the existence of the Biff Complex. My participation/ observations over the last several years have been able to replicate your study and confirm its conclusions, namely, that many right wingers, particularly the descendants of Gerald Smith and his anti-Semitic and anti-commie ideologies and the John Birch Society, the group that once preached the gospel that Dwight Eisenhower was a communist stooge, who have taken over the Republican party, do indeed have the malady identified by you in the 1980s and to which you gave the name the Biff Complex or Disorder.

This Complex, as you know, has several components to it. First, those who suffer from the Biff Complex suffer from an irrational fear of empirical facts. Second, those who suffer from it confuse and conflate right wing fantasies and delusions with empirical reality. Third, those who suffer from it mistake authoritarian fifth grade bully boy behavior for a reasoned and empirical argument. Finally, those who suffer from the Biff Complex live in a lala world of their own and are impervious to anything but the fantastic and delusional discourse of right wing demagogues.

Conclusions? To paraphrase Giles the earth is doomed.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Musings on the Old Old Right, the Old Right, the Old New Right, and the New New Right

Generally speaking, historians and other social scientists have delineated three broad forms of American conservatism in the post-WWII period. Type one: the intellectual variant of conservatism symbolised by Willam Buckley, National Review, and the various sects that came out of National Review. Type two: the "new" Christian right. Type three: libertarianism. Often forgotten in this polite typology is the paranoid right represented by the John Birch Society and the so-called alt right.

Are these four types of Ebenezer Scrooge liberalism really new? Nor treally. National Review style neoliberalism has roots in the negative reaction to the French Revolution in the late 17th and 18th century, The new Christian Right with its authoritarianism, apocalypticism, anti-communism, god gave us capitalism, anti-Semitism, and beware of the big government mentality, has roots in the old Christian Right of the New Deal era. Libertarianism has roots in Hobbes and the Austrian libertarians. The paranoid right has roots that go back to the Book of Revelation.

Are their similarities betwen these four groups? I think there are. Bill Buckley, seems to be exemplary here. While presenting an intellectually sophisticated image to the public Gore Vidal showed in 1968 that beneath Buckley's calm and "intellectual" exterior lurked a paranoid Christian conservative with a host of phobias, homophobia and commiephobia amongst them. And let's not forget that Buckley was one of the key apologists for that most paranoid of post-WWII neoliberals, Joseph McCarthy. Needless to say, Donald Trump with his universalisation of capitalism, his paranoias about Muslims and Mexicans, his Norman Vincent Peale Christianism, and his fifth grade bully mentality, seems to me to be a Bill Buckley for the 21st century. Trump just doesn't hide his bully boy, authoritarian, and phobic interior behind a pleasing public veneer. As the French say, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Death of Hope

Obama told us, when he first ran for president in 2008, to hope. You have to, however, give people more than hope. You have to give people more than hope that after they get an affordable community college or college education they will have a real job with real living wages and with real benefits they can afford. You have to give people more than hope that Americans will be able to get a living wage job with real benefits not only in the information sector of the economy but also in the service sector of the economy. You have to give people more than hope that they too will be able to get reasonably priced health insurance that they can pay for on their real wages. You have to give people more than the hope that they will be able to enjoy the good things of life, including the ability to relax and have fun, on their real wages. You have to give people more than hope that they too, like the elite politicians typically pander will be treated fairly and will be treated with and given respect. Donald Trump has given a lot of his supporters hope, hope that they will no longer feel ignored. I will say here and now that I don't expect him to live up to his promises anymore than Barack Obama did. The political and economic realities of America and the world argue and augur against it.

The Wacky World of the American Right in the Age of Trump

There is a lingload or shitload of false logic here, which is not surprising, given the broader cultural and ideological contexts in the US.

First, virtually every American, some libertarians and anarchists along with right and left freedom of speechers perhaps excepted, engage in so called political correctness. When right wingers, for example, censor textbooks, that is, political correctness as well as a violation of freedom of speech. Whenever the religious right pushes for public rather than individual silent prayer in schools that is political correctness and a violation of freedom of speech and freedom from religious theocracy. Ironically, a lot of those pushing for the dominance of the role of Christianity in the public sphere are often those most critical of Islamic theocratism.

Second, isn't it ironic that those who proclaim that their freedom of speech is being violated demand, proclaim, in the next breath, that flag burning, which the Supreme Court has ruled is freedom of speech, must be eliminated? Obviously, those who want flag burning, which isn't numerically speaking all that prevalent by any political group, are engaging in political correctness and are undermining guarantees in the Constitution they claim to be devoted to?

Third, banning SOME types of assault rifles and some types of bullets is NOT banning ALL guns or ALL bullets. That is simple logic.

Fourth, Christians are individually free to do anything that doesn't violate the law including pray to their imaginary gods in their public school. The law we have in the US is, when it comes to the public square, freedom from religious domination. The Founding Fathers did not like theocracy, which they saw in action, which is why they wrote separation into the laws of the land. Again, ironies abound here. What is the irony that abounds? Those who proclaim devotion to the Constitution out of one side of their mouth, proclaim their willingness to destroy it out of the other side of their mouth. I suggest to those of you who don't like the separation of religion and state guaranteed in the US Constitution move to a place where they don't have it such as Saudi Arabia. Love it or leave it dudes and dudettes.

Fifth, Republicans AND Democrats both supported deindustrialisation and trade deals, two things that sent jobs overseas. Bush the first negotiated NAFTA. Clinton got it passed. The reason they did it is because of their ties to economic elites who like cheap labour because it allows them to line their pockets even more than they already do. The fact that many of those who blame one party or one political ideology or another can't see the obvious, that both parties work for Wall Street, shows how ideologically blind they are.

Sixth, the tax rate on the wealthiest Americans has fluctuated over the 20th century. It was high during WWI and declined afterwards. It was in the 90% range under Eisenhower, fell to 70 some percent under Kennedy, and fell to 50 some percent under Nixon. The neoliberals, Republican or Democrat, those compassionate neoliberals, brought down tax rates on the rich during their years of dominance and have essentially and effectively undermined the progressive nature of American taxation since the 19801s. Taxation, by the way, varies cross culturally. The Scandinavian countries have, generally speaking, higher tax rates on the wealthy than the US. We must also be cognisant of the fact that official tax rates are not, for a variety of reasons, the real tax rates on the rich. The rich, like Trump, in reality, have gotten away with paying zero taxes for a variety of reasons. Tell Trump to do the same for you if you have the balls or ovaries and see what you get in response.

Seventh, single payer health care makes more economic and moral sense than that labyrinthian piece of legislation which the Democrats gave us. I know, in the age of runaway narcissism it is hard to think of anyone else but yourselves. By the way, the fact that the Democrats didn't, when they controlled the federal executive and legislative branches, give us the most economically and morally--greatest good for the greatest number--forgrounds how weak as water Democrats are.

Eighth, dudes are not being emasculated though I sometimes think we should cut off the cocks of rapists. Transformations in the economy are transforming gender and work. More women are working because they have to to help their families make it in a world dominated by the shit paying and little benefits service sector. By the way, Trump, for all his bluster, will not be able to bring manufacturing back to the US unless wages decline to levels similar to that in poor semi-peripheral countries and poorer peripheral countries where wages are low. But I know, as Barnum said people will swallow anything.

A last obvious fact: If you help destroy the planet you are killing yourselves and those who come after you including your children and grandchildren.

Let me close this missive by bemoaning that it is a pity that so many on all sides of the political spectrum prefer stereotypes and caricatures to simple humanity. Many liberals and leftists did not support Clinton. I didn't. I did not vote for either major party candidate. Many of them offered real critiques of Clinton as opposed to demonisation of Clinton. But I know, generally people prefer simplistic and naive either/ors to reality.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Clinton and the Constructed Either/Or Mind

It is endlessly fascinating if also rather tragic and farcical to observe how the socially and culturally constructed human mind generally works. One can clearly see how the mind generally works in those years when, for example, one of those great rituals of "democracy" is taking place, elections. For fans of Hillary Clinton, for instance, any criticism of their object of devotion, valid criticisms about how she and her husband made their millions, valid criticisms about the potential conflicts at the heart of the Clinton Foundation symbolised by Huma Adebin, and valid criticisms about Clinton's problematic and possibly stupid use of a private server for some of her governmental emails, can only be made, most Clinton devotees knee jerkingly assume, by a devotee of Clinton's evil binary other, Donald Trump. More nuanced responses from most of the Clinton faithful are, generally speaking, missing in binary action. There may be cognitive dissonance in Clinton's devotees but in the vast majority of these cases such cognitive dissonance leads to even more polemical defences of their object of devotion rather than to analytical analysis. Welcome to the ideology creates reality world.